When the Venerable Master was 39 years of age – on the 17th day of the 11th lunar month during the year 1211 (Kenryaku 1 建暦), five years after being exiled－he and Master Honen were pardoned. I believe the Venerable Master wished to return to Kyoto as soon as possible and be reunited with his revered teacher, Master Honen, and planned to do so soon after the new year began and the deep snows of Echigo Province had melted.
Master Honen had already returned to Kyoto by then. It is said that he had found a place to stay on the second floor of Katsuo Temple in Settsu 摂津の勝尾寺 by the 8th day of the 12th lunar month of the year he was pardoned. Unfortunately, he passed away on the 25th day of the 1st lunar month of 1212 (Kenryaku 2).
The Venerable Master remained in Echigo Province after learning of Master Honen’s passing. About the year 1214 (Kempo 2), however, when he was 42 years of age, the Venerable Master decided to move to the then frontier area of the Kanto 關東 (general area around modern Tokyo).
In the Kanto area, he made the town of Inada 稻田(in modern Ibaraki Prefecture茨城縣) his headquarters, and began spreading the Nembutsu teaching.
The Venerable Master spent some twenty years in the Kanto area, during which time many disciples and followers gathered around him. About eighty of his direct disciples were said to have been formally initiated as monks. The followers of his direct disciples were said to number in the tens of thousands.
Many stories are told about the Venerable Master while he was in the Kanto area. Among them is the story of Bennen 弁円 (later Myoho-bo 明法房) of Mt. Inada. Bennen was a mountain ascetic who became jealous of the following that was gathering around the Venerable Master, and determined to kill him. He forced his way into the Venerable Master’s hut in Inada. The moment Bennen saw the Venerable Master’s serene and composed attitude, however, he dropped his weapons and became the Venerable Master’s disciple.
The following is a poem that Myoho-bo (the former Bennen) is said to have composed on Mt. Itajiki:
The mountains are the same,
And the roads are
just as they were in the past.
All that has changed
Is my heart…
After returning to Mt. Itajiki where he had formerly practiced asceticism, Myoho-bo realized with a start that nothing had changed – neither the mountains nor the roads – and yet everything had changed because of the change in his heart. Although he had harbored thoughts of killing the Venerable Master, now that he was the Venerable Master’s disciple and able to take joy in basking in the light of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, he was no longer the same Bennen. That was why he changed his name to Myoho-bo.
Although there are many other stories of dramatic conversions to his teaching, in Article Six of “Notes Lamenting Differences” (Tannisho), the Venerable Master is quoted as saying:
I do not have even a single disciple. Perhaps I might say they are my disciples if they recite the Nembutsu through my personal efforts. But how preposterous it is to refer to others as “my disciples” when they say the Nembutsu because they have personally experienced the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow!
Buddha’s disciples. He considered those who followed him to be “fellow followers” (ondobo御同朋) who “follow the same path” (ondogyo 御同行).