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Greetings to our Wailuku Hongwanji members. Most of you seem to be busy on Sunday mornings. So, I am going to tell you about Shinran Shonin. Why? Because May 21st is Shinran Shonin’s birthday and I would like you to know more about him and how he met the great guidance of the Nembutsu.
Shinran Shonin was born on May 21, 1173 in a small village called Hino, about 15 miles southeast of Kyoto. He was the first son of Arinori and Kikko-ni Fujiwara. His family was associated with the large Genji clan (Minamoto Family). There was a war between the Taira clan and the Genji families. In the end, the Genji family was defeated by the Taira family. Many of the families who were associated with the Genji clan were executed. Arinori Fujiwara, who was associated with the Genji clan, was supposed to be executed by the Taira clan. However, he escaped and became a monk. Shinran Shonin was 8 years old at that time.. Several months after his father disappeared, his mother, Kikko-ni passed away.
When Shinran was 9 years old, his uncle took him to Shoren-in temple so he could become a monk. There is a famous episode that when he went to the Shoren-in temple late in the afternoon, the temple minister told him as follows: "It is already dark so why don’t we postpone your Tokudo (to become a monk) ceremony until tomorrow morning." Shinran Shonin was quoted as saying, "Like cherry blossoms are the hearts that tomorrow they think they might but who can tell, if there may be a tempest in the night." The officiant of the ceremony, the Master Monk Jichin heard this poem from Matsuwaka-maru (Shinran Shonin’s childhood name) and was so impressed with this poem that expressed the impermanence of life; he held Shinran Shonin’s Tokudo ordination ceremony late that evening. He went to Mt. Hiei for his priesthood.
Today, Hongwanji’s Tokudo ceremony is held at the temple in the late morning, with all the temple doors closed, and it looks like the ceremony is held in the late evening. It is the image of the day Shinran Shonin took his Tokudo ordination at night.
Shinran Shonin studied Tendai Buddhism for 20 years at Mt. Hiei. He studied hard and was an outstanding monk and was knowledgeable about the Tendai doctrine. He also received several licenses and ranking as a monk, so he stayed at Mt. Hiei. However, he left Mt. Hiei at the age of 29. This is, by coincidence, when Shakyamuni Buddha, at age 29, left his castle to seek the truth. By the way, I came to Hawaii as a Kaikyoshi at the age of 29. Very interesting. Why did he leave Mt. Hiei? There are many answers given by scholars. However, one scholar noted that he wasn’t satisfied with what he was seeking about Buddha’s true salvation. It was not only the teachings, but he discovered the many different ways that the ministers lived, such as eating meat and fish, drinking alcohol, living with females on temple premises, and so on. I think he was a very honest and caring minister that he could not accept what he saw at Mt. Hiei.
So, with many, many doubts, he was confused about what he was learning at Mt. Hiei from his teachers and other ministers. So, one evening he seriously thought it over and decided that he would leave Mt. Hiei. After he left, he attended many different temples’ dharma sessions to seek true salvation by the Buddha Dharma. Most of the dharma sessions were just like what he had learned and practiced at Mt. Hiei, so he became a homeless monk.
Since he left Mt. Hiei, he didn’t have any place to live, didn’t have a place to practice, and didn’t have money to purchase any food. He went through very difficult times. One afternoon, he visited one of the temples at the foothill of Mt. Hiei and heard the minister’s Dharma message. He was a bit surprised that he was the only monk. Most of audience were farmers and fishermen which included many females. The master St. Honen shared his message about Amida Buddha and said, "Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion will spiritually save all sentient beings. His great Other power is always reaching into all sentient beings regardless of who we are and where we are and shows us the path of truth and encourages our lives. So, when we entrust and accept Amida Buddha’s great wisdom and Compassion without any doubt, without knowing the Nembutsu is flowing out from our mouth. Once we feel deep gratitude and appreciation for his great wisdom and compassion, without knowing, the Nembutsu is flowing out from our mouth, spontaneously, our hands will make the form of the gassho as our sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Amida Buddha." That message was so fresh for Shinran Shonin to receive the great guidance and salvation of the Amida Buddha and he felt, "Wow, this is a wonderful and dynamic teaching. Yes, this is what I was looking for and it is a true salvation by the Buddha."
Of course, this is my personal interpretation about Shinran Shonin’s feelings but what Shinran Shonin told one of his dharma disciples is as follows, "As for me, Shinran, there is nothing left but to receive and believe the teaching of the Venerable Master that we are saved by Amida merely through the utterance of the Nembutsu." (Tan ni sho, chapter 2)
It is impossible for us to meet Shinran Shonin at this present time unless we have a time machine to go back to his era, but when we read his writings and statements over and over, we are able to learn his true mind and heart that Amida Buddha’s great teachings are reaching every one of us in our heart. We are all meeting with the Nembutsu, Amida Buddha’s great wisdom and compassion in our daily lives. This is the great path Shinran Shonin shared with all sentient beings.