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Eihei-ji Temple

By Devik Balami at
Eihei-Ji Temple

Eihei-Ji temple is the Buddhist temple of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. This Buddhist temple is located about 15 km east of Fukui in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. The English translation of the word Eihei-Ji means the Temple of Eternal Peace.

This Buddhist temple, Eihei-Ji temple was founded by Eihei Dogen, who spread Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan during the 13th century. Later after the demise of Eihei Dogen, his ashes were kept in the Joyoden, the founder's Hall at Eihei-Ji Temple.

Basically, Eihei-Ji is a training monastery and currently, more than two hundred monks and nuns reside in this monastery. The iconography in the buildings may confuse the newcomers because of the focus of the architecture is on the Zen's Mahayana tradition. The visitors will see the statues of four kings guard named Shitenno at the Sanmon, Buddha statues of past, present, and future Buddhas at the main altar of the Buddha hall. The Hatto displays Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, and four white lions; the Yokushitsu houses Baddabara while the Sanshokaku house the statue of Hotei; and the Tosu displays Ucchusma.

Historical accounts of the Eihei-Ji

During the mid 13th century Eihei-Ji Dogen was founded by Eihei-Ji with the name of Sanshoho Daibutsuji in the woods of rural Japan. He appointed a successor but later after his demise, there was a hot dispute on the term of the abbot. Until 1468, Eihei-Ji was not held by the current Keizan line of Soto but it was held by the line of Dogen's Chinese disciple Jakuen. Later in the mid 15th century, the Keizan line took ownership and responsibility of the temple.

During the late 16th century, disciples of Ikko-shu attacked and burned the temple and also the surrounding buildings. The temple was also destroyed due to the fire several times. Therefore the oldest standing structure in the temple dates from the late 18th century.

Features of the Eihei-Ji Temple

The temple overall area covers about three lakhs and thirty thousand square meters. The Buddha Hall or Butsuden houses Buddha statues of the past, present, and future Buddhas. These are Amida Butsu, Shakyamuni Butsu, and Miroku Bosatsu. They are standing from right to left respectively.

Some of the structures of the temple are the gate or Sanmon, lecture hall or Hatto, Priest's/ meditation hall or Soda, kitchen or Daiky-in, yokushitsu and Tosu. Apart from these structures, there are other structures also. The Shidoden or Memorial Hall contains thousands of tablets for deceased laypersons. The Founders Hall of Joyoden contains the ashes of Dogen and his successors. Their images are served food daily as if they are living teachers. The Kichijokaku or the visitor's center is the largest building in the temple complex. It is a large four-storey modern building for laypersons, with kitchen, bath, sleeping rooms and meditation hall. The temple also houses bronze bell that dates to early 14th century.

Training at the temple

In the present context, the temple is the main training center for Soto Zen Buddhism. The standard training for a priest in Eihei-Ji s from three months to a two year period of practice. This training is in communion with all other Soto Zen temples and meditation centers.

Fukuyama Taiho Zenji serves as the head priest at the temple and also at the Sotoshu. About two hundred or two hundred fifty priests and nuns are undertaking the residential training. Another important aspect of the temple's fundraising program is soliciting monks to get honorary titles. The titles are leveled to four dharma ranks or Hokai. There are some time requirements of months or years between ranks. The last rank in becoming a priest is Zuise. It is recorded that a Zuise pays an amount of 50,000 yen to each temple. The monk is then considered to be an Osho (priest and teacher).