Ippen (1239-1289)
The Ji School

The Votive

Some sixty years after Honen’s death, a monk named Ippen who had been a student of Honen’s disciple Shoku's Seizan school developed a new school called the Ji. Ippen insisted that his practice was made for the age in which he lived and so gave it the name ji, which means “period” or “time”. Originally, he was a priest of the Tendai, but unable to find enlightenment there, he went one day to see Shotatsu, a disciple of Shoku, who threw new light upon his problems. Ippen agreed fully with Honen and Shoku in regarding Amida as the unique and absolute object of reverence, and that when one calls upon Amida’s name with his whole heart he is saved by Amida, who in the hour of death comes to welcome him to the Pure Land. One new feature in his teaching, however, was that instead of appealing to the teaching of his predecessors as the standard for his own system, he appealed directly to Amida himself for confirmation of the truth. He did this in 1275 through the oracle of the god at the Kumano shrine, whom he thought was a manifestation of Amida. There he prayed to the god of the shrine for a hundred days. On the last day, the oracle spoke to him, “The six mystic characters (na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu) represent the universal absolute Dharma, and all things human and material are nothing but absolute reality. All action free from affliction is the realization of that absolute reality. The person who comes to know this is most excellent.” Ippen’s heart swelled with joy at hearing these words. They so strongly confirmed his own previous convictions that he at once set out to proclaim his faith to the world. He traveled all over the country, putting the names of new believers into a registration book (kanjincho) and giving out cards on which were inscribed the six characters of the nembutsu. In this way, Ippen continued forward the tradition of the nembutsu hijiri, like Kuya and Ryonin, who brought the nembutsu to the masses.

Although Ippen’s teaching is derived from the Pure Land stream, he shows certain differences, such as his sense that faith as an activity of the corrupt mind is utterly powerless to effect human salvation. Ippen felt one must reject oneself entirely, committing all to Amida. So in the very act of repeating his sacred name, salvation comes without hindrance. Furthermore, we can see clear traces of the Zen influence upon Ippen’s thought. This is illustrated in a well-known conversation between him and the famous Zen priest Hoto Kokushi. When Ippen remarked, “When I invoke the sacred name, there is neither myself nor the Buddha, but merely the invocation”, Hoto Kokushi noticed Ippen’s understanding of the Zen transcendence of all limitation of thought.

Ippen died at the Shinko-ji Temple in the province of Hyogo just south of Osaka in 1289. His most distinguished successor Donkai, the fourth patriarch of the school, was a remarkable character whose teaching carried him to the remotest parts of Japan. Shojoko-ji Temple in Fujisawa, just south of Yokohama, now commonly called Yugyo-dera, is the historic center of his efforts and the present headquarters of the school

The text has been edited and adapted from the Introduction of  Honen the Buddhist Saint: His Life and Teaching
by Harper Havelock Coates and Ryugaku Ishizuka, which is a translation of the Pictorial Biography of Honen Shonin (Honen Shonin gyojoezu), also known as the Forty-eight Fascicle Biography (Shijuhachikan-den). Kyoto: Chion-in, 1925.

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