Shinran (親鸞)

Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist monk in the early Kamakura period. He is recognized as the founder of Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism.

On November 28th, 1876, Shinran was given the posthumous Buddhist name Kenshin Daishi by Emperor Meiji.


After Shinran met Honen (the founder of Jodo Shu) and became his disciple, he inherited 'the discipline of the true religion, Jodo Shu', making all efforts to enhance it. He doesn't seem to have intended to establish his own sect. He didn't possess his own temple, but constructed meeting places called Nenbutsu Dojo in various provinces to spread the teaching of Jodo Shinshu. While Shinran's nenbutsu group was censured by the Buddhist establishment and the other sects of Jodo Shu, a distinctive character of his discipline became clear, so his followers established a new sect, Jodo Shinshu, after his death. Jodo Shinshu is considered to have been founded in 1247, when Shinran finished writing "Kenjodo shinjitsu kyogyo shomonrui" (Kyogyo shinsho), but in reality it was after Shinran's death that Jodo Shinshu was officially recognized.

People and Writings that Influenced Shinran

The Seven Patriarchs of Jodo Shinshu: Shinran selected the following 7 monks as the high priests who had taught and spread the doctrine of Shomyo Nenbutsu.

Indian Buddhism

Nagarjuna: "Jujubibasharon", the ninth chapter of 'Igyohon' (the easy practice); "Junirai" (the twelve stanzas of adoration)

Vasubandhu: "Muryojukyo ubadaisha ganshoge" (Discourse on the Pure Land)

Chinese Buddhism

Tan-luan: "Muryojukyo ubadaisha ganshoge-chu" (Commentary of a discourse on the Pure Land); "San Amida Butsu Ge" (hymns praising Amida Buddha)

Tao-cho: "Anraku-shu" (treatises on peace and joy)

Shan-tao: "Kammuryoju-kyosho" (a commentary on the Kanmuryojukyo) (Kangyosho); "Ojo Raisan Ge" (hymns on the verse in the Pure Land) (Ojo Raisan); "Tengyo gyodogan ojojodo hojisan" (service book for the Pure Land school) (Hojisan); "Ekangyotomyo hanjuzanmai gyodo ojosan" (hymns on the presence of the Buddha) (Hanjusan); "Kannen Amida Butsu sokai sanmai kudoku homon" (directions for meditation and invocation) (Kannen homon)

Japanese Buddhism

Genshin: "Ojoyoshu" (treatises on rebirth)"

Genku Sho'nin (Honen Sho'nin): "Senjaku Hongan Nenbutsu Shu" (treatises on the Great Vow)" (Singled-Out Collection)

Prince Shotoku: Shinran revered Prince Shotoku as "Wakoku-no-kyoshu" (the founder of Japanese Buddhism) and worshiped him as an incarnation of Kannon Bosatsu (Bodhisattva).
"Seventeen-article constitution"


Honen set the following three books as the canon, which were preached by Sakyamuni and generically called 'Three Pure Land Sutras': "Muryoju-kyo Bussetsu Muryoju-kyo", "Kammuryoju-kyo" and "Amida-kyo." The book "Bussetsu Muryoju-kyo" was also called "Daimuryoju-kyo" (Daikyo), and considered the most significant sutra by Shinran.

In the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, those who awaken faith in the saving grace of Amida Nyorai and express deep feeling of gratitude by reciting his name "Namu Amida Butsu," are to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amida and become a Buddha. Because long time ago Hozo bosatsu (Amida Butsu when he was still studying) invoked the forty-eight vows, and the main idea of the eighteenth vow (called the Great Vow) had been 'if any one is not saved in this world, I shall not attain Buddhahood', and then he became a Buddha with all his vows fulfilled. It is the Great Vow of Amida Butsu that leads all the people (sentient beings) to the Pure Land, and the path to the Pure Land will open by the faith which is given by Amida Butsu (Easy Path). This is called Shinji Shoin Shomyo Ho-on (meaning only the belief given by Amida Butsu leads you to the Pure Land, so you have to recite the name of Amida Butsu to express the feeling of gratitude).

