Shinran Shonin, who established the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, expresses the true concept of Bussetsu Muryoju Kyo [The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha] and clarifies the truth of the Primal Vow and the Name in his writing, Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui [The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way] with the support of the understanding of the Seven Pure Land Masters such as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Tan-luan, Tao-ch'o, Shan-tao, Genshin and Genku. Jodo Shinshu was established in this way.
The Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha is an organization of fellow practicers who hear the true significance of the Primal Vow and the Name through the above-mentioned teaching and entrust themselves to it, reciting the Nembutsu. The organization transmits the wisdom and compassion of Amida Tathagata to all people, and in doing so, contributes to the realization of a society in which everyone, both within and outside of the organization, is able to live a life of spiritual fulfillment.
Object of Reverence
The object of reverence in Jodo Shinshu is the one Buddha, Amida Tathagata. In order to express gratitude for the benevolence of the teaching, images of the Founder, the Seven Masters, Prince Shotoku, and the succeeding monshu (head priest) of the Hongwanji shall be enshrined in the altars.
The fundamental essentials of the teaching of Jodo Shinshu are clearly expressed in Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui. They include the two aspects that are brought about by the working of Amida Buddha's Primal Vow- oso, the aspect of our going forth to the Pure Land and genso-, the aspect of our returning to this world and also the four pillars of teaching, practice, shinjin, and realization which are the cause and result of oso.
The Teaching is Bussetsu Muryoju Kyo. The practice is Namo Amida Butsu. The shinjin is the heart that entrusts without doubt to Amida Buddha. The realization is Nirvana. We receive shinjin that is, the entrusting heart, through listening without doubt to the significance of the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, which is revealed in the teaching of truth, Bussetsu Muryoju Kyo, and thus, in the present life, we dwell in the stage of the truly settled, and at the moment of death, we will be born in the Pure Land, which itself is the Amida Tathagata's realm of enlightenment, the realization of Nirvana.
Shinjin is to accept the Name, which includes the virtue of the great wisdom and great compassion of Amida Tathagata, and therefore it is the right cause for birth in the Pure Land. Once we entrust ourselves to the Buddha's working, we naturally recite the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, to express our indebtedness and gratitude for the Buddha's benevolence. This is the significance of the phrase, 信心正因 shinjin shoin and 称名報恩 shomyo ho'on (lit., "shinjin that is the true cause and reciting the Name that is the expression of gratitude for the benevolence").
The four pillars of teaching, practice, shinjin, and realization are the aspects of our going forth to be born in the Pure Land, and so they are called oso (lit., "aspect of going forth"). When we are born in the Pure Land and attain the cause of Buddhahood, the great compassion naturally arises in us and so we return to this world to guide other sentient being to liberation as we so desire, and thus, this aspect is called genso (lit., "aspect of returning"). Both oso and genso are the benefit that are brought about by the working of the Primal Vow. This is the saving work of Other Power, which totally denies self power. It is the great path in which we totally rely on the Vow of Amida Buddha and it enables all sentient beings to attain the supreme enlightenment.
Shinran Shonin was born in 1173 and was ordained a Buddhist priest at the age of nine. After that, he studied on Mt. Hiei for twenty years, and at the age of twenty-nine he met Master Genku, and under the guidance of the master, decided to take refuge in the Primal Vow, discarding miscellaneous practices. When he was thirty-five years old, he was exiled to Echigo (present-day Niigata), and later moved to the Kanto region with Eshin, where he endeavored to spread the teaching. In his later years, he returned to Kyoto where he devoted his efforts to writing, and passed away at the age of ninety years old in 1263.
After Shinran Shonin's death, his daughter Kakushin and his disciples built a small temple in Higashiyama Otani in Kyoto to enshrine Shinran Shonin's ashes and portrait. This temple gradually developed and eventually became Hongwanji.
Since then, Hongwanji has been visited by the followers of Shinran Shonin's teaching from various regions and has come to be respected as the headquarters of the organization. The tradition of Shinran Shonin's teaching was transmitted to Shinran Shonin's grandson Nyoshin (the second monshu) then his great grandson Kakunyo (the third monshu). Thereafter, succession of the monshu's position has been passed down to Shinran Shonin's descendants and it has remained that way ever since.
The scale of the organization was greatly enlarged by the eighth monshu, Rennyo, and during the term of the eleventh monshu, Kennyo, the Hongwanji was granted a plot of land at its present site, Horikawa-Rokujo, Kyoto where it stands today. The scope of the organization crossed national borders and has reached various places throughout the world. The organization has been supported by many people's warm-hearted expectations and the Nembutsu teaching is being passed on from generation to generation under the guidance of the successive monshus.