Who was Shinran Shonin?

Shinran Shonin is the founder of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.

Buddhism itself has many sects as I am sure you are aware of already. First off, there are three main branches: Mahayana, Theraveda and Vajrayana. From there, Buddhism split off into many sub-sects (and sub-sub sects). The Jodo Shinshu sect is classified as being a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, as is the Tendai and Zen Sects. Of course, each sect has a different take on Buddhism, but basically each one has some sort of basis in the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Anyway, Shinran Shonin was a Japanese monk who lived in Japan during the Kamakura Period. He was born around 1173 and enjoyed about 90 years of life until his death.

After his parents passed away, Shinran became a monk and joined the Tendai sect of Buddhism. After that, he spent about 20 years on Mount Hiei and devoted his life to practicing the Lotus Sutra, the central focus of the sect. However, no matter how hard he tried, and how harsh the practices he performed were, he failed to attain enlightenment.

Be that as it may, Shinran left Mt. Hiei and subsequently found Master Honen Shonin, and studied under him. Under Honen’s guidance, Shinran was able to achieve enlightenment at the age of 29 and be saved in this lifetime by the vow of Amida Buddha.

For the next 60 or so years of his life, Shinran would travel Japan preaching Buddhism. The tales of his (sometimes dangerous and perilous) journeys can be seen in the 6-part animated movie series Sekai no Hikari – Shinran Shonin produced by Tulip K. I personally have seen all of the movies, and they are wonderful. However, for English speakers I can only recommend the first part because that is the only one that is in English. However, the first part is pretty important as it details his life up to the time he was saved by Amida’s vow.

Shinran Shonin is best known for his masterwork Kyogyo Shinsho, or Teaching, Practice, Faith and Enlightenment. Subsequently, one of his disciples is also known for writing Tannisho or Lamenting the Deviations which is a Japanese classic literary work.

Shinran Shonin is the light of the world, and remains a very important figure in Japanese history.


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