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.
Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the early Kamakura period (1192-1333) and the founder of the Jodo Shinshu of japanese Buddhism. Born in Hino (now a part of Fushimi, Kyoto) in 1173, Shinran had been a monk of the Tendai school of Buddhism at Mt. Hiei, where he studied for 20 years since he was at the age of nine. In 1201, Shinran met Honen and became his disciple. He arrived at the conviction that “Tariki Nenbutsu (reciting Buddhist invocation to takes refuge in the other power of Amida Buddha)” is the only way to lead us to the Pure Land.
Shinran together with the desciples of Honen spread this new doctorine in the streets of Kyoto, but their movement was banned by the Imperial court. Eight monks including Honen and Shinran were exiled. Shinran was sent to Echigo province (present-day Niigata Prefecture) and was stripped of his religious name.
After Shinran was pardoned, he left for Hitachi province (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture), where he spent 20 years being engaged in missionary works. He took a stand that he was neither a monk nor a layman.
In 1224, he authored his most significant text, “Kyogyoshinsho,” which is a series of selections and commentaries on Buddhist sutras pertinent to Pure Land Buddhism. The sayings of Shinran, “the Tannisho (the Lamentations of Divergences)” is still read by many people today.
In 1234, Shinran returned to Kyoto, where he died in 1263 at the age of 90. The Japanese imperial court awarded Shinran the honorific designations “Kenshin Daishi (Great Teacher Kenshin)” in 1876.
Saigyo was a famous Japanese poet of the late Heian period (794-1192). Born to a military family in 1118, he started his careear as an Imperial Guard to retired Emperor Toba at the age of 18. He was a handsome young man, who was both a good warrior and a good scholar. He came to be known in the political circles of the time, but for some unknown reasons, he quit worldly life to become a monk at the age of 23. Later he took the pen name “Saigyo” meaning Western Journey.
He did not belong to any sect of Buddhism and stayed in a hermitage in a deep mountain to seek for enlightment through writing waka poems. Being attracted by the beauty of nature, he made his temporary hermitage in the suberbs of Kyoto and Nara including Mt. Ogurayama in Saga, Mt. Kuramayama, a holy mountain of Yoshino and Mt. Koya, the sanctuary of the Shingon Buddhism. He also made a number of trips to visit temples and shrines in Shikoku and Ise.
94 poems of Saigyo’s work are collected in “the Shin Kokinshu.” His other important collections of poems are “Sankashu (Mountain Home Collection),” “Sanka Shinchu Shu,” and “Kikigakishu.” He died at Hirokawa Temple in Kawachi province (present-day Kanan-cho in Osaka Prefecture) in 1190.
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.
Gyoki was a Japanese Buddhism priest of Nara period. He was a charismatic monk of the ancient Japanese Buddhism. He was called by the honorific title of Gyoki Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Gyoki).
Gyoki was born in Kawachi province (present-day Osaka Prefecture) in 668. He studied Buddhism under the priest Dosho of hokoji Temple in Asuka, and took Buddhist vows at the age of 15. He also studied civil engineering under Dosho. Advocating hat Buddhism should be independent of the regal power, he propagated Buddhism for salvation of the suffering people. He also contributed to social welfare like building temples, roads, bridges, irrigation reservoirs. The Imperia court was afraid of his overwhelming influence on common people and clamped down on his activities blaming that he had violated the law to regulate priests and nuns.
However, when Emperor Shomu asked Gyoki to help raise funds to build Daibutsu (a great Buddha statue) in Nara, Gyoki accepted the emperor’s request, and immediately began fund-raising campaigns. He was recognized by the Imperia court and was given a rank of Daisojo (the Great Priest). At the age of 80, he had passed away at Sugawaradera Temple in Nara in 749 just before the consecrating ceremony for the statue took place.
The legends about Gyoki Bosatsu are referred to in many books such as “the Nihon Ryoiki,” “the Honcho Hokke Kenki” and “the Nihon Ojo Gokurakuki.” It is said that he might have drawn the oldest Japanese map, “Gyoki-zu.”
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.
Hashimoto Temple is a Koya-san Shingon temple located in Nara Prefecture. The priest Gyogi established this temple under the order of the Gensho Emperor.
Hashimoto Temple was burnt down once, but after reforming, it was transformed to the present place. It is also called Hashimoto-in because the former temple once had a bridge ('hashi').
Hashimoto Temple is one of the seven Tenporin temples. It is notable as the temple where the priest Ganjin was once resident. There is a 5.4m tall statue of the eleven-headed Kannon, which is the center of worship every 21st day of the month and during the Higan Hoyo, which takes place in spring and autumn.