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

Go to Index to Shinran denne;Sukhavati-Index; General Index

Scroll One


Shonin's family comes from the Fujiwara clan.(1) He was the son of Arinori,(2) the third ranking official at the Empress Dowager's office, and a sixth generation descendant of Lord Arikuni, the Police and Judicial undersecretary. Arikuni was a sixth generation descendant of Lord Uchimaro(3) 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 was the twenty-first generation descendant of the August One Amatsu-koyane.(7)

Considering Shonin's distinguished birth, there may have been high expectations for 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 Aritsuna(8) [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 residence(9) of the former great archbishop [Master Jien,(10) also known as Jichin, who was the son of Lord Hosshoji(11) and the younger 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-yueh
(13) 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 Genshin(16) [who dwelled at Shuryogon-in in Yokawa Precinct], and became thoroughly acquainted with the doctrine of perfect fusion embracing 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  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 appointed 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 Inspector General, he traveled about 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 the descent from heaven of August One Ninigi, he followed him. His descendants were successively in charge of ritual affairs at the imperial court.
8. Noritsuna: Hino Noritsuna; a court official attending 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 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 tortured on suspicion of his part in the plot, and was exiled to Harima Province (present-day Hyogo Prefecture). When 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.

Section 1 At the gate of Shoren-in

On the 15th day of the 3rd month of the 1st year of Yowa (1181), Matsuwakamaro (Shinran's child name), aged 9, accompanied by his uncle, Lord Hino Arinori, came to Shoren-in in order to receive ordination from the Abbot Jien.

1. The ox-cart in which Matsuwakamaro came to Shorenin and the attendant who was overcome with sadness to part with him.
2. The ox-driver and the ox that drew the cart.
3. The temple warrior who brought the message of Matsuwakamaro's ordination.
4. The horse for the temple warrior.
5. His attendants waiting inside and outside the gate.
6. A cherry tree outside the gate.

Section 2 Shoren-in
<Left> The drawing room of Shoren-in.
1. The Abbot Jien, aged 27.
2. Matsuwakamaro received in audience by the Abbot.
3. Lord Noritsuna.
4. An attendant monk.
5. A novice in charge of meals, etc.

<Right> The Buddha hall of Shoren-in.
1. The Abbot Jien conferring ordination to Matsuwakamaro.
2. Matsuwakamaro.
3. Lord Noritsuna.
4. Gonchi-bo Shohan shaved Matsuwakamaro's head.
5. Monks holding lamps.
6. An attendant monk.
7. A novice.


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 Genku(1) at his hermitage in Yoshimizu.(2) Since in the latter days people's spiritual capacities had become inferior and the narrow streets of Difficult Practices 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 on the eastern side of Kyoto, in the area where Maruyama Park is now. In An'yoji temple, located to the east of Maruyama Park, is the place believed to be where Honen's hermitage was; wooden statues of Honen and Shinran are enshrined beside the main object of worship.
3. The Great Path of Easy Practice: The Nembutsu practice based on the Other-Power.

Section 3 Shinran's visit to Honen at his hermitage in Yoshimizu.

1. Shinran entering the hermitage at Yoshimizu.
2. Honen, aged 69.
3. The cart used by Shonin.
4. Gonchi-bo Shohan who was sent by the Abbot Jien to escort Shonin.
5. Shozen-bo, an attendant of Shonin (when he was on Mt. Hiei; he left the mountain with Shonin).
6. Jokan-bo, aged 45, who left the mountain with Shonin and became Honen's disciple, named Saibutsu-bo.
7. An attendant monk.
8. A novice.
9. Zenne-bo Shoku or Seikan-bo Genchi.


On the fifth day of the fourth month in the third year of Kennin (1203), the year of metal/cock,(1) Shonin had a vision at night in the hour of the tiger.(2) According to records,(3) the World-saving Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, of the Rokkakudo(4) 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, practicer, are obliged to have sexual contact with a woman through some past karma,
I will transform myself into 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 dream 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 the 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 at 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 of 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 Rokkakudo temple, originally built by Prince Shotoku, a statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is enshrined.
5. Zenshin: The name 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, thereby establishing 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 should be corrected to 538.
8. When the Nembutsu teaching was persecuted, two of Honen's disciples were executed and Honen himself was banished to Shikoku in 1207.
9. Shinran was exiled to Kokubu in Echigo Province (present-day Niigata Prefecture) in 1207, where he married Eshin-ni (according to other tradition, they were already married in Kyoto); he was pardoned in 1211, but having heard of the death of Honen, he stayed on until 1214.

Section 4 Inspiration received from Kannon of the Rokkakudo Temple.

In the first year of Kennin (1201), Shonin received an inspiration from Avalokiteshvara of the Rokkakudo Temple. According to his instruction,  Shonin proclaimed Avalokiteshvara's message to the multitude of men and women who gathered in Higashiyama.
1. One of the three people resting in the hall is Shonin, who was attempting a 100-day confinement.
2. Shonin worshiped  Avalokiteshvara with his palms joined together.
3. White-robed World-Saving Avalokiteshvara seated on a white lotus seat.
4. Shonin proclaimed Avalokiteshvara's message to the multitude.
5. The multitude of people who gathered in Higashiyama.


On the ninth day of the second month in the eighth year of Kencho (1256),(1) at night at the hour of the tiger,(2) Shaku Ren'I(3) 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 defilements
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-day 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.

Section 5 Ren'i's dream.

In the eighth year of Kencho (1256), Ren'i-bo, who constantly attended Shonin, had a dream in the hermitage at Nishinotoin, Gojo, Kyoto that Prince Shotoku worshiped Shonin as Amida's incarnation.
1. Shonin in a black robe, aged 84.
2. Prince Shotoku worshiped Shonin with his palms joined together.
3. Ren'i-bo was lying in bed dreaming.

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