The Byodo-in Temple

(平等院)
#byodoin #uji #mappo #pheonixhall

The Byodo-in Temple(平等院)

One may wonder, why Fujiwara Yorimichi (藤原 頼通, 994-1074), the chief advisor to the Emperor, decided to convert a villa of his father into the temple exactly in year 1052. The answer to this question may be the following.
According to Buddhist teachings this year was beginning of Mappo(末法), the period of 10 000 years during which Dharma (Buddhist cosmic law and order) will descend into chaos and society will morally degenerate. Therefore it was believed that it will become impossible to reach moral level that would allow people to rebirth into the Pure Land Paradise granted by Amitabha Buddha(阿弥陀如来). Being acutely aware of these facts, Fujiwara Yorimichi maybe tried to confront this unpleasantly looking future by creating a copy of Pure Land Paradise here, in Uji. It is hard to tell if this was his main motivation or not ,but whatever his motives were the result was that with the beginning of Mappo period the era of Byodo-in Temple was too.
I do not know if Yorimichi got to Amitabha´s Paradise or not, but what I do know is that thanks to his efforts we can still enjoy one of the most beautiful scenic views coming from the perfection of Heian Period culture.


The Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂The Amitabha Hall)

The Amitabha Hall was built on the artificial island in the Aji-ike Pond. The hall came to be called the Phoenix Hall during the Edo period, as it has two Chinese phoenixes on the rooftop and the visual aspect of the entire structure reminded people of a bird spreading its wings.  


The mythological Chinese phoenix is a composition of body parts borrowed from a many different animals and birds. Depending on the interpretation, you can find parts of turtle, snake, fish, swallow and mixture of other birds in it. Its head represents the sky, eyes the sun, back the moon, wings the wind, feet the earth and tail the planets. The bird itself embodies the power from heavens and is considered to be a symbol of the highest purity.


As mentioned above, in case of Byodo-in´s Phoenix Hall this all goes even further. The body of bird is represented by the central part and gabled corridors stretched many meters on both sides are regarded as wings. The wing-corridors are of no real practical use and are present mainly as the aesthetical tools. Their purpose is to release the overall gravity of structure and to add some adequate elegance to it. Together with one more corridor in the rear part, which is a passage in shape of imaginary tail, the illusion of phoenix´s silhouette becomes more or less clear.


Inside of the Phoenix Hall

The worshiped Amitabha Tathagata sits calmly on the shumidan (octagonal Buddhist platform with mother-of-pearl inlay – called Raden in Japanese) in the middle of the room. The structure of his 3m high body represents the perfect human ideal as it is perceived in Buddhism. The head with gracefully rounded face with slightly opened eyes and lightly closed lips is followed by elegant neck. The three lines on the neck are the Three Sagely Paths, that are proof of his accomplished enlightenment on his way to becoming the real Buddha himself. The upper part is gently balanced by his sloping shoulders and the perfection of his posture is completed by the position of his legs and hands. Sitting with his legs crossed, his hands are placed on his softly shaped knees, with fingers joined in the highest position of spiritual mudra gesture, which symbolizes his vow of redemption.
The sculpture was made by famous Japanese sculptor Jocho Busshi. His Amida in the Phoenix Hall is considered to be his masterpiece. He reached perfection in the technique called Yosegi zukuri, which means joined block construction of a statue or simply an assembled-wood technique. As the description implies the wooden parts are joined to create a statue. Thanks to this technique the shape of statue is well-balanced. The space is flooded by the feeling of mercy and compassion Amida releases and everybody who enters is immediately approached by the intimacy of his kind-hearted presence.
The sculpture was made by famous Japanese sculptor Jocho Busshi. His Amida in the Phoenix Hall is considered to be his masterpiece. He reached perfection in the technique called Yosegi zukuri, which means joined block construction of a statue or simply an assembled-wood technique. As the description implies the wooden parts are joined to create a statue. Thanks to this technique the shape of statue is well-balanced. The space is flooded by the feeling of mercy and compassion Amida releases and everybody who enters is immediately approached by the intimacy of his kind-hearted presence.


The Walls with Bodhisattvas on Clouds

There are fifty-two statues of Bodhisattvas on clouds. They are sometimes also described as Apsaras; beautiful, supernatural female beings of the clouds and waters. Many of them are playing different musical instruments or dancing and some of them are just sitting in devoted prayer. Each of them was sculptured from a single piece of Japanese cypress. Although only traces of paint remained on them, it seems that they have been originally lacquered in a variety of colors. They clearly contrast with Amida statue and complete the atmosphere of the Pure Land Paradise. They all have status of national treasures and most of the original ones can be found in the Byodo-in Museum, where they can be seen from close range. All of them are sculptured in a very dynamical and elaborate manner.


Pure Land Garden

The garden of Pure Land around the Phoenix Hall sketches in perfectly an original garden type of the Heian Period and gives altogether clear image of how the Heian nobles pictured paradise in their minds. In case of Byodo-in temple the perfection was reached on a fully developed scale and started to spread as an ideal model throughout the country.

Thanks to the precise restorations, even we can now fully taste the scenery envisioning the image of the Pure Land Paradise.We can also understand,at least to a certain extent, what place were the aristocrats actually dreaming of and what was it they were longing for so eagerly. No wonder that Minamoto Yorimasa (1106–1180), a prominent Japanese poet, chose this garden to fulfill his obligation and committed ritual suicide right in the middle of the garden.

In a way we can take a look at Phoenix Hall of Byodo-in Temple anytime we want. Ten Yen coin with its engraved picture of Phoenix Hall does not take much space and fits in any pocket. It cannot of course equal the real feeling of direct experience but somehow the taste of Uji is still there.


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