An Illustrated Biography of Shinran, Honganji Shonin
(Honganji Shonin Shinran Denne)
Compiled by Kakunyo
Introduction, translation and notes
by Zuio H. Inagaki


Shonin's family comes from the Fujiwara clan.1) He was the son of Arinori,2) the third official at the Empress Dowager's office, who was the descendant in the sixth generation of Lord Arikuni, the Police and Judicial undersecretary. Arikuni's ancestor in the sixth generation was Lord Uchimaro3) of the second grade of the first court rank [General of the Imperial Guards, Vice-Minister (posthumously, Chief Minister), who was called Minister Gonagaoka and also Minister Kan'in and was the son of Matate,4) head of the Ceremonial Office, the chief state counselor, and was the grandson of Lord Fusazaki,5) Prime Minister (posthumously, granted the first grade of the first court rank)]. Uchimaro was the great-grandson of the Privy Minister Kamako,6) Holder of the Grand Crown. Kamako who was the descendant in the twenty-first generation of the August One Amatsu-koyane.7)
Considering Shonin's distinguished birth, there may have been high expectations from him to serve the Imperial Court until old age or enjoy fame and prosperity at the Ex-emperor's Office. However, his emphatic desire to promote Buddhism and benefit living beings led to his ordination at the age of nine. Accompanied by his uncle and foster father, Lord Aritsuna8) [of the second grade of the third court rank (then the second grade of the fourth court rank), who was formerly the feudal lord of Wakasa Province and a close retainer of the Ex-emperor Goshirakawa], Shonin visited the residence9) of the former great archbishop [Master Jien,10) also Jichin, who was the son of Lord Hosshoji11) and the elder brother of Lord Tsukinowa].12) At this temple, Shonin had his head shaved and was given the Buddhist name Hannen, with the title 'minor state counselor.'
Henceforth, Shonin delved into the profound teaching of Master Nan-yueh13) and Master T'ien-t'ai,14) and reached the truth of Buddha-vehicle through the triple contemplation.15) He also studied the tradition of Master Genshin16) [who dwelled at Shuryogon-in in Yokawa Precinct], and became thoroughly acquainted with the doctrine of perfect fusion embracing all the four distinct teachings.17)

