Death and Ojo
After returning to Kyoto from exile, Honen took up residence near his former retreat at Otani on Higashiyama (Mt. Higashi). On January 2, 1212, due to the difficulties of his exile, Honen fell ill. Although his disciples had nursed him with greatest care, he had become increasingly weak in his old age. On January 23, he dictated the Ichimai Kishomon (The One Sheet Document), a record of his essential teachings, to Genchi (2,3,4). He passed away two days later on the 25th at the age of 80 (1, 5, 6, 7,8). Before his death, he is said to have donned a surplice belonging to Jikaku Daishi Ennin (794-864), the great disciple of Saicho, that had been handed down through the Kurodani precept lineage.1 He passed away peacefully, chanting the nembutsu.
From the 2nd of
the New Year of 1212,
Honen was feeling so poorly that he could hardly eat anything. For the
three or four years, Honen’s sight and hearing had become so dull that
neither clearly distinguish color nor recognize voices. But now as the
approached, both senses became as sharp as before, and everyone who saw
filled with delight and surprise. He talked of nothing but Birth in the
Land, repeating the name without ceasing in a loud voice, and even in
his lips continued to move.
On the 3rd, one of his disciples asked him, “Do you think this means Birth in the Pure Land this time for sure?" To which he replied, "I came from the Land of Bliss, and I am sure I am going back there." Then another disciple Horen-bo asked him, "All famous priests from ancient times have left memorial temples behind them, but none has yet been built for you. Where then should we build yours?" His answer was, "If you erect a memorial to me over my grave, the influence of my teaching will be confined to one place, and not widely disseminated. But I assure you my memorial shall fill the land. The one purpose of my life has been the universal spread of the nembutsu. So wherever among the high class or low you find a nembutsu community, there is my memorial temple, even if it’s just the thatched cottage of a humble fisherman."
around 8:00 in the morning on the 11th, Honen arose from his
in a loud voice repeated the nembutsu. All who heard
were moved to
said to his disciples, "Repeat the nembutsu in a loud voice.
The Buddha Amida has
come, and no one who repeats the name can fail to be Born in the Pure
Land." And then, as he always had done, he began to speak about the
of the nembutsu,
saying, "The Bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi and many holy beings are
appearing to me. Don't you see them?" When they said, "No," he
urged them all to more earnestly repeat the sacred name.
At 10:00, his
disciples brought him an
image of Amida three feet high, and, as they put it on the right side
bed, asked him if he could see it. With his finger pointing to the sky,
said, "There is another Buddha here besides this one. Do you not see
him?" Then he went on to say,”As a result of the merit of repeating the
sacred name, I have for the past ten years continually been gazing upon
glory of the Pure Land and the very forms of the Buddhas and
I have kept it secret and said nothing about it. Now, however, as I
the end, I disclose it to you." The disciples then took a piece of cord
made of five-colored strands, fastened it to the hand of the Buddha's
and told Honen to take hold of it. Declining, he said, "This is the
ceremony for most people, but it’s hardly necessary for me."
On the 20th at 10:00 in the morning, purple clouds were seen over the roof of his room. And, as a halo encircles the Buddha's head in art, there appeared a beautiful five-colored circular cloud, quite visible even to the crowds passing along the street. At the sight of them, his disciples told him, "There are purple clouds above you. Are you about to enter the Pure Land?" He replied, "This is wonderful! My Birth in the Pure Land is for all sentient beings. These good omens are to help people towards faith in the nembutsu. Later in the afternoon at 2:00, he looked up towards the sky five or six times without blinking, His attendants asked in surprise, "Has the Buddha come?"; and Honen replied,"Yes, he has."
From the 23rd, Honen began incessantly repeating the name, calling it out in a loud voice for a half hour or an hour at a time. From 6:00 in the evening on the 24th right up to 10:00 in the morning on the 25th without the least interruption, he continued with all his might in a loud voice calling upon Amida. Five or six of his disciples assisted him in turn with their voices, until they became tired. But Honen, old and sick as he was, incredibly went right on. All those who surrounded him, both monastic and lay alike, were in tears.
