Japanese tourists pray in Chinese temples

What is a temple?

In Japanology, the term “temple” is only applied to Buddhist religious sites; when it comes to Shinto places of worship, one speaks of a “shrine”. "Tempel" is the German translation word for Japanese: teratera寺 Buddhist temple; the word is derived from a Korean term that used to be something like tyər was pronounced; — , jiinjiin寺院 Buddhist temple, monastery; — , -ji-ji寺 Buddhist temple; other reading: tera; — , -in-in院 suffix for institutions, e.g. Buddhist temple; — , -san-san山 wtl. "Mountain"; as a suffix also: temple or monastery complex (in combination with single hall); -. All these words indicate a Buddhist place of worship, in the narrower sense a building, in the further a plant, comparable to a monastery known in this country.

There is no terminological or functional difference between “temples” and “monasteries”. In contrast to Christian churches, all buildings in a temple complex serve monks rather than lay people. Most Japanese therefore usually only visit temples on high holidays or as tourists. In both cases, it is sufficient to prior to the honzonhonzon本尊 main sanctuary of a temple; - hold a short greeting ritual. Often one does not enter the main hall at all, but only climbs a few steps to a veranda, from where one can see the golden Buddha statues shining out of the dark interior of the hall (see chap. More elaborate ceremonies cost money and are rarely used by most Japanese. Monks, on the other hand, live in the temples, which can also be called “monasteries”. Extensive monastery complexes have residential buildings for monks and special halls for certain prayers and rituals. The typical elements of such a system are shown on this page using the temple Hōryū-ji, the linked side pages show examples from other representative systems.

Example Hōryū-ji

Hōryū-ji Temple - Hōryū-ji 法 隆 寺 Temple in Ikaruga near Nara, founded in 607; wtl. "Temple of the Prospering [Buddha] Law"; - is near the old capital Nara - Nara 奈良 capital and seat of the Tennō, 710–784 (= Nara period); also: Heijō-kyō; - and is one of the most beautiful and oldest temples in Japan. Its three central structures date from the seventh or eighth century and are considered to be the oldest wooden structures in the world. They appear simpler than younger buildings and impress with their strong light-dark contrasts. But the buildings of the Hōryū-ji were originally painted red, like most traditional wooden structures. Prince Shōtoku's estate was once here - Shōtoku Taishi 聖 徳 太子 574-622; Prince Shōtoku; imperial regent; -, the great reformer of the early Japanese state, who also strongly advocated the adoption of Buddhism as the state religion (more on history, early days). Apart from this historical significance, the Hōryū-ji is a vivid example of a traditional Buddhist temple complex.

Temple complex

Plant of the Hōryū-ji (Image: Google Maps, 2020). Satellite image of the Hōryū-ji, digitized from Google Maps.
1 satellite image of the Hōryū-ji

A temple is typically surrounded by a wall with gates in the four cardinal directions. The main gate usually faces south. Inside the wall are the main hall, pagoda and other religious buildings. The illustration above shows the main district of Hōryū-ji from a bird's eye view. An inner square enclosure surrounds the main building, outside of which there are various residential buildings for monks, administration buildings and secondary temples. The pagoda is clearly recognizable, the main gate is located diagonally to the right and the main hall to the left. The large building at the top of the inner temple precinct is the so-called sermon or reading hall (kōdōkōdō講堂 sermon or lecture hall of a temple; -) where sutras - sūtra (skt.) सूत्र "thread", discourse of the Buddha, canonical writing, jap. kyō 経 or kyoten 経 典; - and sermons are presented. The entire facility is also surrounded by a second outer wall. These walls once also had military functions. Similar to Christian churches, Japanese temples also offered protection from enemy armies in earlier times and even maintained their own armies in the Japanese Middle Ages.

Mon - the temple gate

Hōryū-ji, Chūmon (Image: Lonely Trip, via Internet Archive). This gate (mon) is used as the middle gate (chūmon) because it is located in the inner enclosure of the Hōryū-ji temple. It has a two-part passage. Usually there is only one central or three passages. Only in the Hōryū-ji is there a case where a central post blocks the natural access to the temple.
South main gate (Nandaimon) (Image: Frank J. Gualtieri Jr., 2005). The huge south gate (Nandaimon) of the Tōdaiji, where the Big Buddha of Nara is located, with the tame deer that roam free everywhere here. The also gigantic Hall of the Great Buddha can be seen in the background. The gate in its current form dates from 1199 after it was destroyed together with the rest of the temple complex in the Genpei War (1181). The free-floating crossbeams that support the roof structure are characteristic. Inside the gate you can see the two largest and at the same time most impressive gatekeeper statues in Japan.

