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Jodo Shinshu Buddhism

Kyosho - The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu

Name: Jodo Shinshu Honpa Hongwanji

Founder: Shinran Shonin (1173-1263)

Buddha: Amida Buddha (Buddha of Infinite Light and Life)



The Principal Sutras of Jodo Shinshu are:

1. Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Bussetsu Muryoju Kyo)

2. Sutra of Meditation on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Bussetsu Kanmuryoju Kyo)

3. Smaller Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Bussetsu Amida Kyo)


Having awakened to the compassion of Amida Buddha and rejoicing in the assurance of Buddhahood, we shall endeavor to live the life of gratitude and service.



The Honpa Hongwanji is a community of people joined together by the gladness of a common faith in Amida Buddha. As Jodo Shin Buddhists, we shall seek to be humbled and sincere in words and deeds to be responsible citizens of our society and to share with others the teachings of Jodo Shinshu. Understanding fully the principle of causality, we shall not practice petitionary prayer and magic, and do not depend on astrology and superstitions.

The term Jodo Shinshu was used by Shinran to describe the true essence (shinshu) of the Jodo teaching of his master, Honen Shonin (1133-1212). Shinran's successors, however, came to use it for the name of their school, with Shinran as the founder, thus distinguishing it from other Jodo schools which also claimed to succeed in Honen's teaching.


Shinran Shonin

Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) was a Japanese Buddhist priest, who lived during the Kamakura period. He is recognized as the founder of Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) Buddhism.

Shinran's struggle for enlightenment spanned twenty years of traditional Buddhist practices in the monastery temple community known as Mt. Hiei, near the city of Kyoto. In spite of all his faithful efforts, he failed to attain the spiritual awakening which he so deperately sought. The years he spent on Mt. Hiei had served only to make him more painfully aware of his own spiritual weakness and human limitations. His life was finite, his knowledge was incomplete, and his capacity for absolute goodness was imperfect. After twenty years of struggle he was forced to concede that enlightenment was impossible for the common person to achieve. All seemed hopeless.

In this state of despair Shinran determined that he must search for another way. He left the monastery. Shortly thereafter he met a Buddhist master named Honen Shonin (1133-1212), who taught a simple faith in the Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Infinite Light. Taking refuge in and reciting that Buddha's name (Namo Amida Buddha) was taught by Honen to be in accord with the Buddha's original Vows and most fitting for those of the Latter Dharma Age, unable to find a suitable master or practice to follow.

For the first time Shinran experienced a deep inner peace. It came in the realization that the practice of taking refuge in the Amida Buddha (Namo Amida Buddha) was suitable for such a man as himself since it expressed both the truth of his false self and the Buddha's concern for those ordinary people who are plagued by the Three Poisons of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance.

Shinran Shonin

While the essence of the Amida Buddha is Infinite Wisdom and Compassion, and has no physical form limitations or physical boundaries, for devotional purposes the Amida Buddha is traditionally represented in three forms: 


1) the Chinese characters of the Name - Na Mo A Mi Da Butsu, 

2) a picture scroll of a figure of Amida Buddha, and 

3) a statue image of the Amida Buddha. 


The picture and the statue image of Amida are identifiable by their hand gestures, or mudras. The right hand is held up with the palm facing outward and the thumb and forefinger forming a circle. This is the mudra known as "bestowing fearlessness" (abhayada-mudra). 


The left arm is hung downward with the left palm facing outward and the thumb and forefinger also forming a circle. This is the mudra known as "fulfilling one's wishes" (varada-mudra), symbolizing the fulfillment of the Vows and the sharing of merit and virtue by the Amida Buddha to all sentient beings. 


A radiating aura of 48 beams of light emanating from the Amida Buddha, symbolizes the 48 Bodhisattva vows made by the buddha previously when he was the Bodhisattva Dharmakara. After the completion of all conditions of those Vows, the Pure Land manifested from the perfection of the virtues and merits of Dharmakara's pure practice.


Amida Buddha

The Hondo or 'Main Hall,' has historically been called a spiritual training hall, or Dojo. It is a place where 'fellow travelers' along the Nembutsu path may gather to listen to the teachings and share with others their appreciation of the Nembutsu dharma.

The Naijin, or 'inner area,' houses many splendid and beautiful works of art. The flowered tables, hanging lanterns, and pavillion structrue surround the Gohonzon, or 'honorific object of reverence,' in this case, a picture scroll of the Amida Buddha. All of these elements represent aspects of the Pure Land, as described in the sutras. They are represented as golden in color to indicate that they are pure, since they are manifested from the pure virtues and merits of the Amida Buddha's enlightenment.

The Mae Joku, or 'front table,' hold three objects: a Koro, or 'incense burner,' a Rosokutate, or 'candel-stand,' and a Kahin, a 'flower vase.' The candle placed on the right side of the table represents the world of Enlightenment. The flowers on the left side represent the fleeting, impermanent world that we live in, or Samsara. The incense burner is placed in between the two apprently opposite worlds as if to bring them together into Oneness, symbolized by the burning incense, which indicates the paradox of life-and-death, for the incense in being lit begins to both 'live' and 'die.'

The framed Japanese characters hanging above the Naijin represent the posthumous title given to Shinran Shonin by the Emperor Meiji. The characters read Ken Shin, or 'Seer of Truth.'

On the right side, as you face the Naijin, hangs a picture scroll of the image of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu. On the left side hangs an image scroll of Rennyo Shonin (1414-1499), a blood descendent of Shinran and the eighth Gomonshu, or head of the sect.


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