Ennin Goes to China

I found this small article in the Asahi Shinbun newspaper recently, and thought it was pretty cool. This talks about a rock inscription in China’s Henan Province bearing the name of a famous Japanese Buddhist monk of the Tendai sect, named Ennin (794-864, 円仁), who was a direct disciple of founder, Saichō and spent much time in China. His travel diaries are still an important source of information about China at the time. The good folks at the Tendai International have an overview of early Tendai history as well as famous disciples including Ennin. Quoting from their website:

The first Zasu or leader of the sect after Saicho, and Abbot of Hiei-zan Enryakuji (the chief temple of the order), was the monk Ennin. Born into the Mibu clan from the province of Shimotsuke, Ennin’s chief contribution to the development of the Tendai-shu came from a nine-year pilgrimage to China, where he both studied at Mt. T’ien T’ai, as well as received further esoteric teachings and instruction from the same schools where Kukai received the mikkyo rites of the Shingon school. Returning to Japan, Ennin developed Tendai esoteric ritual beyond the legacy received from Saicho, establishing the system of Tendai-specific esoteric rites known today as Taimitsu. Another significant practice which Ennin brought back from China was the chanting of the Nembutsu, the devotional repetition of the phrase, “Homage to Amida Buddha,” as a means of generating merit and ensuring rebirth in the “Western Paradise” of Amida Buddha, where conditions for the attainment of Enlightenment and Nirvana are optimal. The practice of both Taimitsu and Nembutsu thus became salient features of Tendai Buddhism in Japan.

My knowledge of Tendai history is rather poor, and Wikipedia and book sources are still somewhat lacking, but I hope to study more as Tendai and its early abbots are an important aspect of Japanese Buddhism still often overlooked. During the Classical Japan period (e.g. Heian and Nara Periods), the Tendai sect emerged to become the most influential sect through the hard work and contributions of men like Ennin who made the arduous journey to China and brought back new ideas and information. Though they me be overlooked today their contributions are still felt in later generations.

Namu Amida Butsu

P.S. I enjoy the Tendai Intl’s FAQ site as well, including this little gem:

1. Is daily practice necessary-I don’t have time?

Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, was apt to use both numbered lists and metaphors. The metaphor most used for his teachings was that of a boat. It was this boat that would take us across the sea of suffering to the shore of realization. It is this analogy that best answers your question. We suffer because our boat is off course and we are lost in the sea of suffering. How will you escape suffering if you don’t correct course and straighten the rudder at least once a day? Time is not something we “have” – it’s something we choose to take.

Funny this should come up after a recent post. ;)

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