Eikan-do Temple

(永観堂)
#eikando #higashiyama

"The temple in a calm grove"

When I have a full free day, I often start one of my itineraries of Higashi-Yama, Eastern Hills, with a visit to the Silver Temple. Then I have a stroll in the relaxing atmosphere of Philosopher’s Walk. From here I go to Honen-in Temple, Anraku-ji Temple, and Otoyo Shrine. These three sites are located on one street parallel to Philosopher’s Path, along the mountain’s side. Sometime I enjoy a break in one of the coffee shop along the Path. After a rest, I walk to Eikan-do Temple and reach Nanzen-ji Temple by early evening. This side of the city is very special, due to the beauty of nature. The temples I mentioned above are built at the foot of the hills, using the natural landscape to enrich the gardens. Eikan-do Temple is nested at the foot of the hills, and long corridors and stairways connect the buildings. Eikan-do is very famous for the maple foliage in autumn. Red colour is preeminent, like flames liting the landscape of the garden. At night, there is an illumination event for few days during this season. Many people come to enjoy the temple’s garden and fall beauty.


Taho-to Pagoda amidst forest

Eikan-do Temple was originally called Zenrin-ji(禅林寺), the temple in a calm grove. It was founded in 856 as a Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism. During the 11th century, Eikan, a wise and very kind monk, shifted it towards Pure Land(Jodo) sect, as it is still today. Eikan rebuilt and enlarged the temple. He built also a hospital to help the poor and infirm people, and planted plum trees to use the fruits, which have curative properties. Eikan was very devoted to Amida Buddha(阿弥陀如来). He also introduced the “Nembutsu(念仏)”, the chanting of “Namu Amida Butsu(南無阿弥陀仏)”, easy to be understood and practised by people of inferior social class, as for long time Buddhism had been a sophisticated doctrine for the aristocracy.
One night, Eikan was chanting the Nembutsu and walking around the statue of Amida. Suddenly the statue started to walk with him. Eikan, astonished, stopped walking. And Amida turned the head back above his shoulder and said: ”Eikan, don t you come?” Later Eikan carved a statue of Amida with the head turned back to explain to others his experience, and to tell that Amida has big love for everybody, also for those who are late and slow in their approach to realization. To remind this episode, a statue of Eikan has been located on the back of that one of Mikaeri Amida. The devotees started to call the temple Zenrin-ji just “Eikan-do”, showing their respect and affection to the generous monk.


Courtyard garden

The temple was badly destroyed during the Onin War (1467 ? 1477). It was restored by the beginning of 16th century. The first building you enter is “Kakujudai”, and its shape forms an enclosed courtyard with a pond. The second building is “Ko-Hojo”, the Abbot’s Small Quarters. The sliding doors of the rooms are painted with scenes of nature upon a gold base. Follow the wooden corridors and enjoy discovering treasures of art’s work in each room. (Photos are not allowed). Inside the courtyard, you are in a different dimension of time and space. The carps in the little pond add a sense of tranquillity.


Imperial Messangers Gate and raked sand mound

In front of “Chokushi-Mon”, Imperial Messengers Gate, there is a raised sand rectangle, with raked designs. The gate has a beautiful arched roof, typical of “Kara-Mon”, Chinese Gate or South Gate. The Juoso-den building has five rooms with painted sliding doors, Buddhist statues. The “Dai-Hojo”, Abbots Large Quarter, is the last building of this courtyard. The central room has an altar with images of Amida, Seishi, and Kannon. The second room is the Abbot’s study. The corridor leads you to “Dai-Den”, Great hall, a big hall for worshippers. At the rear of this building the corridor continues to “Amida-do”, Amida Hall, here there is the “Mikaeri Amida”, Backward looking Amida statue. There are also other wooden statues of deities or monks. The ceiling and columns are painted with flowers and flying angels.  

Great Hall

Details of the ceiling


Dragon Path

Going back where the corridor splits into two stairways, you go to the “Kaisan-do”, Founder hall. Behind this Hall there is the roofed stairway up to the hill. The “Garyu-ro”, Dragon corridor, takes the name from its shape: it looks like a dragon in which you walk inside his long body! The steep steps finish at “Taho-to” Pagoda. From here you have a nice view of the temple below and part of the city.


Eikando ‘s buildings nested in the forest

The garden in the precincts is full of discoveries. On the South part there is a private kindergarten. The children are so lucky to attend school in this natural and historical environment. There is a small waterfall with a statue of Fudo-Myo underneath. Then you walk around the pond with its fine stone bridge. Carps colour the water. You can sit down on the red bench and have a break. The hills side and the buildings of the temple make a nice composition for your commemorative photos.


Fudo-Myo likes waterfall

Eikan-do, or as it was first named, Zenrin-ji, is really a temple in a calm grove. But despite of its name it never has been a Zen Temple. I wanted to visit a Zen temple, I continue my walk to Nanzen-ji, to finish my day of a variety of beautiful sites from the elegant Silver Pavillion to the magnificent Nanzen-ji, and its spirit of Zen.

The pond and arched bridge