On January 23, Honen dictated the Ichimai Kishomon, a record of his essential teaching, to his disciple Genchi, and passed away two days later on the 25th at the age of 80. In a teaching style, he re-affirms the need to be aware of our fundamental ignorance and to single mindedly recite the nembutsu. The Ichimai-kishomon is used frequently in daily services given by Jodo Shu priests.
"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)
Ichimai Kishomon, SHZ. 415-16. Also found in: Honenshonin E (Guganbon), HSD. 532; Honenshonin Denki (Kukanden), HSD. 438-39; Honenshonin Gyojoezu (Shijuhachikanden), HSD. 284-85.
1. This last section has caused controversies in interpretation and translation. The term Honen uses for these "untrained followers" is amanyudo, literally meaning nun (ama) and someone who has just entered the path (nyudo) of Buddhist teaching and practice. Some people have interpreted this as a pejorative statement towards women and the uneducated. Others have seen this as referring to the widowed aristocratic women who often entered nunneries and were common to this historical period. Reflecting on Honen's consistent concern for those on the outside of the Buddhist establishment, this passage would reflect rather a reminder to those well versed in Buddhist teachings to examine the deep faith of those of lesser training. Honen's own personal reflection was often of denigrating his own deep wisdom of Buddhist doctrines and of seeking the purity of faith of a ignorant deluded one (bonbu).
Photo of Ichimai Kishomon from Konkai Komyo-ji, Kyoto.