The universal Vow difficult to fathom is indeed a great vessel bearing us across the ocean difficult to cross. The unhindered light is the sun of wisdom dispersing the darkness of our ignorance. (CWS, p. 3)
These immortal words, were written in a small dwelling, at Inada in the Kanto region, seven hundred and ninety-three years ago. They begin Shinran Shonin’s unique, joyful, profound and wonderful work in six volumes, The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation of the Pure Land Way.
That year – 1224 – also marks another beginning. It is when Kakushin-ni, the youngest daughter of Shinran and Eshin-ni, was born. Shinran was fifty-two. In that year, a new ban on the nembutsu was also issued, making Shinran’s great exposition of the Pure Land way even more vital.
Eventually, Shinran moved to Kyoto. It is very likely that he needed the resources of the city – the temple libraries – to complete his great work. Later still, his wife Eshin-ni had to move back to her family property in Echigo. While Shinran continued to write in Kyoto, many of his disciples travelled all the way from the Kanto to seek out his advice on various matters.
Shinran’s daughter Kakushin-ni cared for him in his old age, and was present at his death. Ten years later Zennen, Kakushin-ni’s husband, had provided a final resting place for Shinran’s ashes in a corner of his estate. Shinran’s leading disciples from the Kanto and other parts of eastern Japan built a stone tomb and an ancestral hall where Shinran’s portrait was also enshrined.
After another three years Zennen had died. A year before that he had given Kakushin-ni his property. In the deed of transfer he stated that his son or his stepson, a child of Kakushin-ni from a previous marriage, could eventually inherit his property. But Kakushin-ni donated the land to the all those who followed the teaching of Shinran.
As Shinran began to write The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation of the Pure Land Way he had already become, ‘neither priest nor layman’, and ‘a fellow practicer of the way’ in common with all of those who had accepted the call of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha and become people of nembutsu. By granting the land that was the home of the shrine to Shinran to all of her fellow followers of shinjin, Kakushin-ni continued his tradition.
Today, the Hongwanji, the heir of Kakushin-ni’s donation, is also a congregation of ‘fellow practicers of the way (on-dobo dogyo)’. How wonderful that Kakushin-ni, the Mother of the Hongwanji, so carefully and wisely ensured that Shinran’s teaching was respected, honoured, revered, and handed down, through more that eight hundred years, to live on in our hearts and minds.