“IKKYUJI Temple” – A ZEN temple where one of the most famous monk spent his later years

酬恩庵一休寺 (SHUON’AN IKKYUJI Temple) where “一休宗純 (IKKYU SOJUN)” spent his later years.

 

The temple is located at 京田辺 (KYO TANABE) City in KYOTO Prefecture. 一休宗純 (IKKYU SOJUN) is one of the most famous Buddhism monk in Japan as well as 最澄 (SAICHO) and 空海 (KUKAI). This temple is where he spent his later years. IKKYU was born in 1394 and died in 1481. He was a monk at 大徳寺 (DAITOKUJI Temple) of 臨済宗 (RINZAI Sect) which is one of 禅 (ZEN) schools of Japanese Buddhism. The reason why he is so famous in Japan is because “一休さん (IKKYU SAN)”, the anime which is modeled after him is very popular and watched by most of Japanese kids.

 

 

 

Who is 一休宗純 (IKKYU SOJUN)?

 

一休宗純 (IKKYU SOJUN):

  • 1st Feb 1394 – 12th Dec 1481.
  • Place of birth: KYOTO
  • Cause of death: Malaria
  • Period: 室町時代 (MUROMACHI Period)
  • Occupation: Monk, Poet

 

It is said that he was descended from imperial family, and his grave at 酬恩庵 (SHUON’AN) is managed by 宮内庁 (Imperial Household Agency). Therefore, 菊の御紋 (the Imperial chrysanthemum crest) is arranged at his mausoleum.

 

 

 

It is also said that his mother was from FUJIWARA family which had played the major role in 平安時代 (HEIAN Period), thus IKKYU was born at the family with a historical background.

 

Since his childhood, IKKYU had been very clever and defeated adults in argument with his wit, which has been a legend that passed down through generations.

 

 

He was unprecedented, eccentric, and freewheeling, and lived a crazy life. He had strong rebellious spirit and broke most of the Buddhist precepts. His way of life which was very human without concern for rules or formality gained sympathy from a lot of people, and his witty stories became the basis of 一休咄 (IKKYU’s Sayings) appeared in EDO Period which is the original story of the anime of “一休さん (IKKYU SAN)”. It is very amazing that his witty stories have been passed down through 600 years from 1394 till now.

 

History of 酬恩庵 (SHUON’AN)

 

酬恩庵 (SHUON’AN) where IKKYU spent his later years used to be called 妙勝寺 (MYOSHOJI Temple), and built as a ZEN training hall during KAMAKURA Period by 大應国師 (DAIO KOKUSHI), who was a ZEN monk. He built this ZEN training hall after he had learnt ZEN from 虚堂和尚 (Priest KIDO) in China. After that, it burned by the fires of war and it kept down, but IKKYU rebuilt it in 1455 ~ 1456 and named it SHUON’AN. He spent his later years, and after he died when he was 88 years old, his bones were placed here and it has been watching over us even at the present day. This is why this temple is called “IKKYU JI Temple”.

 

What are the things placed at SHUON’AN?

 

There are 七堂伽藍 (SHICHIDO GARAN / Complete seven-structured temple compound) placed at SHUON’AN. 伽藍 (GARAN) originally means a garden or forest where practitioner of austerities live in India, but in China and Japan it means the buildings inside temple where monks live. One GARAN must have seven buildings and it is called SHICHIDO GARAN.

 

Seven buildings generally consist of 塔 (tower), 金堂 (main hall), 講堂 (lecture hall or auditorium), 鐘楼 (bell tower), 経蔵 (scripture house), 僧房 (priest’s living quarter), and 食堂 (dining hall). However, the definition differs by the school of Buddhism and in some schools it means 中堂 (central hall), 金堂 (main hall), 東金堂 (east main hall), 西金堂 (west main hall), 南円堂 (south hexagonal or octagonal hall), 北円堂 (north hexagonal or octagonal hall), and 講堂 (lecture hall or auditorium). Or in another school it means 山門 (main gate), 仏殿 (great Buddha hall), 法堂 (lecture hall), 僧堂 (priest’s hall), 庫裏 (monastery kitchen), 浴堂 (bathing hall), 西浄 (toilet). SHUON’AN has 庫裏 (monastery kitchen), 浴堂 (bathing hall), and 鐘楼 (bell tower).

 

 

 

In addition, what is special about this temple is that it has the mausoleum of IKKYU and 枯山水 (KARESANSUI) right at the back of this mausoleum.

 

What is 枯山水 (KARESANSUI)?

 

枯山水 (KARESANSUI) means “Japanese rock garden”, “dry landscape garden” or “ZEN garden”. It is the Japanese traditional style of garden which expresses the landscape of mountains and rivers without using any water. For example, instead of using water, the river or pond are expressed with white sand, gravels, and pebbles. If you see a bridge crossing these pebbles or sands, it means the water is expressed under the bridge. The pattern of gravels and pebbles express the water surface. This style of garden with abstract expression is often seen at ZEN temples of MUROMACHI Period.

 

SHUON’AN uses the grave of IKKYU and the nature nearby as 借景 (SHAKKEI / scenic backdrop), and it also has a great silence. Although this temple is located in KYOTO Prefecture, it is not in the center of KYOTO and a little different from the typical imagery of KYOTO which people usually have in mind. Even if you don’t visit the center of KYOTO where a lot of people gather, you can be intoxicated with its simple silence. Although busy KYOTO is also a nice place to visit, but silent KYOTO like here also has another aspect that you will be attracted. Going down to this place where you can only hear songs of birds and sounds of insects flying doesn’t mean you are taking a step backward, but it is the trip you dare to feel the real silence and peace, and SHUON’AN is the best place to get that sense.

 

 

 

Fresh green color of Japanese maple leaves

 

SHUON’AN has a lot of Japanese maple trees. As you might know, Japanese maple trees change the color of their leaves beautifully in autumn, but the fresh green leaves of them are also quite beautiful. This is the place where I want to visit season by season. IKKYU might have seen this seasonal beautiful scenery as well.

 

 

Live with 禅 (ZEN)

 

The Chinese character of 禅 (ZEN) means “to express the simplicity”. 座禅 (ZEN Meditation), one of the ascetic practices of ZEN school of Buddhism, is to shut out all the idle thoughts from your mind and just focus on yourself. It is as if you take off your clothes one by one respectfully and express what is inside of yourself, or release yourself.

 

When I kept viewing its KARESANSUI dissolved in the nature with my heart calmed down, I felt like the river actually flowed there. This is the place where you can spend a quiet time just for yourself. Now, let’s take a train to visit here.

 

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