As the first temple we visited in our three-day tour of Kyoto and Nara, we came to the temple of Chion-in, which is the home temple of the main Chinzei branch of Jodo Shu Pure Land Buddhism. Readers may recall I had something of a religious experience the first time I came here five years ago, that turned me on to Buddhism. So, I was eager to come back and see it again with more experienced eyes, and to pay respects to the founder, Honen, whose 800th Memorial is coming next year.
I forgot how big Chion-in was. Many Japanese Buddhist temples have a main gate or sanmon (山門) which means “mountain gate”. The idea, I imagine, is the notion of coming up to the mountain to retreat from the hubbub of the world, and devote one’s self to the Dharma. The Sanmon Gate of Chion-in is huge:
And here’s inside the gate:
Also, the cherry blossoms were blooming nicely at the gate:
The stairs behind the Sanmon Gate were not a trivial climb, and there’s an easier climb off to the right, but I decided I had some bad karma to burn off, as well as calories, so I hauled myself and Baby up those steps.
At the top of those steps we were greeted by a statue of Honen, as a young boy when his given name was Seishimaru. Sadly, I have no suitable pictures of that, but if i find one, I’ll upload later. Anyway, once you’ve ascended the steps, you come to the main plaza of Chion-in:
My little girl got in the photo accidentally while posing in front of Mommy’s camera. She’s quite silly sometimes. 🙂 Also, here’s a view to the east as well from where I stood:
Anyway, as with all temples in Kyoto, you have to take off your shoes before going in, so we did. Also, pictures are almost never allowed inside,1 so I can’t show any photos. But I will say it was a huge prayer hall in the Mieidō. There was the big centerpiece in the middle devoted to Amida Buddha, but also huge taiko drums to the left and right. Further on both ends were images to Honen and (I think) Shan-tao whom Honen admired greatly. To left side of the altar area, a lone priest was chanting something while hitting a wooden fish. My wife and I went in while the little one stayed outside with her grandparents. We knelt down in the congregation’s area, recited the nembutsu, and I thanked Honen mentally as well. Had I not been to Chion-in five years ago, things would be rather different for me, I imagine. Sadly, I overlooked Honen’s mausoleum just around the corner, otherwise, I would have paid more respects.
Instead, we went up the hill to the large bell or Ōgane (大鐘):
The bell is far larger than this picture shows, and is well-known in Japan. It takes multiple men to properly raise the striking log and give it a solid strike. Here’s another view to the side:
Unfortunately, instead of coming back down to enjoy the rest of Chion-in, we took the wrong path down and came to a lovely garden:
And instead of trying to come back where we started, we thought to find a shortcut down which only made us more lost. On the way, we found a small Shinto shrine, which I stopped to pay respects at:
We continued until we reached all the way back to the Sanmon gate, and by this time, my wife’s parents were tired and we had to move on. So, the trip was cut short in unexpected ways, but as we were about to leave, I noticed this sign at Chion-in’s entrance, which I felt was a fitting ending, even though the translation is a bit awkward at points:
I really felt this conveyed the beauty of the Pure Land Buddhist path nicely, so I will end the blog post there. It was great to come back and pay my respects to Honen after all these years, and I certainly hope to come back again in the coming years.
For our next hop, I will cover the Silver Pavilion, or Ginkakuji.
Namu Amida Butsu
P.S. More pictures on Flickr, though I posted most of the “good ones” here.
1 Jodo Shinshu temples seem to be the only exception to this rule, not sure why.