The Jōdo Shin sect (浄土真宗 Jōdo Shinshū, "True Pure Land sect") is one of the traditional 13 schools of Japanese sect Buddhism and a form of Pure Land Buddhism. Its founder, Shinran (親鸞, 1173-1263), had no intention of establishing an independent movement and used the term Jōdo Shinshū to refer to the "true essence" (shinshū) of Pure Land teaching as set forth by his teacher Hōnen (法然, 1133-1212). Still, the name was later used for the school (shū) that evolved around Shinran's teachings.


In 1224, Shinran wrote his most significant work, Kyōgyōshinshō (教行信証), formally known as Kenjōdo Shinjitsu Kyōgyōshō Monrui (顕浄土真実教行証文類, "The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation of the Pure Land Way"). The publication of his text is traditionally regarded as the sect's founding. However, it was not until 1872 that Jōdo Shinshū became the generally accepted name of the cult, which was until then referred to as Ikkō-shū, Monto-shū, or Hogan-ji. Nowadays, it is also referred to as Shinshū or Shin Buddhism. It consists of ten branches and claims the most considerable following among the Buddhist sects in Japan.


Shinran (親鸞, 1173-1263)

According to Shinran, the Pure Land tradition originated in the so-called Primal Vow (本願 hongan) of Buddha Amida to save all humanity. The significance of the Primal Vow was to become evident in the age of mappo (末法), the end-time of the Buddhist Law when the dharma declines and human degradation would manifest in ineffectual religious practices, spiritual bankruptcy, brutish egoism, and social chaos. Hōnen founded the Jōdo sect in 1175 in the middle of mappo, emphasising the unique power of the Primal Vow and rejecting all existing forms of Buddhism. He proclaimed that the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha (nembutsu) was the single act of faith required for the age and relevant to human needs. Among the many disciples who gathered around this revolutionary figure was Shinran.



When the emerging nembutsu movement in Kyōto was persecuted in 1207 due to accusations of severe misconduct by some of its adherents, Hōnen was exiled to Tosa Province (present-day Kochi Prefecture). Several of his disciples were executed, and Shinran was banished to Echigo Province (part of modern-day Niigata Prefecture). Hōnen was pardoned but died in the spring of 1212, shortly after returning to Kyōto. Shinran was pardoned in 1211, but he remained in Echigo and moved with his family to the Kantō area a few years later. When he eventually returned to Kyōto in 1235, he found several of Hōnen's disciples preaching the nembutsu teachings. To consolidate their interpretations and focus on his master's actual teachings, Shinran started to compose religious poetry, write commentaries, copy texts, send letters to his followers in Kantō, and rewrite and revise his major work, the Kyōgyōshinshō. The nembutsu path taught by Hōnen's disciples eventually developed into the five branches of the Jōdo sect, while Shinran's teaching led to the formation of the Jōdo Shin sect.

After Shinran died in 1262, the sect struggled for survival. His disciples and his youngest daughter Kakushin-ni (覚信尼, 1224-1283) erected a monument in his memory at Yoshimizu, Kyōto, transferring his ashes from nearby Ōtani. Kakushin-ni and her descendants became caretakers of the mausoleum, and her grandson Kakunyo (覚如, 1270-1351), attempting to unify Shinran's followers into a single sect, named the mausoleum Hongan-ji, Temple of the Primal Vow. With the appearance of the energetic Rennyo (蓮如, 1415–1499), the 8th abbot of Hongan-ji, the sect showed a sudden, dramatic growth in the number of followers and social impact. The Jōdo Shin sect became one of the most influential Buddhist movements, especially among the general populace. Later, because of a succession struggle following the death of the 11th abbot Kōsa (光佐, 1543-1592), also known as Hongan-ji Kennyo (本願寺 顕如). The Hongan-ji split into two factions, the Hongan-ji branch (Nishi or West Hongan-ji) and the Ōtani branch (Higashi or East Hongan-ji). Besides, eight other relatively small branches of the Jōdo Shin sect developed, such as the Takada, Bukka-ji, and the Kasha. Some of these branches were directly descended from Shinran, whereas others were descended from his disciples. During the Edo Period (1600-1868), the Jōdo Shin sect established a permanent place in society.


Rennyo (蓮如, 1415–1499)

At the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868), the government tried to unite the nation through Shintoism and suppressed Buddhism. The Jōdo Shin sect led the Buddhist world to oppose this imperial policy. During this time, the thinker and reformer Kiyozawa Manshi (清沢満之, 1863–1903), among others, introduced Shinran's teachings to a broader audience, resulting in a renewed interest in Shinran's position in Japanese History.


