Religion Wiki

Ichijoji Kasai13bs4272.jpg


Tendai • Shingon
Pure Land • Zen


Saichō • Kūkai
Hōnen • Shinran
Dōgen • Eisai • Ingen

Sacred Texts

Avatamsaka Sutra
Lotus Sutra
Heart Sutra
Infinite Life Sutra
Glossary of
Japanese Buddhism

Jōdo Shinshū (浄土真宗 "True Pure Land School"?), also known as Shin Buddhism, is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. It was founded by the former Tendai Japanese monk Shinran Shōnin. Today, Shin Buddhism is considered the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan.


Shinran (Founder)

Shinran (1173-1263) lived during the late-Heian early-Kamakura period (1185-1333), a time of turmoil for Japan when the Emperor was stripped of political power by the Shoguns. Shinran's family had a high rank at the Imperial court in Kyoto, but given the times many aristocratic families were sending sons off to be Buddhist monks instead of having them participate in the Imperial government. When Shinran was nine (1181) he was sent by his uncle to Mount Hiei, where he was ordained as a Tendai monk. Over time Shinran became disillusioned with what Buddhism in Japan had become, foreseeing a decline in the potency and practicality of the teachings espoused.

Shinran left his role as a low-ranking doso ("Practice-Hall Monk") at Mount Hiei and undertook a 100-day retreat at Rokkakudo temple in Kyoto, where he had a dream on the 95th day. In this dream Prince Shōtoku (in Japan he is sometimes regarded as an incarnation of Kannon Bosatsu) appeared to him, espousing a pathway to enlightenment through verse. Following the retreat, in 1201, Shinran left Mount Hiei to study under Hōnen for the next six years. Hōnen (1133-1212) another ex-Tendai monk, left the tradition in 1175 to found his own sect, Jōdo shū ("Pure Land School"). From that time on, Shinran considered himself, even after exile, a devout disciple of Hōnen rather than a founder establishing his own, distinct Pure Land school.

During this period, Hōnen taught the new nembutsu-only practice to many people in Kyoto society and amassed a substantial following, but also increasingly came under criticism by the Buddhist establishment in Kyoto. Among the strongest critics was the monk, Myōe, and the temples of Enryaku-ji and Kōfuku-ji. The latter continued to criticize Hōnen and his followers, even after they pledged to behave with good conduct, and to not slander other Buddhist.[1]

In 1207, Hōnen's critics at Kōfuku-ji persuaded Emperor Go-Toba to proscribe Hōnen and his teachings after two of his ladies-in-waiting converted to the new faith.[1] Hōnen and his followers, among them Shinran, were forced into exile, and four of Hōnen's disciples were executed. Shinran was given a lay name, Yoshizane Fujii by the authorities but called himself Gutoku ("Stubble-headed One") instead and moved to Echigo Province (today Niigata Prefecture).[2]

It was during this exile that Shinran cultivated a deeper understanding of his own beliefs, the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen. In 1210 he married Eshinni, the daughter of an aristocrat of Echigo Province. Shinran and Eshinni had several children. His eldest son, Zenran, was alleged to have started a heretical sect of Pure Land Buddhism through claims that he received special teachings from his father. Zenran demanded control of local monto (lay follower groups), but after writing a stern letter of warning, Shinran disowned him in 1256, effectively ending Zenran's legitimacy.

In 1211 the nembutsu ban was lifted and Shinran was pardoned, but by 1212 Hōnen had died in Kyoto. Shinran never saw Hōnen following their exile. In the year of Hōnen's death, Shinran set out for the Kantō area of Japan, where he established a substantial following and began committing his ideas to writing. In 1224 he wrote his most significant book, the Kyogyoshinsho ("The True Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment of the Pure Land"), which contained excerpts from the Three Pure Land sutras and the Nirvana Sutra along with his own commentaries[2] and the writings of the Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs whom Shinran drew inspiration from.

