The Life of Master Shinran

It is difficult to find a historical figure who has led a stormier life than Master Shinran — and we should keep in mind that through all those life events, Master Shinran eternally teaches us people of the Latter Ages, what true Buddhism is. A little-known scholar of Shin Buddhism of medieval Japan named Hojin, chronicled Master Shinran’s whole life in the form of lyrics. We introduce to you an amplified translation of it in a series of articles.

Five years later, in the year 1212, Master Shinran was pardoned. Now a free man again, Master Shinran said farewell to Echigo, which he was sad to leave, and headed towards Kyōto with the single hope of meeting with Master Hōnen.

However, all is impermanent. The news of his honoured Master’s death thrust torturous grief upon Master Shinran.

“I have no attachment to Kyōto if my Master is no longer there,” said Master Shinran, and he changed the direction in which he was headed and went to Kantō instead. He then built a thatched hut in Inada in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The mountain monk of Mount Itajiki, Bennen, envious of how well Master Shinran was doing in Inada, went to Master Shinran’s place of residence and brandished his sword with the intention of killing him. However, when Master Shinran genially taught Bennen of Amida’s Vow by calling him a “fellow follower” and a “friend”, Bennen repented and made the transformation into a Buddhist disciple, named Myōhō.

When Master Shinran was 52, he began to write the six-volume masterpiece that would provide the framework for the teachings of the True Pure Land Buddhist sect: Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment. He would make various corrections and revisions to the work until his death.

In Kantō, the followers known as the ‘Twenty-Four Fellows’ were very active in trying to repay their debt of gratitude to Amida.

Master Shinran, now in his 60s, returned to his fondly remembered hometown, Kyōto, after having spent about twenty years teaching in Kantō. He then became wholly immersed in writing. From Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment to such works as Gutoku’s Notes and Three Collections of Hymns, Master Shinran produced many works in which he preserved his teachings in writing.

On the 28th of November 1262, Master Shinran returned to Amida’s Pure Land. He was 90 years old.

When Master Shinran, who had been like a great lotus in the muddy waters of this degenerate world, breathed his last, the world was enveloped by a pitch-black sadness. His loss was mourned not only by people, but by all nature too.

Master Shinran put his life on the line in order to convey the teachings of Buddhism throughout the 90 years in which he lived. These teachings have crossed through time and now are finding their way into our hearts.

“Turn single-mindedly to the Buddha of Infinite Life.” “Across this vast universe, there is no Buddha that will save us from our crucial matter of the afterlife other than the Master of all Buddhas, Amida Buddha. Therefore, turn only to Amida, and believe wholly in him.”

Even today, the stern teachings that Master Shinran left behind are familiar to many and looked up to as a torch that lights up the world. With our debt of gratitude towards him in our hearts, we cannot help but bow down before his portrait and swear to repay him in a true sense. The End

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #41 | 2014, The Life of Master Shinran

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