Namu Amida Butsu
After leaving Mt. Hiei, St. Shinran went to the Rokkaku-do Temple in Kyoto to undergo 100 days of meditation. Near the end of the 100 days, on his 95th day, he dreamt that Bodhisattva Avolokitesvara appeared and told him, "You may marry, and I will be inside the female. So, I will guide you on the path of truth." He also received other messages; and following these messages, St. Shinran began eating meat and fish and later married Lady Eshin-ni. In another dream, Prince Shotoku recommended that he go to see St. Honen at Yoshimizu village to learn about the Nembutsu.
Following Prince Shotoku’s advice, St. Shinran went to visit St. Honen. The more he listened to St. Honen, the more he began to realize that Nembutsu’s guidance was truly the way to salvation by Amida, and it is the voice of the Buddha calling all sentient beings. St. Shinran was so impressed with St. Honen’s messages that he concluded that, "This is what I was looking for, and this is the true guidance of the Buddha and salvation." The seed of Jodo Shinshu was planted.
Gradually, the Nembutsu teachings gained popularity within the community. Many of the other Buddhist schools and the government were envious of the growing influence of the Nembutsu teaching within the community. After an incident in which several priests were caught with court maids, the government executed several priests and had others exiled to faraway lands. While St. Shinran was not involved in any of the activities related to the court, he was stripped of his title of priest and exiled to Echigo (Niigata). Meanwhile his teacher, St. Honen was sent to Shikoku. Both received pardons from the government after approximately five years. However, St. Shinran would never again meet his mentor. St. Honen passed on before he could meet with St. Shinran.
While in exile in Echigo, St. Shinran continued to spread the Nembutsu among the local people. He was no longer an "official" priest. Perhaps this "non-priest" status helped him to gain acceptance among the people as he taught that Buddha’s compassion and salvation was for all, not just for priests and the elite. He stressed that Amida Buddha does not discriminate whether one is male or female, rich or poor, young or old but his compassion extends to all human beings. Central to St. Shinran’s teachings was that, "All sentient beings will be saved by Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion."
Following his release from exile, still forbidden to return to Kyoto, St. Shinran settled in the Kanto region just north of present day Tokyo. He continued spreading the Nembutsu teaching. His teachings were a refreshing source of encouragement and hope to the people as it helped them to cope with the difficulties in their daily lives. When his teachings became accepted and established in the Kanto area, St. Shinran asked his son, Zenran, to look after the Kanto region sangha. In his 60’s he returned to Kyoto.
Upon his return to Kyoto, St Shinran completed the "KyoGyo-Shin-Sho,” Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, which continues to be the foundation of Jodo Shinshu teaching. In his work, he quoted the writings of other great Jodo Shinshu teachers. He concurred with the masters who all agreed that the Nembutsu serves not only as a guide to enable us to experience true peace and serenity in our lives and also enables us to be reborn into the Pure Land of Amida.
St. Shinran passed away over 750 years ago at the age of 90. He lived in a much different era than we are living in today. Yet, many of the conditions that existed then are still present to this day. Although the problems may differ, both back then and today, people lived with stresses and problems on a daily basis. In St. Shinran’s time, epidemics and food shortages were probably of greater concern in the daily lives of the citizenry. In our society, financial difficulties and stresses associated with being successful are probably a greater source of stress. Today, as it was back then, our sense of pride and our ego is at the root of many of our problems.
Surveys in recent years have shown that a greater number of people are showing less interest in religion. People say Sunday is their only day off, they are busy with children’s activities, or they need to rest to relieve the stresses of their daily life. Religion, however, may actually provide the spiritual support needed to help us to reflect upon ourselves. By listening to the Buddha Dharma and accepting problems as they are, we are able to see our problems from a different perspective. We are thus better able to solve or cope with the difficulties that we face.
St. Shinran expressed his true mind in the "Tan ni sho" by expressing the following, "When I carefully consider the Vow which Amida brought fourth after five kalpa’s contemplation, I find it was solely for me, Shinran, alone. So, how gracious is the Original Vow of Amida who resolved to save me, possessed of many karmic sins!" How wonderful it is that despite our individual faults, Amida in his infinite wisdom and compassion has promised us salvation. Thank you, Amida Buddha. Thank you, St. Shinran, for delivering Amida’s message.