Infobox Buddhist biography
name = Shinran (親鸞)

img_size =
img_capt = Shinran's "Portrait of Anjo" at Honganji in Kyoto, Japan.
landscape =
birth_name = Matsuwakamaro
other_names =
dharma_name =
birth_date = birth date|1173|5|13
birth_place = Kyoto, Japan
death_date = death date and age|1263|1|16|1173|5|13
death_place = Kyoto, Japan
nationality =
denomination =
school = Jodo Shinshu Buddhism
lineage =
title = Founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism
workplace =
education =
occupation =
teacher = Honen
reincarnation_of =
predecessor =
successor =
student =
spouse = Eshinni
partner =
children = Kakushinnhi, Zenran, others
website =

Shinran 親鸞 (May 21, 1173January 16, 1263)Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, pp. 13,14,15,17 University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2] [ [ The Life and Works of Shinran Shonin] ] was a Japanese Buddhist monk, who was born in Hino (now a part of Fushimi, Kyoto) at the turbulent close of the Heian Period and lived during the Kamakura Period. Shinran was a pupil of Hōnen and the founder of what ultimately became the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan.


Shinran was born on May 21, 1173 to Lord and Lady Arinori, a branch of the Fujiwara clan, and was given the name Matsuwakamaro. Early in Shinran's life his parents both died, so in 1181, Shinran's uncle entered him into Shoren-in temple near present-day Maruyama Park in Kyoto at age 9. Soon after, he studied at Mt. Hiei for the next 20 years of his life. Many people in the court pursued careers as Buddhist scholar monks during the Heian Period as a means of climbing social rank.Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, pp. 13,14,15,17 University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2]

According to his own account to his wife Eshinni (whose letters are preserved at the Hongwanji), in frustration at his own failures as a monk and at obtaining enlightenment, he took a retreat at the temple of Rokkakudo. While there, he practiced circumambulation around a statue of Amida Buddha for 100 days without sitting. On his 95th day he experienced a vision in which Avalokitesvara appeared to him as Prince Shotoku, directing Shinran to another disillusioned Tendai monk named Hōnen. [ Shinran's Biography] Nishi Hongwanji Homepage] In 1201, Shinran met Hōnen and became his disciple. Though the two only knew each other for a few years, Hnen entrusted Shinran with a copy of his secret work, the "Senchakush". In 1207, The Buddhist establishment in Kyoto persuaded the military to impose a "nembutsu" ban, after an incident involving two other disciples of Hōnen, who were subsequently executed. Hōnen and Shinran were exiled, with Shinran being sent to Echigo Province (contemporary Niigata Prefecture). They never met each other again. Hōnen would die later in Kyoto in 1212.Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, pp. 13,14,15,17 University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2]

Although Shinran was critical of the motivations that ultimately lead to the exile, and the disruption of Hōnen's practice community, the exile itself proved to be a critical turning point in Shinran's religious life. Having been stripped of his monastic name, he renamed himself "Gutoku" or "foolish, bald-headed one," coming to understand himself as neither monk nor layman. While in exile, Shinran sought to continue the work of Honen and spread the doctrine of salvation through Amida Buddha's compassion, as expressed through the nembutsu practice, however in time his teachings diverged from Honen enough that later followers would use the term Jodo Shinshu or "True [Essence of the] Pure Land Sect", as opposed to Jodo Shu or "Pure Land Sect".

Shinran married his wife, Eshinni, and had six children with her. His eldest son, Zenran, toward the end of Shinran's life, sought to establish a new sect of his own, claiming to have received special teachings from Shinran. [ Shinran's Biography] Nishi Hongwanji Homepage] After Shinran wrote a stern letter warning Zenran, who refused, Zenran was disowned and his heretical sect collapsed.

Five years after being exiled in Echigo, in 1211, the "nembutsu" ban was lifted and Shinran was pardoned though he chose not to return to Kyoto at that time. Instead, Shinran left for an area known as Inada, a small area in Kantō just north of Tokyo. In 1224 Shinran authored his most significant text, Kyogyoshinsho, which is a series of selections and commentaries on Buddhist sutras supporting the new Pure Land Buddhist movement, and establishing a doctrinal lineage with Buddhists thinkers in India and China. In 1234 Shinran left the Kantō area and returned to Kyoto, with his daughter Kakushinni, where he died in the year 1263 at the age of 90.Popular Buddhism In Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, pp. 13,14,15,17 University of Hawaii Press 1998, ISBN 0-8248-2028-2] Kakushinni was instrumental in maintaining the mausoleum, and passing on his teachings, with her descendants ultimately becoming the Monshu, or head of the Hongwanji Temples built around the Mausoleum.


