About the History of Muryōkoin

History of Muryōkoin and Shicchiin in Kōyasan

Early Years - the Heian Period

Our temple, Muryōkoin, consists actually of two temples, Shicchiin, which is the older one and Muryōkoin.

AmidaMuryōko means immeasurable light and refers to our Honzon or main deity, which is Amida Nyorai. Amida has in Buddhist iconography different meanings. With the teaching Mudra he is visualising the world as paradise or pure land.

AizenShichi is the transliteration of the Sanskirt word Siddi, meaning attainment. In the context of Buddhism attainments of continues practice are called Siddi. The Honzon of Shicchiin is Aizen-Myō-ō, the king of passion. He stands for the various types of practices in Vajranaya Buddhism as well as for the principle that everything is in itself pure. Practice has the power to turn passion into wisdom. For example, one attainment of practice can be the transformation of anger into compassion. Hence Shicchiin is the temple of attainment through Shingon practice.

"In" means a branch-temple, in our case a branch temple of the Kōyasan Shingon School.

Muryōkoin was founded by the fourth son of Shirakawa Emperor, Prince Kakuhō Shinō (1092-1153) during the Heian-Period. He became a monk and first abbot of Muryōkoin.

Shicchiin, which is linked to Muryōkoin, was built by Kangensōjō (854-925). In the Konjaku Monogatari as well as in the Heike-Monogateri it is told that Kangensōjō entered the cave at today's Gobyō to change Daishis robes, tonsure his head and repair his Nenju.

Sengoku Period - the Warring States Period

This period lasting from 1467 until 1573 was probably the most turmoil time in Japanese history. It is connected with many famous warrior personalities. Some of them became heroes and are still popular characters in todays manga culture. Most temples in Kōyasan show one or more seals, also called "Mon" in Japanese. Temples were granted to show these Mons, because they established some connection to one or more members of one of these often powerful and famous clans in Japan. So did both of our temples. The mons shown above are the seals of the Asano family from Hiroshima, from the house of Oda and from the famous warrior Uesugi Kenshin (from left to right).

Inyū (1453-1519) restored Muryōkoin. He was famous for his academic abilities. He had 2 famous students: Hōin Satoshi Toru, and Hōin Kiyo Shitane (1521-1600).

Uesugi Kenshin MemorialUesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) was the Daimyo (feudal lord) of the Echigo area and one of the most powerful war lords during this period. He was fighting many famous battles, like the one at Tedorigawa against Oda Nobunaga in 1576. He is often seen as a manifestation of Bishamonten, the god of war. When Uesugi Kenshin was around 40 years old, Hōin Kiyo Shitane became his spiritual teacher. He received initiation into the monkshood and the name "Kenshin" (new sword) at Kōyasan. He returned then back to Nigata to enter spiritual practice for one year. After finishing his practice, he came back to Kōyasan to receive Dembō Kanjo. Since Uesugi Kenshin became a Shingon monk, he followed a vegetarian diet and lived quite ascetic. Nevertheless he died from stomach cancer in 1578, while he was fighting Oda Nobunaga. At Okonoin you can visit a small memorial temple for Uesugi Kenshin, which is still maintained by Muryōkoin (picture above).

Oda Nobunaga-Portrait by Giovanni NIcolao by Giovanni Nicolao - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 1583 Seizon bo Gyokai, who was one of the supporting monks of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), became abbot of Shicchiin. Oda Nobunaga's dream was to reunite Japan. He was a eccentric leader and sticking out in Japanese society at that time. Which probably also led to his assassination in 1578 before he could complete his quest. This was continued by his follower Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finished by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Oda Nobunaga's grave can be found at Okonoin shortly before the bridge to Gobyo on the left side. This grave is maintained by our temple as well. At that time famous vassals of Oda Nobunaga, like Asano Ikeda, Ito Mori and Niwa Fukushima where all devotees and supporters of Shicchiin. Especially the link with the Asano Family from Hiroshima became very strong and is still alive today.

Nagamasa Asano by Unknown - 東京大学史料編纂所所蔵品。. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - ashes of Asano Nagasama (1547-1611) still remain in our temple. He was the brother in law of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was fighting in several campaigns for him, like the invasion of Korea. He was also appointed head of the five commissioners by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which was a very powerful administrative organ at that time.

Edo Period

detail of: Kuranosuke Harakiri no zu by 樵僊 Shōsen - 兵庫県立歴史博物館所蔵 Collection of the Hyōgo Prefecture Museum of History. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - Yoshio, also known as Oishi Kuranosuke (1659-1703), the chamberlain of the famous Ako clan of the Geishu branch of the Asano family, served at the memorial service of Lord Asano Naganori. He was the leader of the famous 47 Ronin in their vendetta revenging their Lord Asano Naganori. He committed Seppuko, ritual suicide, in 1703 and is the hero of Chūshingura, the Treasury of Loyal Retainers, one of the most famous historical stories in Japan.

Meiji Period until today

The Meiji Restoration marked a big change in Japanese society and history. The shift of Japanese society and its political system was initiated by influences from outside, as well as from inside. The US government pressured Japan to open the borders by sending Captain Perry and his black ships. On the other side a new emperor ascended the thrown, people started studying abroad, the Shogunate came to an end with the beginning of the rulership of the Meji emperor. On the end transformed Japan from a closed feudal society to an open market and industry oriented society. This period saw a lot of turmoil and the government tried to weaken the influences of the old feudal families. During this time Lord Asano Choisao-ko (1842-1937) from Hiroshima took refuge in our temple from the Meiji administration. With the society also Buddhism changed deeply. Monks were allowed to marry and live a normal family life. Although it was thought to weaken Buddhism through that, it helped Buddhism to survive in Japan and the period of family temples started.

In 1888 a catastrophe hit Kōyasan. After a hot and dry summer strong winds sparked a destructing fire. Nearly the whole Garan and many temples burned down. Muryōkoin and Shicchiin were destroyed too. For the ease of reconstruction both temples have been united since then and rebuilt at the current location. The garden was designed during the reconstruction process and our oldest buildings are still from that period.

With the opening of Japan, Japense people started to migrate to different countries in the world, especially to the USA and Hawaii. In the middle of the last century a Shingon Temple was found in Hawaii under the guidance of Muryōkoin.

ZenganGiusaniIn 1988 Habukawa Shodō was invited by Luigi Giussani to join the Rimini Meeting organised by Comunione e Liberazione. Since that year he is travelling every year to that meeting, talking about Mikkyō and what has Mikkyō in common with the mystical stream of Christianity. Also Shomyō, the special style of Sutra reciting in Kōyasan is performed. Our temple also started in that time to educate foreigners as priests. Today there are active priests from many countries around the world.

newHondoThe construction of our new Hondō, the main meditation hall, is finished and replaces the old Hondō, which has been serving our temple for 200 years. The old Hondō became not only too small, but has been quite drafty and cold in the winter. So it was decided to break it down and replace it. Already since April 2015 all our ceremonies are now held in the new Hondō, which was officially opened in June 2015.