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 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.
Here's a photo of an unsuspecting schmuck.... that would be...er... 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.
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...
|Bridge to Benten-shima - small island with shrine to Benten|