Shinran was the founder of Jôdo shinshû Buddhism ("True Pure Land sect").
Shinran was initially trained at Mt. Hiei, in the orthodox dogma of the Tendai sect. However, he began to feel that, as a human being, he was irrevocably flawed, and thus unable to truly achieve enlightenment. Turning to the teachings of Hônen of the Pure Land sect (Jôdo shû), he explored the idea of reciting nenbutsu (chanting the name of Amida Buddha) as an avenue to salvation; however, as the chanting of nenbutsu is also a matter of human effort, and as humans are flawed and incapable of performing perfectly to the utmost, this too presented difficulties for Shinran. He then considered, or discovered, the notion that entrance into the Pure Land is not something earned through human effort, but is something granted, compassionately, by Amida Buddha.
Exiled to Echigo province for his heterodox teachings, Shinran came to abandon most elements of traditional monastic practice, as Hônen had advocated - he ate meat, and even married a woman, Eshinni, and had children - believing that salvation is not something attained through efforts and practices, but something granted through compassion. He went so far in these beliefs as to argue that the wicked might be more suited to Amidism than the good, since the wicked would be more genuine in their faith, entrusting themselves entirely to the mercy of Amida, whereas the good might still clutch to the idea that their good behavior, or good works, earned them salvation. The couple were supported by Eshinni's inheritance while Shinran pursued his religious activities. His new "True Pure Land sect" (Jôdo-shinshû), said to have been founded in 1224, thus emphasized the importance of faith over ritual action.
- “Amida, The Pure Land, and the Response of the Old Buddhism to the New,” in Wm. Theodore De Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition, Second Edition, Columbia University Press (2001), 215-216.
- Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 79-80.
- Some sources suggest that his wife was a daughter of Fujiwara no Kanezane, and that he had been encouraged by Hônen to marry, specifically to show that monasticism was not necessary for salvation. Tsunoda Ryûsaku, Sources of Japanese Tradition, 1st Edition, vol. 1, Columbia University Press (1968), 203.