1. Shinran's genealogy presented here may be summarized as follows:
Amatsu Koyane - (20 generations) - Fujiwahara no Kamatari - (4 generations) - Uchimaro [grandson of Fusazaki] - (5 generations) - Arikuni - (4 generations) - Hino Arinori - Shinran.
In the earlier text, Shinran's genealogy was much simpler.
2. Hino Arinori: Dates unknown; the father of Shinran and his four younger brothers. He is said to have died when Shinran was four years old, but it is more likely that after he retired from his post at the Empress Dowager's office, he lived in seclusion until an older age.
3. Fujiwara no Uchimaro: 756-812; a grandson of Fusazaki and a son of Matate; ever since he was appointed to Vice-Minister in 806, he held an important government position.
4. Fujiwara no Matate: 715-766; he was granted the first grade of the third court rank in 764, and the chief state counselor in 766. Eight of his poems are found in the Man'yoshu (A Collection of Ten Thousand Poems).
5. Fujiwara no Fusazaki: 681-737; a grandson of Kamatari; the founder of the northern family of the Fujiwara clan. Appointed to Inspector General, he traveled about in the whole country; later he assumed the helm of military power of the state as General of Imperial Guards.
6. Fujiwara no Kamako (Kamatari): 614-669; the grand ancestor of the Fujiwara clan. He sided with Prince Naka no Ohe, who later became Emperor Tenchi (624-671), to kill Soga no Iruka ( -645), and successfully carried out the Taika Renovation, thereby centralizing the government so that it had the imperial household as its center. In 669, he was given the title 'Holder of the Grand Crown' (taishokkan).
7. Amatsu Koyane: The ancestral kami of the Fujiwara clan. When Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, hid herself in a cave behind a huge rock, he played music to appease her mind. At the time of descent from heaven of August One Ninigi, he followed him. His descendants were successively in charge of ritual affairs in the imperial court.
8. Noritsuna: Hino Noritsuna; a court official attending the Ex-emperor Goshirakawa; the elder brother of Shinran's father who became his foster father after his father left him when he was very young. When, in 1177, the anti-Heike faction led by close attendants of the Ex-Emperor Goshirakawa plotted to overthrow the Heike power but failed in their attempt, the leaders were either executed or exiled. At that time, Noritsuna was put to torture on suspicion of his part in the plot, and was exiled to Harima Province (present Hyogo Prefecture). When the Ex-Emperor Goshirakawa died in 1192, he renounced the world to become a Buddhist recluse. He reputedly accompanied Shinran to the Shoren-in when Shinran was 9 years old.
9. Jien's residence is now known as Shoren-in; in those days Shoren-in was on Mt. Hiei, and Jien was living in his residence, called Shirakawa-bo, which was near where Shoren-in now is.
10. Jien: 1155-1225; also Jichin; a younger brother of Kujo Kanezane; while serving as the abbot of Shoren-in, he was in charge of Hosshoji and Mudoji; he was appointed zasu (head priest) of the Tendai school as many as four times. He acted as the precept master when Shinran was ordained. Reputed to be the author of theGukansho (A Foolish Man's Narrow View)(1220), 7 fascicles, a book describing the history of Japan from the viewpoint of mappo (age of the decadent Dharma).
11. Lord Hosshoji: The popular name of Fujiwara Tadamichi, 1097-1164
12. Lord Tsukinowa: Kujo Kanezane, 1149-1207; the third son of Fujiwara Tadamichi and the founder of the Kujo family. Under the patronage of Minamoto Yoritomo, he became Regent in 1186 and Chancellor in 1186. He was a patron of Honen; at his suggestion, Honen wrote the Senjakushu. His diaries during the period 1164-1200 were compiled into theGyokuyo (Leaves of Gem), 66 fascicles; it is a rich source of information about the political situation and court ceremonies of the late Heian and the Kamakura period.
13. Nan-yueh: Refers to Hui-ssu, 515-577, the second patriarch of the Chinese Tendai school. Because he lived on Mt. Nan-yueh, he was popularly called 'Master Nan-yueh.'
14. T'ien-t'ai: Refers to Chih-i, 538-597, the third patriarch of the Chinese Tendai school; he laid a firm doctrinal foundation by writing many works, including Meanings of the Lotus Sutra, Essentials of the Lotus Sutra, and Mahayana Method of Cessation and Contemplation. He is commonly regarded as the founder of the Tendai school.
15. The Tendai method of contemplation on the triple truth: contemplation on voidness of all existence, contemplation on the temporariness of all existence, and contemplation on the truth of the middle.
16. Genshin: The sixth of the seven patriarchs of Jodo Shinshu, 942-1017; a great Tendai master and exponent of Pure Land thought; popularly called 'Master Eshin' because he lived in the Eshin-in at Yokawa on Mt. Hiei. His Ojoyoshu (A Collection of Essential Passages Concerning Birth in the Pure Land) was a great epoch-making work discussing fully the Pure Land teaching by quoting more than 160 sutras and discourses. This work won him great renown not only in Japan but also in China.
17. In the Tendai doctrine, two kinds of four teachings are distinguished. First, the four teachings distinguished according to different methods of presentation: 1. the teaching for abrupt enlightenment, 2. the teaching for gradual enlightenment, 3. the teaching for different understandings which the pupils attain without their knowledge, and 4. the teaching for different understandings which the pupils attain while fully aware of this. Second, the four distinct teachings which the Buddha expounded: 1. the Hinayana teaching, 2. the teaching applicable to both Hinayanists and Mahayanists, 3. the Mahayana teaching, and 4. the ultimate and perfect teaching. All the teachings of the Buddha distinguished as above are perfectly fused in the Lotus Sutra.


In the spring of the first year of Kennin (1201), when Shonin was twenty-nine years of age, the desire for renunciation of the ephemeral world drew him to Master Genku1) at his hermitage in Yoshimizu.2) Since in the latter days people's spiritual capacities are inferior and the narrow streets of Difficult Practices are too confusing for them, he had been seeking the Great Path of Easy Practice.3) As Master Genku, the great patriarch who promulgated the True Teaching, explained to him the intrinsic depth of the teaching and the breadth of the doctrinal principle, he instantly realized the essential way of salvation by the Other-Power and attained True Mind which is the direct path to the Pure Land - the path which accommodates ordinary people.

1. Genku: Refers to Honen-bo Genku, 1133-1212); the founder of the Jodo school, Shinran's teacher, and the author of the Senjakushu (A Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow).
2. Yoshimizu is in the eastern side of Kyoto, the area where Maruyama Park now is. In An'yoji temple located to the east of Maruyama Park is believed to be the place where Honen's hermitage was; wooden statues of Honen and Shinran are enshrined by the side of the main object of worship.
3. The Great Path of Easy Practice: The Nembutsu practice based on the Other-Power.


On the fifth day of the fourth month in the third year of Kennin (1203)[metal/cock],1) Shonin had a vision at night in the hour of tiger.2) According to the record,3) the World-saving Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, of the Rokkakudo4) manifested himself in the form of a holy monk of dignified appearance, wearing a white robe and sitting in a proper posture on the pedestal of a huge lotus flower. He said to Zenshin,5)

"If you, practitioner, are obliged to have a sexual contact with a woman through some past karma,
I will transform myself as a beautiful woman and become your partner.
I will adorn you with virtues throughout your life,
And at your death I will guide you to the Land of Utmost Bliss."

