Rennyo Shonin 蓮如上人 (1415-1499); a descendant of Shinran and the eighth chief abbot (monshu) of Hongwanji, Kyoto. He was called Hoteimaru 布袋丸 in his childhood, later he was named Kenju 兼寿. When he was six, his mother who was a maid serving Zonnyo 存如, the seventh chief abbot, left him to live in obscurity. When he was 17, he received his ordination from Sonno 尊応 at the Shoren-in Temple 青蓮院. While studying the teaching of J odoshinshu from his father, he assisted him in spreading the Dharma in Omi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) and Northern Japan. In 1457, when he was 43, he became the chief abbot, and continued his missionary activity in the Omi region. Displeased with the growing popularity of Rennyo’s movement, the warrior-monks of the Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei attacked and destroyed the Hongwanji in 1465; so he moved to Kawachi (eastern part of Osaka Prefecture) and then to Omi Province. In 1471, he built a temple, a new center of his activity, in Yoshizaki in Echizen Province (present-day Fukui Prefecture), and succeeded in attracting a large number of followers. He started a unique way of transmitting the Dharma through the use of letters, which were widely read among the followers and contributed enormously to the dissemination of the teaching throughout the country, even among the illiterate. The growth of Shin Buddhism in Northern Japan, however, often created troubles with local manor lords and governors, culminating in “ikko ikki uprisings” in Echizen, Kaga and Etchu Provinces. In order to avoid further conflicts, Rennyo withdrew from Yoshizaki in 1475 and moved the center of his activity to the Osaka-Kyoto area. At the suggestion of his disciple, Dosai 道西, he built in Yamashina, east of Kyoto, the Founder’s Hall (1480) and the Amida Hall (1481), which became the foundation of the Hongwanji institution. In 1489, he retired as the chief abbot, leaving this position to his fifth son, Jitsunyo 実如. With undiminished missionary spirit, in 1496 he built a temple in Ishiyama, Osaka – at the site where the Osaka Castle now stands – and spent the rest of his life there. When he became ill in 1498, he returned to Yamashina, where he passed away the following year at the age of 85. Later, in 1882, Rennyo was awarded the posthumous title, Eto Daishi 慧灯大師 (Master of the Lamp of Wisdom), by Emperor Meiji.
At the height of his missionary activity, Rennyo edited and published the Shoshinge 正信偈 and Jodo Wasan 浄土和讃 as the standard service book for everybody. With the addition of The Letters, this form of service has continued to be held daily in every Jodoshinshu household and temple. As a guide for correct understanding of the Shoshinge, Rennyo wrote An Outline of the Shoshinge. His Dharma-messages, casual remarks, and records of his day-to-day acts were later compiled into Goichidaiki kikigaki (the Record of the Life of Master Rennyo) by Jitsugo 実悟, the tenth son of Rennyo, in 1580. As a method of spreading the teaching to the masses, Rennyo painted a great number of myogo (Amida’s Name as the main object of worship). Besides the six-character name (rokuji myogo), he liked to paint what is called ‘mugeko honzon’ 無碍光本尊, using the ten-character name (juji myogo) as the main object of worship. He recommended his followers to use myogo as the object of worship rather than paintings and statues of Amida Buddha, saying, “In other schools, paintings are preferred to names, and statues are preferred to paintings. In this school, paintings are preferred to statues, and named are preferred to paintings.”