After the entrance of Shinran Shōnin into Great Nirvāna, the True Sect of Pure Land gradually gained followers, and has at present become the most influential one among the various Buddhist sects in Japan. And the True Sect itself has come to be differentiated into ten minor branches, which, however, do not mean so many different ways of interpreting its main faith or doctrine. The differentiation has grown only out of some historical or external relations that came to be established between the principal churches in charge of their devotees. The history of each of these several churches, among which the Hongwanji, is quite complicated; and the following tabular view gives only a general scheme of the pedigree of the ten principal branches of the True Sect of Pure Land:
Among these ten branches, those most flourishing at present are the Ōtani and the Hongwanji. They trace back their origin of existence to the two brothers, Kyōnyo and Junnyo, and formerly composed one Hongwanji Branch. The reason why it came to have the largest number of followers under its charge, is because its successive Hosshus (literally, "masters of the law", that is, head-priests) trace their line of descendance directly to Shinran Shōnin, the Founder of the True Sect, and also because its eighth Hosshu, Rennyo, was a most remarkable spiritual power, exercising great influence over his followers. Let us now go on at some length with the history of the Hongwanji.
It was in the winter of the ninth year of Bunyei (1272) that the tomb of the Shōnin at Ōtani, Higashiyama, was removed to the western part of the same grounds, where a hall was constructed, and his image was enshrined in it. The Emperor Kameyama ordered it to be named the "Kuon Jitsujō Amida Hongwan-ji," whence comes the name "Hongwanji" which is an abbreviation. Kakushin-ni, or Iyahime, the youngest daughter of the Shōnin, was made the guardian of the shrine, while Nyoshin, son of Zenran, became the Jyūshoku or "residing priest" of the Hongwanji. Thus, we have Shinran Shōnin for the founder of the Hongwanji and Nyoshin Shōnin for the second patriarch.
Kakunyo, grandson to Kakushin-ni, succeeded Nyoshin, and it was he who compiled "A Life of Shinran, the Hongwanji Shōnin, with Illustrations," in two volumes, which is also known as the "Godenshō" simply, meaning the "Honorable Biography." The author was then twenty-six years old. His other works are: "The Shūyi-kotoku-den," "The Kuden-shō," "The Gai-ja-shō," "The Shū-dzi-shō," "The Hon-gwan-shō," "The Gwan-gwan-shō," "The Sai-yō-shō," "The Shus-se-gwan-i," "The Ho-on-kō-shiki," etc.
In those days, Japan was divided between two rival dynasties, Northern and Southern, and their struggles for the ascendency reduced the country, especially the Capital, into a state of constant disturbance; and the shrine at Ōtani was burned to the ground by the soldiers in 1336. Kakunyo Shōnin, therefore, retired to the Kuon-ji in Yamashiro, where he stayed for two years until the shrine was rebuilt in 1338, and in the year following he came back to Ōtani. For some one hundred and twenty years thence, the shrine suffered no misfortune.
The eldest son of Kakunyo was called Zonkaku, and being a great scholar wrote many works, of which the most important is "The Roku-yō-shō" in ten volumes, which is a commentary on Shinran Shōnin's "Kyō-gyō-shin-shō." Among other writings of his, we may mention the following: "The Sen-jyaku-shū-chū-ge-shō" in 5 vols.; "The Haja-kenshō-shō" in three vols.; "The Jōdo-shin-yō-shō" in two vols.; "The Sho-jin-hon-gwai-shū" in two vols.; "The Kecchi-shō," 2 vols.; "The Hokke-mondō," 2 vols.; "The Busen-shō," 2 vols.; "The Hō-on-ki," 2 vols.; "The Kemmyō-shō "; "The Jimyō-shō"; "The Zonkaku-hō-gō; "The Nyonin-wōjō-kikigaki"; "The Jōdo-kemmon-shū"; "The Tandoku-mon" ; etc. This learned author, however, did not succeed Kakunyo as Jyūshoku (or "residing priest") of the Hongwanji. Zennyo, Shakunyo, Gyōnyo, and Zonnyo are the names appearing in the patriarchal line after Kakunyo; and it was not until after these "residing priests" that the eighth patriarch, Rennyo Shōnin, who was the eldest son of Zennyo, came on the stage to give a new impetus to the development of the True Sect in Japan. Before the appearance of this remarkable personage, the Hongwanji was far from being an influential Buddhist denomination. Without him, it was perhaps impossible for the Hongwanji to achieve such a phenomenal progress and gain its full strength as it really did.