The World-saving Bodhisattva added, "This is my vow. Zenshin, proclaim the main point of my vow to all the multitudes of beings."
At that time, while still in a dreamy state, Zenshin looked eastward from inside the hall, and saw a lofty mountain, on which thousands of millions of people were assembled. He proclaimed to them the essential point of the message as related in the vision. When he thought he had finished this, he awoke.
As I read this record and think about the vision he had in a dream, I see that this is an auspicious sign foretelling the growth of Shinshu and an indication of the Nembutsu spreading further. In this connection, Shonin later remarked, "Buddhism arose in the Western Land (i.e., India) and its scriptures have been transmitted to the Eastern Land (i.e., Japan). This is due solely to the great virtue of Prince of the Jogu Palace,6) which is higher than a mountain and deeper than the ocean. These scriptures were brought here during the reign of the Emperor Kinmei of our imperial dynasty,7) and the authentic sutras and discourses of Pure Land Buddhism were transmitted at that time. If the Imperial Heir (i.e., Shotoku) had not bestowed great benevolence upon us, how could we, ordinary, ignorant people, ever meet the Primal Vow? As the World-saving Bodhisattva is the original state of the Imperial Heir, he manifested his original august body to reveal his vow of incarnating himself in human form and spreading the Dharma. If the Great Master (Honen) had not been banished,8) how could I ever have had a chance to go to a place of exile? If I had not been sent to the place of exile,9) how could I have converted multitudes of people living in the remote countryside? I am indebted to the Master's benevolence for this, too. The Great Master was an incarnation of Mahasthamaprapta, and the Prince was a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. Through the guidance of these two bodhisattvas, I am now transmitting the Tathagata's Primal Vow. Thus Shinshu is growing, and the Nembutsu teaching is spreading. I have, however, simply followed the instructions of the holy ones, not my own foolish notions. The weighty vows of these two bodhisattvas are to recommend single-hearted recitation of the name of one Buddha. Practicers today should not mistakenly take refuge in the attendant bodhisattvas. They should go straight to the primal Buddha (i.e., Amida) for refuge."
Accordingly, Shinran Shonin worships the Imperial Prince by the side of the Buddha. He does so in order to acknowledge his indebtedness to the Prince for spreading the Buddha Dharma.

1. The Third year of Kennin should be corrected to the first year of Kennin (1201) when Shinran was 29. The year metal/cock(kanoto-no-tori ) corresponds to the first year of Kennin,
2. The hour of the tiger corresponds to 4 o'clock in the morning.
3. The record here may refer to Shinran muki (A Record of Shinran's Dream) preserved at Senjuji temple of the Takada school.
4. In the Rokkakudo temple originally built by Prince Shotoku, a statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is enshrined.
5. Zenshin: The name of Shinran used after he became Honen's disciple.
6. The Prince of Jogu Palace: Refers to Prince Shotoku, 574-621 or 622. He made an alliance with Minister Soga Umako to eliminate the anti-Buddhist minister Mononobe Moriya, establishing thereby Buddhism on a firm basis. He became the Prince Regent in 593, and assisted his aunt, Empress Suiko. He promoted Buddhism in various ways, such as writing commentaries on three Mahayana sutras, sending students to China, and founding many temples, including the Shitennoji, Horyuji, Chuguji and Rokkakudo.
7. Buddhism was first brought to Japan from Korea during the reign of Emperor Kinmei; according to tradition, the year of transmission was 552 A.D., but it is to be corrected to 538.
8. When the Nembutsu teaching was persecuted, Honen's two disciples were executed and Honen himself was banished to Shikoku in 1207.
9. Shinran was exiled to Kokubu in Echigo Province (present Niigata Prefecture) in 1207, where he married Eshin-ni; he was pardoned in 1211, but having heard of the death of Honen, he stayed on until 1214.


On the ninth day of the second month in the eighth year of Kencho (1256),1) at the hour of the tiger at night,2) Shaku Ren'i3) had a vision in a dream: Prince Shotoku bowed in worship to Shinran Shonin and said in verse,

"Adoration to Amida Buddha of Great Compassion!
You have appeared in this world (as Shinran Shonin) to spread the excellent teaching;
You lead people of the evil world in the evil period of the five defilements4)
To definitely attain the supreme enlightenment."

Hence, it is clear that Shonin, the Patriarchal Master, was an incarnation of Amida Tathagata.

1. At that time, Shinran was 84.
2. About 4 o'clock in the morning.
3. Ren'i-bo was a native of Hitachi Province (present Ibaragi Prefecture); he came to Kyoto and lived with Shinran, attending him in his last years.
4. The five defilements: The defilements that mark the degeneration of living beings and their environment; they become intense in the period of Decadent Dharma. They are: 1. defilement of the age, in which famines, plagues and wars abound, 2. defilement of views, 3. defilement by evil passions, 4. degeneration of people both physically and mentally, and 5. the shortening of man's lifespan.


When the Virtuous Master of Kurodani,1) Genku, was still in the world, he granted, out of compassion, for Shonin permission to copy his work,2) and on another occasion, wrote Shonin's new name3) in his own hand. It is stated in "A Collection of Passages Revealing the Provisional Transformed Buddhas and Lands of the Pure Land Way," Chapter 6, [compiled by Shinran Shonin]:

I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Shakyamuni, abandoned sundry practices and took refuge in the Primal Vow in the first year of Kennin, the year metal/cock.4) In the year wood/ox of the Genkyu era,5) with the master's kind permission, I copied his Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow. In the same year, on the fourth day of the middle part of the fourth month, the master in his own hand inscribed the following on the inside of my copy, "Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow," and the words, "Namu amida butsu: The fundamental act for the attainment of birth is the Nembutsu,"and also my new name, "Shakku, disciple of Shakyamuni." On the same day, I borrowed the master's portrait and copied it. In the same second year [of Genkyu], on the ninth day of the latter part of the seventh intercalary month, the master inscribed on my copy of the portrait "Namu amida butsu" and the passage of the true teaching: "If, when I become a Buddha, all sentient beings in the ten quarters who call my Name even ten times fail to be born in my land, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. This Buddha, having attained Buddhahood, now dwells in the Pure Land. You should know that his weighty vows are not in vain. Sentient beings who call his Name will unfailingly attain birth."6) On the same day, he also wrote on the portrait my new name [Zenshin] to which my former name 'Shakku' was changed according to a revelation in a dream. The master was then seventy-three years old.
The Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow was compiled at the request of the Chancellor, the ordained layman [Lord Tsukinowa Kanezane, Buddhist name Ensho]. The essentials of the true teaching of the Pure Land way and the profound doctrine of the Nembutsu are contained in it. Those who read it can easily understand it. It is indeed an incomparable and supreme collection of fine passages, an unsurpassed and profound scripture. Out of the thousands of people who received his teaching, personally or otherwise, over many days and years, very few were allowed to read and copy this work. Nevertheless, I was allowed to copy it and also make a copy of his portrait. This is the benefit of the exclusive practice of the Right Act; this is a sure proof of my future attainment of birth. With tears of sorrow and joy, I have noted the above story.

1. Kurodani, lit. 'Black Valley'; the name of a valley in the Saito (Western Pagoda) Precinct of Mt. Hiei, where there is a temple called Seiryuji. Those who seek emancipation while leading a quiet life of seclusion lived here. When Eiku ( -1179), an adept of the Tendai precept of perfect fusion and Yuzu Nembutsu, was living here, Honen at the age of 18 came here and studied under him. Later, Honen returned here and perused the whole collection of Buddhist scriptures in the Hoonzo Library. When he was reading them for the fifth time at the age of 43, he came across the passage recommending exclusive practice of the Nembutsu in Shan-tao's commentary on the Comptemplation Sutra; this brought him deep awareness of Amida's Vow of salvation through the Nembutsu. For this reason, Honen is often called 'the Master of Kurodani.'
2. Refers to Senjakushu (or Senchakushu); the full title is Senjaku Hongan Nembutsu-shu (A Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow), compiled by Honen in 1198 at the request of Fujiwara Kanezane. This work justifies the Nembutsu as the most effective method of salvation, and its publication marked the independence of the Jodo school.
3. Honen inscribed a new name of Shinran, Shakku, on the copy of Honen's portrait.
4. This corresponds to the year 1201 A.D.
5. This corresponds to the year 1205 A.D.
6. The Eighteenth Vow adapted by Shan-tao.


