The Six Major Biographies of Honen

1. Chionkoshiki (1224)

This is the oldest of Honen's biographies written by Ryukan approximately ten years after Honen's death. The original manuscript no longer exists but a copy made by the monk Shinamidabutsu in 1228 is extant.

2. Daigobon Honen Shonin denki [the Daigo-bon] (circa 1242)

This biography is thought to have been written about 30 years after Honen's death by Genchi or one of Genchi's disciples. As the original manuscript has been lost, the exact date cannot be clearly ascertained. The oldest extant copy was written by Gien (1558-1626), the 79th abbot of Sanbo-in at Daigoji in Kyoto where it still resides today. Read more about the discovery of and ensuing debate about the Daigobon manuscript

3. Genku Shonin shinikki [the Shinikki] (circa 1237-56 [Nakai, 52])

This biography was written at the same time as the Daigobon Honen Shonin denki and is also by an unknown author. The oldest extant copy exists as part of a larger transcription of Honen's sermons transcribed by Shinran called the Saihoshinansho. It presently resides at Senshu-ji in Takada city, Mie Prefecture.

4. Honcho Soshi denki ekotoba [the Shikan-den ] (1237 [Nakai, 66])

This biography, like the previous two, has an unknown author and is from the same time period, dated approximately twenty-five years after Honen's death. It consists of four fascicles and is the oldest of a style of Honen biography (ekotoba) in which hand painted pictures chronicle Honen's life with accompanied explanatory text. This original now resides at Zendo-ji in Kyushu.

5. Honen Shonin denki [the Kukan-den] (circa 1312)

This biography consists of nine fascicles and is dated from approximately 100 years after Honen's death. This and the following biography, the Honen Shonin gyojoezu, are dated from the same period, but there exists two separate scholarly opinions as to which is older. The author is unknown, and the original manuscript has also been lost. The oldest extant copy now resides at Taisho University in Tokyo.

6. Honen Shonin gyojoezu [the Shijuhachikan-den] (circa 1311-1323 [Sanda, 576])

This biography was made under the imperial order of retired emperor Go Fushimi Joko approximately 100 years after Honen's death. It is the largest of the six containing forty-eight fascicles and is written in the story book style of the Honcho Soshi denki ekotoba. Although it is the biggest, it is not necessarily the most reliable as it was compiled from all the previous biographies. This biography was used by Harper Havelock Coates and Ryugaku Ishizuka to first translate Honen's life story and works into English in 1925. The original manuscript now resides at Chion-in in Kyoto.

Other Important Biographies

Kurodani Genku Shonin denki [the Jurokumon-ki] (circa 1283-95 [Sanda, 576])

Honen Shonin den ekotoba [the Rinna-bon] (sometime before 1301 [Sanda, 576])

Honen Shonin-e [the Gugan-bon] (circa 1282-92)

Shui Kotoku den ekotoba [the Kotoku-den] (1301)

References:

Coates, Harper H., and Ryugaku Ishizuka Honen the Buddhist Saint : His Life and Teaching (Kyoto: Society for the Publication of Sacred Books of the World,1949).

Nakai Shinko, Honenden-to Jodoshushi-no kenkyu (Kyoto:Shibunkaku, 1994).

Sanda Zenshin, Seiritsushiteki Honen Shonin Shoden no kenkyu (Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1966).