The doctrines of the Jōdo Shin sect are based on the three central sutras of the Pure Land tradition: the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra (or Infinite Life Sutra), the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, and the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra, as well as on the writings of the seven patriarchs: Nāgārjuna (ca. 150-ca. 250 C.E.) and Vasubandhu (5th century) of India; Tánluán (Chin.: 曇鸞; Jap.: Donran, 476–542), Daochuo (Chin.: 道綽, 562-645), and Shandao (Chin.: 善导大师, Jap.: 善導 Zendō, 613-681) of China; and Genshin (源信; 942-1017) and Hōnen of Japan; and on the writings of Shinran and the abbots who succeeded him.

The fundamental goal of Shin Buddhism coincides with that of Mahāyāna Buddhism: realising the wisdom to see things, including the self, as they are; this, in turn, results in genuine compassion. Such understanding emerges from the powers of Amida's Primal Vow and not through practices of self-effort (such as meditation). Since the working of the Primal Vow is fundamental, the task of the Shin practitioner is to comprehend the origin, content, and aim of the Primal Vow entirely through constant hearing and repetition.

According to Shin Buddhism, karmic evil, or the source of suffering rooted in the very nature of human existence, prevents man from attaining true wisdom and genuine compassion. All forms of self-generated religious endeavour (meditation, precepts, or good works) are neither satisfying nor productive. According to the Pure Land teaching, the only meaningful act is the nembutsu, the invocation of the name of Amida Buddha, because it is not the act of man but of Amida, containing both his call from and our response to actual and real life.

The nembutsu is a practice that comes from the vow of genuine compassion. Genuine compassion and karmic evil form the twofold structure of shinjin (信心). Shinjin, according to Shinran, is Amida's right and real mind, which enters the defiled mind of man, making it possible for him to entrust himself entirely to the reason and real life that is Amida. When this occurs in the depth of self, one is said to be born in the Pure Land and to attain the "stage of non-retrogression" here and now. This goes against the traditional view of the Pure Land as the place to be born after death, reach the stage of non-retrogression, and realise enlightenment. Shinran's radical idea is based upon twofold dharmakāya: dharmakāya of suchness, which is nameless and formless, and dharmakāya of compassionate means, manifested in the name and form of Amida. The dharmakāya of suchness (法性心発心 hossho hosshin), being of uncreated, timeless nature, permeates all of existence, including the hearts and minds of people, forming the basis for shinjin. However, it is only through the dharmakāya of compassionate means (方便心発心 hoben hosshin) that such an awakening is possible. The manifestation of dharmakāya enables Shinran to assert that birth in the Pure Land and attainment of non-retrogression occur here and now in this life.

The immediacy of birth in the Pure Land, found in shinjin, did not eliminate the idea of birth in such land after death, but here again, Shinran's view differs somewhat from that of earlier Pure Land teachers. The traditional view was that birth in the Pure Land meant entering an ideal Buddhist practice environment. For Shinran, however, the moment of death, when man leaves behind all karmic limitations, is at the same time the moment of supreme enlightenment when dharmakāya becomes ultimately manifest. But this moment of unexcelled enlightenment does not mean stasis and calm, for it is the beginning of the work of genuine compassion to save all beings in the ocean of suffering. Nothing remains static in the world of enlightenment, and one now becomes an active participant in the working of the Primal Vow.

The ten branches of Shin Buddhism

  • Hongan-ji in Kyōto, founded in 1224 [Nishi Hongan-ji (西本願寺)], Hongan-ji is often spelt "Hongwanji."
  • Ōtani-ha (真宗大谷派 Shinshū Ōtani-ha) in Kyōto, founded in 1602
  • Takada-ha in Ise [Senju-ji (専修寺), also known as Takadayama (高田山)], founded in 1226
  • Bukkō-ji-ha at Bukkō-ji (佛光寺 Bukkō-ji) in Kyōto, founded in the 14th century
  • Shinshū Chōsei-ha in Echizen, founded in 1280
  • Shinshū Jōshōji School (Jōshō-ji) in Echizen, founded in the 14th century
  • Shinshū Kōshō School (Kōshō-ji) in Echizen, founded in the 14th century
  • Shinshū Izumoji School (Izumo-ji) in Izumo
  • Shinshū Jōkōji School (Jōshō-ji)
  • Shinshū Kibe School (Kinshoku-ji) in Ōmi, founded in the 13th century

There are several minor subsects and branches. In North America, the Nishi-Hongwanji operates as the Buddhist Churches of America.


  • Bloom, Alfred, Introduction to Jodo Shinshu, Pacific World Journal, New Series Number 5, 33-39 (1989)
  • Dobbins, James C., Jodo Shinshu: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan, Indiana University Press 1989
  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric, Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard 2002


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