Honen's Persecution and Final Days

It is unclear exactly when Honen's declaration of the exclusive nembutsu began to draw opposition from the established sects in Kyoto and Nara. However, one may speculate on the basis of the dates when Honen's six main disciples became his followers. Genchi (1183-1238) became when a disciple in 1195 when Honen was 63. Bencho (1162-1238) became a disciple two years later and Kosai (1163-1247) the following year in 1198 when Honen was 66. Shinran (1173-1262) became a disciple in 1201, followed by Chosai (1184-1266) in 1202 when Honen was 70. From these dates, one immediately observes that Honen gained most of his leading disciples in the latter half of his seventh decade. From this we may infer that Honen became widely known and began to incur the hostility of established sects around the same time.

Three waves of early opposition arose against Honen. The first was the Genkyu Oppression (1204) in which the monks of Enryaku-ji, the main temple of Mt. Hiei, criticized Honen's recommendation of the nembutsu practice and complained to the Chief Abbot Shinsho. The second was the Ken'ei Persecution (1207) in which Honen and seven of his disciples were exiled to Tosa in Shikoku, and Juren and Anraku were beheaded. The third one was the Karoku Persecution (1217) after Honen's death in which the monks of Mount Hiei damaged Honen's grave, and his disciples Ryukan, Kua, and Kosai were exiled.

Genkyu Oppression

The first oppression occurred in the winter of 1204 when the monks of Enryaku-ji demanded of the abbot, Shinsho, that Honen's exclusive nembutsu teaching be banned. Honen responded by drafting a Seven-Article Pledge (Shichikajo kishomon), which he signed together with 163 of his disciples and submitted to Shinsho. In the pledge, Honen sought to restrain on the part of his followers the sort of behavior that invited criticism from the Buddhist establishment. A close reading of these seven articles reveals that each one corresponds to a common misinterpretation by other sects and also by Honen's own followers of his exclusive position. Honen's open submission of this pledge to the abbot of Enryaku-ji temporarily appeased his opponents.

However, a little later, a second wave of antagonism arose from among the Nara schools. In the ninth month of 1205, the monks of Kofuku-ji submitted to the cloistered Emperor Gotoba the so-called Kofuku-ji Petition (Kofuku-ji sojo), demanding that Honen
's exclusive nembutsu be prohibited. Written by Gedatsu-bo Jokei, the petition outlines "nine articles of error" on the part of Honen in establishing the exclusive nembutsu and asks that his teachings be prohibited. These nine points of criticism form the foundations for the persecutions which Honen and his community of followers endured at that time.

Ken'ei Persecution

The flames of hostility were further fanned by an incident that occurred in the twelfth month of 1206, when the ex-Emperor Gotoba made a pilgrimage to the Kumano shrines. During his absence, two of his ladies in waiting, without his knowledge, attended a nembutsu service conducted by Honen's disciples Juren and Anraku and were moved to become nuns. As a result of Gotoba's ensuing rage, Juren and Anraku were sentenced to death and Honen was exiled to Tosa in Shikoku (HGE, vol 33. HDZ. 224-225). However, Honen did not waver in his conviction that the exclusive nembutsu was the teaching most perfectly suited to the time and the people's capacity.

On December 8, 1207, the Imperial Court sent a messenger to Honen in exile on Shikoku with declaration of amnesty. It had been nine months since Honen had left Kyoto, but even though granted an amnesty, he was still not allowed to return. Honen resided at Kachio-ji in Mino, halfway between Osaka and Kyoto, for four more years. On November 17, 1211, he was officially allowed to return to Kyoto by the Court.1


The followers of Kofuku-ji and Enryaku-ji scheme to stop Honen's public teaching of the nembutsu (Nanto-Hokurei no shuto, Honen no nembutsu kogyo-o teishi-sento keikaku) from the Honen Shonin gyojoezu, Scroll 31, section 3.

Anraku is sentenced to death for the crime of special nembutsu (Anraku-bo, betsuji nembutsu no tsumi-ni yori shikei-to naru) from the Honen Shonin gyojoezu, Scroll 33, section 5-6.