Rennyo Shōnin was born at Ōtani on Feb. 25 in the twenty-second year of Oyē (1415). His boyhood name was Hotei-maro, and he proved even in his early life to be a remarkable genius. On December 28, 1420, his mother mysteriously disappeared, leaving an advice for her now six years old boy, saying, "My dear child, make it your life's duty to revive the True Sect of Pure Land." Nobody knows where she retired, but her instruction left such a deep impression upon the boyish mind of Hotei-maro that he well remembered it later; and when he was fifteen years old he firmly made up his mind to carry out actually what his mother commanded him before.
When he attained seventeen years of age, he had his head shaved at the Shōren-in and assumed the Buddhist name, Kenju. After he had first studied the philosophy of the Hossō Sect at Nara, he returned to Ōtani, and confining himself in a monastery there, he applied himself most assiduously to the study of the doctrine of his own Sect until he was thirty years old. In 1447, he travelled in the Eastern districts of Japan, and in 1449, in the North, every' where visiting those historical landmarks associated with the memory of his forefather, the founder of the True Sect; and whenever he went, he was never tired of preaching the Good Law and giving a new life to the decadent faith of his followers.
In 1457, his father Zonnyo died, and as Rennyo Shōnin he now succeeded him at the age of forty-three and became the Jūshoku ("residing priest") of the Hongwanji. In June, 1460, he wrote a book entitled the "Shō-shin-getaii" at the request of his disciple, Dōsai. It was about this time that lie began writing the "Letters" (called in Japanese Ofumi) explaining the doctrine and faith of the True Sect in most plain language in order to make even the plainest seekers of the truth comprehend what he wishes to convey to their simple hearts. These "letters" are numerous, and it can be said without exaggeration that the revival of the faith of the True Sect is mainly due to the writing of these "letters" by the Shōnin. His influence, thus, gradually gained the ground all over Japan, and the increasing number of pilgrims steadily pressed on to the founder's shrine at Ōtani. The growing popularity, however, of Rennyo attracted the envious attention of the monks on the Hiyesan, whose bitter hatred of the rival finally induced them to destroy the Ōtani shrine by fire on January 10, 1465.
This compelled Rennyo to flee front Ōtani carrying the image of Shinran with him. For a while he settled in Ōtsu where he made his residence at the Chikamatsu-dera, a temple belonging to the Miidera. He did not stay long here, and moved from one place to another until in April, 1471, he made a trip to the northern district of Japan; and after preaching at various places in Echizen and Kaga Provinces, he built a temple at Yoshizaki, Echizen. Here again he attracted numerous followers from all the neighboring districts, who came to him earnestly inquiring about the faith of the True Sect and asking for his personal instructions. His success was most phenomenal.
The governor of Kaga Province, Togashi by name, however, who had been harboring an antagonistic feeling towards the Hongwanji and its supporters, made a sudden attack by force upon the temple at Yoshizaki in August, 1475. The Shōnin had to run away from his abode to the neighboring province, Wakasa, where he reached by boat. The True Sect followers of Kaga grew most indignant at this unjustifiable conduct on the part of their governor, and rose one man, declared war on him, and having succeeded in overturning his government, they took possession of the entire province of Kaga as under the dominion of the Hongwanji. This violent action of his devotees, however, did not please Rennyo, and they were severely reprimanded.
After this, he went on with his preaching without disturbance; and in 1477, aided by Dōsai, his disciple, he made up a plan to build the main temple of the True Sect at Yamashina. The Hall of Image was completed in August, 1480, where the image of Shinran was removed from its temporary shelter at the Chikamatsu-dera. The main hall was finished in June of the following year.
When, in 1489, Rennyo Shōnin was seventy-five years old, he resigned his position as "residing priest" of the Hongwanji, whose duty now fell upon his son, Jitsunyo. In 1496, he built a branch temple at Ōsaka in Settsu Province, which was made his residence for four years. In February, 1499, he again removed to the main temple at Yamashina, and on March 25 of the same year he died at the advanced age of eighty-five.
Rennyo Shōnin was a rare religious genius. He may be regarded as an avatar of Shinran Shōnin, the Founder of the True Sect, who came on earth over again from his abode in Pure Land to save his faith from decline and fall. His preaching, the outcome of an overflowing heart, was full of love and kindliness, and was like water for the thirsty, like medicine for the sick. After his death, Jitsugo wrote a biography of his illustrious predecessor in one volume, called "Rennyo Shōnin Goichidai Ki Kikigaki," while another biography, "Rennyo Shōnin Yitoku Ki," was compiled by Rengo, another son of Rennyo. His letters, eighty in number and in five volumes, were collected by Yennyo, son of Jitsunyo, under the title of "Ofumi," which means the "Honorable Letters." Since then, the followers of this Hongwanji Branch have made it their daily religious practice to sing the "Shōshin Nembutsu Ge" and "Wasan" and to recite the "Letters" before their family shrines of the Buddha.
