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By Gaurav Manandhar at
Shinran: Founder of Jodo Shinshu

Shinran: Founder of Jodo Shinshu

Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist monk, a pupil of Honen and the founder of Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan. He was born in Hino, currently a part of Fushimi, Kyoto at the turbulent close of the Helan Period. His birth name was Matsuwakamaro. Along with this, he also gets other names like Hanen, Shakku, and Zenshin. Lastly, he was called as Shinran. It was derived by combining names of Seshin and Donran. It is recorded that he also went by the name of Fuji Yoshizane. But after he disrobed, he called himself Gotoku Shinran, in a self-deprecating manner which means stubble-haired foolish one. He went with this name to denote his status as neither a monk nor a layperson.

Short Biography of Shiran

Shinran was born in the Fujiwara clan on May 21, 1123. He was given the name Matsuwakamaro. When he was young, both of his parents died. He was so desperate to know what happens after death, so he entered the Shoren-in temple in 1181. After learning from the Shoren-in temple, he then practiced at Mt. Hiei for the 20 years. He was frustrated at his own failures as a monk and at obtaining enlightenment that he took a retreat at the Rokkaku temple. In this temple, Shinran engaged in an intense practice. One day, he experienced a vision of Avalokitesvara in the disguised form of Prince Shotoku. The Prince directed him to another disillusioned Tendai monk named Honen. Shinran after this experience began to search for Honen. He was able to meet only in 1201 and then became his disciple.

Shinran was able to attain enlightenment through Amida's Vow under the Honen's guidance at the age of 29. It was believed that Honen and Shinran had a close relationship. Therefore, Honen had handed a copy of his secret work, Senchakushu. However, his status among other followers is unclear. Since his signature appears near the middle among less intimate disciples in the Seven Article Pledge in 1204. It is recorded that as a disciple of Honen, Shinran caused a great controversy among the society. It was caused by marrying a beautiful woman and eating meat. Shinran took these steps to show that Amida's salvation was for all people and not just for monks and priests.

Later in the early 13th century, there was an incident among the Honen followers. Two of the followers were accused of using nembutsu practice as a coverup for sexual liaisons. Hence, the Buddhist establishment in Kyoto persuaded the military to impose a nembutsu ban. The two followers who were charged with the performing the practice was executed. Honen and Shinran were exiled.

This event was marked as the critical turning point in Shinran's religious life. At the moment, Shinran renamed himself as Gutoku to remark himself as a person who is neither monk nor layman. While he was in exile, he continued the work of Honen. He spread the doctrine of salvation through Amida Buddha's compassion. However, with time, his teachings have diverged from Honen to Jodo Shinshu or True Pure Land Sect.

Shinran died in Kyoto at the age of 90 years in 1263. After him, Kakushinni was in charge to spread the Jodo Shinshu.

Shinran's doctrine

Shinran considered himself a lifelong disciple of Honen even though they were separated. In times, Honen's disciples were said to have been largely divided by questions that arise the need for a single invocation of Amitabha's name versus many-callings. They also emphasis on faith versus practice. Therefore, Shinran also leaned more toward faith over practice however he didn't advocate the single-recitation teaching.

Shinran also believe that it was no longer possible to achieve enlightenment through traditional monastic practices. So, the person could only rely on the vows of Amitabha Buddha, precisely the 18th or Primal Vow. In his magnum opus, the Kyogyoshinsho, he explains that he not only gave up traditional monastic practices to focus on rebirth in the Pure Land but also gave up practices related to rebirth in Pure Land. He purely focused on the faith in the vow of Amitabha Buddha.

In the third fascicle, he explores the nature of shinjitsu no shinjin or true faith which is bestowed by Amitabha Buddha. He further explains that though this endowment, faith is awakened in a person through an expression of praise or gratitude. However, it is achieved until the person fully entrusts themselves to Amitabha Buddha. When the person has awakened the deep faith, one should live life as an expression of gratitude, follow basic moral conduct and to fulfill one's social obligations.

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