In the bygone days, when Genku Shonin was still alive and propagated the teaching of birth in the Pure Land by the Other-Power, the whole country was receptive to, and took refuge in it. Those holding the helm of the state in the Imperial Palace yearned for the blossoms in the golden forests, and the ministers and high officials in charge of the government administration admired the moon of the Forty-eight Vows. In addition, country-folk in remote places and the general public all upheld and revered the teaching. The noble, as well as the underprivileged, went to see Honen in great numbers. So great were the numbers that his hermitage was crowded as a market-place. It is said that the priests alone, in close attendance upon him, amounted to more than three hundred and eighty. Be that as it may, only very few actually received the master's personal instructions and closely followed them. Their number was hardly more than five or six.
One day, Zenshin Shonin [Shinran] said to the master, "I have abandoned the Path of Difficult Practice and come to the Path of Easy Practice; I have left the Gate of the Sacred Path and entered the Pure Land Gate. Without your kind instructions, how could I have attained the propitious cause for emancipation? What a joy it is! Nothing can compare with this. As I reflect, however, although I have developed friendly ties with many of your disciples and share with them the opportunity to receive your teaching, none of us do not realize who among us have settled Faith for attaining birth in the True Land of Recompense and who have not. For this reason, in order to make sure who will be my true friends in the life to come and also for the sake of keeping the record of happenings in this ephemeral world, I wish to present a question at the gathering of your disciples, asking about their inner hearts."
The Great Master, [Genku] Shonin, replied, "Your proposal is most reasonable. You may ask them when they come here tomorrow."
At the gathering the next day, Shonin declared, "Today, your seats are divided into two sides: one side is for those who are steadfast in faith and the other for those who are steadfast in practice. Please be seated on one or the other side."
The fellow-disciples, numbering more than three hundred, appeared puzzled, not understanding Shonin's intention. At that time, it is said that Seikaku, who held the rank of the Dharma-seal great master,1) and Horen, Shaku Shinku Shonin, said, "I will be on the side of steadfast faith." Next, Novice Horiki [Kumagai Naozane Nyudo] who came late asked, "What is your intention of keeping a record, Zenshin-bo?"
Zenshin Shonin replied, "Two seats are provided: one for steadfast faith and the other for steadfast practice."
Horiki said, "Let me, Horiki, join you. I will be on the side of steadfast faith." Shonin wrote down Horiki's name in his note. Although a few hundred disciples were assembled there, no one spoke out. This probably shows that they were clinging to the delusory mind of self-power and so did not realize the diamond-hard True Faith. While silence prevailed in the hall, Shonin noted down his own name.
A little later, the Great Master said, "I, Genku, will join the side of steadfast faith." At that moment, some of the disciples were overcome with the feeling of awe and respect, while some others appeared downcast with shame.

1) This is the highest of the three higher ranks of priesthood, corresponding to the older term sojo (abbot).


Shonin related the following episode.
A long time ago, when many disciples, including Shoshin-bo, Seikan-bo and Nembutsu-bo, were in the presence of the Great Master, [Genku] Shonin, an unexpected dispute took place. The dispute began when I said, "The Master Shonin's faith and Zenshin's faith are not different in the least; they are one and the same," they argued against me, saying, "Zenshin-bo's remark that the Master's faith and his faith are the same is unreasonable. How could they be the same?"
I, Zenshin, replied, "Why don't you say that they are the same? It would be preposterous to say that the Master's wisdom which is deep and extensive is equal to mine. As for the faith for birth in the Pure Land, ever since I discovered 'Faith of the Other-Power,' I have not conceived any thought of 'I' or 'mine.' The Master's Faith has been endowed by the Other-Power; Zenshin's Faith is also that of the Other-Power. For this reason, I say that his Faith and mine are the same."
Then the Great Master made a clear remark, saying, "If one's faith is different from another's, they are, after all, faith of self-power. If one's wisdom of understanding is different from other's, one's faith is also different from another's. Faith of the Other-Power is endowed by the Buddha to ordinary people, whether they are good or evil; hence, Genku's Faith and Zenshin-bo's Faith are not different, but they are one and the same. We do not entrust ourselves to Amida because we are wise and intelligent. If your faith is different from mine, you cannot possibly be born in the same Pure Land where I shall be born. You should discern this well."
In total consternation, those present were speechless, and so the discussion came to an end.


Shonin's disciple, Nyusai-bo, cherished a desire to have a portrait of Shonin. Knowing this, Shonin said to him, "You can ask the Dharma-bridge1) Jozen [who lived in Shichijo] to portray me."
Elated by Shonin's suggestion based on deep observation, Nyusai-bo invited the Dharma-bridge to Shonin's abode. Jozen came at once as requested. The moment Jozen saw Shonin, he said, "Last night I had an inspired dream. The holy priest I saw in the dream is exactly the same person as I now see before my eyes." With profound joy and awe, he continued, "Two noble priests came to visit me. One of them said, 'I wish to have a portrait of this revered incarnated one made. Please make one, Jozen.' So I asked, 'Who is this incarnated one?' The priest replied, 'He is the founder2) of the Zenkoji Temple.' I prostrated myself on the floor with my hands joined together, and thought to myself in the dream, 'He must be a live body of Amida Tathagata.' Feeling my hair standing on end, I deeply revered and paid homage to him. The priest added, 'A portrait of his face will be enough.' After the exchange of these words, I awoke from the dream. As I now see Shonin's august countenance at this hermitage, it is not a bit different from the holy priest that I saw in the dream."
So saying, Jozen shed tears of great joy. Shonin remarked, "Let my portrait be just as you saw in your dream." So Jozen portrayed Shonin's face only. Jozen had this dream in the night of the twentieth day of the ninth month in the third year of Ninji.3)
As I deeply contemplate this miraculous and portentous event, I clearly see that Shonin was an incarnation of Amida Tathagata. It follows then that the teaching he promulgated was most likely Amida's direct exposition. Amida holds up the brilliant lamp of undefiled wisdom to disperse the darkness of delusion in the world of defilement; furthermore, he showers the rain of Dharma everywhere in order to moisten the dried-up hearts of ordinary and deluded beings in the distant future. Let us revere and entrust ourselves to his teaching.

