25th October, 2006 - Leaving Kōfuku-ji we approach Tōdai-ji along a well-trodden path...Construction for “Great Eastern Temple” started around 734AD, under the direction of Emperor Shōmu. He had the grand vision of creating both the largest bronze Buddha and the largest wooden building the world had seen. He would succeed at both goals, and it remains true today. Suffering from illness that threatened to take his life, he had the great shrine dedicated in 752, prior to it’s completion. The gold finishing was only applied after his death.
Tōdai-ji is approached through the Nandai-mon (or Great South Gate). The present gateway, dating from 1199 AD, is but two thirds in size of the original which was destroyed by a typhoon in 962. The two Nio were constructed by borthers Unkei and Kaikei, two of the leading sculptors of the time...no piccies though *sigh*. They are impressive.
Continuing down the boulevard, you approach the Chu-mon, or central gateway. This is only opened on special occassions, so you normally need to go through the smaller (uninspiring) gateway on the left.
As with the Nandai-mon, the gateway is protected by the guardian kings.... We'll be introduced to these more shortly...
The Great Buddha Hall (daibutsuden) is the largest wooden building in the world standing at some 187 by 165 feet, and up to 159 feet high. The present building was built in 1709 (the result of the original burning down a decade earlier). This building is somewhat smaller than the original (about 2/3rds once again), and the two seven-storied pagoda that used to stand either side are no more. Emperor Shōmu reportedly set about developing Tōdai-ji following a number of calamities hit Japan (including small-pox epidemics).... it was somewhat ironic then that his daughter, Empress Shōtoku almost brought the Imperial rule under direct Buddhist control, and in the end she also died of small-pox.
The decorations are the remnants of the celebrations that occured on the 21st October (at the same time as Jidai Matsuri back in Kyōto). They add a slightly incongruous air to the temple, as if it were some giant birthday cake.
The bronze Buddha statue is some 49 feet high, the upturned hand alone is over 6 feet high was originally cast in 746 AD – and has been re-cast twice since. It contains some 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg of gold. During it's manufacture, the majority of the bronze output of Japan was funneled into its manufacture - almost bankrupting the country. Such was the devotion of Emperor Shōmu, and the power of the Imperial throne. It was completed in 751, and the eye painting ceremony, conducted by an Indian priest, was done in 752.
The Buddhist faith is somewhat complex, and like many of the worlds religions it is somewhat multi-faceted. When we think of Buddhism in the West, our thoughts perhaps naturally turn to the historical "Buddha", or as is known in Siddhatta Gautama - or more commonly in Japan, Sakyamuni. However the Buddha represented in Tōdai-ji is Vaircona Buddha (or birushana-butsu), the Celestial Buddha, whose light shines through all Buddhas. The position of the hands has religious significance: the right denoting peace-of-mind, the left the granting of wishes. This is what you call a Great Buddha (daibutsu)!
These statues were originally protected by the Shitennō - the four (shi) kings (tennō), of which only two remain.
Kōmoku-ten (Guardian of the West) holds paper and writing brush to record the sins against the Buddhist truth;
Tamon-ten (Guardian of the North) holds a pagoda in his hand, to show his symbolic protection of Buddhism;
Jikoku-ten (Guardian of the East) draws his sword in defence of Buddhism; and
Zōjō-ten (Guardian of the South) holding a staff as both symbol of office and weapon.
Kōmoku-ten...His name means wide eyed or expansive vision.
Tamon-ten...One who is all knowing, and all hearing. The pagoda represents the treasure house of Buddhism, it's rewards given only to the righteous.
A rather strange image stands - or should I say, sits - outside the Daibutsuden, just to the right of the entrance. A giant chair, upon which a rather disturbing wooden statue sits cross-legged, cloaked in red bib and cap. This is Binzuru-Sonja, a disciple of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. He is most famous for having the ability, so the legend goes, to cure all ills if you rub him, then the body part which is sick. There is another legend that says that due to a fall from grace, he is forever forced to wait outside the sacred temple.
Looking back across to the Chu-mon, we see a great octagonal lantern dating from 752. The eight sides are decorated with Korean dogs, and artisans, and the lantern is adorned with the centamani, a jewel favoured with the granting of wishes.
The clouds part momentarily as we leave Tōdai-ji... the gold ornaments atop the great building shining strongly. In many ways, I feel the daibutsu of Kamakura is more beautiful, and perhaps more inspirational for all that it sits out in the elements. However, the scale of the daibutsuden is truly awe-inspiring. To think that this was constructed originally over 1250 years ago... and then it was even grander than it is today.