Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Shōrin-in – The Temple where a Historic Debate Took Place

Situated at the foot of Mt. Hiei, most temples in Ōhara (大原) belong to the Tendai sect. However, Shōrin-in (勝林院) is different. While the teachings of the Tendai sect are taught at Shōrin-in, it is a temple where people chant the name of Amida Buddha, a practice of the Pureland sect. In the past, Shōrin-in used to have four sub-temples. However, only Hōsen-in (宝泉院) and Jikkō-in (実光院) have survived the test of time.

Shōrin-in was erected by Jigaku Daishi (慈覚大師) in the Heian period (794 – 1185) as Enryaku-ji‘s training ground for Buddhist hymns (Shōmyō, 声明) in 835.

Together with the Raigō-in (来迎院), it was referred to as the Gyozan Daigen-ji (魚山大原寺) that thrived as a temple focused on chanting the Buddha’s name.

Why is the name of the temple Gyozan (魚山)? Because Gyozan is the sanctuary for Buddhist hymns in China, where Jigaku Daishi mastered the hymns. With the temples established to pass down Shōmyō, Gyozan was added in front of the temple’s name.

However, Shōrin-in was caught in the internal conflicts of Enryaku-ji. As a result, the temple was desecrated. Fortunately, in 1013, Jigaku Daishi’s disciple Jakugen (寂源) revived the temple and invited Hōnen (法然), the founder of the Japanese Pureland sect, to hold a debate on Buddha’s Pureland sect’s teachings known as Ōhara Mondō (大原問答) at Shōrin-in in 1186.

Since then, the temple has suffered from several fires. The current temple was reconstructed in 1778. The temple’s main image, Amida Buddha, perfectly depicts the Pureland sect’s teaching being spread in Shōrin-in!

The Famous Ōhara Mondō in Japanese Buddhism History

The reason why debates were required at the time is that the Pureland sect was a new Buddhist school.

The idea of the Pureland sect is simple. Any kind person who has accumulated a lot of good deeds can be welcomed into Amida Buddha’s Pureland if one can continuously focus on chanting the Buddha’s name (which is quite hard if you think about it).

Compared to other Buddhist sects, the Pureland sect’s way of achieving enlightenment is the simplest. Many commoners, therefore, switched to the Pureland sect.

Obviously, this upset some monks of other sects who had undergone difficult training. They just couldn’t accept the idea that one could be born into the Pureland by simply chanting the Buddha’s name.

Therefore, a large debate of 380 eminent monks vs. Hōnen was held. It is said that Hōnen responded to the 12 tricky topics perfectly, which set the groundwork for the Pureland sect in Japan. Being impressed by Hōnen’s understanding of Buddhism, the 380 eminent monks believe he is the reincarnation of Mahasthamaprapta, the Bodhisattva of wisdom.

Gaining faith in the power of chanting the Buddha’s name, the monks who joined the debate chanted ‘Amida Buddha’ for three days and three nights in the Hondō after the debate.

The Main Hall – Hondō (本堂)

Before you enter Shōrin-in, prepare and clear your mind as if you are stepping into Amida Buddha’s Pureland. This is because the entire temple was designed to intimate Amida Buddha’s world.

Ⓒ 寶泉院

So as you make your way to the main worship hall that enshrined Amida Buddha, it is just like you are on your way to meet the real Buddha!

In fact, during the Ōhara Mondō debate, it is said that the hands of the Amida Buddha statue in the Hondō were glowing, indicating his approval of the truthfulness of Hōnen’s statements. The statue was thus referred to as the Amida Buddha Evident the Teaching of the Pureland sect (Shōko no Amidanyorai, 証拠の阿弥陀如来).

The current statue was remade in 1736 after a fire destroyed the original statue in the same year. As a training ground for Buddhist hymns, the recording of the hymns is played in the Hondō.

Also, remember to check out the transom and the curved wooden support around the beam of the worship hall. The wood carving is just splendid.

Other Important Cultural Properties in Shōrin-in

Ⓒ 大原観光保勝会

The bell tower at the right of the entrance was donated by Kasuga no Tsubone (春日局), the most powerful woman in the Edo castle at the beginning of the Edo period. In fact, the bell tower isn’t the only architecture that Kasuga no Tsubone ordered to be restored in 1633. The main worship hall was also renovated to pray for the mother of the 3rd Shogun of Tokugawa Shogunate.

The bell dates from 1316.

At the far back of the temple, there is a small shrine called Sannōsha (山王社) that enshrines the guardian god of Shōrin-in. Next to it, the small Kannon-dō (観音堂) enshrines Kannon Bodhisattva.

Close to the Kannon-dō, a stone pagoda was constructed in the late Kamakura period. Inside the pagoda, an entire volume of the Sutra Of Casket Seal (一切如来心秘密全身舎利宝筺印陀羅尼経) is stored.

Furthermore, the grave of Saiin-hosshinnō (最胤法親王) is at the back of Hondō. Born as a member of the Imperial family, he later chose to become a monk in Sanzen-in and then the chief priest of Enryaku-ji, in other words, the head of the Tendai sect.

Tip: If you visit the temple in late spring to early summer, check out the trees around the ponds in Shōrin-in. You might be able to spot some Moria frog eggs!

Shōrin-in’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
  • From the bus stop, Ōhara (大原), it is around a 10-minute walk.

Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Ōhara

Click the photo to find out more information about Ōhara!

In addition to Shōrin-in, a couple more temples in Ōhara are worth your time.

In our Ōhara article, we have also included a couple of dining options for lunch or dinner and general information about the spiritual village. You will also find a recommended itinerary you can follow for a day in Ōhara!

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