1. The Dharma-bridge: 'Hokkyo' in Japanese, an abbreviation of 'hokkyo-shonin-i,' 'the rank of the Master of Dharma-bridge'; originally, the lowest of the three higher ranks of priesthood, which corresponds to the older term 'risshi'. Later, used as a title of honor for medical doctors, painters, poets, and so on.
2. Founder; 'hongan no onbo' in Japanese; here 'hongan' does not mean 'primal vow,' but 'a founder or promoter' of a temple, statue, or a Dharma-meeting.
3. This corresponds to 1242.


With the flourishing of the Pure Land teaching, the Path of Sages dwindled in influence. Enraged scholar-monks in Nara and Mt. Hiei held Master Genku responsible for this and appealed to the court for his expeditious punishment. It is stated in "A Collection of Passages Revealing the Provisional Transformed Buddhas and Lands of the Pure Land Way," Chapter 6:

When I humbly contemplate matters, I find that in the various teachings of the Path of Sages, both practice and enlightenment have long become impossible to realize and that the true teaching of the Pure Land way is now flourishing as the sure way to Enlightenment.
Despite this fact, monks of various temples, being blind in discerning the teachings, are unable to distinguish the true way from the provisional way. Confucian scholars in the capital, being confused about practices, cannot tell the difference between the right and wrong paths. Thus, scholar-monks of Kofukuji temple presented a petition to the retired emperor [Gotoba-in] (Takanari by name) in the first part of the second month in the year fire/hare of the Jogen era1) during the reign of emperor [Tsuchimikado-in] (Tamehito by name).
Lords and vassals who opposed the Dharma and justice bore indignation and resentment [to the Nembutsu teaching]. Thus, Master Genku, the great founder who promulgated the true teaching of the Pure Land way, and a number of his followers were, without proper investigation of their crime, indiscriminately sentenced to death or, deprived of their priesthood, exiled under criminal names. I was one of them. Hence, I am neither a priest nor a layman, and so I took 'Toku' as my surname. Master Genku and his disciples spent five years in remote provinces in exile.

The criminal's name of Genku Shonin was Fujii-no-Motohiko, and the place of his exile was Hata in Tosa Province. The criminal's name of Shinran Shonin was Fujii-no-Yoshizane, and the place of his exile was Kokubu in the Echigo Province. I will not enumerate other disciples' death charges and exiles.
On the seventh day of the eleventh month in the first year of Kenryaku, the year metal/sheep2), during the reign of Emperor [Sado-no-in, Morinari by name], the imperial order to pardon Shonin was issued through Lord Okazaki Norimitsu, the Middle Counsellor at the Court. At that time, Shonin's name, with 'Toku' (short-haired) as the surname, was announced to the Emperor; this impressed the Emperor and won the praise of his attendants. Even though Shonin was pardoned, he continued to stay on to convert country-folk.

1. This corresponds to 1207, when Shinran was 35.
2. This corresponds to 1211, when Shinran was 39.


Shonin moved from Echigo over to Hitachi Province, and settled down at Inada Village in Kasama County. Although he lived in retirement, priests and laypeople followed one after another to visit him; even though the lowly gate was closed, people, both high and low, crowded the cottage. Shonin's cherished desire to spread the Buddha-Dharma was thus fulfilled, and his long-standing wish to benefit sentient beings was quickly realized.
Shonin remarked, "The dream of the bygone days in which I received an inspiration from the World-saving Bodhisattva exactly fits what is happening now."


As Shonin spread the teaching of the exclusive practice of the Nembutsu in Hitachi Province, those who doubted and abused it were few, and many accepted it in faith. However, there was a monk [said to be a yamabushi1)], who bore a grudge against the Buddhist teaching [Shonin was promulgating], which culminated in an attempt to kill him; so he was seeking an opportunity to realize this.
Shonin often passed through a deep mountain called Itajiki-yama. In that mountain the yamabushi waited for him in ambush many times, but was unsuccessful. As he contemplated the cause of this failure, he was struck with a rare, strange thought. Thereupon, he decided to go and see Shonin. When he called at the hermitage, Shonin came out without hesitation. As soon as he saw Shonin's august countenance, his vicious intention quickly disappeared and, furthermore, he could not hold back the tears of regret and shame.
After a little while, he confessed to Shonin the grudge that he had entertained against him. Shonin, however, did not appear surprised. The yamabushi broke his bow and arrows on the spot, threw away his sword and stick, cast away his hood, and took off his persimmon robe. As a result of this transformation, he thus took refuge in the [true] Buddhist teaching, and finally fulfilled his aspiration for birth in the Pure Land. What a wonderful thing! He was later known as Myoho-bo; this is the name given to him by Shonin.

