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Nara Regional Resources
|Main Hall of the Gokurakubou of Gangouji temple|
Introduction of Illustrated Scrolls of the Karmic Origins of the Gokurakubou of Gangouji temple
by Takahashi Nariaki, Gangouji Bunkazai Kenkyujyo
Scrolls: Colors on paper, Dimensions 1st Scroll: Height 33.6 cm; Length 1141.0 cm 2nd Scroll Height 33.6 cm Length 1027.6 cm
Originary Known as Asukadera Temple (or Houkouji Temple), Gangouji temple was constructed by Soga Umako in Asuka region. The First true Buddhist temple in Japan, as is indicated by its alternate name Houkou, Literally the Dahma's commencement, the history of the temple can be traced through the transfer of the capital to Heijyou-kyou, where temple was transferred in Yourou 2 (718) on the outskirts of western section of the capital, where the it is located today.
Back in the Tempyo era, the main worship object of the Garden Hall of the temple was Maitreya Tathagata (Miroku Nyorai), it was an important center of Sanron and Hossou studies that produced many excellent scholars. These scholar monks resided in the hall known as soubou. The Sanron scholar priests Chikou and Raikou who both appear in the Karmic Origins of the Gokurakubou of Gangouji temple lived here among the other learned monks.
Chikou Housi is known to have written Muryoujukyou Ronsyaku, a groundbreaking work concerning faith in Wesrern Paradise of Amida Nyorai. It is quoted in the Oujyoushu of Eshin Souzu Gensin, and it has been reappraised in regard to its role in the mid-Heian era revival of faith in Amida's Pure Land.
Additionally, the tale of how Chikou Housi miraclously obtained the depicion of Amida's paradise, known as the Chikou Mandala, is recorded in the Nihon Oujou Gokurakuki of Yoshishige Yasutane (?-1002). Thereafter, as the Chiko Mandala depicting the Amida's Pure Land Paradise became the main worship of the priests' quarters, the souou, where Chikou resided, it came to be called Gokurakubou (literally the Paradise Quarters), and became a sacred ground for the Amida faith.
With the deterioration of the ritsuryou state, the halls within the precincts of Gangouji temple slowly unremittingly declined, but townspeople built the machiya (called Naramachi) within its ancient boundaries after the medieval period.
Then, as Amidism spread among the common people, the Gokurakubou was preserved due to their faith.
Unfortunately, the original mandala obtained miraculously by Chikou was lost in a fire during the popular uprising (Tsuchi Ikki) of Houtoku 3 (1451). However, the Mandala Hall (the Main Hall of the Gokurakubou) and a part of the priests' Quarters, the Zenshitsu, have been named national treasures and in recent years have been resistered as a World Heritage Site.
The Illustrated Scrolls of the Karmic Origins of the Gokurakubou of Gangouji is composed two scrolls divided into nineteen sections of illustrations and text explaining the origins of the Gokurakubou of Gangouji temple and the Chikou Mandala. According to the Colophone of Second scroll, Dounyou(1661-1733) of the Yasui Monzeki, ordered the creation of a new mandala due to request of Sonkakku Risshi, the abbot of Gangouji and Saidaiji, who sought it because of damage to the original. Dounyo had a passion for the painting and studied under Kano Einou. Dounyou is said to have been a master of human figure and bird and flower painting. THe calligraphy of the written text faithfully reflects the superb style of Dounyou. He also known to have undertaken the calligraphy for the bronze plaque on the torii of Yoki Tenmanguu shrine in Nara. Dounyou later became the 189th abbot of Touji.
In contrast to the written text, the exquitely painted portions of the scrolls employ gold and colors throughout. They display a light touch easily appreciated, but regrettably the name of the artist remains unknown. However, he seems very likely to have been related to the Nara atliers whoose roots go back to the middle ages.
The contents of the First Scroll
(1) The two virtuous Sanron priests Chikou and Raikou resided at Gangouji remple during the Tenpyou era. (2) Chikou died suddenly and was condemned to hell due to his jealousy over the favoritism shown by the imperial court to Gyouki. But Chikou is resurrected ten days later. (3) Chikou recounts to his disciples that Enma Ou, the King of Hell, scolded him for his slander and jealousy of Gyouki. Confessing to Gyouki, Chikou seeks his pardon. (4) His aged colleague Raikou becomes silent and goes to his death without revealing the reason for his silence. (5) Having vowed to learn the location of Raikou's rebirth, Chikou visits Raikou in a dream. (6) Chikou learned that Raikou resided in Amidais paradise, and after requesting that Amida teach him the secret of rebirth in paradise, a vision of the pure land paradise is revealed to Chikou on palm of Amida's right hand.
The Contents of the Second Scroll
(1) Amida bestows a relic on Chikou as proof of his having come to the pure land paradise. (2) Awakening from his dream, Chikou tries to have the vision of paradise drawn on woven paper, but is unable to find a competent artist. Just then a young lad suddenly appears and completes the work in seven days. (3) The young lad turns out to be Kannon Bosatsu, the left attendant of Amida Nyorai, and then flies off to the West, after telling Chikou that it will come to welcome him at the hour of his death. (4) Even an extremely sinful person is guaranteed rebirth in paradise, if he or she just once prays before this mandala, which has come to be known as the Chikou Mandara. (5) After miraculously obtaining the mandala, Chikou erects the Mandala Hall. (6) Images of Chikou and Raikou are enshrined in the hall, and the painted mandala is placed in the central shrine, and made the sacred space for meditating on the pure land. Chikou spends the rest of his life meditating on this image before "entering eternal meditation" in Tempyou 19. (7) Several hundred years later, Saigyou restores the damaged ceiling. Kose Kanaoka paints an image of a Ryuou on the south-eastern column, thereby suppressing a harmful poisonous snake that resided in the pond of the southern garden. (8) The priestly quarters of Raikou were located in the northern precincts and those of Chikou in the southern precincts of the temple grounds. (9) The Kasuga deity manifested itself in a room on western edge of Chikou's quarters from which it guarded the mandala and relic each morning. (10) Koubou Daishi painted a Kasuga Mandala, and then appeared after having carved his on likeness. (11) A Hall known as the Crown Prince Shoutoku Hall (Shoutoku Taishiden), is said to have been moved from the Moto-Gangouji temple in Asuka (Asukadera), and therein is enshrined an image of the sixteen-year old prince, about which a mysterious tale of the bestowal of the Three Pure Land Sutras on a worshipper is told. (12) Many practitioners who sought rebirth in the western pure land paradise came to reside at the temple; and Koushoubosatsu, Eison, of Saidaiji enters the temple, it became a Ritsu sect cloister. Doushu Risshi revives the Fudan Nenbutsu (Ceaseless Recitation of Prayers to Amida) practice at the temple.
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