In the walls around the facility there are usually several gates (monmon門 gate; - ) appropriate. The main gate, and thus also the main access route, is usually in the south. Similar to secular palaces, a Buddhist temple usually “looks” from north to south. Buddhist temple gates in themselves represent impressive architectural structures. Left and right of the entrance are usually two terrifying Buddhist guardian deities (niōniō仁王 guardian figure, gatekeeper; -) set up (see also chapter "Iconography": Gatekeeper). The size of the gate mostly reflects the prestige of a temple. Large temple gates usually have an upper floor in which temple treasures can be housed.

Hondō - the main hall

The main hall (hondōhondō本 堂 main hall of a temple; - or kondōkondō金堂 main hall of a temple; Synonym of hondō; -) of the Hōryū-ji is said to come from the year 680 (!), But was renewed and possibly modified in the 8th century. In any case, it is well over a thousand years old. This is where the main sanctuary of the temple (honzonhonzon本尊 main sanctuary of a temple; -), but also various other Buddha statues are kept. They used to be honzon of a temple for lay people mostly not freely accessible, but were only shown on certain occasions. The main halls of the Japanese temples are therefore not intended for general worship like Christian churches. In addition to the main hall, there is often a sermon or reading hall (kōdōkōdō講堂 sermon or lecture hall of a temple; -), but this is also primarily used by the monks. Here, for example, Sūtren - sūtra (skt.) सूत्र "thread", discourse of the Buddha, canonical writing, jap. kyō 経 or kyoten 経 典; - be presented. Such lectures are not to be understood as readings that tell a story, but as recitations of sacred, albeit incomprehensible texts, the hearing of which, according to traditional ideas, has positive effects on karma - Karma (skt.) कर्म “act”, also “consequent consequence”; moral balance of the actions taken, Japanese Gō 業; - the listener has.

Honzon - the main sanctuary

Tori Busshi (Kuratsukuri no Tori), Shaka group of three (Shaka sanzon). Shaka trinity consisting of Shaka Nyorai, flanked by the bodhisattvas Yakuō and Yakujō, a combination that was common at the time. Main Shrine (honzon) of the Hōryū-ji. The group of figures comes from Tori Busshi, the same sculptor of Korean origin who previously created the so-called AsukaDaibutsu. Stylistically, the figures still show a strong influence of the Buddhist art of China and Korea at the time. On the back of the aureole is an inscription that not only names the sculptor, but also names the reason for its manufacture: It was commissioned in 622 to pray for the recovery of Prince Regent Shōtoku Taishi. When the Prince Regent died in 622, the statue was rededicated and should now be useful for a rebirth in the Pure Land. Whether the text and aureole actually come from the specified year (623) or whether they were made a few decades later is a matter of dispute among experts. However, there is consensus that it is the oldest narrative text in Japanese literary history.
4 Main sanctuary of Hōryū-ji

The main sanctuary of the Hōryū-ji is a so-called Shaka trinity (Shaka sanzonShaka sanzon釈 迦 三尊 Group of three consisting of Buddha Śākyamuni (Japanese Shaka Nyorai), flanked by two companions (mostly bodhisattvas shown in a slightly smaller size); -) with Buddha Shakyamuni (Shaka - Shaka 釈 迦 Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha; also Shaka Nyorai; -), the historical Buddha, in the middle, and two Bodhisattvas - Bodhisattva (skt.) बोधिसत्त्व "Enlightened Being", jap. bosatsu 菩薩; - who act as his "assistants". Such a representation of Buddhas in groups of three is common throughout the Buddhist world. Temples in which the historical Buddha is the main shrine, however, are not the rule. In the heyday of Japanese Buddhism, Buddha Shakyamuni - Śākyamuni (skt.) शाक्यमुनि "The sage of the Shakya clan", Gautama Siddhartha, Japanese Shaka 釈 迦 or Shakamuni 釈 迦 牟尼; - by Amida - Amida 阿 弥陀 Buddha Amitabha; Main Buddha of the Schools of the Pure Land (Jōdo-shū or Jōdo Shinshū); - or Dainichi outstripped. In the early days of Japanese Buddhism, the "Medicine Buddha", Yakushi Nyorai - Yakushi Nyorai 薬 師 如 来 Buddha of Medicine; skt. Bhaisajyaguru; -, in great demand when it came to the recovery of a ruler through the foundation of a statue.

