Sekizan Zen-In

A Short History of "Sekizan Zen-In"

Sekizan Temple, founded in 868AD, belongs to the Tendai sect of Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei. The head master of the Tendai sect just before his time was named Jikaku-Daishi (Ennin). He had gone to Tang China to study Tendai Kyogaku and had stayed ten years. After twice failing in his attempts to sail back to Japan because of being blown back to China by seasonal winds, he had visited "Sekizan-Miyojin" in Santosho, China, and prayed for a safe return home. At last he returned to Hakata Port in September of 848, and after that, ever active, worked hard to bring to completion the unfinished works of his master, Dengyo-Daishi.

When Jikaku-Daishi (Ennin) was dying, he requested that his followers establish a temple in Japan to be named "Sekizan" so that a vow he had made in China when praying for a safe return would be kept.

Sekizan Temple is situated directly northeast of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, making it a guardian of the northeast direction, the direction from which evil influences were likely to come, it was thought, as was indicated by its being called "Omotekimon". The ceramic monkeys of the roofs of tow of the buildings are symbolic of evil being sent away because the Japanese word for monkey, saru, also means "go away". They face toward the Imperial Palace where another such monkey image is facing toward them, and theoretically they see and protect the entire intervening area. Though originally for the benefit of the Imperial Court, Sekizan gradually became a popular place for praying for the granting of personal desires.

Tendai Buddhism has its own special form of training through both mental and physical disciplines. A follower of Jikaku-Daishi named Priest So-o was its developer about eight hundred years ago. In memory of hios master's pilgramage to Gotai-san in China he devised a strict routine of one thousand days of mountain walking. A feature of this discipline is that from the 701st day to the 800th, in addition to the usual mountain walking, the priest must descend Mt. Hiei and come down to Sekizan Temple for prayers at its various alters. As this trek is especially arduous, it is called "Sekizan-Kugyo".

Recently, Priest Utsumi Shunsho was the eighth person since 1945, and about the 45th ever, to complete the 1000 days of training which was spread over a period of six and a half years and combined with other constant disciplines. Altogether he walked some 40,000 kilometers, about the distance around the earth at the equator.

Mt. Hiei is the holy place for most sects of Japanese Buddhism found in Japan today, as from here came the founders of other Buddhist sects, including Jodoshu, Jodo Shinshu, Zenshu, and Nichirenshu.

Situated next to Shugakuin, Sekizan's colorful maple trees in autumn have become an especially noted attraction of the area. Also many people come for its special Tendai ceremonies twice a month, or to make their individual prayers.

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