Rennyo (April 4, 1415 to May 5, 1499) was a priest of Jodoshin-shu sect (True Pure Land Sect) of Buddhism during the Muromachi Period. The 8th generation leader of Hongan-ji Temple.
Name before death was 'Kenju,' posthumous title is 'Shinto-in.'
Within this religion, he is reverently called 'Rennyo Shonin (Abbot).'
In 1882, he was given an additional posthumous honorific title of 'Eto Daishi' (The Great Teacher Eto) by Emperor Meiji. He is often called Hongan-ji Temple Rennyo.
Even though he belongs to the direct line of disciples of Shinran, Hongan-ji Temple at the time of Rennyo's birth was in an extreme state of decline in contrast to other schools of Buddhism and other sects within Jodoshin-shu, such Shinshu Bukkoji Sect in particular, that were flourishing. He revived Hongan-ji Temple and established the foundation of the present day Hongan-ji Order (Hongan-ji and Otani denominations of Jodoshin-shu).
The age is indicated in kazoe-doshi (starting with the age of 1 at birth). In order to be consistent with "Ofumi (Gobunsho)" the lunar calendar is used (except for the dates of birth and death).
He was born on April 4, 1415, at Hongan-ji Temple (near present day Sotai-in Hall (a small hall located within Chion-in Temple)) in Higashiyama, Kyoto, as the eldest child of the 7th generation leader of Hongan-ji Temple, Zonnyo. It is said that his mother was Zonnyo's mother's attendant, but the details are not known.
His childhood name was 'Hoteimaru.'
1420, Rennyo at the age of 6. His biological mother left Hongan-ji Temple when Zonnyo married a legal wife, and her whereabouts were unknown. As opposed to Bukko-ji Temple's prosperity, Hongan-ji Temple, during Rennyo's infancy, was in a state of extreme decline, and even the visitors who came to pay respects (the monks at Katada Hompuku-ji Temple who later became Rennyo's supporters) were so disappointed by the desolate appearance of Hongan-ji Temple that they went to visit Bukko-ji Temple instead.
1431, at the age of 17. He was ordained at Seiren-in, and he was adopted by Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) Kanesato HIROHASHI.
He changed his name to 'Chunagon Kenju.'
Later, he studied at Daijo-in Hall within Kofuku-ji Temple under Keikaku, who was related to Hongan-ji Temple through marriage (the mother is considered to be from the Otani family (Hongan-ji Temple), and Keikaku is presumed to be a cousin of the father, Zonnyo). He transcribed many sacred texts in order to assist his father, Zonnyo, and to give them to the adherents. "Jodofumi Ruishusho" dated May 12, 1434 (lunar calendar) is currently the oldest transcription by Rennyo.
He visited the Kanto area with Zonnyo in 1447.
He went on a missionary tour with Zonnyo to the Northern provinces in 1449.
Zonnyo passed away in 1457, and he took the position of absentee priesthood of Hongan-ji Temple in the same year. Regarding the successor for the position, there was a movement to support Ogen (Rensho), who was his younger brother by a different mother, but based on the assertion of his uncle, Senyu (Nyojo) it was decided that Rennyo would take over the position. It is said that among the letters written by the successive chief priests and addressed to their successors, only Zonnyo's is defunct (even though Rennyo's biological son, Jitsugo, insisted that the letter did exist, but there was no conclusive evidence), and based on this, there is a theory that states that this was a form of coup d'etat by Senyu (Nyojo). It is said that at this time, Ogen and the stepmother were so angry that they left with most of the family belongings.
Hongan-ji Temple during this period was full of problems, and it had lost its status as the main temple within its religious denomination, and it had fallen to the status of merely one of the temples under Seiren-in Temple. As to the religious denomination, there was a strong repression from Mt. Hiei-zan Enryaku-ji Temple, which was the main temple of Seiren-in Temple. In an opposition to this, Rennyo refused to make the monetary payment to the main temple, Enryaku-ji Temple.
On January 8, 1465 (lunar calendar), Enryaku-ji Temple certified that Hongan-ji Temple and Rennyo were the 'enemies of Buddha.'