- the pagoda

Pagoda, Hōryū-ji (Image: Lonely Trip, 2003). A characteristic feature of this very old wooden pagoda () of the Hōryū-ji is the relatively wide basement.
Buddhist grave monuments of Sanchi (Image:, blog). The stupa- Sanchi plant near the city of Vidisha in central India is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The largest stupa is said to contain relics of the Buddha and was built on the orders of King Ashoka (approx. 273–236 B.C.E.). A smaller stupa is said to contain relics of disciples of the Buddha. The facility was continuously expanded until the 12th century.

Many larger temples have a pagoda (jap. 塔 pagoda; Tower; derived from skt. stupa; also sotoba; -). At the time the Hōryū-ji was founded, pagodas were the most important temple structures and were the repositories of the honzon. Pagodas derive from the Indian stupas - stūpa (skt.) स्तूप "hill", grave monument, jap. 塔 or sotoba 卒 塔 婆; - from. Stupas are tombs of the Buddha and house his relics. Many Japanese temples also claim to keep relics of the Buddha in their pagodas. Architecturally, however, the Indian stupa has changed significantly under Chinese influence and has become a towering, widely visible tower. While every cultural epoch in China developed new pagoda styles, the Japanese pagodas are considered to be faithful images of the Chinese wooden construction in the Tang - Tang (chin.) 唐 chin. Ruling dynasty, 618–907; - -Time. In Japan there are basically two styles, namely 1) the multi-storey pagoda (tajū-tōtajū-tō多重 塔 multi-story pagoda; -), which is usually equipped with three or five floors, and 2) the so-called "Vielschatz Pagoda" (tahō-tōtahō-tō多 宝塔 one-story pagoda type, wtl. "Treasure Pagoda"; -) with a circular, bulbous ground floor, which is more clearly reminiscent of the Indian models, but interestingly, in terms of architectural history, is younger. In the Hōryū-ji there is a five-story pagoda (fig. Right), which is one of the most famous "national treasures" of Japan.

Side building

Larger temple complexes usually have different side temples or entire side complexes, the other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas - Bodhisattva (skt.) बोधिसत्त्व "Enlightened Being", jap. bosatsu 菩薩; - are consecrated. In earlier times there were also Shinto shrines in most of the temple complexes, as each temple had Shinto patron gods. Although this practice was officially abolished in 1868, it has remained in many temples to this day.

Hall of Dreams (Yumedono) (Image: 663highland, Wikimedia Commons, 2010). Central structure of the eastern temple district of Hōryū-ji. Octagonal floor plan. Inside is a statue of Kannon (Guze Kannon), which is said to have the features of Prince Shōtoku (574–622).
5 Yumedono, hall of dreams

In addition to the Western Temple District presented here, the Hōryū-ji also has an Eastern Temple District, which in turn has an inner and an outer part. The main building of the Eastern District is the "Hall of Dreams" (Yumedono - Yumedono 夢 殿 Hall of Dreams; Side temple of Hōryū-ji; -), the Kannon Bosatsu - Kannon Bosatsu 観 音 菩薩 Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, wtl. "Who hears the sound of the world"; "Bodhisattva of Compassion"; see also Kannon, Guanyin ;; - is consecrated. This hall is a particularly beautiful example of the chapels with a hexagonal or octagonal floor plan that are quite common in the vicinity of Nara.

Temple bell

Most of the larger temples also have a bronze bell that is suspended from a free-standing, covered frame.The pictures above show the largest temple bell in Japan in the Chion-in temple - Chion-in 知恩 院 Main temple of Jōdo Buddhism in Kyōto, err. 1234; - in Kyōto, the main temple of Jōdo Buddhism. It weighs around 70 tons and, like most other temple bells, is struck from the outside with a wooden mallet. This mallet is attached to the bell house with ropes in such a way that it can only be moved horizontally.