Thus was the Hongwanji established by Rennyo, at Yamashina. After him came Jitsunyo, who, in 1525, handed over his high-priesthood to Shōnyo, son of Yennyo. During the latter's office, that is, in August, 1532, Rokkaku Sadayori, helped by unruly followers of the Hokke Sect, assailed the Hongwanji and burned it to the ground. Thereupon, Shōnyo, carrying the image of the founder with him, removed to the branch temple in Ōsaka (at Ishiyama), where he died in 1554.
He was succeeded by his son, Kennyo. In 1570, he was forced to wage war on Oda Nobunaga, the famous general, who frequently hurled his strong army against the Hongwanji, but with no perceptible success; for the followers of the True Sect were so devoted to their cause that they were ready to sacrifice their lives whenever necessary.
In 1580, Kennyo Shōnin, in accordance with the Imperial command, contracted terms of peace with Oda Nobunaga and removed to Sagi-no-mori in the Province of Kii. In 1582, however, the unfaithful General planned an unexpected assault upon Sagi-no-mori with a large army. To capture Kennyo as prisoner of war, his soldiers were about ready to force the gate of the Hongwanji on June 3, when the news of the assassination of the General by his retainer, Akechi Mitsuhide, reached the attacking enemy, which thereupon beat a hasty retreat. Kennyo Shōnin and his temple were thus miraculously saved from the impending peril.
In 1583, Kennyo moved to Kaidzuka in Idzumi; in 1591, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the illustrious general, donated a tract of land at Nishi-Rokujō in the city of Kyōto for the rebuilding of the Hongwanji. Kennyo lived only one year after his last removal to Kyōto, for he died in the year following (1592). The mantle of the residing priesthood now fell upon the shoulders of Kyōnyo, the eldest son of Kennyo.
- "The Life of Shinran, the Holy Sage of the Hongwanji with Illustrations."
- A supplementary work to the "Life of the Old Sage." The Old Sage is the master of Shinran Shōnin. 9 fasciculi.
- "Sayings and doings of Shinran, which were orally transmitted" by Nyoshin to Kakunyo. 3 fasciculi.
- "Refutation of (twenty-one) false views (against the teaching of Shinran)." 2 fasciculi.
- A work treating of Nembutsu (the reciting of Amida's name), of which the first four chapters record some sayings and doings of Shinran, while the last one chapter is devoted to the statement of the author's own views on the holding fast (shūdzi) to the doctrine of Nembutsu.
- A collection of such passages as relating to the original prayers (hongwan) of Amida.
- A book explaining the five essential ones out of the fortyeight prayers of Amida.
- A work explaining the significance of the eighteenth prayer of Amida.
- A work on the fundamental meaning of the appearance of Shākyamuni on earth.
- "A manual for the memorial service of the Founder."
- A commentary work on the Kyō-gyō-shin-shō. 10 fasciculi.
- "A commentary work on Hōnen's Sen-jyaku-shū." 5 fasciculi.
- A work refuting seventeen erroneous views as regards the teaching of the True Sect, and revealing its truth. 3 fasciculi.
- "A treatise on the essential truths of the doctrine of Pure Land." A revised work of the Jōdo-monrui-shū, given by the author to his disciple, Ryōgen. 2 fasciculi.
- "A treatise on the fundamental intention of all the gods." A revised work by Zonkaku of a book bearing the same title. 2 fasciculi.
- A book recording the successful debate with the followers of the Nichiren Sect in the first year of Rekiō. 2 fasciculi.
- "Questions and answers in the controversy with the Nichiren Sect." 2 fasciculi.
- A work in which the teaching of Pure Land is compared to travelling on water by boat and that of the "Path for the wise" to walking on foot, showing how easier it is to travel by the first method. 2 fasciculi.
- A book explaining how deeply grateful we should feel towards our parents and teachers. 2 fasciculi.
- A book revealing the merit contained in the name of Amide.
- A work urging to hold the name of Amida.
- "A religious discourse by Zonkaku," written especially for Kaiyen.
- A book treating of women's salvation.
- A book describing the loathsomeness of the defiled world and the joys of Pure Land.
- A tract praising the virtues of Shinran Shōnin.
- A short commentary work on Shinran's Shō-shin-ge.