In 1251 he went to Tsukushi province in Kyushu and became a disciple of Shotatsu, himself a disciple of Shoku of the Seizan line of Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism. At Shotatsu’s direction he also studied under Kedai, and took the name Chishin.
He returned to his home on his father’s death in 1263 and left the priesthood, taking up ordinary lay life. Around 1271, however, family quarrels led him to enter the priesthood once more. He visited the religious centers at Zenko-ji, Mt. Koya, and Kumano, and also carried out religious practices in the mountain forests of his native region.
In 1274, while on a pilgrimage to the temples and shrines of Kumano, he underwent a mystical experience and thereafter changed his name to Ippen.
On the death of his mother in 1248, he entered the priesthood, taking the religious name Zuien.
He traveled about the country carrying out a practice known as fusan, the distributing of tallies to believers assuring them that they would be reborn in the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida. In 1279, while in the province of Shinano, he began the practice known as odori-nembutsu, an ecstatic song and dance performed in honor of Amida.
The nembutsu practice that he taught was in some ways closely allied with the type of nembutsu, or incantatory invocation, of Amida’s name already made popular among the people by the Jodo sect. At the same time, howevei, Ippcn’s nembutsu, though based on Jodo teachings, in some ways resembled Zen practice, since it called upon the believer to free himself from all relative concepts and become completely identified with the nembutsu formula Namu Amida Butsu.
Because Ippen in his later years had no fixed dwelling, but abandoned all possessions and constantly traveled about from place to place, he came to be called Sute-hijiri, the “Abandoning Saint,” or Yugyo-shonin, the Wandering Saint.
When Ippen was about to die, he declared, “All my teachings have come to an end. I have become the Namu Amida Butsu. He then proceeded to burn all his books and writings, so that nothing from his own hand remains in existence. In time, however, his disciples compiled a record of his teachings preserved in two works, Ippen shonin goroku and Banshu hogo- shu.
Accounts of his life are found in two famous illustrated works, Ippen hijirie, also known as Rokujo engi, compiled by Shokai; and Ippen shonin ekotoba-den.