In between visiting the great Buddha and Hase-Kannon Temple, we also checked out some of the smaller temples of Kamakura. Like many of the small temples I’ve visited, though the pictures are not as spectacular as the famous ones, their history reveals so much about the area I’m visiting. These temples are worth visiting for their insight into the past alone.
These temples are actually a perfect pair in terms of history, as both tell the tale of Kamakura Buddhism, namely the tale of the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, Nichiren himself. Both temples were run by disciples to Nichiren. The first, shuzen-ji (修禅寺), was the home of a devout desciple of Nichiren, whos residence was made into a temple upon his death. The second temple was originally the residence of someone keeping Nichiren’s desciple prisoner, but was converted to Nichiren buddhism and created the temple.
The first temple, Shuzen-ji (修禅寺) was on the way to the Great Buddha. It was deserted and I couldn’t get a stamp, but when we walked around the back of the temple we discovered several surfboards. As it was a rather windy day, I have a sneaking suspicion that the monk had snuck off to catch some waves. Can’t say I blame him, Kamakura bay looks perfect for surfing. From this point it was ‘surfing temple’ in my head.
The owner of Surfing temple had tried to convert his lord to Nichiren Buddhism and as a result was ordered to abandon his faith. He had resolved to kill himself on the anniversary of Nichiren’s death but his lord fell ill and needed his help. Shijo Kingo Yoritomo, for that was his name, was well versed in medicine and nursed his lord back to health. He was granted three times the land and forgiven his attempts at conversion as a result. His house became a temple when he died.
The second temple belonged to a man named Yadoya Mitsunori. To understand this temple one needs to know a little about Nichiren himself so let’s have a brief look at his life.
Nichiren studied a variety of schools of Buddhism but became convinced that none were the right path. He read the lotus sutra during his studies and decided that its study was the only way to attain enlightenment. He founded his own school and began to petition the government to ban all other forms of Buddhism because they were not ‘correct’. Clearly this did not make him any friends and he was summoned for questioning in 1271. He was kidnapped by a group of scholars who tried to behead him but stopped when they witnessed a great glowing orb in the sky that appeared like the moon. He was exiled several times throughout his life for insulting other buddhist sects and eventually went into voluntary exile in 1274 because the government had ingored his treatise 3 times.
The second temple, Kosokuji (光則寺), was owned by a man named Yadoya Mitsunori. He was imprisoning a disciple of Nichiren while Nichiren was in exile, however, this punishment led to the owner converting to Nichiren buddhism and leaving his house to become a temple upon his death.
The stone in the middle of the temple garden has the poem ‘Ame ni mo Makezu’ 雨にも負けず which means ‘do not be defeated by the rain‘. Certainly Nichiren was determined not to be defeated by those that disagreed with his teachings and succeeded in founding a sect of Buddhism that still operates today. Read the full text of the poem here.
These two temples taught me about a sect of Buddhism I had only heard of. Though this post only covers the life of Nichiren and not the history of his sect, I think its a good place to start in looking at this strand of Buddhism. I haven’t even attempted to delve into scripture as I can’t pretend to know anything about Buddhist texts and interpretation.