In 1234, at the age of sixty, Shinran left Kantō for Kyoto (Eshinni stayed in Echigo and she may have outlived Shinran by several years), where he dedicated the rest of his years to writing. It was during this time he wrote the Wasan, a collection of verses summarizing his teachings for his followers to recite. Shinran's daughter, Kakushinni, came to Kyoto with Shinran, and cared for him in his final years and his mausoleum later became Hongwanji ('The Temple of the Original Vow'). Kakushinni was instrumental in preserving Shinran's teachings after his death, and the letters she received and saved from her mother, Eshinni, provide critical biographical information regarding Shinran's earlier life. These letters are currently preserved in the Nishi Hongwanji temple in Kyoto. Shinran died at the age of 90 in 1263.[2]

Revival and Formalization

Following Shinran's death, the lay Shin monto slowly spread through the Kantō and the northeastern seaboard. Shinran's descendents maintained themselves as caretakers of Shinran's gravesite and as Shin teachers, although they continued to be ordained in the Tendai School. Some of Shinran's disciples founded their own schools of Shin Buddhism, such as the Bukko-ji and Kosho-ji, in Kyoto. Early Shin Buddhism did not truly flourish until the time of Rennyo (1415-1499), who was 8th in descent from Shinran Shonin. Through his charisma and proselytizing, Shin Buddhism was able to amass a greater following and grow in strength. In the 16th-century, during Japan's Sengoku period the political power of Hongwanji led to several conflicts between the Hongwanji and the warlord Oda Nobunaga, culminating in a 10-year conflict over the location of the Osaka Hongwanji, which Oda Nobunaga coveted because of its strategic value. So strong did the sect become that in 1602, through mandate of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the main temple Hongwanji in Kyoto was broken off into two sects to curb the Hongwanji's power. These two sects, the Nishi (Western) Hongwanji, and the Higashi (Eastern) Hongwanji, exist separate to this day.

During the time of Shinran Shonin, followers would gather in informal meeting houses called dojo, and had an informal liturgical structure. However, as time went on, as this lack of cohesion and structure caused Jōdo Shinshū to gradually lose its identity as a distinct sect, as people began mixing other Buddhist practices with Shin ritual. One common example was the Mantra of Light popularized by Myōe and Shingon Buddhism. Other Pure Land Buddhist practices, such as the nembutsu odori or "dancing nembutsu" as practiced by the followers of Ippen and the Ji School, may have also been adopted by early Shin Buddhists. Rennyo ended these practices by formalizing much of the Jōdo Shinshū ritual and liturgy, and revived the thinning community at the Hongwanji temple while asserting newfound political power. Rennyo also proselytized widely among other Pure Land sects, and consolidated most of the smaller Shin sects. Today, there are still 10 distinct sects of Jōdo Shinshū, Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji being the two largest.

Rennyo Shonin is generally credited by Shin Buddhists for reversing the stagnation of the early Jōdo Shinshū community, and is considered the "Second Founder" of Jōdo Shinshū. His portrait picture, along with Shinran Shonin's, are present on the onaijin (altar area) of most Jōdo Shinshū temples. However, Rennyo Shonin has also been criticized by some Shin scholars for his engagement in medieval politics and his alleged divergences from Shinran's original thought.

Following the unification of Japan during the Edo period, Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism adapted, along with the other Japanese Buddhist schools, into providing memorial and funeral services for its registered members (danka seido), which was legally required by the Tokugawa shogunate in order to prevent the spread of Christianity in Japan. The danka seido system continues to exist today, although not as strictly as in the premodern period, causing Japanese Buddhism to also be labeled as "Funeral Buddhism" since it became the primary function of Buddhist temples. The Hongwanji also created an impressive academic tradition, which led to the founding of Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, and formalized many of the Jōdo Shinshū traditions which are still followed today. Following the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent persecution of Buddhism (haibutsu kishaku) of the late 1800s due to a revived nationalism and modernization, Jōdo Shinshū managed to survive intact due to the devotion of its monto. During World War II, the Hongwanji, as with the other Japanese Buddhist schools, was compelled to support the policies of the military government and the cult of State Shinto. It subsequently apologized for its wartime actions.[3]

