Daishoji is located in today's Kaga city in Ishikawa Prefecture. This was once a thriving castle town within the highly productive million-koku branch domain of the Kaga Domain.
Daishoji is a place where history and tradition live. The streets still retain a mellow and relaxed atmosphere evocative of the Edo period. At the base of the Kinjo mountain castle are the old Zen and Nichiren Buddhist temples standing side by side. Visitors come all year round to see the historical sites here.
Among the temples, Jisshouin is famous throughout Japan for its beautiful wisteria. The gilt-painted shoji screens are also magnificent. Choryu-Tei pavilion and garden, located in the grounds of the Enuma Shrine and once part of the mansion of Daishoji's 3rd lord, seem to imitate the Kenrokuen garden. Here the elaborate and detailed drawing room and tea room are interesting. This garden is designated as an important national asset.
Gyoban is a wooden fish-shaped drum, which serves as a signal to start and end rituals, meditation sessions and meals. The fish-shaped drums are common in Zen temples in Japan. Gyoban is also called Gyoko, Mokugyoku, or Ho. In Buddhism, the fish, which never sleeps, symbolizes wakefulness and devotion to training.
Mokugyo, a wooden percussion instrument used during the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts, also takes the shape of fish. Mokugo is said to have been derived from Gyoban and developed into the present form in China during the Ming Dynasty. That's why Gyoban looks more like a fish than Mokugyo.
Dogen is the founder of the Soto sect of the Japanese Buddhism. Born in Kyoto in 1200, he entered a Buddhist monastery in Mt. Hiei at the age of 13. He became a priest in the next year and studied the Tendai Buddhism and Zen doctrines. Then he went to China to study “Shoho (true dharma)” and visited Zen monk Nyojo (Ju-Ching, 13th Patriarch of the Soto lineage of Zen Buddhism) in Mt. Tiantóng in 1225, when he became the Dharma successor. His way of Zen is “Shikan Taza,” which means “zazen alone.”
When Dogen returned to Japan, he stayed at Kenninji Temple in Kamakura, where he wrote down “the Fukan Zazengi (Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen),” a short text emphasizing the importance of and giving instructions for zazen, or sitting meditation. In 1233, he founded Koshoji Temple in Uji, south of Kyoto, where he stayed for 8 years and devoted himself to the propagation of Zen Buddhism.
In 1243, he was invited to Echizen province, where his followers founded Daibutsuji Temple (present-day Eiheiji Temple) as a comprehensive center of Zen practice. Dogen spent the remainder of his life at this temple teaching young priests.
Dogen’s masterpiece “the Shobogenzo,” collected together in ninety-five fascicles, has been studied even up to the present day as the book that lead us to enlightment.
Zenpukuin Temple is an old and distinguished temple located in Kainan City, Wakayama prefecture. This temple was originally one of the five sub-temples of Kofukuji Temple, which was built in 1214 by the Zen priest Eisai. Kofukuji Temple, which was once a flourishing temple with the formal seven main buildings, fell into ruin with its sponsor having gone bankrupt. After that it was converted to Shingon Sect and repaired some of the buildings. In the Edo period, when the area became a part of the Kishu domain, it converted again to Tendai Sect. The three of the five sub-temples had remained until the Meiji period, but only Zenpukuin Temple remains to the present time. Shakamuni Hall in Yosemune-zukuri style (a square building) covered with a double hipped roofs and standing on the Ransekizumi podium (made of natural stones piled up in a random fashion) is designated as a National Treasure. Its Yosemune-zukuri style with a tile roof and the construction method using Heiko-darugi (rafters laid parallel to each other from the ridge) are considered as the typical examples of Zen architectural elements in the late Kamakura period, which can also be seen in Shariden at Engakuji Temple in Kamakura and Buddha Hall at Kozanji Temple in Yamaguchi.
Ryokan was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk in the late Edo period (1603-1868). He is also known as a calligrapher and poet, who wrote both Japanese waka poems and Chinese classic poems.
He was born in in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in 1758. He was much influenced by his father, who was a Nanushi (village officer) and poet. Ryokan studied under Omori Shiyo, a scholar of Chinese classics and became his father’s assistant.
Later he visited and stayed at Entsuji Temple (in present-day Okayama Prefecture), where he was ordained priest by the Zen master Kokusen. It was around this time that Ryokan also took interested in writing poems and deepened exchanges with many poets of the time.
Ryokan attained enlightment and was presented with an Inka (a formal acknowledgement of a student’s completion of Zen training) by Kokusen at the age of 33. He left Entsuji Temple to set for a long pilgrimage and necer returned to the monastery life. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit and taught Buddhism to common people in easy words instead of difficult sermons.
He disclosed his own humble life, for which people felt sympathy, and placed their confidence in him. A lot of artists and scholars also visited his small hut, Gogo-an, where he talked with them over a drink of Hannya-yu (enlightening hot water, namely Japanese hot sake). He died in 1831. His only disciple, Teishin-ni published a collection of Ryokan’s poems titled “Hasu no Tsuyu (Dewdrops on a lotus leaf).”
Nichiren was a Buddhist monk in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and the founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Born in Awa province (present-day Chiba Prefecture) in 1222, Nichiren began his Buddhist study at a nearby temple, Seichoji, at the age of 12. He was formally ordained four years later at 16. Then he visited temples in Nara and Kyoto including Shitennoji Temple and Koyasan Kongobuji Temple for more in-depth study. Through the study of Nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation), Zen and Shingon (esoteric practice), he became convinced of the pre-eminence of the Lotus Sutra. In 1253, he founded his own sect of Buddhism at Seichoji Temple and recited “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” for the first time. He changed his name to Nichiren, wherein the kanji character for nichi (日) means “sun” and that for ren (蓮) means “lotus.”
In 1260, he wrote “the Rissho Ankoku Ron (Treatise on securing the peace of the land through the establishment of the correct),” in which he criticized all the other sects of Japanese Buddhism. It prompted a severe backlash, especially from among priests of other Buddhist sects and the Kamakura Shogunate. Nichiren was harassed and exiled four times in his life. When he was exiled to Sado, an island in the Japan Sea, he wrote two of his most important doctrinal treatises, “the Kaimoku Sho (On the opening of the eyes)” and “the Kanjin no Honzon Sho (The object of devotion for observing the mind in the fifth five-hundred year period).” It was also during his exile on Sado, in 1272, that he inscribed the first Gohonzon, the mandala that he intended as a graphic representation of the essence of the Lotus Sutra.
Nichiren spent the rest of his life at Minobu, where he and his disciples erected Kuonji Temple and he continued writing and training his disciples. In 1282, Nichiren died in Edo (present-day Tokyo). The Japanese imperial court awarded Nichiren the honorific designations “Nichiren Daibosatsu (Great Bodhisattva Nichiren)” in 1358 and “Rissho Daishi (Great Teacher Rissho) in 1922.
Saicho was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the early Heian period (794-1192) and the founder of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Saicho was born in Omi province in 767. Being the descendant of Chinese immigrant family, Saicho’s worldly name was Mitsunoobito Hirono. He entered the priesthood at Kokubunji Temple in Omi province when he was 14 and was given the name, Saicho.
At the age of 19, he was ordained at Todaiji Temple in Nara, but he was disenchanted with the worldliness of the Nara priesthood. In 788, he founded a small temple, Ichijo Shikanin (present Enryakuji Temple) on Mt. Hiei, where he trained himself for 12 years until he attained enlightenment. This 12 years of seclusion at Mt. Hiei has become a system to be retained in positions in the monastery up to the present time.
In 804, Saicho was sent to china, where he mastered the four teachings of En (perfect teaching), Mitsu (esotericism), Kai (precepts) and Zen (meditation). After returning to Japan, he founded the Tendai sect of Japan with the backing of Emperor Kanmu.
His writings include “the Sange Gakusho Shiki (Rules for Tendai students),” “the Kenkairon (Treatise elucidating the precepts)” and “the Naisho Buppo Kechimyakufu.” He died at Chudoin Temple in Mt. Hiei in 822. 44 years after his death, he was awarded the posthumous title of Dengyo Daishi.
Daisetz Suzuki was a great philosopher, who introduced the highly crystallized concept of Zen to the western world. He was born in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1870. While studying at Tokyo University, he took up Zen practice at Engakuji Temple in Kamakura, where he lived a monk’s life. He studied Zen under the Zen monk, Soen, and given the name Daisetsu, meaning “Great Simplicity.”
Suzuki intended to introduce Zen to the West, acting as a bridge between East and West. What he wanted was the unity of East and West, for which he accomplished a great feat of translating Zen texts into English. Suzuki wrote a translation of “the The Tao Te Ching,” a Chinese classic text, and then “the Daijo Kishinron (the Awakening of Mahayana Faith).” In 1907, Suzuki published his first original book in English, “the Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism.” His had a great influence on intellectual persons in the western world. During the ear of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, the world of Zen, which was introduced by Suzuki, inspired adoration for Oriental world among the westerners.
Suzuki kept practicing Zen over a lifetime, and thought and talked of deep-rooted social problems including races, religions and racial disputes through the quest for the spirit of Zen.