IPPEN (1239–1289), also known as Chishin; a Japanese holy man, founder of the Jishū, an order of Pure Land Buddhist itinerants. Ippen was born in the province of Iyo (modern Ehime Prefecture) to a long-powerful military clan, the Konō, which had recently suffered a serious defeat in the Jōkyū War of 1221. Ippen's grandfather died in exile, and Ippen, three of his brothers, and his father all became monks. At the age of twelve, Ippen was sent to Kyushu to study the doctrines of the Seizan branch of the Jōdo (Pure Land) sect. Upon the death of his father in 1263, he returned to household life in Iyo. Perhaps because of intraclan strife, he left home again eight years later, and spent the rest of his life on the road as a holy man (hijiri ).
Ippen initially went on pilgrimages to the great Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines and underwent austerities in the mountains of Shikoku. While on a pilgrimage to Kumano in 1274, he had the climactic experience of his life. The Shintō deity (kami ) of the main shrine, believed to be a manifestation of Amida Buddha, appeared before him and commanded him to distribute to all people, regardless of their belief or unbelief, purity or impurity, paper talismans (fuda ) on which were printed the words "Namu Amida Butsu" ("Homage to Amida Buddha"). This Ippen did for the rest of his life, traveling throughout the Japanese archipelago.
By 1278, Ippen had attracted a small group of followers that he called the Jishū, or "time group," referring to its chanting of Amida's name at all times. Before his death, this group numbered perhaps more than two hundred men and women, and Ippen had established rules for group poverty and incessant wayfaring. In addition, he had enrolled 251,724 names in a register of lay supporters.
In 1279, this Jishū began its distinctive dance (odori nembutsu ) celebrating the instantaneous salvation available in Amida's name. Originally spontaneous and ecstatic, the dance became a regularized performance by members of the Jishū on the grounds of shrines and temples, and in other public areas such as beaches and markets. After being brutally driven out of Kamakura, the shogunal capital, in 1282, Ippen led his Jishū to the provinces around the imperial capital (modern Kyoto). Here he met with great success and was even invited to many notable temples and shrines. In 1288, Ippen led his group to his home in Iyo and then back across the Inland Sea, where he died in 1289. He is buried near the modern city of Kobe.
Ippen interpreted the Pure Land sutras to mean that Amida's enlightenment and the rebirth (ōjō ) of all beings into Amida's Pure Land were precisely the same event. Since Amida's enlightenment had occurred ten kalpa s ago, so too must have the rebirth of all beings. Both, furthermore, had their origin in "Namu Amida Butsu," the "six-character name" established through the vows Amida had made while still a bodhisattva. For this reason, the name alone was sufficient to effect the rebirth attained ten kalpa s ago and to obliterate the distinctions between then and now, between this world and the Pure Land, and indeed between all beings and buddhahood. Ippen's paper talismans, therefore, immediately saved all who received them, regardless of their faith, practice, or morality. The dance served as a celebration of this absolutely universal salvation.
Ippen's thought was largely derived from that of the Seizan branch of the Jōdo sect, itself strongly influenced by Esoteric (mikkyō) Buddhism. His originality lay in using these ideas to employ for Buddhist salvation existing popular traditions of shamanistic holy men and magic. The Jishū became the largest itinerant order of medieval Japan, absorbing earlier, similar groups, and several of its members were important in the literature and arts of the Muromachi period (1338–1573). Many samurai supported the Jishū, attracted by its endorsement of Shintō, and used its members both as a cultural entourage and as participants in funeral and memorial services. The fortunes of the order declined dramatically, however, with the turmoil that swept the country at the end of that period, and the Jishū continues in the early twenty-first century as only a minor Buddhist sect with headquarters in the city of Fujisawa.
Nevertheless, the practices and beliefs of the Jishū were widely diffused among the Japanese during the medieval period. Ippen's dance, for example, continues as a feature of folk Buddhism in several regions and is tied to the legendary founding of the Kabuki theater. The Ippen hijiri e (Illustrated life of the holy man Ippen), a work of twelve scrolls completed in 1299, is one of the masterpieces of Japanese painting and the single most important source for studying popular life in thirteenth-century Japan.
A collection from the 1750s of Ippen's sayings, letters, and verse has been translated and annotated by Dennis Hirota as No Abode: The Record of Ippen, rev. ed. (Honolulu, 1997). For the Jishū, see S. A. Thornton, Charisma and Community Formation in Medieval Japan: The Case of the Yugyō-ha (1300–1700) (Ithaca, N.Y., 1999). In Japanese, the best works are Ōhashi Toshio's Ippen: Sono kōdō to shisō (Tokyo, 1971), Kanai Kiyomitsu's Ippen to Jishū kyōdan (Tokyo, 1975), and Imai Masaharu's Jishū seiritsu no kenkyū (Tokyo, 1981).
James H. Foard (1987 and 2005)