Usually an adult is able to strike a temple bell without any problems, but in the case of the Chion-in bell, 17 monks are required due to its size. The picture shows an exercise for ringing out the Old Year at midnight on December 31st. This is the main ceremonial use of a temple bell. It sounds 108 times - once for each of the 108 passions that, according to the Buddhist view, must be overcome on the way to enlightenment. (Similar to counting the prayer beads juzujuzu数 珠 Buddhist prayer beads; skt. Mala; — .)

References

Related topics

Web sources

  • Hōryū-ji, Oriental Architecture
  • Prince Shotoku's Temple, Henry Smith (en.)
    A highly recommended introduction to the history and art history of Hōryū-ji by Prof. Henry Smith (Columbia University).
Link addresses last checked: Jul. 2020

images

Sources and explanations for the images on this page:

  1. Plant of the Hōryū-ji (Image: Google Maps, 2020). Satellite image of the Hōryū-ji, digitized from Google Maps.
  2. Hōryū-ji, Chūmon (Image: Lonely Trip, via Internet Archive). This gate (mon) is used as the middle gate (chūmon) because it is located in the inner enclosure of the Hōryū-ji temple. It has a two-part passage. Usually there is only one central or three passages. Only in the Hōryū-ji is there a case where a central post blocks the natural access to the temple.
  3. Golden Hall (Kondo) (Image: Ron Reznick, 2004). Main hall (kondō) of the Hōryū-ji
  4. Tori Busshi (Kuratsukuri no Tori), Shaka group of three (Shaka sanzon) .

    Shaka trinity consisting of Shaka Nyorai, flanked by the bodhisattvas Yakuō and Yakujō, a combination that was common at the time. Main Shrine (honzon) of the Hōryū-ji. The group of figures comes from Tori Busshi, the same sculptor of Korean origin who previously created the so-called AsukaDaibutsu. Stylistically, the figures still show a strong influence of the Buddhist art of China and Korea at the time. On the back of the aureole is an inscription that not only names the sculptor, but also names the reason for its manufacture: It was commissioned in 622 to pray for the recovery of Prince Regent Shōtoku Taishi. When the Prince Regent died in 622, the statue was rededicated and should now be useful for a rebirth in the Pure Land.

    Whether the text and aureole actually come from the specified year (623) or were possibly made a few decades later is a matter of dispute among experts. However, there is consensus that it is the oldest narrative text in Japanese literary history.

  1. Hall of Dreams (Yumedono) (Image: 663highland, Wikimedia Commons, 2010). Central structure of the eastern temple district of Hōryū-ji. Octagonal floor plan. Inside there is a statue of Kannon (Guze Kannon), which is said to have the features of Prince Shōtoku (574–622).
  2. Temple bell (Image: Wada Yoshio). Temple bell of Chion-in in Kyoto, the largest bell in Japan.
  3. Temple bell (Image: Laura Meyer, 2001, via Internet Archive). Monks striking the bell of Chion-in.

glossary

Names and technical terms on this page:

  • Chion-in 知恩 院^
    Main temple of Jōdo Buddhism in Kyoto, err. 1234
  • hondō本 堂^
    Main hall of a temple
  • honzon本尊^
    Main sanctuary of a temple
  • Hōryū-ji 法 隆 寺^
    Temple in Ikaruga near Nara, founded in 607; wtl. "Temple of the Prospering [Buddha] Law"
  • -in^
    Suffix for institutions, e.g. Buddhist temple
  • -ji^
    Buddhist temple; other reading: tera
  • jiin寺院^
    Buddhist temple, monastery
  • juzu数 珠^
    Buddhist prayer beads; skt. Mala
  • Karma (skt.) कर्म^
    "Deed", also "consequent consequence"; moral balance of the actions taken, Japanese Gō 業
  • kondō金堂^
    Main hall of a temple; Synonym of hondō
  • kōdō講堂^
    Sermon or lecture hall of a temple
  • Nara 奈良^
    Capital and seat of the Tennō, 710–784 (= Nara period); also: Heijō-kyō
  • niō仁王^
    Guardian figure, gatekeeper
  • -san^
    wtl. "Mountain"; as a suffix also: temple or monastery complex (in the case of single hall)
  • Śākyamuni (skt.) शाक्यमुनि^
    "The sage of the Shakya clan", Gautama Siddhartha, Japanese Shaka 釈 迦 or Shakamuni 釈 迦 牟尼