Manpuku-ji Temple (萬福寺)
If you want to have a taste of Chinese Zen Buddhism culture Manpuku-ji, temple is the right place to go. Something different and surprising awaits you in here and the originality of this temple will strike you from the very entrance.
History and Religion
The temple was founded in 1661 by a Zen master of Chinese Obaku sect(黄檗), the priest Ingen (隠元:1592 - 1673). After his visit to Shogun, Ingen managed to get a land and built the temple in the style used in contemporary Ming Dynasty China. He brought with him from China not only Obaku Sect doctrine but also many artisans who helped him to spread many aspects of this new form of Buddhism in many different ways. He had a big influence on traditionally rooted disciplines such as calligraphy and the way of drinking tea etc. Ingen also popularized drinking of Sencha tea (緑茶, the green tea prepared from the whole tea leaves) among nobles and even among public. It was clearly different from drinking exclusively powdered green tea (抹茶) that was aristocratic standard of tea ceremony during those days.
Obaku Zen was the latest form of Buddhism that was introduced to Japan. And although the sect was always the smallest of the main three Zen sects in Japan, it never lost attraction that its mixture of styles offered. The sect continued to grow gradually and gained bigger and bigger appreciation.
The Entry Gate
It is easy to end up thinking that those creatures on the roof of So-mon Gate are just some fish but passing through the gatejust like that would be a mistake. Those fish-like things are actually special sea creatures from the Hindu mythology called Makara. They usually have head of an elephant or crocodile or other animal and body of fish or some animal connected to water. Makara´s function is basically being a vehicle of the goddess of river Ganga and the god of sea Veruna. Cannot help thinking what are such weird creatures doing there. But it seems that one of their other functions is also to protect the entrances.
The Tenno-do Hall
After passing through the San-mon Gate, the most important gate of Zen temples, the path in shape of diamonds will take you directly to the Tenno-do hall. The statue of laughing Hotei(布袋) sitting on his throne welcomes you at the entrance to the hall. His name allegedly means “Cloth Sack”. The face of this weird, bald and fat guy is kind of hard to read. The impression of his belly along with an expression of his face is something that one can hardly forget. The Hotei is originally Chinese folkloric deity. He has got only his sack, being poor but satisfied. He is also one of the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神：Shichi Fukujin) and rubbing his belly is supposed to bring wealth, good luck and prosperity; good luck with that.
After meeting this special lucky-charm grandpa you will probably notice Shitenno guardians (四天王) or the Four Heavenly Kings with a very short legs and big bellies. They are the protectors watching over the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west). Each of them is responsible for the one direction and fights any possible evil coming from there using an army of supernatural creatures. The protector of the north is Tamon-ten. He is the leader and he is the one who hears everything. The protector of the south is Zojo-ten, the one who brings good growth; then in the east it is Jikoku-ten, the God of music and finally in the west it is Komoku-ten, the one who sees all.
The Daiyuho-den (Main Hall)
Heading for the Daiyuho-den Hall you get right to the center of the whole complex. In the hall, the mats are always carefully prepared for the participants to services. The big Gyoban(魚板), a wooden fish used as a drum during rituals to keep the rhythm while chanting sutras, dominates the place in front of golden Shakyamuni - Gautama Buddha, “the enlightened one” - with his most devoted disciples Mahakashyapa and Ananda.
Mahakashyapa is the most skilled in ascetic practices. In Zen tradition, he was the first one to be acknowledged as a direct successor in lineage of teachers and disciples of Buddha. It is said that he reached the spiritual attainment where he was able to read the Buddha's acts without words. Ananda memorized the most of the sutras in the Sutta Pitaka, the first part of Tripitaka, which contains more than 10,000 sutras. Thanks to it he was titled as the Guardian of the Dharma
There are also 18 statues of Rakans around in the hall. Half of them lined up along the west wall and half along the east. The Rakans are Arhats, “perfected persons”, who either already reached the state of nirvana or significantly advanced on their way to Enlightenment.
Gyoban (Wooden Fish)
The Manpuku-ji temple offers a perfect opportunity to see “in action” not only the Gyoban, wooden fish or Chinese temple block standardly used during the services in temples, but also the original version of this wooden fish bell.
There are two types of the wooden fish. They are in many different sizes and shapes. The type usually used as instrument in temples is round, mainly made of wood. It is hollow inside with a ridge outside to help provide characteristic sound. Depending on the size and type of wood the sound can differ. Fish scales are carved on them, helping to enrich the sound. Two fish heads on the handle symbolize unity. They also gave the instruments its name. The fish, that never sleeps stands for wakefulness in Buddhism. This is something that is supposed to help the monks to concentrate on sutra.
The original type is in the exact shape of a real fish. It usually hangs outside of the halls being hit to announce everyday duties (meals, lectures, services...) to the monks. This was the first wooden fish from which evolved the round type used nowadays as instrument. The wooden fish in Manpuku-ji temple is probably the best examples of the original version still in use.
The services held in the main hall of Manpuku-ji temple regularly every day at the same time start with beating the wooden fish, the original one, which is outside of the hall. One of the monks comes to the fish, takes a huge wooden stick as big as a baseball bat and hits the fish in decided order to call the others for the services into the main hall. There they start with their chanting of sutras and use the standard wooden fish the way mentioned above. The services took about 35 minutes and being part of it was one of the strongest spiritual experiences I have ever had.