Kiyomizudera is arguably one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan. I visited the temple in 2005 on my first of two visits to Japan so far. We came to Kyoto during February, so we got to see this great temple in the snow. The reason why I bring up this temple was that I saw it while watching the Japanese documentary, “100-temple Pilgrimage”, about Buddhist temples that I have written about a few times on this blog. The current DVD I am watching focuses on Temples in the city of Kyoto, so I thought I’d touch on this one both for reasons of nostalgia and some interesting observations for my Buddhist compatriots (and any potential tourists).
Here’s a picture of the famous drop-off under the veranda:
And here’s me standing on said veranda:
…and if you look down:
You can see that it’s actually a pretty long drop down to the ground. According to Wikipedia, there is an old myth that if you jumped off and survived, you could have one wish granted. I prefer to stay up on the veranda.
Kiyomizudera is a temple of Hossō sect of Japanese Buddhism, which strives to be an all-inclusive Buddhist sect. Unlike newer sects which focus on a particular set of teachings and practices, Hossō and other early sects tend to incorporated all of them. So, when the documentary gave a tour of Kiyomizudera, I was surprised at how many different shrines and altars there were throughout the complex. Shrines and altars included, but not limited to:
- Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, flanked by two Bodhisattvas:*
- Samantabhadra (Fugen in Japanese), the Bodhisattva of Vows.
- Manjushri (Monju in Japanese), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (his sword cuts through ignorance)
- Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism
- Honen, the founder of Jodo Shu (and ex-Tendai monk)
- Jizō Bodhisattva
- Amida Buddha, as mentioned above.
- and of course Kannon Bodhisattva, who is the main object of devotion there.
As mentioned, Kannon is the main figure of devotion at Kiyomizudera. For the picture above, you can see a building a ways behind me. In that building is a shrine to Kannon, which had a small wood figure carved into the entrance:
Kannon here has his/her trademark 1000 arms, symbolizing the endless efforts that Kannon makes to help all beings. Two of the hands are in front of his chest in the Buddhist gesture of respect, while the other arms are stretched out all around him. Like Jizō above with his staff, and Manjushri with his sword, these are not literal, but powerful expressions of the Bodhisattvas, their compassion and their insightful wisdom.
Watching the documentary, I realized I missed quite a bit of stuff on that visit, though in all fairness we were trying to view 3 temples that day: Chion-in where I first encountered Pure Land Buddhism and Ryuanji which has the famous Zen garden. The next time I should visit Kyoto, my wife and I plan on making a much longer visit to enjoy all the Buddhist stuff there. Back then, I was still unfamiliar with Japanese Buddhism, and didn’t appreciate much, but now I feel a stronger affinity and hope to appreciate the visit there more on my next trip.
Anyways, I am impressed this time around by the inclusiveness of early Japanese Buddhism, at a time when I am just exploring Buddhism on a wider scale, and seeing what is there.
* – All three comprise a kind of “trinity” in East Asian Buddhism, just as Amida Buddha, Kannon and Seishi form another trinity within Buddhism. The Medicine Buddha also has a trinity (himself and the Sun and Moon Bodhisattvas), but this is more obscure and popular mostly in early Japanese Buddhism.