Tendai Shu

by Stefan Chiarantano, Oct 9, 2006 | Destinations: Japan

I visited the lovely town of Tsuyama, Okayama nestled within the local mountain range. While there, a colleague gave me a personal tour of Tendai Shu, a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.

The Tendai sect of Buddhism emerged during the Heian Period (794 - 1185). Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century.

The temple features a very large and tall statue of Kannon Bosatsu, perhaps 15 meters tall, carved from wood. She is the 11-headed Kannon, the one who sees and hears all. She is guarded by four guarding deities. They are Tamoten who guards the North direction, Zochoten who guards the South direction, Komokuten who guards the West direction, and Jikokuten who guards the East direction. These guardian deities are known as Shitennou and are Buddhist mythological deities. Shitennou means the four kings of the sky. 'Shi' means four, 'ten' means heaven/sky, and 'nou' means king in Japanese. Each of the four deities is lord over a cardinal direction. They guard over Kannon Bosatus, the "God of the Center".

We visited the Temple in the twilight of evening. It had been a hot and sunny day and by this time the weather had cooled down. However, I was still perspiring and to make things worst I was being pestered by mosquitoes, one of them even managed to bite me above my left eyelid.

The Tendai sect chants the matra "Namu Amida Butsu". It is believed that by changing mantras, maintaining mudras (hand gestures), and performing meditations, one can discern that the sense experiences are the teachings of Buddha, know that one is inherently an enlightened being, and attain enlightenment within this life.

My host encouraged me to strike the Kane, a bowl-shaped bronze gong, used during chanting. I struck it with a padded club using both hands. It's pure sound echoed through the temple. I thought if only people were as pure as the sound it emitted. I was then encouraged to strike the mokugyo. This is an instrument made of hollowed wood in the shape of a fish which is used during sutra chanting too, to keep tempo. And like the kane, I struck it with a padded club. And finally I was encouraged to hit a wooden clapper in the shape of a fish which is used to call people to prayer or to a general meeting.

Afterwards, we had a quick look at the Temple grounds.

I'm grateful to my host for taking time out of his busy schedule to give a guided tour of Temple Shu. I left with a deeper sense of Buddhist practices and a joy to experience something uniquely Japanese.

* * * * *