Rev. Umitani’s Dharma Message for the Eshinni Kakushinni Day on April 25, 2020

Published April 25, 2020 by
photo of Lady Eshinni and kobushi flower
Photo of Lady Eshinni and kobushi flower

Lady Eshinni

At the 6th World Buddhist Women’s Convention, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1978, the resolution to establish Eshinni Day in remembrance of Lady Eshinni was adopted. Later, at the 8th World Buddhist Women’s Convention, which was held in Kyoto, Japan in 1986, the resolution to promote world peace and to designate Eshinni Day as Peace Day was adopted. Today, the Hawaii BWA joins the Buddhist Women’s Federation of Japan and observes April 25 as Eshinni Day and Kakushinni Day.

The Jodo Shinshu lineage began with Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) and Lady Eshinni (1182-unknown, probably around 1268). Shinran Shonin is our spiritual father who illuminates our lives with wisdom, and Eshinni is our spiritual mother who embraces us with compassion.

The Letters of Eshinni (“Eshinni Shosoku”) were discovered in 1921 at the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto. This is a collection of ten letters which Eshinni addressed to her youngest daughter Kakushinni who was living in Kyoto with Shinran Shonin. These letters reveal us several facts such as 1) Eshinni was the wife of Shinran Shonin, 2) it confirms that Shinran Shonin really existed, 3) how Shinran Shonin and Lady Eshinni lived their lives through the Nembutsu teachings, 4) about their children, 5) about Eshinni’s life at Echigo, and 6) about Eshinni herself.

The life of Eshinni at Echigo was not a luxurious one. Eshinni returned by herself to her native Echigo, leaving behind her husband in Kyoto, to oversee the property that she had inherited and to look after the welfare of her grandchildren. The letter says that Eshinni “added years and my hand shakes”, “the whole society suffered a poor harvest”, “I live with the orphaned girl and boy, so I feel like I have become a mother again”, “I sold all the clothes trying not to starve children and many others in number”, “I am 83 years…I always want to hear everything from you”, “I want to erect the five-tiered stone pagoda while I am still alive”, “we are living so far apart from each other… especially since you are my youngest offspring, I think of you fondly”, “I shall probably never have the opportunity of seeing you again”, “I never thought that I would be able to live to this year, but I have already reached the age of 87… but to this day I have never had to have my back and legs massaged. I work like a dog everyday, but this year I am becoming forgetful.”

Even when Eshinni was informed of the passing of Shinran Shonin, Eshinni had “no doubt that your father was born in the Pure Land”, and “I am ready to go to the land of bliss at any moment. In the land of bliss we will be able to know everything clearly, so I hope that you shall live the life of Nembutsu and come join me there.”

In her book “The Life of Eshinni – Wife of Shinran Shonin,” Lady Yoshiko Ohtani wrote, “Both Shinran and Eshinni, being human, may have had a number of human frailties, but embraced by the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha, they were made to be fully aware of them and ultimately to live a life of deep gratitude and quiet joy. Thus, while they were physically separated late in their life, they lived strongly and fully, manifesting the ideal of nembutsu practitioner.”

By the side of the Eshinni’s tomb (five-tiered pagoda), originally there was a tree of kobushi (Magnolia Kobus) standing humbly right next to it. This tree blooms beautiful white flowers in the spring, earlier than other flowers. It seems like this flower is guiding other flowers by saying, “Spring has come! Now is the time to bloom your flower!” As I see this kobushi flower, I feel as if Lady Eshinni is admonishing me by saying, “Now is the time for you to listen to the Onembutsu. Now is the time to bloom your inner peace and joy in Amida Buddha’s embrace.”

“Namo Amida Butsu” in honor of Lady Eshinni

April 25, 2020

Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani

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