Shinran (親鸞)
Shinran's "Portrait of Anjo" at Honganji in Kyoto, Japan.
Shinran's "Portrait of Anjo" at Honganji in Kyoto, Japan.
School Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism
Born Matsuwakamaro
May 13, 1173(1173-05-13)
Kyoto, Japan
Died January 16, 1263 (aged 89)
Kyoto, Japan
Senior posting
Title Founder of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism
Religious career
Teacher Hōnen

Shinran 親鸞 (May 21, 1173 – January 16, 1263)[1][2] was a Japanese Buddhist monk, who was born in Hino (now a part of Fushimi, Kyoto) at the turbulent close of the Heian Period and lived during the Kamakura Period. Shinran was a pupil of Hōnen and the founder of what ultimately became the Jōdo Shinshū sect in Japan.


Shinran was born on May 21, 1173 to Lord and Lady Arinori, a branch of the Fujiwara clan, and was given the name Matsuwakamaro. Early in Shinran's life his parents both died, so in 1181, Shinran's uncle entered him into Shoren-in temple near present-day Maruyama Park in Kyoto at age 9. He then practiced at Mt. Hiei for the next 20 years of his life. Letters between his wife and daughter indicate that he was a Tendai dōsō (堂僧?, "hall monk"). Because of his devotion to the practices of the Lotus Sutra on Mt. Hiei, he became known as "the prodigy of Mt.Hiei."

According to his own account to his wife Eshinni (whose letters are preserved at the Honganji), in frustration at his own failures as a monk and at obtaining enlightenment, he took a retreat at the temple of Rokkakudo. There, while engaged in intense practice, he experienced a vision in which Avalokitesvara appeared to him as Prince Shotoku, directing Shinran to another disillusioned Tendai monk named Hōnen.[3] In 1201, Shinran met Hōnen and became his disciple. During his first year under Honen's guidance, at the age of 29, Shinran attained enlightenment, or salvation through Amida's Vow. Though the two only knew each other for a few years, Hōnen entrusted Shinran with a copy of his secret work, the Senchakushu. However his precise status amongst Honen's followers is unclear as in the Seven Article Pledge, signed by Honen's followers in 1204, Shinran's signature appears near the middle among less-intimate disciples.[4]

In 1207, The Buddhist establishment in Kyoto persuaded the military to impose a nembutsu ban, after an incident involving two other disciples of Hōnen, who were subsequently executed. Hōnen and Shinran were exiled, with Shinran being sent to Echigo Province (contemporary Niigata Prefecture). They never met each other again. Hōnen would die later in Kyoto in 1212.[1]

Although Shinran was critical of the motivations that ultimately lead to the exile, and the disruption of Hōnen's practice community, the exile itself proved to be a critical turning point in Shinran's religious life. Having been stripped of his monastic name, he renamed himself Gutoku or "foolish, bald-headed one," coming to understand himself as neither monk nor layman. While in exile, Shinran sought to continue the work of Hōnen and spread the doctrine of salvation through Amida Buddha's compassion, as expressed through the nembutsu practice, however in time his teachings diverged from Hōnen enough that later followers would use the term Jōdo Shinshū or "True [Essence of the] Pure Land Sect", as opposed to Jōdo Shū or "Pure Land Sect".

Shinran married his wife, Eshinni, and had six children with her. His eldest son, Zenran, returned to Echigo promising to resolve conflicts there but instead attempted to establish a new sect of his own, claiming to have received special teachings from Shinran.[3] After Shinran wrote a stern letter warning Zenran, who refused, Zenran was disowned and his heretical sect collapsed.

Five years after being exiled in Echigo, in 1211, the nembutsu ban was lifted and Shinran was pardoned though he chose not to return to Kyoto at that time. Instead, Shinran left for an area known as Inada, a small area in Kantō just north of Tokyo. In 1224 Shinran authored his most significant text, Kyogyoshinsho, which is a series of selections and commentaries on Buddhist sutras supporting the new Pure Land Buddhist movement, and establishing a doctrinal lineage with Buddhists thinkers in India and China. In 1234 Shinran left the Kantō area and returned to Kyoto, with his daughter Kakushinni, where he died in the year 1263 at the age of 90.[1] Kakushinni was instrumental in maintaining the mausoleum, and passing on his teachings, with her descendants ultimately becoming the Monshu, or head of the Honganji Temples built around the Mausoleum.