On January, 9 (lunar calendar), the followers who belonged to the West Tower of Enryaku-ji Temple destroyed Hongan-ji Temple. On March 21 (lunar calendar) of the same year, they again destroyed this temple. Rennyo reverently carried the statue of the founder and drifted from Kanamori, Katada and Otsu in Omi. Furthermore, Shine of Senju-ji Temple (Shin Buddhism Takada denomination), with whom he had formed a close friendship, had warned him of ending their friendship as an act of protest against Hongan-ji taking over one of the temples under Shine (Kansei adversity).
In early April, 1471, he headed to Echizen Yoshizaki.
On July 27 of the same year, he constructed Yoshizaki-gobo Temple. Yoshizaki, which had been a waste land, developed quickly. Around this area, residence for monks and Tamon (lodging for the visiting believers) stood, and a terauchi machi began to take shape. Followers gathered even from Ou.
In 1474, because of an internal strife within the Togashi Clan of Kaga Province he received a request to support Masachika TOGASHI. As soon as Rennyo learned that the opposing Kochiyo TOGASHI allied himself with Takada denomination of Shin Buddhism, he cooperated with Masachika and destroyed Kochiyo in order to maintain his religious order from Takada denomination's pressure. However, Masachika became afraid of people of Kaga gathering under Rennyo, and he became unfriendly with Rennyo. Furthermore, Renso SHIMOTSUMA, who was under the supervision of Rennyo, instigated an uprising under a false order from Rennyo (however, views are split on whether Rennyo and those associated with Hongan-ji Temple were completely unaware of Renso's actions).
On August 21 (lunar calendar), 1475, he left Yoshizaki. He excommunicated Renso SHIMOTSUMA who instigated the uprising. After he traveled through Obama, Tanba and Settsu he established his residence in Kawachi Deguchi.
In 1478, he began construction of priest housing in Yamashina.
On August 22 (lunar calendar), 1483, he inaugurated Yamashina Hongan-ji Temple.
In 1486, he headed to Ki'i. The foundation was formed for Sagimori Annex that was built later.
May, 1488, there was an Ikko uprising in Kaga. In June, he destroyed Shugo Masachika TOGASHI.
Rennyo remonstrated against the uprising by sending 'Words of Punishment (Words of Admonishment).'
1489, at the age of 75. He passed down his duties at the temple to his 5th son, Jitsunyo.
He retired to Yamashina Minami Dono and took the title of 'Shinto-in.'
In September, 1496, he constructed Ishiyama-gobo Temple on the grounds of Ishiyama. Osaka, and used it as his residence. This later became Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple.
On February 20 (lunar calendar), 1499, he returned and visited Yamashina Hongan-ji Temple from Ishiyama-gobo Temple upon his death.
On March 20 (lunar calendar) of the same year he forgave Renso SHIMOTSUMA.
On March 25, 1499, he passed away at the age of 85 at Yamashina Hongan-ji Temple.
During his life, he took 5 wives but he was bereaved by 4 wives. He had 13 sons and 14 daughters. He was extremely busy in both private and official affairs until just before his death.
His Missionary Work
He propagated his teaching mainly through the use of "Ofumi (Ofumisho)," which was the teaching explained in a comprehensive form of a letter. Later, Rennyo's grandson, Ennyo, collected and edited them into 5 books of 80 letters ("Gojo Ofumi (The Five Book Letters)") (The letters that were not included here are called "Jogai Ofumi (Out of the Book Letters)" and amounts to twice as many in number).
The term "Ofumi" is used only in the Otani denomination of Shin Buddhism, and the term "Ofumi-sho" is used only in the Hongan-ji denomination of Jodoshin-shu.
In March, 1473, he released Shinran's 'Sanjo Wasan' from "Shoshin nembutsuge (Shoshinge)," and he established the practice of his disciples using it during the morning and evening devotional exercises. He also wrote 'Rokuji Myogo' and gave them to his many disciples as the main body of worship. Others include "Shoshingesho Chushaku" (Notes on Shoshingesho) and "Shoshinge Taii" (Shoshinge Summary).
Other than that, there remains "Rennyo Shonin Goichidai-ki Kikigaki (Rennyo Shonin Goichidai Kikigaki)" (316 items in total), which is a collection of writings based on Rennyo's actions and words recorded, transcribed and passed down by Rennyo's disciples after his death.