What is Jodo Shinshu Buddhism?
The Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism was founded by Shinran, a monk who lived in Japan in the 13th century. Jodo Shinshu means "true essence of Pure Land Buddhism" (or, literally: Jodo, meaning Pure Land or realm; Shin, meaning True; and Shu, meaning religion).
Guide to Jodo Shinshu Teaching and Practices (available for download)
The Life of Shinran Shonin
In 1173, Shinran Shonin was born in the Hino area south of Kyoto. His father was Arinori Hino, an aristocrat of the Fujiwara clan and his mother was Lady Kikko of the Minamoto clan. Shinran’s Birth name was Matsuwakamaro. He was born in times of turmoil as there was the changing of ruling power from the aristocrats in Kyoto to the warrior clans of Kamakura.
At the young age of 9 years old, Shinran receives his “Tokudo” basic ordination at Shōren-in, a well known Tendai Buddhist temple where he received his first Buddhist name, Hannen. For twenty years, Hannen (Shinran) toiled as a monk on Mt. Hiei. Of his life on the mountain little is known; however, the one clear document of his life during this period shows that Shinran was a “monk of the practice hall” (doso) while he was on Mt. Hiei. As part of his practice he would have done a practice known as ‘Jo Gyo Zan Mai’, which is the practice of walking while constantly reciting the Nembutsu. It is generally accepted that through practices such as this, Shinran was able to get his first insight to Amida Buddha.
After spending twenty years on Mt. Hiei, Shinran reached an impasse in his studies and personal search for religious truth. Realizing that he was still full of human passions and defilements Shinran makes a paramount decision to leave the mountain. Following a hundred day vigil at Rokakudo in Kyoto, Shinran begins his Nembutsu journey by seeking out Honen Shonin, who was teaching the Nembutsu teaching at the time.
For six years, Shinran studied under Honen Shonin, a great master of Buddhism, who had himself spent several decades as a Tendai monk on Mt. Hiei. In 1175, he had left the mountain and was teaching the strict practice of relying solely on the Nembutsu, saying that people of all walks of life could receive salvation through the Nembutsu. For Shinran, the six years with Honen would forever change his life.
In 1207, when Shinran was 35 Years old, the growing popularity of Honen Shonin’s teachings was a threat to the established religious orders on Mt. Hiei and in Nara. Along with the great pressure from both of these schools to ban the Nembutsu teachings, an incident occurred which put the Nembutsu movement out of favour with the imperial court. The outcome of the incident was that two of Honen’s disciples were beheaded in a public execution and Honen and seven of his closest disciples were banished to outlying areas of Japan. Honen Shonin was banished South, to the Shikoku area, while Shinran was banished North, to the Echigo area.
It was during his exile in Echigo that Shinran found a new depth to the Nembutsu teaching, as he was stripped of his title as a monk and was given the name Yoshizane Fujii. He had to live just as the rest of the people in the area. Through this experience, Shinran realized that the Nembutsu was indeed the path for everyone. It is also during this period that Shinran marries Eshinni-sama. Several years later (1212), both Honen and Shinran are pardoned from their exiles. Honen Shonin would return to Kyoto, where he passes away during the same year. Upon hearing this, Shinran decides not to return to Kyoto, but instead ventures on to the Kanto area with his family to further spread the Nembutsu teachings.
In 1214 Shinran moves from Echigo to Hitachi (present day Ibaraki), just North East of present Tokyo area. It is in the Kanto area that Shinran really begins to propagate strongly the teachings of the Nembutsu. This is seen through the building of ‘Dojo’s’ (place of enlightenment) throughout the area. The ‘dojo’ was unique as up until then, temples were seen as places for monks to practice in. They would often have very large statues of the Buddha and small areas for monks to worship in. In contrast, the dojo had very large areas for people to gather and talk, and the actual figure of the Buddha may even be just on a scroll. Although, Shinran did most of his writing in his latter years after his return to Kyoto, his greatest piece, Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyo Gyo Sho Mon Rui (A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way), was thought to have been originally drafted during his stay in the Kanto area.
Following 20 years of life in the Kanto region, Shinran moves back to Kyoto where, outwardly he leads a quiet existence, but it is during this period that Shinran was probably the most prolific as a writer, writing the majority of his works. Although the oldest remaining copy of the A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way is dated as being written around when Shinran was 63 years old, it is generally accepted that he continued to revise and edit it until he was well into his eighties.
Throughout an eventful life of 91 years, Shinran Shonin encountered many hardships and difficulties. And yet, because of them, he was able to see the true nature of his existence and encounter the most important truth in his life, which was the workings of Amida Buddha in the Name, Namo Amida Butsu.
It is said that during the latter part of the year 1262, Shinran Shonin stopped talking about worldly matters and began quietly reciting the Nembutsu repeatedly, passing away quietly at the age of 91 years old (the date converted to the modern calendar is said to be January 16, 1263).
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