In contemporary times, Jōdo Shinshū is one of the most widely followed forms of Buddhism in Japan, although like other Japanese Buddhism it faces challenges from many popular New Religious Movements (known in Japan as shin shinkyo religions, which emerged following World War II), and the growing secularization and materialism of Japanese society

All ten schools of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism will commemorate the 750th memorial of their founder, Shinran Shonin, in 2011 in Kyoto, Japan.


Shinran's thought was strongly influenced by the doctrine of Mappō, a largely Mahayana eschatology which claims humanity's ability to listen to and practice the Buddha-Dharma (the Buddhist teachings) deteriorates over time and loses effectiveness in bringing individual practitioners closer to Buddhahood. This belief was particularly widespread in early medieval China, and in Japan at the end of the Heian period. Shinran, like his mentor Hōnen, saw the age he was living in as being a degenerate one where beings cannot hope to be able to extricate themselves from the cycle of birth and death through their own power, or jiriki (自力). For both Hōnen and Shinran, all conscious efforts towards achieving enlightenment and realizing the Bodhisattva ideal were contrived and rooted in selfish ignorance; for humans of this age are so deeply rooted in karmic evil as to be incapable of developing the truly altruistic compassion that is requisite to becoming a Bodhisattva.

Due to his awareness of human limitations, Shinran advocates reliance on tariki, or other power (他力) -- the power of Amida Buddha's made manifest in Amida Buddha's Primal Vow -- in order to attain liberation. Shin Buddhism can therefore be understood as a "practiceless practice," for there are no specific acts to be performed such as there are in the "Path of Sages" (the other Buddhist schools of the time that advocated 'jiriki' ('self-power'). In Shinran's own words, Shin Buddhism is considered the "Easy Path" because one is not compelled to perform many difficult, and often esoteric, practices in order to attain higher and higher mental states.

The Nembutsu

As in other Pure Land Buddhist schools, Amida is a central focus of the Buddhist practice, and Jōdo Shinshū expresses this devotion through a chanting practice called the nembutsu, or "Mindfulness of the Buddha [Amida]. The nembutsu is simply reciting the phrase Namu Amida Butsu ("I take refuge in Amida Buddha"). Jōdo Shinshū is not the first school of Buddhism to practice the nembutsu but it is interpreted in a new way according to Shinran Shonin. The nembutsu becomes understood as an act that expresses gratitude to Amida Buddha -- furthermore, it is evoked in the practitioner through the power of Amida's unobstructed compassion. Therefore in Shin Buddhism, the nembutsu is not considered a practice, nor does it generate karmic merit. It is simply an affirmation of one's gratitude.

Indeed, given that the nembutsu is the Name, when one utters the Name, that is Amida calling to the devotee. This is the essence of the Name-that-calls.[1]

Note that this is in contrast to the related Jōdo shū school which promoted a combination of repetition of the nembutsu and devotion to Amida as a means to birth in the Pure Land. It also contrasts with other Buddhist schools in China and Japan, where the nembutsu was part of a more elaborate ritual.

The Pure Land

In another departure from more traditional Pure Land schools of Buddhism, Shinran Shonin advocated that birth in the Pure Land was settled in the midst of life rather than at death. When one entrusts oneselves to Amida Buddha birth there is settled at that moment. This is equivalent to the stage of non-retrogression along the bodhisattva path, a characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism, or shinjin.

