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NIHON-JI

 

Following His divine possession in 1926, Master Jinsai became aware of the great mission assigned to Him by God, and on February 4, 1928, the eve of the beginning of spring, He took a major step toward devoting himself to religious life. Then three years later, in the middle of May 1931, He received inspiration telling Him to go worship on June fifteenth at the temple Nihon-ji, on the slopes of Mount Nokogiri, in Chiba Prefecture. He prepared to follow God' s will.

The temple Nihon-ji, also known as Kenkonzan, is mentioned in an imperial rescript by Emperor Shomu (701-756) and also in an edict by Empress Komyo (701 -760). Founded as the Temple of the Rising Sun by the Monk Gyoki (668-749), on the eighth day of the sixth lunar month of 725 it was consecrated to the eastern manifestation of the Buddha of Healing, whom the empress especially revered. Nihon-ji is the oldest temple in eastern Japan to have been built by imperial decree. It is said that at the time of its establishment the emperor granted five thousand measures of gold to the temple together with the rescript in his own handwriting and the empress herself made an embroidered scroll depicting the thirty-three different manifestations of Avalokiteshvara described in the Lotus Sutra.

Besides the main image of the Buddha of Healing, which Gyoki had made, the temple also has an image of a Thousand-armed and Eleven-headed Kannon by the priest Ennin (794-864) as well as an image of Mahakala, or Daikoku, one of the seven gods of good fortune, by the priest Kukai (774-835). The temple grounds used to cover almost fifty-seven acres and included seven halls, twelve cloisters, and one hundred residences for monks, making an altogether magnificent compound. Famous and learned monks in the tradition of Roben (689-773), Kukai, and Ennin all spent time there, and it was at one time one of the best-known holy places in Japan.

To the north of the huge temple compound three ridges rise to a height of three hundred twenty-nine meters, affording a view of ten provinces. The entire mountain was heavily forested with enormous old trees, and along the paths and in the grottos there were carved images of various deities, bodhisattvas, and buddhas, including Shakyamuni, as well as disciples of Shakyamuni and japanese priests.

As a result of war and fire, however, this proud monastic complex was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. In the twelfth century Minamoto no Yoritomo and in the fourteenth century Ashikaga Takauji contributed to its reconstruction and completion. But after the Meiji Restoration the entire mountain was denuded, and most of the Buddhist images were destroyed when the new government ordered the forcible separation of Shinto shrines and Buddhist tempIes in 1868. In the widespread conflict that broke out between the Shinto and Buddhist elements that for centuries had been united in a harmonious alliance, Buddhist images carved in rock were destroyed. Superstition and popular faith also contributed to the destruction of the stone images, and the devastation at Nihon-ji was especialIy severe. Kaizan Nakazato (1885-1944), in his welI-known novel Great-Bodhisattva Pass , said of the arhat images at Nihonji: "People could always find a face that resembled somebody they loved. If they could take that head without anyone's knowing and secretly worship it, they were supposed to get their wish fulfilled." Taking heads became popular. "The headless arhats at Nihon-ji" was a common saying. In 1915 alI the carvings were repaired, but the vandalism immediately resumed. When Master Jinsai and His party went to Nihonji in June 1931, there were many such desecrated images.

"The name of the temple is Nihonji," He wrote, "an appellation not found elsewhere. Moreover, Kenkon [the temple's other name] means 'Heaven and Earth.' The name of the temple has a very deep meaning."

 

The group that visited the summit of Mount Nokogiri on June 15, 1931, afterward posed for this photograph in front of the main hall of the Temple Nihon-ji. In the second row, starting with the second person from the left, are (left to right): Josetsu Tanaka, chief abbot of Nihon-ji, Yoshi Okada and Master Jinsai.

 

In front of the main halI stands a shala tree. According to Buddhist tradition, it was beneath a pair of these broad-Ieaved evergreens, natives of India that bear richly fragrant, pale yellow blossoms, that Shakyamuni Buddha died, entering the final nirvana that marks the end of suffering, rebirth, and desire. The tree and the many images at the temple led Master Jinsai to believe that the place stood as a model in Japan for the realm of Buddhism.

Eight years after he worshiped there, a great fire broke out at Nihonji, on November 26, 1939, and destroyed practically all the buildings and the Buddhist images. In April 1940, the entire mountain became part of a strategic military zone, and repair and maintenance of the remaining temple buildings and scenic spots ceased, and gradualIy they were reduced to ruin. Only in 1962 did restoration work finally begin.

The temple Nihon-ji was founded as a monastery of the Hosso sect. Later it became associated with the Tendai and Shingon sects. During the Edo period (1603-1868) it was affiliated with the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. When Master Jinsai visited there in the early 1920´s, it was a holy place at the Soto sect. The highly respected Zen monk Sogaku Harada was superintendent af the temple, and Jasetsu Tanaka held the post of abbot, the nineteenth patriarch of the temple. Because Abbat Tanaka was a close friend of Seitaro Shimizu, one of Master Jinsai´s followers, Master Jinsai asked Shimizu to make the arrangements for the pilgrimage.

 

Putting behind us

The foot of Mount Nokogiri,

We found ourselves drawn

To the temple gate Nihon-ji,

A most imposing edifice.

 

Surely it had

Connections with the god

Of the rising sun,

Because temple Nihon-ji´s

Name means sunlight in the east.

 

See also another picture of Master Jinsai at Nihon-ji Temple!

 

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