From midday, his voice began to grow weaker and weaker, only at intervals did it became loud again. As he drew near to the end, he put on the nine-stripped robe of the lineage of “precepts for perfect and immediate enlightenment" (endon kai), established by Saicho, the founder of the Tendai school on Mt. Hiei, and passed down through his disciple Ennin, the great nembutsu hijiri Ryonin, and Honen’s Kurodani hermitage master Eiku. Then, he laid down with his head to the north and his face turned toward the west in the manner in which the Buddha Shakyamuni died. The lion, the king of beasts, is said to sleep this way, and so did Shakyamuni, the lord of humans. To lie down with one’s head thrown back was said to be the way evil spirits (asura), and to lie with one's face downward was to imitate hungry ghosts (preta).
Honen then recited the following passage from the Meditation Sutra: "The light (of Amida) illumines all sentient beings throughout the ten quarters, who call upon the sacred name, protects them, and never forsakes them." With these words on his lips he breathed his last, as one falls asleep. After his voice was silent, his lips and tongue continued moving over ten times, while a bright smile came over his face. His departure took place just at 12:30 on the 25th of January, 1212. He was then in his eightieth year - the very age at which Shakyamuni himself died and also in the very same calendar year of the monkey and water. With his death went out the light of knowledge from the world, as once more the Buddha's sun sank from human sight behind the western horizon. People of all classes alike mourned his death, as they would that of their own loved parents.
Chapter 37, page 635.
On the eastern
side of Honen's house,
there was a fine stretch of ground with a wonderful view opening out
the west, which a certain man had given instructions to be used for his
grave. But in December of the previous year when Honen returned to the
the owner gave it over to him, handing him along with his letter of
presentation the title deed of the lot. Honen, on receiving the
threw them into the fire, with the words, "This is a gift to the Three
Sacred Treasures. Oh Amida I pray you accept it." So
when Honen died, they built his mortuary
chapel here, and he was buried in a stone tomb beside it.
As the news
spread of Honen’s death,
people of all classes, moved by sincere feeling, thronged to the place
market. Hardly able to wait, they jostled one another there in crowds
monthly memorial day. This is the spot on which Chion-in Temple, the
Temple of Jodo Shu now stands.
There was a timber dealer living in Kyoto by the name of Taro, an ordained follower (nyudo), who had became greatly attached to Honen. At the time of Honen's death, he contributed several pillars to the building of his mortuary chapel. One day during the period of mourning, an old man visited Honen's tomb and said to his disciple, "I am a wood-cutter from Mt. Nishiyama. I had a dream this morning in which I saw a monk coming to me who said, ‘That ordained follower who contributed those pillars toward Honen's mortuary chapel has just been Born in the Pure Land. Go and get acquainted with him. That is why I have come.’ On hearing his story, Honen's disciples went at once to inquire about it, and they found that only a few days before this ordained follower Taro had due to sickness moved to a place east of Zenrin-ji Temple. So they went and found that he had been there. It seems that Taro said Honen had been constantly at his side, telling him that as he drew near the end, he should keep saying the nembutsu. This greatly rejoiced him, and finally in the small hours of the morning, he accomplished his ojo. When they learned the facts of the case, the monks and the old man were deeply impressed by the connection with the old man's dream.
38, page 641.
Article 1: As to the mass to be said for me after my death:
solitude. Worldly business disturbs our religious life. After my death
disciples and followers, should not come together for any purpose
lest you get into a dispute. Quarrels often arise at such times,
meeting may seem to promote friendship. Therefore, you had better live
separately and not meet together. Each of you should stay at home and
you may attain your own ojo on lotus seats in
the Pare Land, keeping yourselves aloof
from all angry feelings. To show your appreciation of what I have done
do not deviate a hair's breadth from this my parting instruction.
Now I must call your attention to the matter of the mass to be said for
my soul. Do not paint a
Buddha picture, or
transcribe the Sutras, or make baths for people, or plan other works of
to repay my kindness. Instead of such things, only practice the nembutsu
all your hearts and
nothing else. During my lifetime my only work has been the practice of
the nembutsu. Why should you,
devote yourselves to any practice contrary to my teaching? You must
take care when you practice it, not to do it in the form of the
practice for seven weeks [as is usual for Japanese Buddhist funerals].
