Eikan-do – The Temple of Wisdom
Eikan-do Zenrin-ji is a wonderfully kept temple complex with a rich history in knowledge gathering and teaching. Let us be your guide.
The full name of this temple is Eikan-do Zenrin-ji (永観堂禅林寺) and it is the head temple of what is known as the Seizan variation of Japan’s Jodo-shu (Pure Land) Buddhist sect. This temple was founded by Shinsho, a pupil of the famous Buddhist monk and philosopher, Kukai.
The temple is located in Kyoto’s Sakyo-ku, where you’ll also find numerous other notable temples that enjoy particularly large numbers of visitors. It is a particularly popular spot to view autumn foliage due to the many maple trees dotted around the temple complex. The temple has an enviable history as a centre for Buddhist teaching and continues to be so today. Continue reading for the full lowdown.
The beginnings of Eikan-do lead back to the monk Shinsho, pupil of Kukai, who wished to honor the Gochi Nyorai (the Five Wisdom Buddhas) through the construction of a temple, thus purchasing the property in 853 with this in mind. Only several years later was the requisite permission for construction granted, meaning, it was not until 863 that the temple was officially founded and given its name by the emperor Seiwa.
Although known as Eikan-do (永観堂 View of Eternity Hall), the original and official name for the temple is Zenrin-ji (禅林寺 Temple of Forest of Zen). To confuse things further, the temple is also known by the names Shoju-raigo-san (聖衆来迎山 Mountain of going across to the saints) or Muryosu-in (無量寿院 Temple of Immeasurable Fortune).
Initially, Eikan-do was devoted to the Shingon sect, but with the seventh head monk, Yokan, the temple shifted toward Jodo-shu, a sect that was established a century later in approximately 1175. Yokan had trained in various temples and introduced new practices and institutions to the temple, he also placed emphasis on helping the needy and was engaged in various charitable concerns.
Zenrin-ji has gained fame for its unusual Amida Buddha statue which looks over its shoulder rather than, as is usual, looking straight ahead. Legend has it that the statue’s head took that position when it came to life during a ritual performance, turned its head, and told the monk Yokan he was slow. The story remains popular to this day.
The wooden Amida Buddha statue measures 77 cm in height and was originally thought to have been made in the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) before similarities with earlier Chinese statues were discovered and it became apparent it was actually much older, in fact dating from the Heian period (960 – 1279). The statue’s age and cultural importance have led it to listed as an Important Cultural Asset by the Japanese government.
Mon – Sun
09.00 am – 05.00 pm (last entry 04.00 pm)
adult: 600 yen, children: 400 yen
no food, drink, selfie-sticks, tripods, drones or smoking
Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
If you’re going to Nanzen-Ji Temple, Kyoto’s Keage Station on Subway Tozai Line may be your best option if you want to take the train. Once there, the station is just 15 minute away and signposted all the way.