Eikando Zenrin-ji Temple – Kyoto
In the eastern mountain of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, the Eikando Zenrin-ji Temple is set into the serene surroundings of a magnificent garden of maples. The grounds were purchased in 853 when the monk Shinshō, a pupil of Kūkai, sought a place of worship of the Five Wisdom Buddas, or Gochi Nyorai.
Zenrin-ji took about ten years to start developing from when it was purchased Imperial government had forbade the promotion of Buddhism, instead favoring Shintoism as the national religion. Emperor Seiwa formally granted permission and the birth of Zenrin-ji came about.
Ekikando Zenrin-ji when through three different sects of Buddhism. Originally started as Shingon, sometime after 1070 and the temple’s seventh monk, Yōkan, started a transition towards Jōdo-shū, which would see its formal recognition late in the next century. Yōkan became a devotee to the Amida Buddha and the practice of Nenbutsu.
In a departure from the traditional custom of having Amida Buddha with it posture looking forward, one day Yōkan and his disciples were practicing a ritual when the Amida statue came to life. The Amida turned and spoke, , “Yōkan you are slow”. Ever since, Zenrin-ji has always had the Amida remained in this turned position.
When the Hōnen disciple Jōhen became the twelfth head of Zenrin-ji, the temple began a shift from Shingon to Jōdo-shū. Jōhen’s second successor, Shōon, saw the temple formally adopt Jōdo-shū.
Up until the Onin War, Zenrin-ji remained in a period of prosperity and growth. During the war Eikando came to ruins for a period years. At about 1472, the current chief priest and succeeding ones committed themselves towards Zenrin-ji’s full restoration sometime around the turn of the next, or 16th, century.
During the Meiji period from the late 1860s until 1912, the Japanese government officially recognized and promoted Shitoism as the official state religion. The rejection of Buddhism led to the destruction many Japanese Buddhist temples and statues.
Photography by Jim Caldwell