Many Pure Land Buddhist schools in the time of Shinran felt that birth in the Pure Land was a literal rebirth that occurred only upon death, and only after certain preliminary rituals. Elaborate rituals were used to guaranteed rebirth in the Pure Land, including a common practice where one's fingers were tied by strings to a painting or image of Amida Buddha. From the perspective of Jōdo Shinshū such rituals actually betrayed a lack of trust in Amida Buddha, and relied on jiriki ("self-power"), rather than the tariki or "other-power" of Amida Buddha. Such rituals also favored those who could afford the time and energy to practice them or possess the necessary ritual objects, which was another obstacle for lower-class individuals. For Shinran Shonin, who closely followed the thought of the Chinese monk T'an-Luan, the Pure Land is synonymous with nirvana.


The goal of the Shin path, or at least the practicer's present life, is the attainment of shinjin (信心) in the Other Power of Amida. Shinjin is sometimes translated as faith but this does not capture the nuances of the term and it is more often simply left untranslated. The receipt of shinjin comes about through the renunciation of self effort in attaining enlightenment; 'taking refuge' in Other Power (Tariki). It should be noted, however, that Shinjin arises from jinen (自然 naturalness, spontaneous working of the Vow) and cannot be achieved solely through conscious effort. One is letting go of conscious effort in a sense, and simply trusting Amida Buddha, and the nembutsu.

For Jōdo Shinshū practitioners, shinjin develops over time through "deep hearing" (monpo) of Amida's call of the nembutsu. Jinen also describes the way of naturalness whereby Amida's infinite light illumines and transforms the deeply rooted karmic evil of countless rebirths into good karma. It is of note that such evil karma is not destroyed but rather transformed: Shin stays within the Mahayana tradition's understanding of sunyata, or non-duality / emptiness, and understands that samsara and Nirvana are not separate. Once the practicer's mind is united with Amida and Buddha nature gifted to the practicer through shinjin, the practicer attains the state of non-retrogression, whereupon after his death it is claimed he will achieve instantaneous and effortless enlightenment. He will then return to the world as a Bodhisattva, that he may work towards the salvation of all beings.


The Tannishō is a 13th-century book of recorded sayings attributed to Shinran, transcribed with commentary by Yuien-bo. a disciple of Shinran. The word Tannishō is a phrase which means "A record [of the words of Shinran] set down in lamentation over departures from his [Shinran's] teaching". While it is a short text, it is one of the most popular because practitioners see Shinran in a more informal setting.

For centuries, the text was almost unknown to the majority of Shin Buddhists. In the 15th century Rennyo Shonin, Shinran's descendent, wrote of it, "This writing is an important one in our tradition. It should not be indiscriminately shown to anyone who lacks the past karmic good". Rennyo Shonin's personal copy of the Tannishō is the earliest extant copy. Kiyozawa Manshi (1863-1903) revitalized interest in the Tannishō, which indirectly helped to spawn the Dobokai Movement of 1962.[2]

In Japanese culture

Earlier schools of Buddhism that came to Japan, including the Tendai and Shingon sects, gained acceptance because of the way they meshed the Buddhist pantheon with the native Japanese Shinto pantheon. For example, a Shinto god could be seen as a manifestation of a bodhisattva. It is common even to this day to have Shinto shrines within the grounds of some traditional Buddhist temples.

Jōdo Shinshū, on the other hand, intentionally separated itself from the Shinto religion, and left out many practices associated with it as they contradicted the notion of reliance on Amida's Other-power, and are also explicitly prohibited in sutras such as the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra and Pratyutpanna Sutra. Other practices such as accepting donations for special blessings and prayers were similarly omitted from Jōdo Shinshū.

Jōdo Shinshū traditionally had an uneasy relationship with other Buddhist schools because it discouraged virtually all traditional Buddhist practices except the nembutsu, and discouraged kami veneration. Relations were particularly hostile between the Jōdo Shinshū and Nichirenshu, also known as Hokkeshu. On the other hand, newer Buddhist schools in Japan, such as Zen, tended to have a more positive relationship and occasionally shared practices, although this is still controversial. In popular lore, Rennyo Shonin (the 8th Head Priest of the Hongan-ji sub-sect) was good friends with the famous Zen master Ikkyu.