As mentioned before, the faith in this context isn't the faith given by people's own efforts, but it is Amida Butsu who gives them the faith, and everything that happens in this world is due to the work of Amida Butsu. This viewpoint is called "Tariki Hongan," which means salvation through the benevolence of Amida Butsu. In the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, all people (sentient beings) are considered creatures who don't have wisdom like Buddha and have to live through the degenerate age of Mappo. However, the teaching doesn't necessarily deny those who try to attain enlightenment by themselves (or those who try to choose the Difficult Path). Shinran also wrote in his book "Shoshinge" that it is really difficult to keep holding your faith without any misunderstandings.

"Tariki" means the work or power of Amidabutsu. Therefore the devoted followers of Jodo Shinshu choose not to use the word "tariki" in such contexts like 'you depend on the other people too much', or 'it is due to the work of sun, rain, wind, air or other nature', because the true meaning of "tariki" is not the influence of people or nature but Amidabutsu, though this misusage is pervasive now.

The idea called "Akunin Shoki" is also unique to Shinran. This is something you can see in the thinking of Honen, who was Shinran's teacher, but it is also said that Shinran organized the idea as a doctrine. In the book "Tannisho" is written that 'if even good people can be born in the Pure Land, how much more so the evil people', and this has also something to do with the concept of "Tariki Hongan," which was mentioned above. The meaning of this is that people (sentient beings) are too ignorant to do something good that leads to the Pure Land. People (sentient beings) always do evil things, which never leads them to the Pure Land. So, paradoxically, those who know they are evil are closer to the path to salvation by the Great Vow, rather than those who consider themselves good and still believe that they can do something good. It could be said an extension of the idea of not-self, or Anatta in Mahayana Buddhism.

Shinran thought that we are all Gensho shojoju, which means we are saved by the Great Vow of Amida Butsu and already destined to go to the Pure Land, so he decided to live in this world illustrating how much his life is filled with joy and happiness derived from the life in the Pure Land. This idea goes beyond that of Honen, and is one of the significant doctrinal differences between Jodo Shinshu and Jodo shu.


All the ages below are according to the East Asian age reckoning. All the dates and years below are according to the Japanese lunar calendar, in order to show the accurate date and be able to identify the dates when the books are written.


On April 1st, 1173 (according to the solar calendar, May 21st), Shinran was born the first son of Arinori HINO, whose title was Daishin of the emperor's mother, near the present Hino Tanjo-in in the Hokai-ji Temple (Hino, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City). His mother is recognized to be Kikko'nyo, granddaughter of Hachimantaro Yoshiie (=MINAMOTO no Yoshiie) of the Seiwa Genji clan. His name as a child was Matsuwakamaro or Matsuwakamaru.

Entering the Buddhist Priesthood

In 1181, when Shinran was 9, he was inducted into the Buddhist priesthood by Jien (who later became a chief abbot called Tendai Zasu) at a Buddhist monastery called Shoren-in, and given the Buddhist name Hannen.

Study at Mt. Hiei

After he entered the priesthood, he went to Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei and stayed at the training center called Jogyodo in the Shuryogon-in in Yokawa, where his master Jien served as Kengyo. He pursued his study and disciplined himself as a monk of the Tendai sect according to its religious practice of Fudan Nenbutsu. He served for 20 years on Mt. Hiei, but he came to realize the limitations of Self-power.

A Prophetic Dream

Around the spring of 1201, when Shinran was 29, he left Mt. Hiei and for the purpose of praying for the coming generations he went to Choho-ji Temple (located in present Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City), which was founded by Prince Shotoku, and secluded himself for 100 days there. On the 95th day of his seclusion (April 5th of the same year), he had a dream in which Prince Shotoku (or Kannon Bosatsu's incarnation) appeared and said, "If you have sexual intercourse because of your previous karma, I will take your sin instead becoming the woman for you. Serve the temple earnestly through your life, and I will lead you to the Pure Land at your death."

Shinran followed the prophetic dream, and as dawn broke he visited Honen, who had lived in Higashiyama Yoshimizu (present Maruyama-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City).
(Honen was 69 then.)
Shinran moved in a thatched hut in Okazaki (present Okazaki Higashitenno-cho, Sakyo-ku), and visited Honen for 100 days to listen to his teaching.

Becoming Honen's Disciple

Shinran decided to become Honen's disciple when he learned Honen's teaching of "Exclusive Nenbutsu". Then Shinran was given a new Buddhist name, "Shakku", by Honen. Shinran studied hard, and gradually earned the respect of his master Honen.

On April 14th, 1205, (5 years later of Shinran's becoming Honen's disciple), Honen permitted Shinran to make a copy of his work, "Senjaku Hongan Nenbutsushu" (Singled-out Collection) and draw a portrait of Him. This was a privilege reserved for only a select few disciples.

At about this time, Shinran asked Honen to change his name, and was given the name "Zenshin".

It is said that during his study under Honen, Shinran got married with either Tamahi, daughter of Kanezane KUJO, or Eshinni, daughter of the Miyoshi clan. At that time, it was common to allow exiled criminals to marry, and this interpretation is supported even today. There are many stories about Shinran's marriage, such as the idea that Tamahi and Eshinni were the same person.

In the illustrated biography of Shinran called Hongan-ji Sho'nin Denne, the painting of 'Entering Yoshimizu Temple' is followed by that of 'The Oracle at Rokkakudo', but the book of "Eshinni shosoku" says, 'Shinran made ceaseless visits to the master Honen for 100 days, and it was just like his seclusion at the Rokkakudo, which lasted for 100 days,....'
Generally speaking, the descriptions about these events in the book of "Godensho" are considered Kaku'nyo's miswriting. Besides that, some handwritten copies of the book say "The Oracle at Rokkakudo" and "Entering Yoshimizu Temple" were events that happened in 1626, but they are also considered errors in writing.
(The West Hongan-ji Temple version of the book says only "The Oracle at Rokkakudo" took place in 1626.)

Exile and The Death of Master Honen

In February, 1207, at the protest of Kofuku-ji Temple, Honen's "Exclusive Nenbutsu" was suppressed, and 4 people including Junsai were executed, and 8 people including Honen and Shinran were to be banished (this incident is called Jogen no Honan). Honen and Shinran were deprived of their Buddhist names then. Honen was given the nonclerical name "Motohiko FUJII", and Shinran "Yoshizane FUJII". Honen was banished to Tosa Province (present Kochi Prefecture), and Shinran to Echigo Kokufu (present Niigata Prefecture). Partly because the letters of his Buddhist name Zenshin were used in the secular name Yoshizane, he called himself "Gutokusha Shinran" (Gutokusha means a foolish bald man), borrowing the Shin from India's Tenshin Bosatsu and the Ran from Unran Daishi, and began to lead a life of "Hiso Hizoku" (neither monk nor layman).

Some accounts have it that at about this time Shinran got married to Eshinni, daughter of the strong warrior Tamenori MIYOHI. Also, he is said to have had a baby in exile.

In November, 1211 (5 years after his exile), the court issued an order to pardon Shinran and Honen.

On January 25th, 1212, Honen died in Kyoto at the age of 80. So Shinran never met his master again. Partly because of this, Shinran didn't return to Kyoto and remained in Echigo.

Propagation in the Kanto Region

In 1214 (three years after the pardon), Shinran left Echigo with his family and some disciples such as Shoshin to preach his teachings to the people in the Kanto region, and they made their way from the Zenko-ji Temple in Shinano Province, through Sanuki no sho in Kozuke Province to Hitachi (present northeast area of Ibaraki Prefecture).

In 1216, Shinran began to build thatched huts such as "Oyama no soan" (located in present Shirosatomachi, Ibaraki Prefecture), "Kojima no soan" (located in present Ojima, Shimotsuma-shi, Ibaraki Prefecture) and "Inada no soan" in Inada no go (present Inada, Kasama-shi, Ibaraki Prefecture). He settled at Hitachi Province and spread his teachings vigorously to the people there. His missionary work in the Kanto region lasted about 20 years. It is also said that Shinran spent 4 years on writing a rough draft of his main work "Kenjodo shinjitsu kyogyo shomonrui" (Kyogyo shinsho) at his thatched hut in Inada.

According to the Sainen-ji Temple's story, Shinran's wife Eshinni didn't accompany him to Kyoto and remained in "Inada no soan" until her death.

Shinran's 24 leading disciples in the Kanto region came to be called "Kanto twenty-four followers of Shinran" in later days. These disciples founded temples in the area of Hitachi, Shimotsuke and so on. The number of the temples founded by the Kanto followers are now 43, and they survive to this day being called "Temples founded by twenty-four followers of Shinran".

Return to Kyoto

In 1234, the Kamakura shogunate declared a ban on Nenbutsu practitioners. That is why Shinran made his way to Kyoto at the age of 62 or 63. After his return to Kyoto, he began to devote himself to writing books.

After Shinran left Hitachi Province, various heresies and misinterpretations of his teachings to arose.

Around 1247, when Shinran was about 75, he completed his work "Kyogyo shinsho", which Shinran had been revising and supplementing for a long time, and he allowed his disciple Sonren to copy his book.

In 1248, he completed these two books of "Jodo wasan" and "Koso wasan".

In 1250, he completed "Yuishinsho mon'i" (preserved in the Morioka Honsei-ji Temple).

In 1251, Shinran sent a letter to pacify a dispute called "Unen-munen no jo," which happened in Hitachi Province.

In 1252, he completed "Jodo monruijusho".

Around 1253, Shinran sent his son Zenran and his grandson Nyoshin to the Kanto region in order to spread an authentic doctrine to people. However, Zenran devoted himself to the wrong doctrine called "Senju kenzen", and he preached the heresy even to the people who had understood Shinran's teachings properly, causing a turmoil.

Nyoshin kept preaching Shinran's teachings to the people at Oami, Mutsu Province, and gained a large number of disciples called "Oami monto".

Separation from Eshinni

In 1254, it is said that Eshinni asked her youngest daughter Kakushinni to take care of Shinran, and she left for her hometown Echigo. The reason she returned home was to take care of her relatives and the lands of the Miyoshi family to which she was born.

In 1255, he completed "Songo shinzo meimon" (an abstract/ preserved in the Houn-ji Temple in Fukui Prefecture), "Jodo sangyo ojo monrui" (an abstract/ Kencho version), "Gutokusho" (2 vols.) and "Kotaishi Shotoku hosan" (75 poems).

In 1256, he completed "Nyushutsu nimonge" (hymns on the two gates, entrance and exit) (preserved in the Houn-ji Temple in Fukui Prefecture).

Shinran declared that he would disown his son Zenran in his letter dated May 29th of that year, because Zenran preached heresy to the people in the Kanto region.

It is thought that the visit to the Kanto followers mentioned in the second chapter of the "Tannisho" took place around this time.

In 1256, Shinran completed "Nyorai nishu ekomon" (Osoeko Gensoeko monrui).

In 1257, he completed "Ichinen tanen mon'i (means notes on one-thought and many-thoughts)" and "Dainihonkoku zokusan'o shotoku taishi hosan", and made a copy of "Jodo sangyo ojomonrui" (longer version/Kogen version).

In 1258, he completed "Songo shinzo meimon" (longer version) and "Shozomatsu wasan".

The three books "Jodo wasan", "Koso wasan" and "Shozomatsu wasan" as a set are called 'Sanjo wasan'.

The letters written by Shinran around this time were later compiled into the books of "Mattosho" (compiled by Jukaku) and "Shinran Sho'nin goshosokushu" (compiled by Zensho).

Dying in Peace

On January 16th, 1263, he died at the age of 90 (according to the East Asian age reckoning, and 89 in a regular way of counting) in "Zenpo-in" at Oshikoji Minami and Madenokoji Higashi (his younger brother Jin'u served as a chief monk there). There are various explanations as to the place of his death, "Zenpo-in (Zenpo-bo) at Oshikoji Minami/Madenokoji Higashi." The Hongan-ji sect said that "Zenpo-bo" was at the west side of Madenokoji, and restored Zenpo-in (present-day Hongan-ji Sect Kadonobo Annex). The Otani Sect supposed the location of "Zenpo-in" to be at the ruins of Hosen-ji Temple, built in a place that had come to be called "Shinrangahara" (present-day Kyoto Municipal Kyoto Oike Middle School - Toraishi-cho), and erected a stone monument with the words "The Place Where Kenshin Daishi Passed On."
(Some also say that he passed on at Koen-ji Temple (Kyoto City Shimogyo Ward) and his body was moved to Zenpo-in for some reason.)
At his death, Shinran's younger brother Jin'u and his youngest daughter Kakushinni, among others, were with him. His ashes were interred at "Otani", north of Toribeno. Since his exile, he had stuck to his own status which was neither a monk nor a layman.

