Shinran and His Jōdo Shinshū

Shinran was born in 1173 and died in 1263. After losing both parents as a child, he became a monk at the age of nine; twenty years later a visionary experience directed him to Hōnen. Nembutsu practice soon came under attack, however Hōnen was exiled in 1207, and Shinran was defrocked and exiled soon thereafter. Later he spread the nembutsu teaching to many areas of Japan and became known for his emphasis on the practitioner’s need to rely entirely on “other-power,” that of the buddha.

Shinran is regarded as the founder of the True Pure Land (Jōdo Shinshū) school of Japanese Buddhism which is the largest of the Pure Land groups. Jōdo Shinshū is similar to Jōdo Shū, but places more emphasis on faith over practice. According to the Shin school, faith alone is sufficient. He abolished monasteries and authorized married priests.

Shinran’s theory of Buddhism came from deep insight and brought about innovation in the Buddhist world. He challenged traditional Buddhism by entering into marriage and raising children, calling himself neither a monk nor a layman. Until the Meiji era, apart from variances in Buddhist doctrine, the main difference that set Shinran’s Jōdo Shinshū apart from other Buddhist schools was that Jōdo Shinshū officially accepted the marriage of priests. Shinran’s Jōdo Shinshū grew in size and remains one of the most powerful Buddhist institution in Japan.