everyone by themselves separately for a day and night, or for seven
nights immediately after my death. The continual practice of the nembutsu
apt to make people idle and
rob them of courage. Do
not then, my disciples and followers, disregard this instruction of
Article 2: As to the property I leave behind:
After my death do not quarrel over the property I bequeath: houses, utensils, garments, dishes, etc.. From ancient times, quarrels have often arisen over property after the death of the owner. Thus brothers have often fallen out with one another over their father's inheritance, and in the same way fellow dharma farers have fought over their master's property. I cannot tolerate anything like this. My disciples must not quarrel over my property after my death. Even a layperson should be ashamed to quarrel, so how much more a monk. I have indeed very many disciples, and among them are only these seven - Shinku, Kansai, Shoku, Enshin, Choson, Kansho and Ryosei - who have rendered especially kind and faithful service to me for many years, and I wish to reward them for their many kindnesses. To Shinku, the most intimate of all, I wish to leave my main apartment, together with the annexes at Kurodani and Shirakawa, a garden at Sakashita, and a lot of ground at Rakuchu, as well as the three foot Amida image made by Jocho, and sixty volumes of printed scriptures, etc. To Kansai, I give the house which was formerly at Hirotani on Mt. Nishiyama and is now in the central part of Yoshimizu, and a lot of ground at Takahata, for which I paid only one half of the value when I bought it. To Enshin, I leave the new house in the eastern part of Yoshimizu, since it belonged to the nun of Rokujo who adopted him, and a lot of ground at Rokujo which I had already promised to give him, with a conveyance written by myself, on the condition that during my lifetime I reserve for myself the use of the property. To Choson, I give the Kakugobo Temple together with the record of the temple property when the late Nyogyo died, and a house in the neighborhood of Shirakawa which 1 bought for him. I return the old house in the western part of Yoshimizu to its original owner, whom all my disciples know very well, and I cannot give it to anyone else. A chapel which was formerly at Otani I have already given to the nun living in th
e house in the
western part of
as through Saison and Jojo she especially so requested. Also one or two
out-houses which I repaired a few years ago I leave to the owner of the
in the western part of Yoshimizu, to which they belong. I have no other
property or houses than those mentioned above, and I can give nothing
else. I hereby affix the names of these three other disciples with whom
not been associated so long - Junsai, Jikinen and Gonsai - to whom
be made by way of confirmation of this document. Too numerous even to
are the many who have come to me morning and evening from all quarters
the way of salvation.
It is a general rule that when a monk or nun dies, his or her property belongs to the community of which they are members, and so I have divided my property among my disciples. Do not forget, my disciples, these two points which I have carefully stated as above, to be observed by my followers after my death. If you are truly grateful for the favor I have bestowed upon you, you will not fail thankfully to observe these instructions. As water and milk always live on good terms with each other, so should all my disciples live in perfect harmony after my death. This is all I wish to say.
Signed Genku, April 8th, 1198.
footnote #1, page 654.
Honen was drawing near the
end, he repeated to his disciples the terms of his will written in
no memorial temple to me. If you want to show your feeling towards me,
not by holding meetings in my honor, but let each of you their
what I have done for them by practicing the nembutsu privately. I
fear that if you
gather together in crowds, it may only result in strife and discord."
Nevertheless, Horen-bo, besides encouraging the individual practice of
the nembutsu, followed the
usual custom and
proposed the holding of memorial services every seventh day all through
seven weeks of mourning, and it was unanimously carried out.
seventh day, Shinren-bo ran
the service, and Sanemune Omiya, an ordained follower and one of the
ministers of state, served as an honorary patron, reading the following
address, “It was during the lifetime of my revered master, and just on
of leaving my official post at the Imperial Court, that in his presence
refuge in the ten cardinal precepts with all my heart. Now that you
to that other shore, I would now reverently address you on this solemn
occasion, trusting that you will use your place in that Blissful Land
promote my salvation too. I hope that you will not look down on this
tribute of mine. Hoping I may be able to add a little beauty to that
stand on which I aspire to sit in the Pure Land, I now ring the temple
whose rich mysterious tones re-echo there."
At the second
weekly service, Gubutsu-bo
presided, and the honorary patron was the grandchild of an ordained
Jakushin, who was the
the Bureau of Imperial Archives.
