Ippen was a priest in the mid Kamakura period. He is the founder of Jishu sect.
Ippen' is his priest title and his hoi (imina [personal name] used by Buddhist priests) is 'Chishin.'
He is also called 'Ippen Shonin' (St. Ippen), 'Yugyo Shonin' (Traveling Saint), or 'Sute hijiri' (Holy Hermit) with respect. His private shigo (a posthumous name) in modern times is 'Ensho Daishi,' and in 1940, a name 'Shojo Daishi' was given from the nation. His secular name is said to have been Tokiuji KONO, Michihide, or Michinao, but it is not known.
Brief Personal History
He was born as the second child of Michihiro KONO (who became a priest called Nyobutsu) of a local ruling family in Iyo Province (approximately present Ehime Prefecture) in 1239. His childhood name was Shojumaru. It is said that he was born at a corner of Hogon-ji Temple located in the deep valley of Dogo-onsen Hot Spring in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture, and a stone monument which is inscribed 'Ippen Shonin Birthplace Site' was built there in 1334 by Michitsuna TOKUNO who had come from the same family. However, some people say that he was born in Hojobeppu in the same city, or some other place. The Kono clan was the head family of what used to be a powerful clan, but by the time Ippen was born, it no longer had the influence it once had, due in part to the exile of his grandfather Michinobu KONO to Mutsu Province in response to his having joined the Kyogata (the group that took the side of the Imperial court, which was located in Kyoto) during the Jokyu War of 1221, which brought the clan to ruin.
His mother died when he was 10 years old, and he became a priest in Keikyo-ji Temple of Tendaishu sect following his father's advice, and his homyo (a name given to a person who enters the Buddhist priesthood) was Zuien.
In 1251, when he was 13 years old, he moved to Dazaifu and learned the teachings of Seizan school of Jodoshu sect under Shotatsu, who was a disciple of Honen's disciple, for more than 10 years. His homyo at that time was Chishin.
In 1263, when he was 25 years old, he returned to secular life and went back home to Iyo when his father died, but due to the clan's feud over their territory etc. he became a priest again in 1271 at the age of 32, and practiced asceticism in Zenko-ji Temple in Shinano Province, Kubo-dera Temple in Iyo Province, and Iwaya-ji Temple in Iyo Province. In 1274, he practiced asceticism moving from place to place, including Shitenno-ji Temple (Settsu Province) and Mt. Koya (Ki Province), and started to distribute Buddhist invocation charms on which rokuji myogo (six-character name) was written. In Ki Province, one priest refused to take the invocation charm for the reason of his own impiety and Ippen agonized a lot about it. However, in Kumano Hongu-taisha Shrine where he confined himself to pray, he was given a revelation in a dream by Kumano Gongen, who is said to be a temporary manifestation of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata), saying, 'You must distribute the charms to anyone regardless of his or her belief or disbelief, cleanliness or uncleanliness' for Shujyo Saido (salvation by Buddha and the Bodhisattvas). From this time, he started to call himself Ippen and added 'Ketsujo Ojo (certain birth in the Pure Land)/Rokujumannin (6 hundred thousand people)' on the invocation charms. This episode was later defined as the receipt of the revelation and is construed as the moment when Jishu sect was founded. In 1276, traveling around Kyushu for nenbutsu kanjin (temple solicitation through invocation), Ippen met Ta and others who later accompanied him as Jishu priests.
In addition, as they went on a walking pilgrimage, they started Odori Nenbutsu (dancing and invocations of Buddha's name) in Shinano Province in 1279. It is said that Odori Nenbutsu was modeled after Kuya's way of chanting a prayer, who was also called Ichi no Hijiri (Holy man in the city) and was deeply respected by Ippen. Ippen also had a great esteem for a shami (Buddhist acolyte) Kyoshin. In 1280, he visited the grave of his grandfather Michinobu in Inase, Esashi County, Mutsu Province (Kitakami City, Iwate Prefecture), and then went on pilgrimage to Matsushima, Hiraizumi City, Hitachi Province and Musashi Province.
In 1282, he tried to enter Kamakura City, but was rejected. In 1284, he went up to Kyoto, made a stay at Shaka-do hall (a hall in which a statue of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is enshrined) in Shijo-Kyogoku, and practiced Odori Nenbutsu in places in Kyoto. In 1286, he paid a visit to Shitenno-ji Temple, and also visited the mausoleum of Prince Shotoku, Taima-dera Temple, and Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine. In 1287, he went on a pilgrimage to Harima Province via Engyo-ji Temple, and then went further west to visit Itsukushima-jinja Shrine.
In 1289, on the way to revisit Kyoshin-ji Temple in Inamino, Harima Province (Kakogawa City, Hyogo Prefecture), where the grave of Kyoshin is located, to seek a place to die, he died in Kannon-do Hall (a temple dedicated to Kannon) (later Shinko-ji Temple) in Hyogonotsu in Settsu Province at age 50. It is thought that he died of malnutrition due to harsh pilgrimages.
Thoughts and views of others on Ippen
Ippen continued his pilgrimage at the head of Jishu priests, leading people (including genin [low ranked people] and hinin [lowest rank people]) to gokuraku jodo (the Pure Land of Amida Buddha) by fusan (distributing invocation charms) and Odori Nenbutsu. His religious principle is represented by 'Juichi Funi' (ten kalpa and one chant are not different) by absolute power of Buddha. While Muneyoshi YANAGI highly evaluated him as he mastered the depth of Jodo sect, Ippen himself valued the single-minded practice to chant invocation of six letters more than abstract thought.
