Rennyo was a Buddhist priest of the late Muromachi period.
Rennyo was born in 1415. He was the son of Sonnyo, the seventh head of the Hongan-ji branch of the sect of Buddhism called Jodo Shinshu. His mother died when he was six, and he was brought up by his father at the Hongan-ji in Kyoto, which at that time had been reduced to a state of extreme poverty.
Determined to revive the fortunes of the sect, he became a priest at the age of seventeen, and when his father died in 1457, he succeeded him to become the eighth head of the Hongan-ji branch. He began to work vigorously to propagate the teachings of the sect, but in 1465 the monks of the Enryaku-ji, alarmed at Rennyo’s success, attacked and burned his temple and he was obliged to flee to the province of Omi. From there he made his way to Yoshizaki in the province of Echizcn, where he established a temple known as the Yoshizaki Dojo and began spreading the doctrine in the Hokuriku area.
In 1475 he left Yoshizaki and returned to Kyoto, rebuilding the Hongan-ji at Yamashina. There he began working to gather together the different branches of the sect and unite them under Hongan-ji leadership, in time making Jodo Shinshu the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan. Even after turning over the management of temple affairs to his son Jitsunyo in 1489, he continued to be active in religious concerns, and in 1496 at the age of eighty-one he supervised the founding of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji in Osaka.
Rennyo, taking full advantage of the written word to propagate his teachings, wrote a number of ofumi, or pastoral letters, explaining in simple language the principles of Jodo Shinshu and, utilizing the social and political organization of the farming villages, set up ko, religious clubs, to act as links between the temples and the congregation. As a result of his lively missionary activities, the influence of the sect spread all the way to the Oshii region of far northern Japan.