The year 2023 will mark the 850th anniversary of Shinran Shonin’s birth and 2024 will be the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. To commemorate these occasions, we will be having the joint celebratory observance in 2023.
Shinran Shonin was born in 1173 and entered the priesthood at the age of nine. However, after devoting many years to monastic Buddhist practices on Mt. Hiei, he decided to descend the mountain at the age of 29. Following the guidance from his new mentor Honen Shonin, who introduced him to the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, Shinran Shonin came to entrust himself to the Nembutsu teaching preached by his master. Several years later, their Nembutsu teaching was banned and Shinran Shonin was exiled to Echigo, present Niigata. Following his pardon, Shinran Shonin moved to the Kanto region where he engaged in propagation of the Nembutsu teaching of Other Power, namely the working of Amida’s great wisdom and compassion. It is believed to be then when he began writing his main literary work, The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way, known as Kyōgyōshinshō. Since the essence of his teaching that emphasizes entrusting oneself to the Buddha’s working of Other Power and recitation of the Nembutsu was clarified in the composition, the Kyōgyōshinshō is also referred to as gohonden, or the most foundational scripture of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. Based on Shinran Shonin’s own inscription in the writing stating that he was 52 years of age at the time, the year 1224 became designated as the year when the Jodo Shinshu teaching was established. Buddhism began approximately 2500 years ago when Śākyamuni became a Buddha, awakening to the true reality of this world, such as, the principles of dependent origination, impermanence, and no-self. However, ordinary people like us are neither able to realize the truth of enlightenment nor practice a life of nonattachment. To the contrary, we see things from our egocentric viewpoint and because of that we constantly suffer, encounter hardship, and fight with one another. That is why Śākyamuni Buddha informs us of the existence of Amida Buddha who had vowed to save all ordinary and foolish beings like us, by guiding us to supreme enlightenment. Furthermore, Shinran Shonin clarifies that we, as the recipient of Amida’s working, have already received the Buddha’s wish in the form of the Name, Namo Amida Butsu.
As the manifestation of the ultimate wisdom and compassion that accepts everything as it is, Amida Buddha’s working equally embraces every living being, never to abandon us no matter how egoistic and filled with blind passions we may be. When truly realizing how vast the Buddha’s compassion is, we cannot help but feel ashamed of our way of living that is a far cry from Amida Buddha’s wish. That is why Shinran Shonin laments, “How ugly it is! How wretched!” in referring to himself. However, this feeling of shamefulness could motivate us to endeavor to lessen the Buddha’s sorrow even if only limited results were expected. Furthermore, that sentiment should synchronize with our efforts of sharing the Buddha’s Vow with as many people as possible and feeling others’ grief and joy as our own, because these acts are in accord with the wishes of Amida Buddha, and also Shinran Shonin who aspires for peace and tranquility and the Buddha’s teaching to spread throughout the world. Let us appreciate the Dharma and Nembutsu teaching even more deeply, and together strive to realize a society in which everyone can live in peace and harmony, resonating in the hearts and minds of all. As the first step of this movement, I would like to ask for everyone’s cooperation in continuing our organizational plans for the future and successfully conducting the joint celebration of the 850th Anniversary of Shinran Shonin’s Birth and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Jodo Shinshu Teaching.
OHTANI Kojun, Monshu, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha