2007/01/13

In the Footsteps of Gutoku - the Foolish Baldheaded One

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Shiran Shonin - Saint Shinran (1173 -1263)
This portrait was painted when he was 83 years old.


Our next stop was a temple serveral kilometers out of town in an area that used to be called Inada village. Sainen-ji was founded by Shinran Shonin (Saint Shinran), whose teachings formed the basis for the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) sect in Japan, Japan's largest, which is part of the tradition or school of Buddhism known as "Pure Land". Its followers seek to be reborn in "the Pure Land" after death and thus attain enlightenment through the grace of Amida Buddha.

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Shinran called himself Gotoku shuku Ran - "ignorant short-haired disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha (Shin)ran", (or foolish baldheaded Shinran) for he saw himself, even after decades of study and practice as a Tendai monk, as totally incapable of attaining enlightenment through his own efforts and so entrusted himself completely to the power of the wisdom and compassion Amida Buddha who promises it to all sentient beings who sincerely ask. His teaching caused political worries and upset some priests of influence, so he was exiled for a time from Kyoto to Niigata on the West Coast of Japan. Some of his followers were even put to death. After his pardon 5 years later, he moved to what is now Ibaraki, refining and spreading his beliefs. Many of his followers were commoners - fishermen, farmers, people who worked with hides, and also the lower ranks of Samurai.

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He lived in a simple thatched hermitage at Sainen-ji for most of the twenty years he spent in Ibaraki, during which time he wrote his most important work, the "Kyo Gyo Shin Sho" - Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment. At that time, there were temples on the grounds of Kashima Jingu and he visited there to study the scrolls they held. He also rebuilt another temple in Hokota City, called Muryouju-ji, which I wrote about in "The Way Home". In 1232, at the age of 60, he returned to Kyoto.

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I'm not sure when the presesnt temple building was constructed or rebuilt. The one we saw looks relatively new. Other structures, the gate, gate keeper's house, well, bell tower, and a small hall on the hillside above, are various ages up to five hundred years and more. In any case, the setting and woods are beautiful and command a view of the rice fields and mountains.

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Stone steps lead up the hill above the temple where we found a small hall. It dates to the 16th century when the local Lord of Kasama was defeated in battle and came to Sainen-ji to commit suicide. The priest there at the time talked him out of it and arranged a truce agreement with his foes.

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In appreciation, the Lord of Kasama made a generous donation and had this hall built on the hill. It is called Taishido (Prince Hall) after the Prince Shotoku (574-622) who brought Buddhism to Japan from China. Prince Shotoku also appeared in a dream that Shinran had when he was 29 years old. The dream caused Shinran to leave the monastary where he had been training since age 9 and seek out Honen, who would become his mentor in the Jodo Shu path.

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Further up, at the top of several flights of steps, behind an iron gate is a rokkakudo - hexagonal building. In it, a small portion of Shinran's ashes are interred (most are in a mausoleum in Kyoto).

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Above, the graceful roof of the temple and the pastoral scenery of Sainen-ji. I would like to learn more about Sainen-ji and spend more time there, but once again it was time to move on. We had one more place to visit as we now followed the footsteps of Gutoku Shinran.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nirvana. Wish I could reach it. The closest I come to it is following your journey as you go and take us with you.

Pandabonium said...

We'll get there one way or another.