Ichimai Kishomon

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The Ichimai Kishomon is the last document by Honen Shonin.

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AUTHOR: Massimo Claus

The Ichimai Kishomon is the last document by Honen Shonin, founder of Buddhist school Jodo Shu, which belongs to Pure Land Buddhism tradition.

In this text, dictated to Genchi on January, 23 1212, Honen gives a record of his essential teachings. He would pass away two days later, peacefully chanting Nembutsu.


“In China and Japan, many Buddhist masters and scholars understand that the nembutsu is to meditate deeply on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land. However, I do not understand the nembutsu in this way. Reciting the nembutsu does not come from studying and understanding its meaning. There is no other reason or cause by which we can utterly believe in attaining birth in the Pure Land than the nembutsu itself. Reciting the nembutsu and believing in birth in the Pure Land naturally gives rise to the three minds (sanjin) and the four modes of practice (shishu). If I am witholding any deeper knowledge beyond simple recitation of the nembutsu, then may I lose sight of the compassion of Shakyamuni and Amida Buddha and slip through the embrace of Amida’s original vow. Even if those who believe in the nembutsu deeply study all the teachings which Shakyamuni taught during his life, they should not put on any airs and should practice the nembutsu with the sincerity of those untrained followers ignorant of Buddhist doctrines.1

I hereby authorize this document with my hand print. The Jodo Shu way of the settled mind (anjin) is completely imparted here. I, Genku, have no other teaching than this. In order to prevent misinterpretation after my passing away, I make this final testament.”

January 23, the Second Year of Kenryaku (1212)


Honen Shonin (1133-1212) lived in Japan during a period that in the West corresponds to the period of the second, third and fourth crusades, three hundred years before the Protestant Reformation. After meeting the writings of Zendo (Shan-tao), Honen made a sudden conversion. He felt that he had finally discovered the definitive way by which ordinary people could reach peace.

After his religious conversion, Honen set off on a journey trying to divulge his thought. His radical vision, however, did not encounter an easy life in the world, especially in the religious world. He needed all his intellectual abilities, as one of the great scholars of Mount Hiei, to give life to his vision of salvation addressed to ordinary people through the simple invocation of the Nembutsu.

Honen’s teaching is essentially a path designed for ordinary people, not for religious elites. The two far-reaching effects of the Honen’s Nembutsu movement were the process of transformation of the Buddhist clergy that led the monks to be religious guides living in society with the style of the laics, and the recognition of equal opportunity for salvation for ordinary men, women and monks.


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