Zenrin-ji is the head temple of Jodo-shu Seizan Zenrin-ji sect. The temple
has more than 1,100 years of history and is dedicated to Amida. Due to
a merciful pose of Mikaeri Amida (Amitabha looking back), the temple attracts
many believers and people throughout the world. The temple is also well-known
as "Eikando in Maple Leaves", because of its beautiful garden
filled with many maple trees. In late November, many people visit the temple
to worship the Amida and enjoy the scenery.
The history of Eikando temple may be roughly divided into 3 Periods:
Ｉ: The first 220 years, considered the first age, form Shinjo (797-873) to Yokan (1033-1111), who both served as chief priests, Eikando was a temple of
the Esoteric Buddhism of Shingon sect;
The next age of Eikando, for about 140 years, are regarded as the Yokan to Johen (1166-1224) age. Eikando was a temple of the Esoteric Buddhism of the
Shingon sect and also taught the Pure Land teachings of the Sanron sect,
which was one of the six sects of Nara Buddhism. Since 1224 or later, Eikando
has been a Buddhist temple of the Jodo sect.
Johen was a priest of the Shingon sect, but he came to deeply believe in the
teachings of the Jodo sect after he read Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow written by Honen (1133-1212), the founder of Jodo sect.
III: He designated Honen as the 11th nominal priest of Eikando
and then passed the post on Shoku (1177-1247), one of the famous disciples of Honen. Shoku gave birth to the Seizan branch of the Jodo sect. After that, the temple
was officially converted from the Shingon sect to the Seizan branch of
Jodo sect by Joon (1201-1271), a disciple of Shoku. (More on Pure Land Buddhism and Honen )
The temple's history dates back to the 9th century. In 853 AD, Shinjo (797-873), a high disciple of Kukai(774-835, and also known as Kobo Daishi), erected a temple on the present
grounds of Eikando. In 863 AD, the Emperor Seiwa named this newly-established
temple "Zenrin-ji", meaning "Temple in a Calm Grove". In "Zenrin-ji shinki, Shinjo authored various resolutions, including: "Since the teachings of
Buddha are practiced by humans, it is my desire that the temple shall be
a training place for ideal humans." Since then, Zenrin-ji has trained
many virtuous priests and sent them into the world.
Among them, Yokan (1033-1111), who is commonly known as "Eikan", is famous for his virtue and aid to the poor. Jodo-shu teaches
that humans may be assured of being reborn into Jodo (the Pure Land in
the West) by praising repeatedly Nembutsu, "Namu Amida Butsu".
Yokan names himself "Nembutsu-shu Yokan", because he believed
in the teachings of Amida. Yokan also devoted himself to helping the poor.
He built the hospital in Zenrin-ji and planted plum trees to feed plums
to the poor as medicine. The plam trees are known as "Hidenbai".
There is an interesting story behind Eikando's unique Mikaeri-Amida
image and why Mikaeri-Amida is looking back over his left shoulder.
In the early morning on Feb. 15, 1082, Yokan was walking around the altar
praising "Nembutsu". All of a sudden, the Amida came down the
altar and began to lead Yokan. Yokan was stunned and stoped walking, then
the Amida looked back over the left shoulder and said "Yokan, you
are slow." Yokan awoke and was deeply impressed the merciful pose
of the Amida. He pleaded with the Amida to keep the pose forever. Since
then, the Amida has been keeping the pose of "Mikaeri (Looking back)".
The pose is a symbol of the Amida's mercy to lead people and wait for people
who are late in coming to the faith.
In 13th century, Shoku (1177-1247), one of the most beloved disciples of Honen (1133-1212), founded the Seizan Zenrin-ji sect and established the important
tenets, "Seizan Kyogi". And, thus, for more than 800 years, Zenrin-ji has been a major
training site for this Buddhist sect.
The temple prospered until the Onin War (1467-1477) which raged
in Kyoto for ten years. During this war, Eikando was completely destroyed
and remained in ruins until around 1472. Its chief priests devoted themselves
to the restoration work for several generations. It was fully reconstructed
by the beginning of the 16th century.
In early modern times, Eikando fell into ruin again. The policy
of the early Meiji (1868-1912) government was to promote Shinto as Japan's
state religion and , in turn, to neglect Buddhism. This policy resulted
in the destruction of a great number of temples and Buddhist statues throughout
Japan. Under such circumstances, Shungoku (?-1881) significantly contributed to social welfare. His good works included
constructing the hospital that was the predecessor of Kyoto Prefectural
Eikando is still divinely guided by the mercy of Amida Buddha as
the head temple of the Seizan Zenrin-ji branch of Jodo sect, and is supported
by the faith of many adherents to the Pure Land Buddhism.
(Copyright by Gin No Saji Sha, Kyoto, 2005
(Special thanks to Mr.Richard Newton for his help and useful suggestions)
More on the History of Eikando