Shinran’s Dreams: The Dream Revelation in Shinaga, Part 1

Q: I have heard that Shinran left many records of his dreams. What sorts of dreams did he have?

A: There is an old saying that saints don’t dream, but Shinran apparently did, and with great frequency. The physiological explanation could be that twenty years of rigorous study and ascetic training in a secluded mountain temple induced a chronic sleep deficit that caused him to dream. But without exception, his dreams seem to be visions in which buddhas and bodhisattvas offered instruction, taking pity on the young monk as he forfeited sleep and rest in his quest for salvation. I will introduce the most notable of his dreams, and add a few comments.

On the twelfth day of the ninth month of 1191, when Shinran was nineteen, having reached an impasse in his ascetic training on Mt. Hiei he retired to the mausoleum of Prince Shotoku, the Buddhist guardian whom he had long held in high esteem, to seek guidance on how to resolve the burning question of how to find salvation in the afterlife. For three days, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth, he remained in seclusion at the mausoleum. Here is Shinran’s own account of the experience.

“I remembered that my mother used to tell me that Nyoirin Kannon Bodhisattva appeared to her in a dream, gave her a five-needle pine, and predicted my birth. So guided by Prince Shotoku, a manifestation of Kannon Bodhisattva, I made my way to his mausoleum in Shinaga.

“For three full days I prayed with ceaseless singleness of mind to be shown how to break free of the cycle of birth and death, until finally I lost consciousness. On the second night, the fourteenth, around two in the morning, as in a dream or vision Prince Shotoku himself opened the stone door, and the chamber within was illuminated by a bright light.”

Here is Shinran’s account of the words that Prince Shotoku then spoke to him.

“Amida Buddha and his two attendant bodhisattvas are doing their utmost to save all the human beings in this wicked world, as many as the dust. Japan is an appropriate place for the flourishing of true Buddhism. Listen well. Pay close attention to what I have to say. “You have ten more years to live. When your life ends, you will enter a realm of purity. Therefore, trust deeply in the true bodhisattva. Trust with all your heart."

Prince Shotoku’s mausoleum was in Shinaga, Tojo, the province of Kawachi (today’s Osaka prefecture, Taishi- cho). For this reason, this dream is known as the revelation of Shinaga. What did this Shinaga dream mean to Shinran, and what does it imply?

(Petals of Shinran, Cherry Volume chapter 16) Translated by Juliet Carpenter​

To be continued...

Footnote: Kannon Bodhisattva: A bodhisattva who symbolizes the compassion of Amida Buddha. Nyoirin Kannon Bodhisattva: A bodhisattva who symbolizes the compassion of Amida Buddha. Prince Shotoku (574-622): A politician of ancient Japan. He was an aide to the Emperor, and governed based upon Buddhist teachings. He built many temples and strove to have Buddhism flourish. Manifestation: In order to guide us to Amida’s salvation, buddhas and bodhisattvas appear in different forms.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #57 | 2015, Shinran’s Dreams: The Dream Revelation in Shinaga, Part 1

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