Thanks to Eshinni, Kakushinni, and to All Women

by Rev. Patti Usuki, San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

Women who remain in lay life should realize and never entertain the slightest doubt that those who, without any calculation, deeply rely on Amida Buddha single-mindedly and unwaveringly, entrusting themselves to the Buddha for their emancipation in the after life, will all be saved. [Letters of Rennyo, 5-3]

Rennyo Shonin wrote this letter long after the death of both Eshinni and Kakushinni. It was one of several that he addressed to women, and it demonstrated that he considered women to be as important among the monto followers as men. Indeed, Shinran Shonin himself was always careful to emphasize that the Nembutsu teaching was for everyone, priest or lay, man or woman, without discrimination. From what we know of both his wife, Eshinni, and his daughter, Kakushinni, Shinran stood behind his words. Thanks to Eshinni’s letters, which were found less than a century ago, we know that the Nembutsu guided the life of a real, living person with daily cares such as wondering about her children and grandchildren, keeping the family fed, mending clothes, and living apart from her husband who was busy pursuing his studies.

While her letters are important for the information they contain about Shinran, they are also significant for what they tell us about the practical dimension of the teaching as it relates to the life of women and their spiritual fulfillment. We may revere Eshinni not because she was the wife of Shinran, but because she was able to rejoice in the Nembutsu path as a woman living in the harsh and difficult conditions of her era. Likewise, it is fortunate that we may finally give official recognition to Kakushinni, not because she was Shinran’s daughter, but because his teaching might not be available to us today were it not for her devotion to her father and his doctrine. Using land made available to her by her second husband, she joined with other devout followers after Shinran’s passing to keep his memory and his work alive. Although she was Shinran’s youngest daughter, it is interesting to note that the blood lineage that continues to the Monshu, or the head of the Hongwanji, today is traced through her son by her first marriage, and not through one of Shinran’s sons as one might have expected.

Both Eshinni and Kakushinni were intelligent and devout followers who were at the same time women who scrupulously performed their roles as wives and mothers. This is reminiscent of so many of our female temple members here in America, from the Issei to the present generations, who have quietly made great contributions to the strength of the temple and the furtherance of Jodo Shinshu. They have done this through their activities as Buddhist Women in the daily activities and, more recently, in leadership roles that include temple board presidents. It is a common sight to see that a majority of the people attending the service and study classes are women, and for this we can all be thankful. For like Eshinni and Kakushinni, they are keen on listening to the Dharma and learning about the writings of Shinran. Many come to manifest the teaching in their everyday lives, touching everyone around them. Their devotion is worthy of recognition, especially when we hear that many young Buddhists credit their mothers and grandmothers with having influenced their religious upbringing. On this note, it is important to remember that women have always been just as important as men in the Shin Buddhist Sangha, though they have often remained in the background. It is not that they are more special. It is simply that they are equally bright links in Amida’s Golden Chain that brings us all together through space and time as One in Universal Truth.

Only by recognizing and respecting everyone can we understand that Amida Buddha, though formless, is regarded as both our “father” and our “mother,” for True Reality rises above the dualistic and discriminatory thinking of our human minds. Eshinni and Kakushinni were two people who showed through their words and deeds that they entrusted themselves to Amida Buddha without any doubt. Thanks to them, and to countless other Buddhist women, we can see that the teaching applies to everyone without exception. May our gratitude extend to all beings for providing us with the causes and conditions to be able to hear this wonderful doctrine.

Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Patricia Usuki
San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

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