In the last post I wrote that I was finally finished with my series on The Path Visiting Inner Musashi’s Famous Temples, but I was wrong. Sure, I was well aware of the fact that there was one more old temple at the end of the trail next to Agano Station, but I had thought I only had a single paragraph’s worth of information to write about it so I planned to just tack it on to the beginning of the post on Section III of the Saitama’s Fureai Trail. However, when I sat down to write it, the one paragraph turned into two, then three, then before I knew it I had a whole post’s worth of material, so I’m presenting that to you here today. Read on to learn about the fourth temple on the path: The Law and Light Temple.
Background and General Info
Founded in the 3rd year of the reign of Emperor Shitoku (至徳三年, 1386 CE), the Law and Light Temple or Hôkôji in Japanese (法光寺) is affiliated with the Sôtô Sect (曹洞宗) of Zen Buddhism, the most popular form of Zen in Japan today with around 14,000 temples. At the Law and Light Temple, the principal deity of worship is the Life-Extending Earth-Womb Bodhisattva (Enmei Jizô Bosatu, 延命地蔵菩薩), the patron deity of children in the Japanese pantheon (see part 2 in this series for more information about Jizô).
The teachings of Japan’s Sôtô Zen have their roots in the teachings of the great Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma, who brought the earliest form of Zen to East Asia in the 5th or 6th century. Zen then flowered into a major branch of Buddhism in China, spawning multiple new interpretations. One of these made its way to Japan when, in the 13th century, a student of the faith named Dôgen (道元) returned to the archipelago after years of study on the mainland, adding his own ideas and thus initiating the Sôtô Sect, though it would be Master Keizan (瑩山) who spread the religion far and wide across the archipelago.
A signboard at the temple announced the creed of the Sôtô Sect is as follows. All mankind are children of Buddha, so we are all imbued with his essence at birth. However, if we are ignorant of this fact, we sow the seeds of pain and hardship. But, as long as we just once repent to Buddha and become a true believer, our hearts will calm, our lives will fall into order and brighten, we will gladly contribute to the betterment of our society, and we will be able to endure any hardship. We can find our personal happiness and our reason for existing through this practice.
Personally, I find this creed’s resemblance to Christianity rather striking. Though there does seem to be an absence of the concept of original sin, the idea that one need only repent once and become a true believer to receive the benefits of the faith certainly does warrant comparison. It could be a coincidence, but I have to wonder whether or not word of Christian teachings had reached Asia by this time. It certainly isn’t implausible as the Japanese Soto Sect was founded more than 1000 years after that of Christianity.
Festivals and Pilgrimages
If you’re going to make a trip to the Law and Light Temple, be sure to keep in mind the principal yearly events held there. First, there is the Kanon Festival’s Great Perfection of Wisdom Prayer Gathering (観音祭大般若祈祷会). This gathering centers around the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, one of the principal religious texts of this temple.
The other event to look out for is held twice each year — on the second Sunday in July and on August 10 — is the Great Sejiki-e (大施食会), a memorial service for the spirits of those who have fallen into the Gaki Realm (餓鬼道), or the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. This realm is one of six in the world of Buddhist teaching, each representing a different level of reincarnation depending upon one’s virtue from one’s previous life. The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is second from the bottom, placing it just above Hell (Jigoku-dô, 地獄道) and just below the Beast Realm (Chikushô-dô, 畜生道). As you can guess from the above, the Realm of Hungry Ghosts isn’t exactly the most pleasant place to be. In a nutshell, its inhabitants are trapped in a state of permanent starvation, but without dying. If you drop in on one of the two dates, maybe you can send some prayers for these unhappy souls.
As for pilgrimages, this temple falls along the 313 Musashino Kannon Pilgrimage route and the 108 Kanto Jizô Pilgrimage, which I describe in greater detail parts one and two of this series. This temple is #311 and #11 on the two routes, respectively.
If religion in and of itself isn’t your thing, at least be sure to get a view of the ancient treasures of the temple: the wood-carved Jizo Bodhisattva and the “Stone-Palace” Kannon Grotto (Iwadono Kanon Iwaya, 岩殿観音窟), both dating to the 14th century CE. I unfortunately didn’t get to see either one as I passed through at the end of a days hike and was a bit too tired and lazy to poke around and figure out what was there. Don’t make my mistake!
Noted as one of Saitama’s tangible cultural properties, the Seated Wood-carved Image of the Bodhisattva Jizô is the main object of worship at the temple. Produced by the Takuma School of artists in 1386 AD, the piece stands at a height of about 40.5 cm and was made using the yosegi-zukuri technique in which the statue is carved from several separate pieces of wood and later assembled. This particular statue also exhibits the hôe-suika (法衣垂下) or “hanging-robes” style, in which the hems of the figure’s robes hang down low below it’s pedestal, appearing somewhat like bird’s wings, suggesting influence from China’s Song Dynasty. The statue is currently housed in the Main Hall of the temple.
The Kanon Grotto, located about a half a kilometer up the mountain next to the temple, is a natural limestone cave transformed into a place of worship. Finding the place might be a bit of a trick since there aren’t any signs in English, but if you follow the path under the train tracks and up towards the large graveyard, then you might just accidentally get on the right way. If you see a red structure built right up against a cliff face, then you’ve found it. Housed within are several relics of the fourteenth century, including a depiction of Fudô Myô-ô carved into the cliff face.
Trail Name: The Path Visiting Musashi’s Historic Temples (Oku-Musashi no Kosatsu o Tazuneru Michi, 奥武蔵の古刹を訪ねる道)
Map: Click here
Start: Kodono Bus Stop (Little Palace Bus Stop, 小殿バス停)
End: Agano Station (Ourfield Station, 吾野駅)
Natural Beauty: Low
Ideal Seasons: Spring (for flower viewing)
Camping Locations:* Mamekuchi Pass (豆口峠)
Length (distance): 9.5 km
Length (time): 2 hours and 40 minutes
Food access: Ne-no-Gongen Temple (子の権現), Asami Teahouse (浅見茶屋), Tôgô Park (東郷公園)
*Note that these are not officially designated camping locations but simply places that I judge would be nice to put down a tent. Camp at your own risk.
My Trail Stats:
Distance traveled: 110.3 km (6.1%)
Courses completed: 9/160 (5.6%)
Days Spent: 7
© Brian Heise 2018