Jōdo Shinshū drew much of its support from lower social classes in Japan who could not devote the time or education to other esoteric Buddhist practices or merit-making activities.

Outside Japan

During the 19th century, Japanese immigrants began arriving in Hawaii, the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America (especially in Brazil). Many immigrants to North America came from regions in which Jōdo Shinshū was predominant, and maintained their religious identity in their new country. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i, the Buddhist Churches of America, and the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada (formerly Buddhist Churches of Canada) are several of the oldest Buddhist organizations outside of Asia. Jōdo Shinshū continues to remain relatively unknown outside the ethnic community because of the history of internment during World War II, which caused many Shin temples to focus on rebuilding the Japanese-American Shin sangha rather than encourage outreach to non-Japanese. Today, many Shinshu temples outside Japan continue to have predominantly ethnic Japanese members, although interest in Buddhism and intermarriage contribute to a more diverse community. There are also active Jōdo Shinshū sanghas in the UK, Europe, Australia, and Africa, with members of diverse ethnicities.

The practice of Jōdo Shinshū ritual and liturgy may be very different outside of Japan, as many temples, like ones in Hawai'i and the U.S., now use English as the primary language for Dharma talks, and there are attempts to create an English-language chanting liturgy. In the United States, Jōdo Shinshū temples have also served as refuges from racial discrimination, and as places to learn about and celebrate Japanese language and culture, in addition to Buddhism.

Shin patriarchs

  • Nāgārjuna (150-250)
  • Vasubandhu (ca. 4th century)
  • Tan-luan (476-542?)
  • Tao-cho (562-645)
  • Shan-tao (613-681)
  • Genshin (942-1017)
  • Hōnen (1133-1212)

Traditional branch lineages

  • Hongan-ji School (Jōdo Shinshū Hompa Hongwanji-ha) a.k.a. 'Nishi Hongan-ji'
  • Otani School (Jōdo Shinshū Otani-ha) a.k.a. 'Higashi Hongan-ji'
  • Takada School
  • Bukkoji School
  • Kosho School
  • Kibe School
  • Izumoji School
  • Joshoji School

Major holidays

The following holidays are typically observed in Jōdo Shinshū temples:[4]

Holiday Japanese Name Date
New Year's Day Service Gantan'e January 1
Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin Goshoki Hoonko November 28, or January 9–16
Spring Equinox Ohigan March 17-23
Birthday of the Buddha Hanamatsuri April 8
Birthday of Shinran Shonin Gotan'e May 20-21
Ullambana/Obon Urabon'e August 14-15
Autumnal Equinox Ohigan September 20-26
Bodhi Day Enlightenment of the Buddha Rohatsu December 8
New Year's Eve Service Joya'e December 31

Major modern Shin figures

  • Kasahara Kenju (1852-1883)
  • Nanjo Bunyu (1848-1927)
  • Kiyozawa Manshi (1863-1901)
  • Eikichi Ikeyama (1873-1938)
  • Jokan Chikazumi (1870-1941)
  • Akegarasu Haya (1877-1967)
  • Soga Ryojin (1875-1971)
  • Kaneko Daiei (1881-1976)
  • Shuichi Maida (1906-1967)
  • Alfred Bloom (1926 - present)
  • (Zuio) Hisao Inagaki (1929 - present)
  • Hozen Seki (? - 1991)
  • Taitetsu Unno (1935 - present)
  • Jitsuen Kakehashi (? - present)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 JODO SHU English
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen / University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2
  3. Zen at War (2nd ed.) by Brian Daizen Victoria / Rowman and Littlefield 2006, ISBN 0-7425-3926-1
  4. Calendar of Observances

External links

et:Jōdo-Shinshū ja:浄土真宗 ru:Дзёдо-синсю uk:Дзьодо-сінсю vi:Tịnh độ chân tông zh:淨土真宗