Friday, September 17, 2010

Hōnen-in - Inhale...Pause...Exhale...Smile

31st October, 2006 - Not far south of Ginkakuji, is the well-worn walking track known as the  Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no Michi)... the subject of my next post. However, on that path are a number small temples that are well worth popping into. The first of these, and one that was quite a surprise was Hōnen-in.

Sanmon gate to Hōnen-in

Dedicated to the monk Hōnen, of the Pure Land (Jōdo) sect fame. Along with his two disciples, Anraku and Juren, he constructed an image of the Amida on the Higashiyama foothills, on Nyoigatake. As mentioned in relationship with Chion-in, Hōnen gave up the Tendai teachings of Hiei-zan for the nembutsu teachings of the Jōdo school of Amidism. 

The temple has two sand sculptures, with ever changing designs. The temple itself has no amazing buildings (maybe a little harsh), nor any particularly exciting art - or for that matter, no must-see ceremonies either. Indeed it's garden is rather subdued - and it's perhaps for this very reason that I'd definitely recommend going to see this temple. There's something about this simplicity and beauty of the garden that, like Ginkakuji, can allow your soul to pause. To reflect.

One of my favourite moments was when we came across this small fountain, a focal point in the garden - but nothing ostentatious in itself.

It was only as we drew closer that we noticed the detail of the carefully placed leaf, that acted as a spout for the running water. It's may not make it on anyone's top 10 memorable moments, but it certainly gave our hearts a moment of zen-like joy that we still remember. It's a place where time seem to slow down, and where a moment can last a lifetime. Breathe.

The other thing about the temple grounds is the small, but inviting pond around which you walk to approach the main temple buildings. There is a stillness in the air - made more special for the fact that this temple sees comparatively few tourists. You can selfishly enjoy all the sweetness of the air, the whispering of the breeze in the trees and light playing amongst the leaves largely by yourself.

It was Hōnen's two disciples, Anraku and Juren, that erected the first memorial here, with a statue of the Amida Buddha attributed to Genshin.

This statue is now held in the inner sanctum of the Hondo. Such was the antagonism between the Jōdo and Tendai schools that not long after the death of Hōnen, the site was almost completely destroyed by monks from Enryaku-ji temple. With the subsequent (though unrelated) destruction of Enryaku-ji by Oda Nobunaga, and with the later rise of the Tokugawa shoguns, the power of the sect of Hōnen once again gathered strength.  The present temple complex was built around 1680, and features a number of rooms moved from Fushimi-jo (after Hideyoshi’s death) to attach to the Hondo.

As with the statue of the Amida, there also lies a shrine to Jizo, cut into the hillside (below) - this one dates to the late 17th century. It was not uncommon for the followers of the Amida Buddha to have shrines to Jizo as well.

The temple buildings nestle in the foot-hills, amongst the trees. Neither imposing their will upon the natural surround, nor succumbing to it. There's a nice balance to the temple design.

So with that we bid farewell to Hōnen-in... Whilst it may not be somewhere that you'd intentionally put on any itinerary of Kyōto purely for itself, IMO it does make a brilliant side-trip to mark the start of the Philosopher's Walk and well worth the extra walk for.

To the south of the Hōnen-in lies the temple graveyard, before passing Anraku-ji, dedicated to one of Hōnen’s disciples.
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  1. Discovering the leaf in the fountain would give me the same feelings as it did you. Nice photos.

  2. Cheers... I love unexpected moments of guilty pleasure.

    Actually I'm now getting over a late-winter Adelaide cold, and going through our old photos makes me feel a little better. There's something about the light around Kyoto, especially in these temples, that just fills me with happiness.

  3. Woow. This place just so green and serene. I'd go there just to feel what the air there is like

  4. That's one of my favorite temples. Very nice write up about it and great photos too. I actually didn't take my camera last time I went there... the wife made me promise not to. haha. I did cheat a snap a few with my keitei (pre iphone) but they didn't come out so well. I need to go back sometime soon.