Swanica explores Japan

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Engaku-ji temple is one of the five main Rinzai Zen temples in Kamakura and was founded by the great Hojo regent Tokimune, an ardent believer in Zen Buddhism. He is renowned for his autocratic methods of dealing with the envoys of Kublai Khan. Tokimone turned the Mongolian invasion into a distaster.

Tokimone assisted at the excavations for this temple. During the process he unearthed a stone box which was found to contain the "Engaku-kyo" -a section of the Buddha scriptures- hence the name of the temple. The site is an ideal one: a gently rising valley enclosed by the rockwalls of the green hills,

heavily shaded by majestic old trees and the feathery whispering of the bamboo groves.

This temple has always been a stronghold and sanctuary of Zen Buddhism. This sect teaches doctrines that every man may gradually purify his own soul and achieve the knowledge of Buddha through religious meditation and the gospel of silence.

Originally founded in India by the missionary priest Dharma in the year 513, Zen first reached Japan a year later, but the sect made no headway. However, at a Kamakura period that Buddhism finally spread all over Japan by the Chinese priest Eisai (who is considered the founder of Zen in Japan) who established these doctrines. They made a special appeal to the old warriors of ancient times and made a considerable contribution to the samurai ethic. The introspective philosophy of the Zen dogmas taught indifference to death and the manifold dangers and perils that beset life. This became a potent feature in the development of "bushido", or chivalry.

In 1282 the buildings of Engaku-ji were constructed. The grounds are on an extensive scale, comprising 500 acres of hill and valley; at that time the number of temples amounted to over fourty, of which barely half that number survive to the present day.

The sole construction that has been preserved intact from the Kamakua period and escaped all the catastrophes that demolished the neighboring structures is the Shariden and has been placed under special government protection (not open to visitors).


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