1. 'Yamabushi,' literally 'mountain sleeper'; a follower of mountain Buddhism (shugendo); so called because he lives in the mountains while engaged in ascetic practices.


Leaving behind the boundary of Kanto district, Shonin took the path to the Flower Castle of Kyoto. On the way, he came to the perilous mountain pass of Hikone in the dusk. Following the steps of wayfarers for a long while, he at last found a house. The night was far advanced and the day was about to break. The moon had already declined behind the edge of the mountain.
Shonin went up to the house and knocked at the door. A very old man, dressed in magnificent attire, quickly came out and said, "According to the custom of this area, which is near the [Hakone] Shrine, those engaged in service of kami spend all night in merrymaking. When enjoying evening festivities with others, I fell asleep without noticing it. Unaware of whether I was dreaming or not, I had a vision, in which the Gongen God appeared and said to me, "A special guest whom I deeply revere will soon be coming this way. Be sure that due respect and courtesy be paid to him, and entertain him with utmost care."
Before I fully awoke from the inspired dream, you suddenly appeared before me. How could you be an ordinary person? The God's message is indubitable. The divine working commands our deepest reverence."
So saying, the old man respectfully ushered in Shonin, and prepared sumptuous food of delicate flavor for him.


After returning home to Kyoto, Shonin reflected upon the bygone days; the years past were like a dream or an illusion. His old abode in the capital was hardly recognizable. Shonin moved from one place to another, until he found Gojo Nishi-no-toin area. Finding it to his taste, he lived there for some time. His disciples who had personally received his teaching face to face yearned after the past days of close association with Shonin, and came a long way to flock at his door.
There was among them a man named Heitaro of Obu Village in Nakanosai County in Hitachi Province. He faithfully upheld Shonin's teaching with singleness of heart.
One day, his public duty obliged Heitaro to make a pilgrimage to Kumano Shrine. In order to seek Shonin's advice, he called on him. Shonin said:

"The sacred teachings are manifold. If properly applied to the right persons, they bring great benefit. Now in the period of Decadent Dharma, however, the practices in the Path of Sages cannot be accomplished. [To quote Tao-ch'o,] 'In the present period of Decadent Dharma, even if millions of people set out performing practices, not a single person attains emancipation.'Also, 'Only the Pure Land Path is passable for us.' These are clear testimonial passages from scriptures, and are the Tathagata's Golden Words.
Concerning the true teaching of the Pure Land Way, I deeply appreciate the patriarchs of the three countries1) for developing this teaching. Hence, what I, Gutoku, recommend is not my own ideas. It should be noted that 'single-hearted mindfulness' is the essence of the way of birth in the Pure Land and the core of this school. Although the three sutras2) have both implicit and explicit aspects, they all clarify this either in clear terms or by implication. In the Larger Sutra, the section on the three groups of aspirants,3) single-hearted mindfulness is recommended, and in the section on transmission of the teaching4) this is transmitted to Maitreya. In the Contemplation Sutra, section on the nine grades of aspirants, the Three Minds5) are presented, and they are transmitted to Ananda. The One Mind in the Amida Sutra is testified to by many Buddhas.6) The Discourse-master [Vasubandhu] sets forth One Mind,7) and the Master [Shan-tao] uses the term 'single-hearted (practice of the Nembutsu.'8)
The original state of (the God enshrined in) the Shojoden Hall9) is the Lord Preacher under discussion.10) Out of deep compassion to establish ties with sentient beings, he has manifested his incarnation (as Kumano Gongen) by concealing his original majestic body. His intention in leaving his incarnated body as such is to lead beings who have close ties with Amida to the ocean-like Primal Vow.
For this reason, those who entrust themselves to the Vow of the original Buddhahood and recite the Nembutsu with singleness of heart may very well perform public duties and, by the order of the manor lord, make a pilgrimage to its sacred site (in Kumano) and pay homage to the God in the shrine; you do not do this of your own accord. While entertaining vain and deceitful thoughts, you should not show the appearance of being wise, good and diligent to the deity in incarnation. Leave yourself to the Vow of the original Buddha. How grateful I am! Your visit does not mean despising the deity; it is most unlikely that the deity will stare at you with an angry look."

