‘Myokonin’ literally means a wondrous, excellent person. It is used for a devout follower of Jodoshinshu, who lives a life of total dedication to Amida and whose acts and sayings, though they often run counter to common sense, reveal the depth of faith and true humanity.
Those known as myokonin have often been found to have little education but a surprisingly deep understanding of the Other-Power teaching. They are not simply devout practicers of the Nembutsu. Having realized the Other-Power and experienced oneness with Amida, they fully live up to his all-embracing Compassion. While keenly aware of their absolute powerlessness, they are always grateful to Amida, and their daily life is full of spontaneous expressions of joy and selfless love.
The term originally comes from Shan-tao’s commentary on the Contemplation Sutra. In commenting on the word ‘fundarike’ (pundarika, a white lotus-flower), which is used in this sutra to praise followers of the Nembutsu, Shan-tao (613-681) gives five other words of high praise: 1. konin, an excellent person, 2. jojonin, a superior person, 3. myokonin, 4. keunin, a rare person, and 5. saishonin, a most excellent person. Of those five, myokonin came to be specially used to refer to a person of True Faith as described above.
The twenty-two stories of myokonin which will be presented in Part One were originally compiled by Gosei (1721-94), a Honganji scholar of Iwami Province (present-day Shimane Prefecture), and published by his disciple Sojun 僧純 in 1842. Later, Sojun added four more collections of stories. With the addition of one more collection attributed to Zoo 象王, a six-collection book entitled Myokoninden, Biographies of Myokonin, became popular reading among Shin followers in the pre-modern period.
translated by Hisao Inagaki