Located next to other famous temples, Shōrin-in has an important place in the history of shōmyō, Tendai Buddhist chanting, that was nurtured in the temples of rural Ōhara. The first training hall for shōmyō in Japan, Shōrin-in’s formal name is Gyozan Ōhara-dera. Though Shōrin-in is often overlooked due to the fact that the exterior of its main hall can be easily seen without entering the precincts, this temple contains some gorgeous Buddhist statuary within its single hall and was once the site of a great doctrinal debate between famous monks almost a thousand years ago. Follow the beckoning golden light of Shōrin-in’s shining Amida Buddha and take a look inside.
This temple contains some gorgeous Buddhist statuary within its single hall and was once the site of a great doctrinal debate between famous monks almost a thousand years ago.
The only building left standing on the precincts, the main hall at Shōrin-in was reconstructed in 1778 and houses the principle image of worship, a large statue of Amida Buddha that makes a grand impression, visible through the hall’s central entrance from the outside shining gold and beckoning visitors along the path towards the temple, which also sports some impressive wooden carvings in the eaves of birds and flowers. In addition to the large statue of Amida Nyorai the main hall flanked by the Immovable Wisdom King Fudō Myō’ō and Heavenly King Bishamonten, this temple also has several other interesting pieces lined up in the back, from Fugen Bosatsu astride a weathered white elephant to the prayer tablet of Gō-hime (Oeyo), the Warring States period princess and mother of the third Tokugawa Shogun.
Amida Nyorai Zazō
The statue of the seated Amida Buddha (Amitābha, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light) dominates Shōrin-in’s main hall. A rope made of five colored threads woven together hangs down in front of the altar and is connected to Amida Buddha’s hands, allowing those who are praying to hold the rope and be connected to the divinity. First made in 1013 and said to be created by Kōshō, a famed Buddhist sculptor of the mid-Heian period, this Amida Buddha’s body was recreated after fires in the Edo period, and its benevolent expression has been looking down on visitors for five hundred years. Due to the story of The Ōhara Debate, this statue is known as the “Amida of Proof”.
Ennin (794-864), posthumously known as Jikaku Daishi, was one of the monks famous for strengthening the practices of Tendai Buddhism in Japan after it was brought over from China, and is credited with bringing over the practice of shōmyō, Tendai Buddhist chanting. In 1013, Shōrin-in was established by Ennin’s ninth generation disciple, the Tendai monk Jakugen, (secular name Minamoto no Tokinobu), the eighth son of the Heian period Minister of the Left, Minamoto no Masazane. Alongside Raigō-in, Shōrin-in served as a training hall for shōmyō, a style of Tendai Buddhist chanting.
In 1186, Shōrin-in was the host of what would later be called The Ōhara Debate. In those days it was common for monks to meet and discuss the philosophical points of Buddhist law amongst themselves, and in this particular meeting Kenshin, a Tendai monk who lived in seclusion in Ōhara, had called upon Hōnen, (who would later go on to found Pure Land Buddhism), to debate the merits of the nenbutsu practice, which promised salvation to the Pure Land of Amitabha to those who simple called upon the divinity in sincerity. Hōnen-in invited the monk in charge of reconstructing Tōdai-ji in Nara, Chogen, who arrived with an entourage of disciples curious to hear, and other Tendai scholars and Ōhara priests made it a large gathering that questioned Hōnen on the scriptures and support for the nenbutsu for a whole day before Kenshin, seized with passion, began to lead everyone in chanting the nenbutsu for what legends say was three days and three nights.
During the Edo period, Shōrin-in was home to four affiliated monk’s quarters, and the two remaining, Hōsen-in and Jikkō-in, are now open as sub-temples. The main hall and belfry are classified as Kyoto Tangible Cultural Properties, and the temple bell and the Hokyoin-to, a stone monument, are Important Cultural Properties.
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