Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: Buddhism and Tourism on the Fringe of Tokyo
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
If you adore history, culture, and the rich legacy of Buddhism, then a visit to Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama prefecture is extremely rewarding. This fascinating temple is located in Niiza but the closeness to Tokyo means that so many tourists are missing out on a hidden gem when it comes to non-commercial tourism. Indeed, traveling from Ikebukuro in Tokyo and changing once at Asakadai, in order to transfer to the Musashino Line, only takes around 25 to 30 minutes in total. Therefore, Heirinji Zen Temple is in easy reach for Tokyoites and tourists alike who happen to adore culture and tranquility.
The original temple was based in Iwatsuki in the same prefecture in the distant past. However, the centralizing forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 ransacked the area because of the need to crush various local power bases. This in itself also reminds us of the violent clash of various Buddhist sects with the centralizing forces of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi prior to the Edo period.
Josh Baran states: “Japanese Zen, especially the Rinzai lineage, had long been linked to the samurai culture and bushido, the way of the sword. For hundreds of years, Zen Masters trained samurai warriors in meditation, teaching them enhanced concentration and will power. Zen helped them face adversity and death with no hesitation, to be totally loyal and act without thinking. To put it bluntly, bushido was a spiritual way of killing infused with Zen philosophy. The sword had always been a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, but under bushido it was taken literally, evolving from metaphor into concrete reality. The sword became an object of veneration and obsession, idealized and worshipped.”
Therefore, when you visit the beautiful Heirinji Zen Temple and the surrounding grounds people should be under no illusion that the history is solely based on peace. Of course, this isn’t unique to Buddhism in Japan because the history of Jerusalem is one of blood and power based on the various intrigues of Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout various periods of history. Therefore, when looking at the bigger picture the history of Zen Buddhism isn’t that different from all major faiths.
Outside the historical legacy it is clear that Heirinji Zen Temple bases itself in modern times on the ethics of simplicity, open space, serene backdrops and the richness of temples and architecture, that can be found throughout the large grounds of this stunning place. Indeed, with birds singing in the background, and the mystical atmosphere in parts of this temple, then soon you can feel “the senses” of Heirinji. After all, the architecture, serene grounds, adorable temples and singing birds amidst “the daily stress of life” and the passing of time, really strikes a chord within the inner-soul.
Heirinji is certainly worth a visit because you will witness a living Buddhism alongside refreshing yourself from the stresses of daily life. It matters not if you are a Buddhist, or from a different sect of Buddhism, because this adorable temple is open to everyone. Indeed, the beauty of this place is that the grounds are large enough to contemplate many things while walking or sitting in a place of natural beauty.
Often, people only see “the bigger picture” when something dramatic happens in their life. However, when you visit Heirinji you understand “the bigger picture” of life irrespective of your current situation. This is the natural beauty of Heirinji. Also, Buddhist monks on a whole remain in the background and hidden. On top of this, you have no major commercial aspects towards this stunning temple apart from a basic fee to enter the grounds.
Today this temple still trains Buddhist monks. Yet, unless you knew this fact, then just like Buddhism in modern Japan outside of major places of learning, it may pass you by. This is why Heirinji is so special. It is not about gimmicks or showing anything because Heirinji is spiritual by being itself.
The monks of Heirinji don’t need words because the architecture, lovely grounds, quaintness of the graveyard and other aspects of the grounds do all the talking. Therefore, the spiritual nature of this stunning place is all around providing you have an open mind and you switch off from the modern world.
It should always be remembered that all religions and ideologies distort reality within literature and architecture. In other words, just like nationalism, the dream of shortsightedness is just that, it is a dream and an illusion. Given this, special places like Heirinji don’t seek to distort or to convert. On the contrary, Heirinji is just Heirinji therefore it is up to people to create their own senses and to feel what is special – or what isn’t special.
If you are a visitor to Tokyo – or you reside in either Tokyo or Saitama – then a visit to the stunning grounds of Heirinji should be on your list because the simplicity of this place is a real treasure to behold.
Modern Tokyo News is part of the Modern Tokyo Times group
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