The Japanese Buddhist monk Shinran (1173-1262) was the founder of the True Pure Land sect, or jodoshin shu. He was the most famous disciple of Honen and was active in developing and transforming Amidist beliefs in Japan.

The son of a court noble, Shinran entered the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei in 1182. But he found Tendai teachings inadequate. He is said to have turned to belief in Amida as the result of a dream in which he was so instructed by the bodhisattva Kwannon.

In 1207 Shinran was exiled to Echigo in the north at the same time as his master Honen, returning to the capital with him in 1211. The reason for Shinran's banishment was that he had taken a wife, thus defying the vow of celibacy. The woman was alleged to be a daughter of the Fujiwara regent Kanezane, and Honen was said to have commanded the marriage.

Although there is some doubt about the identity of Shinran's wife, there is none at all that he wished to show by this act that monastic discipline was not necessary for salvation if one put oneself completely at the mercy of the Buddha Amida as Honen required. He further wished to demonstrate that the family should be the center of religious life. Shinran felt that he was merely carrying to its logical conclusion Honen's idea that if salvation meant consigning oneself completely to Amida's grace other religious practices were superfluous.

It was Shinran's belief that he should exert himself to the utmost to propagate belief in Amida among the simple people. He was himself obliged to live among the people, in a sense a social outcast. And he thought of himself as a lost soul. He even went so far as to claim that the wicked had more chance for salvation than the good, for the former relied more on Amida's grace than the latter, who counted too much on their good works. "If even good people can be reborn in the Pure Land, how much more the wicked man!"

Certain more conservative followers of Honen claimed that the continual calling of the Buddha's name, the nembutsu, was a most desirable religious act. Honen himself is said to have recommended multiple invocation. Shinran, however, believed that quantity had little to do with the Buddha's grace and that a single repetition of his name was all that was necessary. Multiple repetition seemed to him to be, in fact, a practice through which one strove to attain salvation other than by complete reliance on Amida's mercy.

Shinran's innovation in Japanese Amidism was the abolishment of monasticism and the authorization of a married priesthood. He himself was a shami, a person who leads a religious life but does not follow the monastic discipline.


Further Reading on Shinran

An account of Shinran's life and excerpts from his writings are in Ryusaku Tsunoda and others, eds., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (1958), and a detailed discussion of Shinran's beliefs is in Alfred Bloom, Shinran's Gospel of Pure Grace (1965).