Many modern people are fascinated by his high-mindedness symbolized by his pilgrimages to various provinces without staying in one place to depend on a temple, and his last moments, according to his biography, in which he burned his own writings, saying, 'this is the last moment for the Buddhist sutra which was learned in a single lifetime and there is nothing to remain but the voice of chanting Namu Amidabutsu (a single, sincere call upon the name of Amida).'
His easy-to-understand edification through waka (traditional Japanese poems of thirty-one syllables) and wasan (Buddhist verses), and nenbutsu kanjin to all people regardless of his or her belief or disbelief, cleanliness or uncleanliness were a big opportunity for Buddhism to become religion of the common people. Among founders of so-called Kamakura New Buddhism (new sects of Japanese Buddhism founded during the Kamakura period), he was the only person who did not learn in Mt. Hiei. (The description in "Ippen Shonin Nenpuryaku" (brief chronological record of Ippen Shonin) is considered to be made later.
(He has climbed Mt. Shosha, which was called 'Mt. Hiei in the west.')
It is pointed out that he was not an official monk but belonged to the line of private religious people from shidoso (priests having entered Buddhist priesthood without permission) to hijiri (a high-ranking priest).
Famous Buddhist sermons and waka
My life is traveling and nowhere is impossible to bury my body under a tree or grass (The song of Jishu sect). Human body looks like a fragile bubble floating on water and no one can remain after the shape disappear, and life is just like the light of the moon which rises and sets, because it does not stay even for a short time between breathing in and out. We are born alone, die alone, and we are still alone even if we live together, that is the reason why people do not die together. I received your request for teaching what nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation) devotees should bear in mind. There is nothing to bear in mind other than saying Namu Amidabutsu, and there is no other faith to show. Although there are various Buddhist teachings developed by various learned priests, they are all temporary teachings against allurement. So, nenbutsu devotees should practice nenbutsu throwing out such things.
According to 'Senjusho' (a compiled Buddhist tales of 13th century) by Saigyo Hoshi (Buddhist priest Saigyo), a long time ago, someone asked the virtuous Buddhist priest Kuya how nenbutsu should be practiced, and he said nothing but 'By throwing out.'
This is truly a pearl of wisdom. Nenbutsu devotees should throw out wisdom and doubts, throw out the differentiation between good and evil, throw out the distinction between high and low social standing, throw out fear for Hell, throw out hope for the Buddhist paradise, and throw out enlightenment of various sects, and when you practice nenbutsu throwing out everything, it comes closest to the transcendent, Original Vow of Amida. When you practice nenbutsu at the top of your voice, there is no Buddha or self, nor any reason in it. The secular world of good and evil will be absorbed into nenbutsu to become the pure land itself. Do not seek the pure land in something else. Do not hate the secular world. Every living thing, mountains, rivers, plants, blowing wind, and even the sound of ｗave can be nenbutsu. It is not only human beings who can obtain salvation by the transcendent vow. If it is hard to understand what this foolish old man says, leave it as it is hard to understand, throw out what this foolish old man says, never try to stretch the meaning to make sense, and leave everything to the Original Vow and just practice nenbutsu. If you practice nenbutsu with or without faith, it never goes against the transcendent, Original Vow of Other-Power. There is no deficiency or excess in the Original Vow of Amida.
What else should I tell you to bear in mind?
Just go back to the heart of a foolish man and practice nenbutsu. Namu Amidabutsu.
Formation of Jishu sect
The disciples included Jokai, who left "The Ippen hijiri-e" (Painting of St. Ippen) and is said to be Ippen's younger paternal half-brother, and Ta (hoi: Shinkyo) who was two-years older than Ippen. Current Jishu sect holds Ippen as the founder, but the sect was officially formed by the policy of Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Ippen did not have the intent to found a sect, and it would not be allowed to do so in the framework of eight sects. In the early-modern times, Buddhist laws of Shunjo IKKO and Kokua, which are considered to have been originally in a different line, were absorbed, and there was time when temples that worship Kuya were considered to belong to Jishu sect. From the institutional standpoint, it could be said that the real founder of Jishu sect was Ta Shinkyo (the second Traveling Saint). Jishu naturally dissolved after Ippen's death, and Ta reorganized it to originate the current Jishu sect.
Cultural properties associated with Ippen
His life is fully described in the national treasure "The Ippen hijiri-e" (also called "Ippen Shonin Eden"). "Yugyo Shonin Engie" (also called "Ippen Shonin Ekotobaden" or "Ippen Shonin Engie") (picture scrolls of Ippen Shonin and other priests' biography) was created by Ta's order. "Ippen Shonin goroku" (The Recorded Sayings of Ippen Shonin) was compiled in the Edo period. There are wooden standing statues in Hogon-ji Temple, Toma Muryoko-ji Temple (Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture), and Higashiyama Choraku-ji Temple (Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City). His mausoleum is in Shinko-ji Temple, which is a huge gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) on which influence of Risshu sect is pointed out. When it collapsed during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Ippen's ashes were visible, which confirmed that he was actually buried there. There is also a tomb tower in Muryoko-ji Temple, which is said to contain separated ashes. It is scraped away by devotees beyond recognition.
Sutras close at hand were consigned to the priests in Mt. Shosha right before his death. According to one theory, they were consigned to Yugyo Shonin in the early-modern times and currently stay in Shojoko-ji Temple, but it may or may not be true.