In late 1206, while the Japanese Emperor Gotoba was away from the capital on a pilgrimage to the Kumano Shrine, his consorts Suzumushi and Matsumushi joined a Nembutsu gathering led by Honen’s followers Juren-bo and Anraku-bo. After hearing the Nembutsu teaching, the emperor’s consorts experienced a great change of heart and took ordination as Buddhist nuns.
When the emperor returned and discovered that Suzumushi and Matsumushi had renounced their lives in the imperial palace to join Honen’s Nembutsu Sangha, he became enraged and ordered Juren-bo and Anraku-bo to be executed along with two other leading followers of Honen. Honen was ordered to be exiled on the island of Shikoku. Seven more of his followers, including Shinran, were dispossessed of their priesthood and sent into exile, scattering the community throughout Japan. While many lamented the exile, Honen instructed his disciples that this too should be accepted as the flow of karmic causes and conditions in their lives. The following were his parting words to the Sangha:
“Do not resent my being sent into exile, for I am approaching eighty years of age. Even if we were living together as teacher and students in the capital, my departure from this saha world is drawing near. Even if we are separated by mountains and oceans, do not doubt that we will meet again in the Pure Land. Though we may reject this world, our human existence carries on. Though we may cling to life, our death will come. Why insist upon being in a certain place?
“What’s more, while I have spent all these years sharing the Nembutsu teaching here in the capital, it has been my heartfelt wish to go into the outlying regions and share the teachings with the farmers who work the fields. However, a time had not come when I was able to fulfill that wish. That I am now able to pursue this long-held wish is thanks to the great benevolence of the emperor.
“Though people may try to prevent the spread of this Dharma, the Dharma cannot be impeded. The vow of all Buddhas to liberate sentient beings is deep, and the commitment on the part of the various deities who protect the Dharma is sincere. Why would we allow ourselves to be influenced by worldly disdain and conceal the true meaning of the sutras and commentaries?
“However, it pains me to think that my propagating the Pure Land Dharma Gate, which is the essential path to certain liberation for all beings in this defiled age of decline, will have created a circumstance in which the deities who constantly protect the Dharma will punish those who have brutally suppressed the teachings. We should bear in mind that as long as we are alive the working of cause and effect will continue unabated. If the causes and conditions of our karmic connection with one another are not yet exhausted, who is to say that we will not meet again in this lifetime?”
(From The Pictorial Biography of Hōnen Shōnin (Hōnen Shōnin Eden), Chapter 33, Section 3, translated by H. Adams)
I imagine that many of Honen’s followers must have felt anger when he was sent into exile. However, Shinran and the other followers took Honen’s wise teaching to heart, and as a result, the Nembutsu came to flourish in the rural provinces to an extent that likely would not have been possible had it not been for their exile. The injustice of exile became the condition that led to the flowering of the Pure Land teaching across Japan. Grave injustices continue to occur one after another in our present time. If we follow the example of wise teachers like Honen and Shinran and remain steadfast in the truth that we know in our hearts, the wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha will work through our lives to bring peace to the people of this world.
Namo Amida Butsu