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Monk Shinran Shonin

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Shinran Shonin
   Monk Shinran Shonin (1173-1263)

Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) is a Buddhist Monk of Japan, founded the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism).  Two main temples Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji Temples in Kyoto city are the world headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu (one belonging to Otani sub sect).  Eastern hills of Kyoto City called Higashiyama mountain range contains Otani Honbyo or Otani Mausoleum, dedicated to Shinran Shonin.

Monk Shinran was born in 1173 in the village of Hino, near Uji, south of Kyoto city.  Uji city is best known for the Uji chapters of "Tale of Genji" novel and one of the most spiritual and romantic cities of the world.  While Tale of Genji was written and set during the Heian period, Monk Shinran was born when this period was coming to an end.  It was the beginning of the era of the Tokugawas and the warrior lords.  It is presumed that he may have been the son of Fujiwara noble, Hino Arinori (hence the city name Hino).  At the age of nine, Monk Shinran Shonin received ordination at Shoren-in temple (Kyoto city) and entered upon the Buddhist path.  Later, he went to Mt. Hiei (Hieizan) and Enryakuji Temple complex, the center of the Tendai denomination and one of the major places of Buddhist learning at that time, and single-mindedly devoted himself to Buddhist studies.

After spending twenty years (until the age of 29) and dedicating himself to the tendai teachings and Buddhist practices (prevalent at Enryakuji), Monk Shinran could not find a way to overcome his own suffering and anxiety.  He, thus, ended his monastic life and left Mt. Hiei (Hieizan) at the age of twenty nine in 1201.

In the same year, the course of Monk Shinran's life changed dramatically as a result of his encounter with his former teacher Genku Honen (1133-1212), who taught the path of the Nenbutsu in the form of Namu Amida Butsu, which traditionally means "I entrust myself to Amida Buddha."  According to this teaching, each life is regarded as precious and equal and will be saved by the compassion of Amida Buddha through the Nenbutsu.

The new way of Buddhist thinking by Honen, attracted many disciples, but it caused a friction with the long standing Buddhist establishment (which was in place even before Heian era) and secular authorities.  So, in 1207 the government issued a proclamation banning this teaching. The disciples of Honen were either sentenced to death or exiled.  Honen was exiled to Shikoku region and Monk Shinran was exiled to Niigata.  Monk Honen died during his exile and Shinran never say his teacher again.

During his exile in Niigata prefecture, Monk Shinran continued to practice and teach the path of the Nenbutsu, that was started by Monk Honen.  During this time he also got married a lady by the name Eshinni and had many children.  This was a complete detour from, then ascetic lives of Buddhist monks, who shunned family life.  Once the exile ban was lifted on him, Monk Shinran, instead of returning to Kyoto, went to the Edo area in the Kanto region, which is the present day Tokyo.  There he continued to teach Honen's path to Buddha and continued to make more followers.

After living in Edo for twenty years, Monk Shinran came back to Kyoto city in his sixties.  While without a permanent residence there , he enthusiastically continued his writings to clarify Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism) and handed the path of Monk Honen.

One November 28, 1262 Monk Shinran Shonin passed away at the age of ninety, bringing to a close the life of one of the most remarkable figures in Japanese Buddhist history.  He devoted himself to live and deepen his awareness of the Nenbutsu teachings throughout his life.

Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land Buddhism), the teachings of Shinran Shonin impart a path of self awakening.  Through this, one is able to become aware of the futility and suffering caused by one's actions and eventually come to truly appreciate life as it is.

Sources: temple brochures from Higashi and Nishi Honganji Temples and Otani Mausoleum.

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