An Illustrated Biography of Shinran, the Honganji 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 Four


Leaving behind the boundary of the 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 day was about to break. The moon had already sunk 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. While enjoying evening festivities with others, I fell asleep without noticing. 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 Shonin in, and prepared sumptuous food of delicate flavor for him.

Section 16 Shonin and Gongen gods.

<Right> Hakone Gongen
1. Shonin at the age of 62 greeted by the priest of the Hakone Gongen shrine.
2. Ren'i-bo.
3. Sainen-bo.

<Left> Kumano Gongen
1. Shonin's hermitage in Kyoto.
2. Shonin at the age of 68.
3. Heitaro, aged 44, asking Shonin whether he should perform his assignment to visit the Kumano Gongen in the light of his faith in Jodo Shinshu.
4. Ren'i-bo.


After returning home to Kyoto, Shonin reflected upon 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 the 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 for 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 countries(1) for developing this teaching. Hence, what I, Gutoku, recommend is not my own idea. 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 sutras(2) have both implicit and explicit aspects, they all clarify this either in clear terms or by implication. In the Larger Sutra, in the section on the three groups of aspirants,(3) single-hearted mindfulness is recommended, and in the section on transmission of the teaching(4) this is transmitted to Maitreya. In the Contemplation Sutra's section on the nine grades of aspirants, the Three Minds(5) 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 Hall
(9) 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 Heitaro awoke. He 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, in the 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.

Section 17 Heitaro's visit to the Kamano Gongen

1. The shrine office in the Kumano Gongen.
2. Heitaro having a vision of Shonin in the dream.
3. Satake Suekata.
4. Suekata's wife.
5. Kuruhon-bo, a yamabushi leader.
6. The main hall, called Shojoden, which appeared in the dream.
7. Shonin talking to a lay-member of the shrine.
8. The lay-member of the shrine.


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.

Section 18 Shonin's illness and death.

<Right> Shonin becoming ill at his younger brother's (Jin'u) temple.
1. Shonin meeting his disciples.
2. Kenchi, Dosho of Masukata [Shonin's fifth child], Ren'i and others.

<Middle> Shonin at his deathbed at the age of 90.
1. Shonin's passing.
2. Senshin-bo.
3. Probably, Shonin's daughter, Kakushin-ni.

<Left> To the crematorium,
1. Shonin's disciples carrying the coffin.
2. The priests leading the mourners.
3. The man in charge of cremation.

Section 19 Cremation at the Enninji Temple in Hiyashiyama.

1. The palanquin that carried the coffin.
2. The mourners.
3. The guardian monks.
4. The man who performed the cremation.
5. Toribeno at the foot of Mt. Higashiyama.


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 and placed 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.

Section 20 Construction of Otani Mausoleum.

1. Shonin's statue in the Mausoleum.
2. Part of the roof of the worshiping hall.
3. The Southern Hall.
4. The Northern Hall.
5. A red plumb tree.
6. A white plumb tree.
7. A caretaker.

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