The ritual called "Ho-onko" for expressing the feeling of gratitude to Shinran takes place on the date of his death annually.

According to the book of "Godensho" written by the 3rd caretaker of Hongan-ji Temple Kakunyo, 'his cremation was held at Ennin-ji Temple, south of Toribeno.'
The Hongan-ji sect says that he was cremated around the south side of Mt. Toribe (present-day Otani Honbyo/Nishi Otani Ondabisho). The Otani sect says that he was cremated at Enni-ji Temple (Imakumano, Kyoto City Higashi Ward).
(Present-day Enni-ji Temple was restored by the 21st chief priest of Higashi Hongan-ji, Kosho OTANI.)

Some belongings left by Shinran and a part of his skull were carried to the Kanto region by disciples such as Zensho, and placed into the "Inada no soan" in which Shinran lived while preaching in the Kanto region.

A statue of Shinran at

Establishment of Hongan-ji Temple

In 1272 (10 years after Shinran's death), with the help of Shinran's followers, Kakushinni moved the tomb of Shinran at "Otani" to the north of Yoshimizu (near the present Sotai-in (Chion-in Tacchu)) and constructed a hall called "Otani byodo."
(In 1295, Shinran's image was enshrined in the hall, which came to be called "Otani eido".)

In 1321, Kakunyo, the 3rd caretaker of Hongan-ji Temple, made the hall "Otani byodo" into the temple called Hongan-ji (or the Otani Hongan-ji Temple).

Hongan-ji Temple survived until 1465 (the time of the 8th caretaker, Rennyo), when it was destroyed by the congregation from the Saito area of Enryaku-ji Temple (the incident is called Kansho no Honan).


Texts in Chinese Characters

"Kenjodo shinjitsu kyogyo shomonrui" (an abbreviation of the title is "Kyogyo shinsho")

A poem called 'Shoshin Nenbutsuge' is in the last part of the volume named 'Gyokan' of "Kyogyo shinsho", and the poem consists of 120 lines (7 letters in each line).

"Jodo monrui jusho" (a short treatise on the Pure Land): an abbreviated "Kyogyo Shinsho"

"Gutokusho" (Gutoku's Notes)

"Nyushutsu nimon Ge" (hymns on the two gates, entrance and exit)

Texts in Japanese

"Jodo wasan" (hymns on the Pure Land)

"Koso wasan" (hymns on the high priests)

"Shozomatsu wasan" (hymns on the three periods)

"Jodo wasan", "Koso wasan" and "Shozomatsu wasan" are together called 'Sanjo wasan' (three books of hymns).

"Sangyo ojo monrui"

"Songo shinzo meimon" (eulogies inscribed on the scrolls of the holy names and portraits)

"Ichinen tanen shomon" (notes on one-thought and many thoughts)

"Yuishin shomoni" (notes on faith, commented)

"Nyorai nishu ekomon"

"Mida nyorai myogotoku"

"Shinran Sho'nin goshosoku" (the letters of Shinran)

Related Works

"Eshinni shosoku" (the letters of Eshinni)

"Tannisho" (Lamentations of Divergences)

Literature in which Shinran Appears as a Character

"Shukke to Sono Deshi" (entering the Buddhist priesthood and the disciple) written by Hyakuzo KURATA

"Shiroi Michi - Honen, Shinran to Sono Jidai" (A White Path: Honen, Shinran and Their Times - made into a movie by SHOCHIKU Corporation in 1987; Director: Rentaro MIKUNI)
"Mida no Hashi ha - Shinran Shonin Den" (a bridge of Mida, a legend of St. Shinran)

[Original Japanese]