*1173 Shinran is born
*1175 Hōnen founds the Jodo Shu sect
*1181 Shinran becomes a monk
*1201 Shinran becomes a disciple of Hōnen and leaves Mt. Hiei
*1205 (?) Shinran marries his wife Eshinni
*1207 The nembutsu ban and Shinran's exile
*1211 Shinran is pardoned
*1212 Hōnen passes away in Kyoto & Shinran goes to Kantō
*1224 (?) Shinran authors Kyogyoshinsho
*1234 (?) Shinran goes back to Kyoto
*1256 Shinran disowns his son Zenran
*1263 Shinran dies in Kyoto


Essentially Shinran said that because we are all defiled by greed, hatred and delusion, we have no chance of gaining enlightenment by ourselves. Many Buddhists at that time felt that the Dharma of the Buddha had declined to such a point that people could not do it themselves anymore, a concept called mappo in Japanese, a Mahayana eschatology that claims that the ability to practice Dharma properly declines over time. Instead the Pure Land School of Buddhism encouraged its practitioners to rely on the vow of the Buddha Amitabha (Sanskrit, "Amida" in Japanese) to save all beings from suffering. According to three particular sutras Amitabha vowed to ensure that anyone who chanted his name would be reborn in his Pure Land of Sukhavati (Sanskrit, lit. Land of Bliss) and once there would easily be able to gain enlightenmnent, because they would not be hindered by the problems of day to day life.

Shinran's innovation in Pure Land Buddhism was to take this teaching to its logical extreme. He taught that awakening to the saving grace of Amida Buddha is the central matter. Continuous chanting of the nembutsu ("namu amida butsu") , is not necessary, as Hōnen, his mentor, had believed. Instead, Shinran taught his followers that the nembutsu should be said as a form of gratitude rather than a way of achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. Faith in Amida Buddha would lead to a deep spiritual awakening, called "shinjin", which severs the practitioner forever from birth and death in the world of samsara, and erases karma accumulated through many rebirths. Shinran taught that the advantage of the Path of the Nembutsu can be experienced here and now. The arising of shinjin also assures the devotee of birth in the Pure Land, and the attainment of enlightenment there.

Another aspect of Shinran's doctrine was the emphasis on gratitude and humility. Thus, Shinran taught that it was important to be humble and thankful for one's life. This gratitude could be expressed through the nembutsu, but also through a general sense of appreciation.


A statue of Shinran Shonin stands in Upper West Side Manhattan, in New York City. Located on Riverside Drive between 105th and 106th Streets, in front of the New York Buddhist Church, the statue depicts Shinran in a peasant hat and sandals, holding a wooden staff, as he peers down on the sidewalk.

Although this kind of statue is often found at Jodo Shinshu temples, the statue is notable because it survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, standing a little more than a mile from ground zero. It was brought to New York in 1955. The plaque calls the statue “a testimonial to the atomic bomb devastation and a symbol of lasting hope for world peace.”


On March 14, 2008, what are assumed to be the ash remains of Shinran were found in a small wooden statue at the Jōrakuji temple in Shimogyō-ku, Kyōto. The temple was created by Zonkaku (1290-1373), the son of Kakunyo (1270-1351), one of Shinran's great grandchildren. Records indicate that Zonkaku inherited the remains of Shinran from Kakunyo. The 24.2 cm wooden statue is identified as being from the middle of the Edo period. The remains were wrapped in paper. [cite web
url =
title = 親鸞の遺骨?が木像胎内から 京都・常楽寺
publisher = Asahi Shimbun
date = 2008-03-14
accessdate = 2008-03-15
] [cite web
url =
title = 親鸞の遺骨?発見、京都・常楽台の親鸞座像の胎内に
publisher = Yomiuri Shimbun
date = 2008-03-14
accessdate = 2008-03-15


*Bloom, Alfred: "", (World Wisdom) ISBN 978-1-933316-21-5
*Ducor, Jerome : "Shinran, Un réformateur bouddhiste dans le Japon médiéval" (col. Le Maître et le disciple); Gollion, Infolio éditions, 2008 (ISBN 978-2-88474-926-8)
*Albert Shansky: "Shinran and Eshinni: A Tale of Love in Buddhist Medieval Japan", ISBN 1424163013 (10), ISBN 978-1424163014 (13)
*James C. Dobbins: "Letters of the Nun Eshinni: Images of Pure Land Buddhism in Medieval Japan", ISBN 0-8248-2870-4
*Kenneth Doo Young Lee: "The Prince and the Monk: Shotoku Worship in Shinran's Buddhism", ISBN 978-0-7914-7022-0

See also

* Faith in Buddhism



*"Shinran: an Introduction to His Thought" - by Yoshifumi Ueda & Dennis Hirota (1989, Hongwanji International Center, Kyoto)

External links

* [ The Official English Site of the Nishi Honganji Temple]
* [ The Collected Works of Shinran]
* [ Women in the Pure Land: Eshinni's View of Rebirth as Expressed in Her Letters]
* [ The Official English Site for the Jodo Sect of Hōnen]
* [ Tendai Buddhism]
* [ Commentary on Shinran's Wasan (Hymns) in Three Volumes]

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