Caning helps you to relax at this world heritage temple

Caning helps you to relax at this world heritage temple
Hieizan Enryakuji temple
PHOTO: Shiga Biwako

Hieizan Enryakuji temple in Otsu is considered to be the place that sowed the seeds of Japanese Buddhism, as a significant number of prominent priests were trained and educated there and eventually went on to found various Buddhist sects around the country.

Enryakuji was established by the priest Dengyo Daishi Saicho in 788. It was designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994. It also annually organises the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei, where religious clerics of many faiths and from different parts of the world gather to pray for world peace. August marks the 30th anniversary of the first meeting held at the temple. Prior to the celebrations, we explored some of the splendors of the temple.

Ascetic devotion

A gentle spring breeze passes over the ornate stone garden of Jodo-in. It is regarded as the most sacred area in the temple as it is where the mausoleum of Dengyo Daishi is situated. Ascetic monks who protect the mausoleum are referred to as jishin. They are required to strictly follow Buddhist precepts, pledge to stay on the mountain for 12 years and devote themselves to serve Dengyo Daishi as if he were still alive.

The jishin thoroughly cleans Jodo-in with an assistant monk. This aspect of the ascetic training is referred to as "cleaning hell." Former jishin Soho Miyamoto says: "If you keep doing one thing for 10 to 12 years, you can only go forward half a step or one step at a time. That's what I've learned through the training."

An assistant monk draws an ornate pattern in the gravel one morning in early April. The ascetic training at Jodo-in is called “cleaning hell.” Leaving even a single stray leaf on the ground after completing garden duties is considered unacceptable.Photo: The Japan News/Asia News Network

Morning prayer

At the northernmost part of the broad precinct of Enryakuji is Yokawa Chudo, in which 5,000 small Kannon statues line the walls. The statues, resembling the main statue of Yokawa Chudo, called Sho-Kannon Bosatsu, represent donations from visitors.

Priests worship in front of the statues every morning to pray for the health, happiness and well-being of believers and their families.

Precious experience

At the Kojirin hall, which is open to the public, you can experience zen meditation and ritual transcription of Buddhist scriptures. While meditating, you control your body, breath and mind, and confront your inner self.

A monk prays in silence surrounded by about 5,000 small Kannon statues modeled on the main statue in the Yokawa Chudo hall.

You may be struck on the back by a cane, but it is not a warning. It helps relax your body, which can get stiff when you maintain the same posture for a long period of time.

A man in his 20s from Yokohama said, "I tried to concentrate by counting my breaths, but my mind strayed and I ended up thinking about other things."

People today are pressured by time, their jobs and various other matters. The temple offers people the opportunity to regain something precious, which is at risk from being lost

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