Tenryū-ji, a Zen Oasis in Kyoto's Rich History

The Buddhist Channel, 14 June 2023

Kyoto, Japan -- This is an abode made in the likeness of heavenly perfection. Welcome to Tenryū-ji, a serene temple nestled in the heart of Kyoto's Arashiyama district, Japan. With a history dating back to the 9th century, this temple has witnessed the rise and fall of emperors, the transition of power, and the enduring spirit of Buddhism. Here the Buddhist Channel explores the fascinating story behind Tenryū-ji. Join us to discover the treasures it holds within its sacred grounds.

A Legacy of Zen and Royalty

In the 9th century, Tenryū-ji's site was home to Danrin-ji, the first Zen temple in Japan. Founded by Tachibana no Kachiko, the wife of Emperor Saga, it became a sanctuary for Buddhist teachings. Kachiko invited a renowned Rinzai Zen monk named Gikū Zenshi from China to join the temple, fostering a strong connection to Zen Buddhism.

In the 13th century, Danrin-ji fell into disrepair, and Emperor Go-Saga repurposed the land for his summer villa, known as the Kameyama Detached Palace. The villa received its name from the rounded shape of Mt. Ogura to the west, resembling a turtle. Generations of emperors, including Emperor Kameyama and Emperor Go-Daigo, found solace within its tranquil surroundings.

During the Muromachi Period in 1339, Shogun Ashikaga Takauji converted the palace into a Zen temple, honoring the late Emperor Go-Daigo. The eminent Zen master, Musō Soseki, served as the founding abbot, establishing the temple's original name as Ryakuō Shisei Zenji. However, due to objections from warrior monks on Mt. Hiei, it was eventually renamed Tenryū-ji.

Challenges and Rebirth

Under the patronage of the Ashikaga family and the Muromachi period government, Tenryū-ji flourished. Expanding to about 244 acres, the temple boasted approximately 150 sub-temples. However, as the power of the Ashikaga waned in the 15th and 16th centuries, the temple's fortunes followed suit. A series of devastating fires and political turmoil culminated in the temple's destruction during the Hamaguri Gomon Incident in 1864.

Despite the hardships, Tenryū-ji began to rebuild in the 20th century. The main temple building, Hōjō, was restored in 1900, followed by other important structures over subsequent decades. While many of the temple's buildings are relatively recent, the captivating landscape garden and the surrounding scenery remain timeless.

The Enchanting Garden

Tenryū-ji's garden, designed by Musō Soseki himself, dates back to the mid-14th century. This masterpiece of landscape architecture centers around the Sōgen Pond and utilizes the technique of shakkei, incorporating the surrounding mountains as borrowed scenery, creating an illusion of depth and harmony. Tenryū-ji garden is the oldest still in existence to use shakkei. Here, two mountains, Arashiyama and Kameyama, appear as part of this garden.

On the far side of the pond, large stones can be seen representing the Ryūmonbaku, commonly referred to as the Garden Gates Fall. Legend tells of a profound narrative, wherein only a resolute carp possesses the ability to swim upstream against a formidable current and surmount the dragon gate perched atop the cascading waterfall. Triumphantly overcoming this arduous feat grants the carp the esteemed status of a mighty dragon. This tale draws an allegorical parallel to the relentless endeavors undertaken by individuals aspiring to pass the rigorous examinations required for admittance into the esteemed Chinese imperial court. As the emperor himself symbolizes the dragon, and the examinations prove incredibly challenging, one must exert extraordinary effort to conquer these tests, thus earning the epithet "the dragon gate." Within the realm of Japanese garden design, the majestic Ryūmonbaku falls serve as a powerful representation of the profound difficulties encountered on the path to enlightenment.

Within Tenryū-ji's Dharma Hall (Hattō), where significant religious ceremonies are held, visitors are greeted by a captivating sight. The hall's ceiling features a striking painting of a cloud dragon with eyes that seemingly follow you from every angle. This unique effect, known as "happo-nirami" or "all-direction gaze," signifies the dragon's watchful protection over Buddhism. Painted by the renowned artist Matazō Kayama in 1997, it commemorates the 650th anniversary of Musō Soseki's passing.

Immersive Zen

Tenryū-ji offers more than just picturesque gardens and stunning artwork. Visitors have the opportunity to engage with the temple's religious practices. On the second Sunday of each month (excluding February and August), a meditation session is open to the public, followed by a Zen sermon delivered by the abbot. For those seeking a hands-on experience, appointments can be made to try shakyō, the art of copying sutras using brush and ink.

Tenryū-ji, as zen as it comes

As we conclude our journey through historic Tenryū-ji Temple, we discover a place of tranquility and enlightenment, full of captivating tales. The temple's rich legacy, rooted in Zen Buddhism and intertwined with royal lineage, offers visitors a profound connection to Japan's spiritual and cultural heritage. Whether you're strolling through the enchanting garden, admiring the celestial dragon above, or participating in meditation and calligraphy, Tenryū-ji promises a deeply immersive experience that lingers in your heart long after your visit.

Getting there

Tenryū-ji is just a short walk from the Keifuku Arashiyama Station, which is connected by the small Keifuku trains (also referred to as Randen) with theRyoanji/Kinkakujiarea and Omiya Station along Shijo-dori Street. The temple can also be reached in a 5-10 minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station (10-15 minutes, 240 yen one way fromKyoto Station).

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv