Honen (法然)

Honen was a Japanese Buddhist monk from the late Heian Period to early Kamakura Period, and the founder of Pure Land Sect. Honen' is his name as an ordained monk, and his real name is Genku. His childhood name was Seishi-maru. Also commonly called Kurodani Sho'nin or Yoshimizu Sho'nin.

His daishi-go currently are: Enko (Emperor Higashiyama, 1697), Tozen (Emperor Nakamikado, 1711), Ejo (Emperor Momozono, 1761), Kokaku (Emperor Kokaku, 1811), Jikyo (Emperor Komei, 1861), Meisho (Emperor Meiji, 1911) and Wajun (Emperor Showa, 1961), and he receives an honorary title every 50 years from the emperor at that time.

He is the seventh patriarch of the Seven Patriarchs of True Pure Land Sect. Genku is considered to be the original patriarch in True Pure Land Sect (Shinran is called the founder). His disciple, Shinran, praised his true master Genku or Genku Sho'nin in "Shoshin Nenbutsuge" as well as in "Koso Wasan," and it was the joy if his lifetime to be Genku's disciple.


He was born in Kume, Mimasaka province (present day Kumenan-cho, Kume-gun, Okayama Prefecture) as a child of a control agent (oryoshi), Tokikuni URUMA and a mother, Hataujikimi.

According to "Shijuhachikan den" (Emperor's document), when he was 9 years old, he lost his father due to an attack at night by a warrior Sada-akira of Minamoto clan, but because of his father's final words he gave up his desire for a revenge.

Afterwards, he went to Mt. Hiei, and at first, he became a disciple of Genko Sho'nin. At the age of 15 (an alternate theory suggests at the age of 13) he was ordained by Koen, who was also at Mt. Hiei-zan.
He became a disciple of Eiku in Kurodani valley at Mt. Hiei-zan, and he took the name 'Honen-bo Genku.'

Influenced by Zendo's "Kanmuryoju-kyosho (Kangyosho)" (Commentary on the Meditation Sutra) at the age of 43 in 1175, he began to pursue senju-nenbutsu (Exclusive Nenbutsu), and he left Mt. Hiei-zan to live in Higashiyama Yoshimizu and began to spread the teaching of Nenbutsu. 1175 is considered as the year in which Pure Land Sect was founded.

In 1186, he debated on Shojo-nimon (Ohara mondo) at Ohara Shorinin, and in 1198 he authored "Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu Shu (Senchaku Shu)" (Passages on the Selection of the Nenbutsu in the Original Vow).

In 1204, the monks at Mt. Hiei-zan mobilized to urge an end to senju-nenbutsu, and Honen responded by writing 'Shichikajo Seikai' (The Seven Articles of Religious Commandments) and sending it to Enryaku-ji Temple with signatures of 190 disciples. However, a letter from Kofuku-ji Temple ordered an end to Nenbutsu, and later, in 1207, Honen was returned to secular life and exiled in Tosa province (Sanuki province in actuality), where he took the name Motohiko FUJII. Four years later, in 1211, he was pardoned and he came back to Kyoto, and he died on January 25 of the following year at the age of 78.

On January 23, 1212, as a response to a request by Genchi, he wrote his will, "Ichimai-kishomon."

Honen's disciples include Shoku, Shinran, Naozane KUMAGAI, Bencho, Genchi, Kosai, Shinku (Pure Land Sect), Ryukan, Tanku and Chosai. In addition, Kanezane KUJO and Yoritsuna UTSUNOMIYA are some of his lay disciples and protectors who are notable.

Ideology and Teaching

Because words such as 'the multitude who are deeply sinful' and 'unenlightened people who are confused with delusions' appear often in "Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu Shu" and "Kurodani Shonin Gotoroku," at the base of Honen's ideology there is a deep despair in the sinfulness and foolishness of the multitude including himself, and he uses that as the starting point for exploring the path to deliver the multitude who are unenlightened.

In general, it is said that Honen preached senju-nenbutsu by reciting Buddha's name, in accordance with Zendo's "Kangyosho." In "Senchaku Shu" authored by Honen, he quoted words by Zendo and Zendo's master, Doshaku (Tao-cho) in each chapter before commenting his own views.

