Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: quiet contemplation amidst nature
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Heirinji Zen Temple is located in Niiza and while this part of Saitama prefecture may not appear to be out of the ordinary, the same can’t be said about this temple which is blessed with large grounds. Therefore, given the closeness to Tokyo this temple is accessible to tourists who visit this huge metropolis and a visit to such a beautiful place is rewarding.
The original temple was based in Iwatsuki in the same prefecture but the original area was destroyed by the centralizing forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. This in itself also reminds us of the violent aspect of Buddhism in Japan because this faith, which was not indigenous to Japan, was certainly a major power base. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga who began the centralization of Japan also attacked fanatical Buddhist sects who were violent and intent on preserving their power base.
Josh Baran states “Japanese Zen, especially the Rinzai lineage, had long been linked to the samurai culture and bushido, the way of the sword. For hundreds of years, Zen Masters trained samurai warriors in meditation, teaching them enhanced concentration and will power. Zen helped them face adversity and death with no hesitation, to be totally loyal and act without thinking. To put it bluntly, bushido was a spiritual way of killing infused with Zen philosophy. The sword had always been a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, but under bushido it was taken literally, evolving from metaphor into concrete reality. The sword became an object of veneration and obsession, idealized and worshipped.”
Therefore, when I visit the beautiful Heirinji Zen Temple and the surrounding grounds I am under no illusions because the tranquil nature of this beautiful place does not distort my reality. However, time does not wait for nobody and while “Buddhism is in a shell” in most parts of Japan it can still be felt in places like Heirinji Zen Temple.
The ethics of simplicity, open space, serene backdrops, the noise of birds singing and the other world does play on the senses when you visit Heirinji. After all, the architecture, serene grounds and singing birds amidst “the daily stress of life” and the passing of time, does strike a chord within the inner-soul.
Heirinji is certainly worth a visit and for myself, I have been many times and I will continue to re-visit. Not because I am Buddhist, this is not important, but the contemplation aspect of Heirinji is vital because it is all too easy to forget about what really matters in this life.
Often, people only see “the bigger picture” when something dramatic happens in their life but when you visit Heirinji you understand “the bigger picture” of life irrespective of your current situation. This is the beauty of Heirinji and Buddhist monks on a whole are in the backdrop and hidden and you have no commercial aspects of this stunning and well preserved area apart from a basic fee to enter.
Today the temple still trains Buddhist monks but unless you knew this fact then just like the history of Buddhism in Japan; it may pass you by and this is why Heirinji is so special. It is not about gimmicks or showing anything because Heirinji is spiritual by being itself and not bending to the modern world of commercialism.
If you are lucky enough to either reside in Tokyo or Saitama then Heirinji is accessible because from Ikebukuro in Tokyo it only takes around 30 minutes in total train and bus time to arrive. Therefore, Heirinji is well worth a visit and this applies to visiting several times because the changing nature of the seasons is very striking in Japan.
Heirinji is surrounded by the usual aspects of a build-up area but once you are close to this stunning place then you can feel the pace of life changing. The none-missionary feel of Heirinji is also welcomed because zealous religious people from all faiths try to convert people through language and only seeing one world view.
However, the monks of Heirinji don’t need words because the architecture, lovely grounds, quaintness of the graveyard and other aspects of the grounds do all the talking.
All religions and ideologies distort reality within literature and architecture. Therefore, just like nationalism the dream of shortsightedness is just that, it is a dream and an illusion.
Irrespective of the past of Buddhism in Japan and the same applies to other faiths which have abandoned inner-truths in order to gain from privilege. The simple fact is that other religions could learn from Heirinji because “the talking is done by saying nothing.”
This applies to allowing individuals to enjoy their own quality time within the tranquil grounds of this beautiful Buddhist area. Therefore, if you want to experience the finer qualities of Japanese culture and witness the passive nature of Buddhism in modern Japan then Heirinji provides this.
I myself revere this majestic place and time, history, stresses of life, economic reality, and so forth; is simply forgotten. Heirinji is a place of tranquility and who needs to read books about philosophy and religion when you have a place of sublime beauty amidst simplicity and the reality of your own reality.
If you are a visitor to Tokyo or you reside in either Tokyo or Saitama, then a visit to the stunning grounds of Heirinji should be on your list because the simplicity of this place is a real treasure.