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

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Scroll Two


When the Virtuous Master of Kurodani,(1) Genku, was still in the world, out of compassion, he granted Shonin permission to copy his work,(2) and on another occasion, wrote Shonin's new name(3) 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 of 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, "A 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.

A 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 sought 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 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.

Section 6

1. Honen, at the age of 73, handing the Senjakushu to Shonin.
2. Shinran, at the age of 33, receiving the Senjakashu.
3. Honen's disciple, possibly, Seikaku.
4. An attendant novice.

1. Honen inscribing the Sacred Name and a quotation from the Liturgy for Birth on Shonin's copy of Honen's portrait. Shonin's new name, Zenshin, was also added to it.
2. Shonin.
3. Honen's disciple.
4. An attendant novice.


In 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 at the helm of state in the Imperial Palace yearned for the blossoms in the golden forests, and the ministers and high officials in charge of 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 as crowded as a market. 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 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 ascertain 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).

Section 7

1. Honen, at the age of 73, listening to Shonin's proposal.
2. Shonin advancing a proposal to divide his fellow-disciples into two: those who upheld faith and those who believed in practice.
3. Honen's chief disciples.

1. Honen.
2. Rensho-bo who came late asking Shonin about the purpose of the meeting.
3. Shonin chairing at the meeting.
4 & 5. Seikaku and Shinku seated on the "faith" side.
6. More than 300 disciples of Honen seated on the "practice" side.


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?"

 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 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.

Section 8

1. Honen at the age of 74.
2. Shonin at the age of 34 sitting behind a pillar.
3. Nembutsu-bo.
4. Shoshin-bo.
5. Seikan-bo.


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-bridge(1) 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 founder(2) 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 living incarnation 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.

Section 9 Shonin's hermitage in Kyoto

<Right> Nyusai's wish to have Shonin's portrait.
1. Shonin at the age of 70 granting Nyusai-bo's wish..
2. Nyusai-bo.
3. Ren'i-bo.

<Left> The painter, Jozen, seeing Shonin
1. Shonin poised for being portrayed.
2. Jozen portraying Shonin.
3. Nyusai-bo.
4. Ren'i-bo and another disciple.

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