Thereupon, Heitaro visited Kumano. He did not observe the prescribed manner concerning the pilgrimage. He did not hide the feelings of an ordinary person who is eternally sinking in birth-and-death, nor did he purify his defiled body. Instead, he kept adoring the Primal Vow, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. Even for a short while, he did not disobey the Master's teaching.
He reached Kumano without any incident. On that night, Heitaro had a vision in a dream: the door of the shrine was opened and a layman in proper ceremonial dress and hat came in and said to Heitaro, "Why have you come here in such a defiled and impure state, unafraid of the deity?" At that moment, Shonin suddenly appeared before him and said, "He practices the Nembutsu in accordance with Zenshin's instructions." Thereupon, the layman held up his scepter in the proper way and bowed deeply to show his respect to Shonin, without saying a word. Then I awoke.
I was struck with unspeakable wonder. On his way home, Heitaro paid a visit to Shonin and told him what had happened. In reply Shonin said, "That was good." This was also an inconceivable thing.

1. India, China and Japan.
2. The three Pure Land sutras are the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Amida Sutra (or the Smaller Sutra).
3. See chapters 23-25 of the Larger Sutra (Amida Net: dai-22-25.htm).
4. See chapter 47 of the Larger Sutra (Amida Net: dai-41-48 .htm).
5. The Three Minds are sincere faith, deep faith, and the faith that seeks birth in the Pure Land by transferring one's merit; see chapter 22 (Amida Net: tai-22-24.htm).
6. See chapters 5ff. of the Amida Sutra (Amida Net: ami-4-5.htm).
7. In his Verses of Aspiration for Birth, Vasubandhu professes "With singleness of mind, I take refuge in the Tathagata of Unhindered Light Shining throughout the Ten Quarters." Shinran interprets 'singleness of mind' as 'One Mind' which is essentially the same as 'Three Minds' of the Eighteenth Vow and is the Faith of the Other-Power.
8. Refers to Shan-tao's explanation in his Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, section on the Non-meditative Good: "Although I have above explained the benefit of both the Meditative and Non-meditative Good, from the viewpoint of the intent of the Buddha's Primal Vow, what is implied (in the sutra) is that sentient beings should single-heartedly recite Amida Buddha's Name.
9. Of all the twelve shrines of Kumano Gongen, Shojoden is the principal one.
10. Refers here to Amida.


Towards the end of the eleventh month in the second year of Kocho [the year of water/dog] (1262), Shonin became ill. From that time on, he did not talk about secular matters, but only spoke in deep appreciation of the Buddha's benevolence. He uttered no other words but solely recited the Nembutsu without ceasing.
On the eighth day, at the hour of the horse,1) of the same month, lying on his right side, facing west and keeping his head to the north,2) Shonin breathed his last breath while saying the Nembutsu. He was ninety years of age.
His hermitage was in Kyoto, south of Oshi-koji street and east of Madeno-koji alley.3) The coffin was carried eastwards over the Kamo River to the Ennin-ji, south of Toribeno at the western foot of Higashiyama, where the funeral was conducted. His remains were collected and deposited at Otani, north of Toribeno at the foot of Higashiyama. All his disciples and followers, both young and old, who witnessed his last moment, remembering fondly the happy bygone days when he was alive and now grieving over his passing, cried bitterly with deep yearning.

1. The hour of the horse corresponds to midday. It has been traditionally established in Japan that the time of the death of an eminent monk is the hour of the horse even if he dies at a different time.
2. This is the posture taken by Shakyamuni when he passed into Nirvana. So it has become the standard posture of dying Buddhists. Why did he keep his head to the north? According to one theory, it is because he wanted to show that his teaching would spread to the north. Why did he lie on his right side? According to one theory, it is because he wanted to follow the posture of dying taken by the king of lions; it was also believed that a deity dies while lying face up, a devil dies with its face downward, and a greedy man dies while lying on his left side.
3. The location of this place is believed to be Sanjo tomikoji in the Ukyo part of Kyoto, where there was a Tendai temple called Zenpo-in. Shinran's younger brother, Jinnu, was the head priest of this temple, where Shinran spent his last years and died. At this place (i.e., Yamanouchi, Saiin, Ukyoku, Kyoto), Honganji built its Branch Temple, Sumino-bo, in 1857.


In the winter of the ninth year of Bun'ei (1272), Shonin's tomb at Otani, north of Toribeno at the western foot of Higashiyama, was moved westwards to north of Yoshinizu. His remains were redeposited, and a mausoleum was constructed where his image was enshrined.
From that time on, the teaching transmitted by Shonin grew more and more, and his doctrine was more widely accepted than when he was alive. Now his followers fill every province and county, and those who belong to this school are scattered everywhere in large numbers. Both priests and laypeople, young and old, who deeply revere his teaching and are diligently committed to repaying their indebtedness to Shonin, each make a pilgrimage to the mausoleum every year.

Many miraculous stories were told about Shonin, but it is impossible to relate them all. I have presented only a selected few.