Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nishi Honganji Temple


The Altar

The Nishi Honganji (or West Honganji) is the main temple of the Hongwanji-ha denomination of Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism in Japan. Shinran Sonin founded the Jodo Shin-shu (True Pure Land) sect during the mid Kamakura period and it became one of the largest and most influential schools in succeeding centuries. Over time, the Jodo Shin-shu sect was challenged by both interminable wars and warlords who were bent on controlling the country.  Oda Nobunaga, a military leader, finally succeeded with the help of Emperor Ogimachi in moving the group out of Kyoto in order to diminish its power. Later, in the 17th century, the sect was divided into two factions, effectively weakening its political influence. The Nishi Honganji faction are followers of Junnyo, the third son and successor of Kennyo, the 11th Monshu (spiritual leader) and descendant of Shinran. To this day, the Jodo Shin-shu sect has kept its large following intact. It is the largest of any sect in Japan. 


The Goeidō Hall (left) and the Amida Hall (right)

There are two main halls in the compound - the Goeidō and the Amida Hall, the latter of which is dedicated to the Amida Buddha, the most important Buddha in Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism. The Goeidō or Founder's Hall is consecrated to Shinran whose image is on the main altar. Though the altar is heavily gilded, it doesn't distract the mind. I felt at ease sitting on the tatami mat while admiring the beautiful altar.
   
Water Purification Ritual

It is important to observe the rules of decorum when visiting a temple (or church for that matter) even though you may profess a diferrent faith. For starters, dress appropriately. Remove shoes before entering the temple. Follow the purification ritual of  hand washing. Wash the right hand first, then the left. Carefully put ladle back so that the handle points down towards the ground.  Always check if taking photos inside the temple is allowed before you click away.

The Nishi Honganji was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 1994  The buildings we see today were constructed in the 17th century after a fire in 1617 razed the main halls to the ground.

The temple is open all year round. There is no entrance fee. It's a short walk from Kyoto Station. The address is:
60 Horikawa-dori
1-294 Shimogyu-ku
Kyoto

Hours of operation: 
5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October)
5:30 to 18:00 (May to August)
6:00 to 17:00 (November to February)

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Images by Charie

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