Being influenced by the teaching of Doshaku and Zendo, Honen distinguished the Right Practices, in which one recites Buddha's name in order to be born in the Pure Land, from Miscellaneous Practices, which include all the rest, and he encouraged the exercising of Right Practices. In his written works he compares the practitioner of the Gateway of the Holy Path who engages in the Miscellaneous Practices as a thief, and he emphasizes one to engage in the Right Practices of senju-nenbutsu very often in his text. To validate this point, he quoted the vow of Hozo Bosatsu (Dharmakara Bodhisattva) from "Muryojukyo Bussetsu Muryojukyo" and he noted that the birth in the Pure Land can be realized by reciting Buddha's name, and he also referred to "Amida-kyo (Amida Sutra)," which describes how the various buddhas in the ten directions praised Amitabha Buddha who accomplished the vow and became a Buddha, and he concluded that other Miscellaneous Practices are unnecessary.

In addition, he divided Buddhism into Gateway of the Pure Land that practices senju-nenbutsu and Gateway of the Holy Path that uses other practices, and he prescribed the Gateway of the Pure Land as the gateway by which one engages in senju-nenbutsu with a wish to escape the humanly world and to be born in the Pure Land, and the Gateway of the Holy Path as the gateway by which one aims for enlightenment by training in this world. He also preached that recitation of Buddha's name is effective in the Age of the Final Dharma.

Three Minds' are often seen in the ideology of Honen's recitation of Buddha's name. These are the words that appear often in "Senchaku Shu" as well as in "Kurodani Sho'nin Gotoroku."
The Three Minds are: 'Shijoshin' (literally, "completely sincere mind"), 'Jinshin' (literally, "profound mind"), and 'Eko-hotsugan shin' (literally, "mind which dedicates one's merit to the pure land with the resolution to be born there).'

Utterly Sincere Mind means to sincerely meditate on Amitabha Buddha and to wish to be born in the Pure Land. It also means, first of all, the sincerity of the mind that wishes oneself to be delivered, and second of all, the sincerity of the mind that wishes for other people to aim for enlightenment.

Profound Mind means to have a deep faith without any doubts. The following two illustrate this point: first of all, there was no opportunity to become enlightened because one has ever been reincarnating repeatedly and ridden with sins and misdeeds, and second of all, Amitabha Buddha will deliver even the sinful souls.

Eko-hotsugan shin is the mind that desires to be born in the Pure Land by dedicating all of one's merit from good deeds to the birth in the Pure Land.

Among the Three Minds, Utterly Sincere Mind and Profound Mind are widely discussed, but Eko-hotsugan shin is not discussed heavily. In order to gain Three Minds he noted in "Ichimai-kishomon" that, 'However, everyone will gain Three Minds and Four Trainings by wanting to be born in the Pure Land and by reciting Namu Amidabutsu,' and he stated that one could gain the Three Minds by practicing senju-nenbutsu.

Honen also commented on the number of recitations of nenbutsu. Regarding this, there are approaches of Single Recitation Doctrine and Doctrine of Many-Time Recitation. Single Recitation Doctrine means that reciting nenbutsu only once guarantees the birth in the Pure Land. Doctrine of Many-Time Recitation, on the other hand, takes the approach of having to recite nenbutsu many times throughout the day, every day. Honen preached the Doctrine of Many-Time Recitation, and he lamented over the fact that among his disciples there were those who preached Single Recitation Doctrine. There is a comment that states that there is no difference between the single recitation and reciting ten times, but this comment is appropriate only for one's last moments ("Kurodani Sho'nin Gotoroku" - "Nenbutsu Ojo Yogisho"). He stated that there is no difference between the daily recitation of nenbutsu and the recitation of nenbutsu at one's last moments, and he commented that all there is to it is that as one nears death the daily nenbutsu recitation becomes the last nenbutsu recitation.

Regarding Other Power and Self Power, he recommends nenbutsu by Other Power. Self Power can only be accomplished by sacred beings so that only one in a thousand or one or two in ten thousand may be delivered, but through nenbutsu by Other Power, on the other hand, Amida Buddha will deliver us based on Amida Buddha's Forty-Eight Vows which states that he will deliver anyone who calls his name. Therefore, he stated that one should practice nenbutsu with the Three Minds.

Therefore, Honen's teaching states, as in the Profound Mind of the Three Minds, that the common people must first become aware that they are unenlightened, and because senju-nenbutsu is the best path he recommends it, and therefore it should be chosen.

Written Works by Honen

"Kurodani Sho'nin Gotoroku (in Japanese and Chinese)"

"Saiho shinan sho"

"Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu Shu" (Senchaku Nenbutsu Shu/Senchaku Shu)

"Ichimai-kishomon" (His will)

[Original Japanese]