Higashi Hongan-ji(東本願寺) is considered the mother temple of Shin Buddhism(浄土真宗), one of the largest branches of Buddhism in Japan. Its impressively large halls offer visitors reverent solace for meditation and worship.
The temple was established in 1602 by Tokugawa Ieyasu(徳川家康) as an effort to divide the Shin Buddhist sect. By Tokugawa’s time, the sect was gaining popular favor and influence. Shinran(親鸞) originally helped found Shin Buddhism around the year 1200 based on teachings from his teacher Honen(法然), though the religion was not formalized until later. Shinran explained the value of Shin Buddhism thus:
“Upon encountering the power of the Buddha’s Primordial Aspiration,
No one’s life will pass in vain;
All persons are swiftly satisfied
With the great precious ocean of virtues.”
Goei Hall(御影堂) is the largest hall in the complex. Actually, it is one of the world’s largest wooden structures. Immense wooden beams support broad rooftops over a stunning and vast interior. The image of Shinran as well as scrolls containing temple abbots’ lineage and forms of the Buddha’s name are featured at the focal point of this hall.
Another large hall in similar style, Amida Hall(阿弥陀堂), is to the left of Goei Hall. A distinct aura of reverence and veneration permeates both halls. Amida Hall contains the image of Amida Buddha(阿弥陀仏) on the central altar.
The large center gate, Goei Hall Gate(御影堂門), is both decorative and stately. Built in 1911, it is one of three great gates of Kyoto. Passing through the gate symbolizes entering the world of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, a key scripture in Shin Buddhism.
The broad courtyard between is serene and very well-kept, offering access to each of the halls, gates, a well, and an information center.