Textual Evidence of Honen's Religious Conversion

in the Biographies

In looking at Honen's sudden religious conversion as a part of his longer spiritual search, the principal event found in many of his biographies is his taking refuge in the exclusive nembutsu (senju nembutsu) which took place in 1175 at the age of forty-three. Five central biographies of Honen offer a good illustration of this event:

1. Genku Shonin shinikki

gDuring the reign of Emperor Takakura in 1175, Honen at the age of forty-three entered the gateway of the Pure Land.h(HDZ. 771)

2. Honcho Soshi denki ekotoba [the Shikan-den ]

gDuring the reign of Emperor Takakura in 1175, Honen at age forty-three experienced such an emotional experience in reading Chinese master Tannen's Shikanbugyodenguketsu that he began to recite the nembutsu seventy thousand times a day.h (HDZ. 473-74)

3. Honen Shonin den ekotoba [the Rinna-bon]

gDuring the reign of Emperor Takakura in 1175, Honen at age forty-three encountered the following passage from Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching shu): e...to recite single-mindedly and wholeheartedly the name of Amida Buddha without ceasing for even an instant. This is called the rightly established act. It is so called because such a practice accords with [the intent of] Amida Buddha's vow.' From this point, Honen abandoned all other teachings and took refuge in the exclusive nembutsu.h (HDZ. 551)

4. Kurodani Genku Shonin denki [the Jurokumon-ki]

gAfter reading Shan-tao's complete works eight times, Honen came to a complete understanding of Shan-tao's teaching upon encountering the following passage from his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra: e...to recite single-mindedly and wholeheartedly the name of Amida Buddha without ceasing for even an instant. This is called the rightly established act. It is so called because such a practice accords with [the intent of] Amida Buddha's vow.' Then in the Spring of 1175, Honen at the age of forty-three abandoned all practices outside of the nembutsu and took refuge in the exclusive nembutsu.h (HDZ. 796)

5. Honen Shonin gyojoezu [the Shijuhachikan-den]

gAfter reading Shan-tao's complete works three times, Honen encountered the following passage from Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra : e...to recite single-mindedly and wholeheartedly the name of Amida Buddha without ceasing for even an instant. This is called the rightly established act. It is so called because such a practice accords with [the intent of] Amida Buddha's vow.' Whereupon he came to the conviction that in the age of the final Dharma (mappo) reciting the nembutsu is the only cause for salvation. Then in the Spring of 1175, Honen at the age of forty-three abandoned all practices outside of the nembutsu and took refuge in the exclusive nembutsu.h (HDZ. 24)