In a letter addressed to Zenran dated the 29th day of the 5th month during 1256 AD (8th year of Kencho), when the Venerable Master was 84 years of age, he expressed his sorrow in the following words:
With the deepest of regrets, I no longer consider myself to be your father and you to be my son. Sorrowfully, I state this before the “Three Treasures (of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha).”
There are many scholarly opinions regarding the reason or reasons for the Venerable Master disowning Zenran. Many believe it was because Zenran conspired to gain power over the Kanto followers, but I do not consider that to be the primary reason. In the letter in which the Venerable Master disowned Zenran, he wrote:
I regret that those in the Rokuhara and Kamakura areas have heard that I disowned you like this. But (the fact that I have to do so) is something that cannot be helped. What is much more important is that you have mislead those in the Hitachi and Shinozuke areas regarding the importance of birth in the Pure Land of Ultimate Joy.
Here, the Venerable Master says that while it is regrettable that those in the Rokuhara and Kamakura areas learned that he disowned his son, that happens frequently in this world and so cannot be helped. Misleading others, however, is truly regrettable. Even more than conspiring with those in authority, the main reason Zenran was disowned seems to be because he twisted the most important teaching of birth in the Pure Land of Ultimate Joy. I believe that here—where he went so far as to disown his own beloved son in order to preserve the true teaching—we have a glimpse into the Venerable Master’s truly sacred mind and heart.
Although he encountered heart-breaking sorrow such as having to disown his own son, the Venerable Master spent his entire life spreading the precious Nembutsu teaching.
The Venerable Master Shinran passed away on the 28th day of the 11th lunar month during 1263 AD (2nd year of Kocho) at the age of 90. The date of his passing has been converted to January 16 of the Western calendar. He is said to have spent his last hours at a temple called Zenbo-in, located in Kyoto.
In the Godensho, his last moments are described in the following way:
Without speaking of worldly matters at all, he expressed his deep indebtedness to the Buddha by reciting the sacred name (the Nembutsu) without cease.
As can be determined by this passage, the Venerable Master left this world expressing gratitude by reciting the Nembutsu.
In the Gaija-sho (Notes on Correcting Mistaken Views) written by the Venerable Master’s grandson, Master Kakunnyo during 1337 AD, the Venerable Master’s last words are said to be,
When I close my eyes for the last time, please place my remains in Kamo River to nourish the fish.
In the Hanazono Bunko (Anthology of Flowery Passages), a work published in 1847, the Venerable Master’s “Deathbed Text” is said to be:
My life is coming to an end and though I am said to be going to the Pure Land of Ultimate Joy, (I am) like the waves of Waka Bay that ceaselessly break on the shore. Where there is one who rejoices (in the Nembutsu) consider there to be two, and where there are two who rejoice, consider there to be three, and that third (person) will be me, Shinran.
Like Waka Bay,
The dharma will remain
Even when I am no longer here.
(The dharma) will remain constant,
As long as there
Are those in need of it.
I believe the Venerable Master’s love of all living things and his earnest desire that the teaching that saves all beings impartially will spread widely, is clearly shown in these passages.
The “Deathbed Text” was published many centuries after the Venerable Master’s passing so many consider it to be a forgery. I believe, however, that it expresses the Venerable Master’s compassionate mind and heart that desires the salvation of all living things very well.