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Founder of the Jodo Shinshu (or True Pure Land) Buddhism in Japan

Shinran Shonin (1173-1262) was born at the close of the Heian_period, when political power was passing from the imperial court into the hands of warrior clans. It was during this era when the old order was crumbling, however, that Japanese Buddhism, which had been declining into formalism for several centuries, underwent intense renewal, giving birth to new paths to enlightenment and spreading to every level of society.

Confronting the religious monopoly of his time, Shinran reinterpreted Pure Land teaching as the supreme expression and representation of the truth of Buddhism.

Essentially Shiran said that since we are all defiled by greed, hatred and delusion, we have no chance of gaining enlightenment by ourselves, and that Buddhist practices such as meditation are of little use. The Pure Land School of Buddhism encourages its practitioners to rely on the vow of the Buddha Amitabha (Sanskrit, Amida Japanese) to save all beings from suffering. According to the sutras Amitabha vowed to ensure that anyone who chanted his name would be reborn in his Pure Land of Sukhavati (Sanskrit, lit. = Happy Land) and once there would easily be able to gain enlightenmnent.

Shinran's innovation in Pure Land Buddhism was to take this teaching to its logical extreme and say that only chanting Amitabha's name was effective. In Japan the chant is "Namo Amida Butsu", also known as the Nembutsu. It literally means "Salutations to Amitabha Buddha". By continuous chanting of the Nembutsu, it is said that great faith in Amitabha arises, and that through this faith, one is reborn in Amitabha's Pure Land of Sukhavati.