At the third,
Jushin-bo presided, and Shoshin-bo
Tanku, the honorary patron, gave to everyone a printed copy of an
made by Wang I-chih, a famous Chinese penman, containing eighty
arranged in twelve lines, and read the following poem:
As in past ages, footprints of the birds
Became the guides for writing Chinese words,
To Paradise, along the western way,
My footsteps guide, for this I truly pray.
At the fourth weekly service Horen-bo presided, and Ryosei, as honorary patron, read the following address :
"Our late revered teacher appeared at the beginning of the lat
ter ten thousand
years of the Dharma, and
promulgated the one excellent teaching of Amida. The sword of his
sharper than that of Moya (a famous Chinese swordsman), and his
character was a gem of purer luster than that of the world famed mani
It is now four weeks
since his noble spirit launched upon that stream whose waters never
the time many, even in distant places, looked with wonder upon the
indicated his welcome to the Pure Land, while later his many disciples
hand breathed in the sweet perfumes wafting over his newly made grave.
call to mind those principles of truth which he taught, a new longing
me to strive for ultimate enlightenment. I would in all reverence lay
heart, and herewith give expression to the profound feelings which move
At the fifth
weekly service Ryukan
presided, and Seikan-bo Genchi as honorary patron read the following
"Beautiful clouds covered his roof down to the very eaves. People
from far and near to gaze upon the scene. Sweet odors filled his
inhaled in delighted wonder."
At the sixth
service, Seikaku presided
and Jichin as honorary patron read the following address: "During Honen
Shonin's lifetime, being myself a son of
Buddha, I often used to converse with him about the sutras, and I was
asking him to come to my temple and expound the Dharma of the Buddhas.
affinity for each other was by no means merely casual. He seemed to have
desire for my salvation. This is why, on this sixth memorial service,
on me to offer these few words, which I do with profound respect. I
present these priestly robes for him to wear in the home where he has
as the garments which signify his emancipation. The food which I now
to be placed at the gateway of that heavenly castle, where he now
safety, a symbol of that ecstatic joy (dhyana) which is now
his. Thus may his sainted
soul rise to the highest lotus-stand of the Pure Land, which was his
yearning during the days of his flesh. May I too, another son of
longs for the same with sincere heart, be the first to receive his warm
to the Blissful Land."
At the seventh weekly service, Koin, the Bishop of the Mii Temple, presided, and Horen-bo Shinku, the honorary patron, read the following address: "When my revered teacher was twenty five years of age, I pledged myself to become his disciple at the age of twelve. Now that fifty long years have rolled by, I find we are in different worlds. My heart is rent, as I think of our separation. From the time that he took up his lodgings in the thatched cottage in Kurodani on Mt. Hiei, until he moved to his quiet chambers at Shirakawa, in the eastern section of the capital, yea, through all the years, his tender training and watchful care have awakened within me a gratitude as boundless as the summer skies. In remembrance of this, I have hung a picture of Amida here, which represents him coming to welcome us to the Land of Bliss. I have also enshrined here a scroll, bearing the symbolic Shingon characters of the “womb” and the “diamond,” and may the Buddha spirit enter into them and take possession of them. I have also presented printed copies of the eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra, and a written copy of the volume of the Golden Light Sutra, an exposition of which I would now offer. Be witnesses, oh Three Treasures, to the deep sincerity of my offering."
sections 1-3, pages 649-651.
When the Bishop of the Mii Temple expressed his earnest desire to become the presiding officer at the meeting, bringing with him various offerings suitable to one holding such an office, it created a rather peculiar impression upon those in charge. While the company were still in much perplexity as to the meaning of all this, the Bishop, after he had finished speaking in praise of the sacred writings, went on into a detailed statement of the reasons which had led him to burn his work called Jodo Ketsugisho (Solution to the Jodo Problem), a reply and criticism of Honen’s Senchakushu.
section 4, page 652.
1. Gorinju nikki, SHZ. 868-873. This describes his life in detail after leaving Shikoku
2. Guganbon, HSD. 532.
3. Kukanden, HSD. 438-39.
4. Shijuhachikanden, HSD. 284-85.
5. Daigobon, HSD. 788-89.
6. Genkushonin Shinikki, HSD. 772.
7. Chionkoshiki, HSD. 1037.
8. Chikugobon, HSD. 495.
Honen's final moments (Honen no rinju) from the Honen Shonin gyojoezu, Scroll 37, section 16.
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