The Meaning of Gotan-e
Reverend Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister
In May, we celebrate Gotan-E, the birth of the founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran Shonin, who was born on May 21, 1173. Shinran never saw himself as a founder of anything and was just trying to spread the nembutsu teaching that he learned from his teacher, Honen.
He famously said in the Record in Lament of Divergences (a collection of sayings that his student, Yuien-bo, compiled): “For myself, I do not have even a single disciple. For if I brought people to say the nembutsu through my own efforts, then they might be my disciples. But it is indeed preposterous to call persons ‘my disciples’ when they say the nembutsu having received the working of Amida.”
This is Shinran’s understanding of the working of Amida — that anyone who decided to listen to him, follow him, or found something meaningful in what he did, only did so because of external factors, not from his own efforts.
Ironically, this attitude is what set him apart from Honen’s other students’ interpretation of the teaching. Shinran emphasized absolute entrusting to Amida Buddha over the constant recitation of Namu Amida Butsu.
In other words, he stressed the importance of humility over discipline as a practice. What that means for us as Jodo Shinshu followers is that rather than trying to find a rigid practice that takes physical and mental fortitude, we should be looking for ways to locate and lessen our vanity, our arrogance, our conceit.
This is the way laid out for us to find a life with less suffering. And in the month of May, we express our gratitude to Shinran Shonin for showing us the path.