Triple Gem
Chapter Fourteen

Shinran Shonin

Jodo Shinshu - Pure Land (Mahayana) (Japanese)
(Shin Buddhism)

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Founder - Shinran Shonin (1173-1263)

Shinran Shonin was born at Hino near Kyoto, Japan, on May 21st, 1173.

He lost his father when he was four and later at the age of nine, he lost his mother. These two tragic experiences had a great influence on the mind of the boy and he decided to enter the priesthood. He entered a monastery and studied under the guidance of Jichin, chief abbot of that monastery. Nearly a year later he went to Hieizan or Mount Hiei, center of Buddhist learning at that time.

For twenty years he studied there. His high moral qualities and excellent scholastic record were so outstanding that he could have easily been appointed to the head of all the temples on Hiei. However, he declined the position for he was not in search of fame or position. He was earnestly searching for spiritual insight.

This he was able to gain after giving up his studies on Mount Hiei and after entering the monastery of Honen, who was teaching a way of salvation through faith in the power of Amida Buddha. Shinran' s life, thereafter, became a calm and peaceful life regardless of his conditions. He constantly recited the Nembutsu -- Namu Amida Butsu -- as an expression of deep gratitude for the Compassionate Heart of Amida.

Shinran Shonin realized that here was a teaching that enabled the ordinary man to lead a true Buddhist life without shutting himself up in a monastery. Acting on the advice of Honen, Shinran married Princess Tamahi.

The Buddhist priesthood was in an uproar. Here was a priest who taught salvation in the power of Amida which was contrary to the recognized religious traditions of the day -- salvation through moral and mental discipline. Furthermore, he had violated the priestly code by taking upon himself a wife.

Both Shinran and Honen were banished from Kyoto.

After many years in exile, Shinran finally settled at Inada, Hitachi Province, in 1217. Here at the age of 45, he wrote his most famous work, "Kyo Gyo Shin Sho" -- Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment. This book considered the most important of Shinran's writing, laid the doctrinal foundation of Jodo Shin Shu.

He spent twenty-five years of his life in the provincial countries. In 1232 when he was 60, he turned his footsteps to Kyoto, arriving there in l235.

Here he remained until his passing on January 16th, 1262, writing and preaching to the countless followers who came to hear the Teachings of the Nembutsu.


1) Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra -- (Sutra of Infinite Life) (Daimuryoju kyo) 2 volumes.

In this sutra is recorded the discourses delivered by Shakyamuni at the Mount of Holy Vulture in Rajagriha.

Shakyamuni speaks of Hozo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Dharmakara) who makes 48 vows, all of them for the benefit of all sentient beings. For a countless number of years, Hozo Bosatsu meditates and works for a realization of a Buddha Land perfect in every sense, where all beings can be reborn. He becomes Amida Buddha -- the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life .

2) Amitayur Dhyana Sutra (Kanmuryoju kyo) 1 volume

The Buddha teaches to Queen Vaidehi, who is thrown in jail by her own son. Shakyamuni teaches that for those in the depths of suffering and sorrow, only Faith in the Compassion of Amida can save her. While the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra teaches the ideal of rebirth into the Pure Land through Faith, the Amitayur Dhyana Sutra shows a practical application of that ideal by an individual, Queen Vaidehi, who finds salvation through Faith.

3) Smaller Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra (Amida Kyo) 1 volume

This sutra is a summary of the larger sutra. It speaks of the indescribable beauty of the Pure Land and extols the virtues of Amida.

Works of Shinran Shonin

(1) The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way (Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui)
(2) Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan)
(3) Hymns of the Pure Land Masters (Koso Wasan)
(4) Hymns of the Dharma Ages (Shozomatsu Wasan)
(5) Passages on the Pure Land Way (Jodo Monrui Jusho)
(6) Notes on the Inscriptions On Sacred Scrolls (Songo Shunzo Meimon)
(7) Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone (Yuishinsho Mon-i)
(8) Notes on Once Calling and Many Calling (Ichinen Tanen Mon-i)
(9) Gutoku's Notes (Gutoku Sho)
(10) Gatha on the Two Gates of Entering and Leaving (Nyushutsu Nimonge)
(11) Passanges from the Three Sutras on Birth in the Pure Land (Jodo Sangyo Ojon Mon-rui)
(12) Notes on the Two Kinds of Merit Transference (Nyorai Nishu Ekomon)
(13) The Virtue of the Name of Amida Tathagata (Mida Nyorai Myogo Toku)
(14) On the Forty-eight Vows (Shiju-hachi Daigan)
(15) A Torchlight to the Latter Age (Mattosho)
(16) Letters of Shinran (Goshosokushu)
(17) Sayings of Zendo (Zendo Kasho Gon)
(18) Notes Lamenting Differences (Tannisho) - A collection of Shinran's Teaching by Yuien


Shinshu teachings aim at the realisation of Buddhahood by birth in the Pure Land (ojo) of the Buddha Amida. This is achieved through the nembutsu, that is through faith (shinjin) in the Original Vow (hongan) of that Buddha expressed in the recitation of his Name (shomyo): Namu Amida Butsu.

Shinshu is characterised by the faithful giving himself over completely to the Other Power (tariki) of the Buddha Amida.