Ichijoji Kasai13bs4272.jpg


Tendai • Shingon
Pure Land • Zen


Saichō • Kūkai
Hōnen • Shinran
Dōgen • Eisai • Ingen

Sacred Texts

Avatamsaka Sutra
Lotus Sutra
Heart Sutra
Infinite Life Sutra
Glossary of
Japanese Buddhism
  • 1173 Shinran is born
  • 1175 Hōnen founds the Jōdo Shū sect
  • 1181 Shinran becomes a monk
  • 1201 Shinran becomes a disciple of Hōnen and leaves Mt. Hiei
  • 1207 The nembutsu ban and Shinran's exile
  • 1211 Shinran is pardoned
  • 1212 Hōnen passes away in Kyoto & Shinran goes to Kantō
  • 1224 (?) Shinran authors Kyogyoshinsho
  • 1234 (?) Shinran goes back to Kyoto
  • 1256 Shinran disowns his son Zenran
  • 1263 Shinran dies in Kyoto


Essentially Shinran said that because we are all defiled by greed, hatred and delusion, we have no chance of gaining enlightenment by ourselves. Many Buddhists at that time felt that the Dharma of the Buddha had declined to such a point that people could not do it themselves anymore, a concept called mappo in Japanese, a Mahayana eschatology that claims that the ability to practice Dharma properly declines over time. Instead the Pure Land School of Buddhism encouraged its practitioners to rely on the vow of the Buddha Amitabha (Sanskrit, Amida in Japanese) to save all beings from suffering. According to three particular sutras Amitabha vowed to ensure that anyone who chanted his name would be reborn in his Pure Land of Sukhavati (Sanskrit, lit. Land of Bliss) and once there would easily be able to gain enlightenment, because they would not be hindered by the problems of day-to-day life.

Shinran's innovation in Pure Land Buddhism was to take this teaching to its logical extreme. He taught that awakening to the saving grace of Amida Buddha is the central matter. Continuous chanting of the nembutsu (namu amida butsu), is not necessary, as Hōnen, his mentor, had believed. Instead, Shinran taught his followers that the nembutsu should be said as a form of gratitude rather than a way of achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. Faith in Amida Buddha would lead to a deep spiritual awakening, called shinjin, which severs the practitioner forever from birth and death in the world of samsara, and erases karma accumulated through many rebirths. Shinran taught that the advantage of the Path of the Nembutsu can be experienced here and now. This was summed up by Shinran in the four Chinese characters of "Heizei Gojo" which means "complete the Great task while alive." Shinran taught that the "Great Task", or the purpose of human life, was to achieve salvation from Amida in this life. Without salvation by Amida in this life there could be no salvation after death, he taught. The arising of shinjin also assures the devotee of birth in the Pure Land, and the attainment of enlightenment there.

Another aspect of Shinran's doctrine was the emphasis on gratitude and humility. Thus, Shinran taught that it was important to be humble and thankful for one's life. This gratitude could be expressed through the nembutsu, but also through a general sense of appreciation.

Over the course of his life, Shinran read the Complete Sutras five times, and, as stated in his short book "Sho Shin Ge" (True Faith Hymn), he came to the conclusion that Sakyamuni's appearance in this world was for the sole purpose of teaching Amida's Vow. Throughout his life Shinran let it be known that he never taught anything other than what Sakyamuni Buddha taught in the sutras.


A statue of Shinran Shonin stands in Upper West Side Manhattan, in New York City. Located on Riverside Drive between 105th and 106th Streets, in front of the New York Buddhist Church, the statue depicts Shinran in a peasant hat and sandals, holding a wooden staff, as he peers down on the sidewalk.

Although this kind of statue is often found at Jōdo Shinshū temples, the statue is notable because it survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, standing a little more than a mile from ground zero. It was brought to New York in 1955. The plaque calls the statue “a testimonial to the atomic bomb devastation and a symbol of lasting hope for world peace.”


On March 14, 2008, what are assumed to be some of the ash remains of Shinran were found in a small wooden statue at the Jōrakuji temple in Shimogyō-ku, Kyōto. The temple was created by Zonkaku (1290-1373), the son of Kakunyo (1270-1351), one of Shinran's great grandchildren. Records indicate that Zonkaku inherited the remains of Shinran from Kakunyo. The 24.2 cm wooden statue is identified as being from the middle of the Edo period. The remains were wrapped in paper.[5][6]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, pp. 13,14,15,17 University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2
  2. The Life and Works of Shinran Shonin
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shinran's Biography Nishi Honganji Homepage
  4. Dobbins, James C. (1989). Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33186-2. 
  5. "親鸞の遺骨?が木像胎内から 京都・常楽寺". Asahi Shimbun. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  6. "親鸞の遺骨?発見、京都・常楽台の親鸞座像の胎内に". Yomiuri Shimbun. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 


  • Shinran: an Introduction to His Thought - by Yoshifumi Ueda & Dennis Hirota (1989, Hongwanji International Center, Kyoto)

External links

cs:Šinran Šónin ja:親鸞 ro:Shinran sv:Shinran uk:Сінран zh:親鸞

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