Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eikan-dō? Yokan-dō?... In Zenren-ji, we all can do!

31st October, 2006 - As you walk down the Philosopher's Path, you will come across Eikan-dō on the left, across the canal. This temple was dedicated to a monk by the name of Eikan (1033 – 1111 AD) - actually his name was Yokan Risshi, famous for his evangelistic Amidism (a form of Buddhism).

The temple was originally known as Zenrin-ji (and still is), or "Temple in a Calm Grove" and was founded in 856 AD by Shinjō, a disciple of Kūkai and the Shingon school of Buddhism. It shows how belief systems evolve over time from the highly esoteric (ritualised and somewhat impractical) form of Shingon Buddhism to the popularist form of Jodo-Shu, otherwise known as the Pure Land Buddhism. The difference here is that Jodo-Shu believed that the recitation of the Nembutsu (the words Namu Amida Butsu) was a path to release from the wheel of worldly re-birth - to be born in the Western Paradise. This is a modification of the Chinese Pure Land belief where the Nembutsu (Nianfo) was only seen as a single part of the mediation ritual... rather than an ends in itself. Eikan didn't come to the temple until around 1072 AD.

Ok - this ends Japanese Buddhism 101. Let's have a look around the temple.

The Chokushi-mon gate to the temple proper is no longer in use, but makes for a nice backdrop to the sand sculpture which is immaculately raked every day.
The Chokushi-mon

The sculpture is simple in design, especially compared ot the patterns seen in Honen-in, and Ginkaku-ji.

Actually - when I look at Google Maps (satellite view) , I don't see much evidence of this "raked sand sculpture" area in front of the gate, and I wonder if this has disapeared since we were here in 2006. I'd appreciate some comments from people that have been here recently to update me.

The temple was enlarged by Eikan (i.e. Yokan), and he also built a large hospital complex for the poor and destitute, along with the means of producing medicines, within the temple grounds. The temple itself was largely destroyed around 1477 AD, and was later rebuilt in the 1500’s and then restored again in the 1880’s. It is now a very good vantage point to enjoy the autumn colours.... alas we arrived about 3 weeks too early to enjoy these.

Yokan (Eikan) reputedly repeated the Nembutsu 60,000 times a day... however just a simple calculation would suggest that if he managed to repeat the Nembutsu every second, it would still take nearly 17 hours a day of continuous recitation to achieve this huge figure. It could be that this was a story that transformed into this unbelievable figure... the offical Eikan-dō website suggests he did this many times, but not necessarily all in one day. I guess we shouldn't maths get in the way of a good story.

Towards the back of the temple there are several paths leading up into the mountain-side.

Here's a photo of an unsuspecting schmuck.... that would me, walking up the stairs known as the Garyuro. It would have been a much nicer photo if I hadn't got my ugly mug in it.

At the top of the stairs you will find the Kaizan-dō - where the three founders are seated (er... images of the three founders). You will also find one of the more interesting offeratory collections that I've seen here. You definitely can't doubt the honesty of most of the people that come here... Actually, I didn't notice this until now... but if you quickly scroll up and down past this image, it has a very disturbing (i.e. interesting effect)... or is it just my eyes?...Perspective, it's a wonderful thing.

If you go up another path you get to a pagoda... just above this shrine. However, we were starting to get a little tired and when we found out we had to go all the way to the bottom, and then all the way back up the top; well - let's just say we decided that somethings were best left for the next trip.

The legend goes that on February 15, 1082 AD, one of the statues in the temple stepped down and rebuked the praying Yokan (aka Eikan) for dawdling - such was his amazement at this unexpected event. A statue now exists (known as Mikaeri-Amida) to honour this occasion - and is indeed one of the highlights of this temple. The statue of Amida is noted for it’s unusual posture of looking backwards, as if to suggest (as it did to Yokan that we should follow the lead of the Amida Buddha - and get a move on about it. Personally, I think if I had seen a statue get down off its stand and start telling me off, one of two things might have happened. (1) I would have gone out to the nearest pub and got drunk, or went crazy, or both, or (2) it would have been on for young and old and by that I mean fisticuffs at dawn (statues should, by and large, remain statuesque and keep their opinions to themselves).

I didn't get a photo of it... but if you're interested, you can pop over (here) to have a look. It is a very famous statue.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure about this story... hold on... they built a statue to commemorate another statue coming to life? My vote would be for seeing the original "coming-to-life" statue. Come to think of it... might have been more trouble than it was worth. "Roll-up ladies and gentlemen (replace with culturally suitable invitation)... come see our amazing living statue... er... well, it was over there just a minute ago...has anyone seen where our statue went... er... anyone... nice statue...

The gardens of Eikan-dō are quite nice - and extensive. There's a series of inner gardens and larger outer gardens. The inner gardens are immersive, with the temple buildings floating above a quiet, serene and very green blanket.

The outer gardens are a little more brash. Perhaps a product of the golden leaves (yet to appear at this time). Certainly it's much more a stroll garden and can keep you occupied for some time.

Water plays an important part in the design and heart of this garden... as is often the case in Japanese temple gardens.

Now I'm starting to feel a bit like where's Wally (if you're Australian or English)... or Waldo if you're American... or Wōrī if you're Japanese. Needless to say, I don't think I'd last long in a hide-and-seek competition.
Bridge to Benten-shima - small island with shrine to Benten

The gardens surround the large Hojo-no-ike (Abott's pond), and must make for quite a sight during the height of the golden leaves weeks. We enjoyed the few trees that had started to turn early.

T-chan takes a stroll in the gardens of Zenrin-ji... Hey, not going to turn around for us?

Here's another great photo of T-chan... that's her on the left (on the bridge). How good are your eyes?

The temple is deceptive... it doesn't feel that big, but when you see it on a map (here) you get to appreciate just how big it is... big enough to run it's own kindergarten and library. Nowadays, it is golden leaves and living statues that dominate the visitors minds. It's easy to forget just how important temples have been in the fabric of Japanese society over the millenia - often forming the backbone of social support for the poorer communities. I have to admit, I often wonder if we haven't turned them into Buddhist theme parks... and I often wonder what the likes of Yokan (or is that Eikan) would think of it all...
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  1. Wonderful write-up. I don't remember ever visiting this one. I've been to Kyoto dozens of times, but my visits are the typical male unplanned kind that consist of just wandering around with the only goal of seeing cool stuff. Usually this leads me to nanzenji. Don't ask me why.

    As to your thought about temples becoming theme parks, I have a buddy who is a Buddhist scholar and swears Buddhism is dead in Japan. No idea if that's true or not, but it does seem like many of the temples I've been to are more for sightseeing (theme parks) than enlightenment.

    At any rate, I'll add this to my list of places to go next time I am there.

  2. Eikan-do is definitely a must see if you've been to Nanzen-ji (my next post)... as it's just down the road, and a good experience. I'd definitely put Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji above it however.

    As for Buddhism being dead - I think we have to definitely separate out the Buddhism of Kyoto temples (and tourism) with the Buddhism of the everyday.

    Japan I think has always had a fairly fluid relationship with all religions... sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn't. I guess it also says more about the people that visit the temples, than it does about the religion itself.

    Having said that - whilst I enjoy the temples and their gardens, I do feel a little sorry that it's come to this from what it used to be. Then again... the buddhists used to come down from their mountain monasteries and lay seige to the city; so I guess the past wasn't always better, and the grass always greener.