“Why We Live” & Master Rennyo

Uncompromising Missionary Work Creates the Biggest Religious Community

Why were we born? For what reasons do we live? Why is it that no matter how painful life becomes, we must keep living? We need to know why we live—and Master Shinran provided a firm answer to “Why we live.” Master Rennyo (1415-1499; Muromachi era) is the one who spread the teachings of Master Shinran all over the country. Pure Land Shin Buddhism was once on the verge of dying out, but Master Rennyo revived it to the point that it attracted people's admiration. Let us take you through the work he did to convey Buddhism.

The Core Spirit of His Missionary Work

Pure Land Shin Buddhism was at its lowest ebb when Master Rennyo became the 8th head priest (counting from Master Shinran’s time) at the age of 43. According to Honpukuji Yuraiki, Hongan- ji, which was at the time located in Otani, Kyoto, was described as “deserted, with not a single visitor in sight. What a sorry state…” The small lecture hall, measuring approximately a paltry 18 ft x 18 ft, was practically devoid of life. From this point on, the uncompromising missionary work of Master Rennyo resulted in a rapid spread of the teachings of Master Shinran. Twenty years later, Yamashina Temple, which was described as

“The Land of Buddhas,” was established. Before long the place was bustling with visitors, to the point where they were described as coming “in several hundreds of thousands of millions.” What was the magic ingredient that led to such an enormous leap in spreading the teachings? Although of course Amida and Master Shinran doubtlessly provided tremendous assistance, one can say that the key to Master Rennyo's success was his inordinate passion and unfailing loyalty to the mission of Shinran Followers, which is to spread Master Shinran's teachings accurately and in an easy-to-understand way to as many people as possible in appreciation for one's unfathomable debt of gratitude to Amida Buddha.

What Master Rennyo taught is contained in The Letters, and each of these 80 letters is about nothing other than the teachings of Master Shinran. Here is just one of countless examples. “All his life, Shinran taught salvation by faith alone,” (The Letters, Fascicle 5, Letter 10) The list goes on forever. Throughout his 80 years of life, his attitude towards teaching Buddhism never changed. “I, Rennyo, have never once conveyed any novel teaching. I only believe in the teachings of Master Shinran myself and share them with others.” There was not a single instance in which Master Rennyo presented his own personal opinions, beliefs, or experiences (“novel teachings”) in amongst what he taught.

Master Rennyo Only Followed the Footsteps of Master Shinran

So why is it that he devoted his whole life to thoroughly conveying the teachings of Master Shinran? This was solely because of his strong identity as a Shinran Follower. His consistent attitude is clearly revealed in The Words of Rennyo Heard and Recorded During His Lifetime. “One day, somebody asked about the Founder’s (Master Shinran's) time. ʻFor what reason did Master Shinran do this?ʼ he asked. ʻI don’t know either, but even concerning things we do not know, you should bear in mind that we follow what Master Shinran has done.ʼ”

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #62 | 2062, “Why We Live” & Master Rennyo

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