My visit to Hieizan Enryakuji, a historic Buddhist complex near Kyoto, was a memorable one. I decided to take a break from the scorching sun and to visit the religious site, as the temperature up there around the top of Hieizan is usually about 5 degrees Celsius cooler than the city. Hieizan and Koyasan are two sacred mountainous regions where Japanese Buddhism originated in the 8th century. The name Enryakuji is not just one temple, but it encompasses about 150 temples that scattered among the thick and dark cedar forests in Hieizan.
On the first day, I focused on the "Todo area", or the Eastern Tower area, where many national treasures and important cultural properties are there. I was amazed by the architecture and the history of the place. I could also enjoy the view of Kyoto from the refreshing and serene atmosphere, which made me forget about the heat of the season.
Todo area is a popular destination for both pilgrims and tourists who come to admire the temples and to experience the rich history and culture of the area. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Konponchudo, the main hall of the Enryakuji temple complex.
It was founded in 788AD by Saicho, a renowned Buddhist monk who also introduced the Tendai sect of Buddhism to Japan. He carved a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing and medicine, and enshrined it in Konponchudo. There is also a lamp called Fumetsu no Hoto, the eternal flame of the Dharma, which has been kept alight for more than 1,200 years.
The present re-established building dates back to 1642 and it has been designated as a National Treasure. However, time and weather have taken a heavy toll on this historic monument, and since 2016, a major restoration project has been underway to preserve its cultural heritage and spiritual legacy of this sacred site for future generations. A core part of the inside of the building has continued being allowed to visit and the project is expected to be completed by 2024.
I stayed at a shukubo, a temple lodging located near Konponchudo. It had a stunning view of Biwako (Lake Biwa), the largest lake in Japan. Another purpose of my visit of this place was the Yakuzen ryori, a traditional cuisine based on medicinal herbs and vegetables. It was healthy and delicious, and it fully satisfied my appetite though it looks not enough at first sight. Better too much than not enough, anyway.
Shukubo gave me the opportunity to join the morning service held in Konponchudo at dawn. Visitors who stay there are allowed to participate in the service and its location was very close to the shukubo. The next morning, we had the privilege of joining this daily ritual that the monks perform at 6:30 am.
It was an incredible experience. Four monks led the practice, which started with a fast and lively up-tempo chanting. About 15 minutes later, the chanting became moderate pace, more meditative and reflective. The last part was a majestic choir that filled me with a sense of reverence and insight. The chanting moved my spirit. It was a gorgeous and sacred moment.