Shinran broke his vows of celibacy by marrying the nun, Eshinni in 1210. It is understood that Shinran viewed marriage as a turning point when he abandoned the traditional life of a Buddhist priest.
Eshinni was born in Niigata Prefecture in 1182. Little is known about her, except through ten letters she wrote to her daughter, Kakushinni, during the last years of her life. These letters were discovered in the Hongwanji (mother temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Kyoto, Japan) archives in 1921. The letters offer us a glimpse into the world of Buddhism, as practiced by ordinary women of this time, which would have been otherwise hidden in the shadows of a history chronicled mainly by men. In the letters, Eshinni conveys her deep reverence for her husband.
Besides allowing us insight into Shinran, the letters also tell us much about Eshinni’s life as an independent woman, managing land and servants and coping with famine during the 13th century. Eshinni did not depend on her husband for a living, instead, she supported Shinran financially and materially. Eshinni clearly followed her husband’s view that marriage was not an impediment to being a nun and to following her religious beliefs.
Eshinni died at about age 89 in Niigata prefecture.
As Eshinni is revered for her dedication to Shinran during his productive years, her daughter, Kakushinni is known for being her father’s caregiver in his final years. She was about 30 years old when Shinran died at the age of 90. And after Shinran’s death, Kakushinni is revered for planting the seeds of organization and propagation that were to grow into today’s Hongwanji.
Congregations began to follow the couples example, whereby men and women led Shin temples as husband-and-wife teams. Many regard Eshinni as the "Mother" of Jodo Shinshu.
I often think of your children and would like to hear the most recent news about them. I would really like to know about your oldest child. Oh, will there ever be a chance for me to visit you, or for you to come to see me once more while I am alive? Most likely not! 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. I know that if we can meet in the land of bliss, everything will become clear."
-- Eshinni, age 87 or 88
From THE LIFE OF ESHINNI, WIFE OF SHINRAN, by Yoshiko Ohtani, English translation by Taitetsu Unno