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Tettsu Gikai Zenji

Life of Tettsu Gikai Zenji ( 1219-1309 )

Founder of the Daijo-ji Monastery in Kanazawa, Japan

Text written by Ryushin Azuma Roshi

 Text in Japanese life Tettsu Gikai Zenji

Translation of the text done by Tenrai Ryushin Azuma Roshi.
And in English by Lisa Ten shin

He was born at Inazu, in the province of Echizen- the ancient name of the Prefecture of Fukui- and died on October 14th, 1309. He belonged to the Fujiwarashi family.

After studying at Kyoto, he became a disciple of Dogen Zenji, the Founder of the Soto Zen School, he relocated from Kyoto to Eihei-ji to be closer to his Teacher and to practice under his guidance.

Throughout his years of studying and practicing, Dogen Zenji had a great trust in him and after his Teacher’s death he took a journey in China where he visited many Temples and Monasteries keeping a detailed documentation called: “Gozanjissatsuzu” in which he reproduced the structural configuration and furnishing of the Temples, illustrating them through drawings, small reliefs and meticulous descriptions of the places he visited.

This precious document: the “Gozanjissatsuzu” was later known as the “Cultural Patrimony of the Japanese State”

Upon his return to his homeland, Tettsu Gikai Zenji restored and widened the Eihei-ji Monastery and renewed the Regulations for Monastic Life. This is why he is called: the Re-founder of Eihei-ji, and following Koun Ejo Zenji, he became the Third Abbot.

He later left Eihei-ji and went to Nonoichi of Kaga – the ancient name of the Ishikawa Prefecture- there he established the Daijo-ji Monastery.

Many future Teachers were trained in this Monastery: Keizan Zenji- renown as the Mother of the Soto School- who later founded the Soji-ji Monastery, the SotoShu School descended from her and has become the most widely diffused Buddhist School in Japan.

After the Daiji-ji Monastery was destroyed by a fire in the Genroku period during the Edo Era in 1697, it was rebuilt in a new place by Teachers Gesshu Soko and Manzan Dohaku where were later called the refounders of the Soto School, seeing how Daijo-ji acclaimed fame of being a Monastery where the Regulations, renewed and refreshed by the two Abbots, were scrupulously and strictly followed.

In the 90 years of his long life, Tettsu Gikai Zenji observed the austere style of the Practice transmitted from Dogen Zenji, disciplining himself in his daily life and following an existence in conformance with the Truth transmitted from Shakyamuni Buddha.

From close observation of the Tettsu Gikai Zenji’s portrait – renown as the Artistic Patrimony of the Ishikawa Prefecture- it is said:

“From his thin body wrapped in a sober cloth and from the intense light of his face his simple and deep personality appears sweet, gentle and silent.”

Daijo-ji, the 72th Abate Tenrai Ryushin Azuma Roshi

Kakejiku with a portrait of Tettsu Gikai Zenji

 Portrait of Tettsu Gikai Zenji

Portrait of Zen Buddhist Teacher Tettsu Gikai Zenji in the form of kakejiku: A painted scroll 88.4 cm long and 36.1 cm wide. The Founder of the Daijo-ji Monastery is portrayed here seated in a seated call the kyokuroku.

This art of art belongs to Daijo-ji and is recognized as an Artistic Patrimony of the Ishikawa Prefecture, is it taken care of by the city’s Prefecture Museum, while a copy of the painting is conserved in the Monastery.

The kakejiku was dedicated and given to the Monastery on New Year’s Day of 1306 from Tettsu Gikai Zenji to Myoho Zenji, who was a disciple of his disciple.

The copy of the work was done following the kakejiku technique- hanging scroll – in 1434 by Kikudou Soe, belonging to the same Lingeage as Myoho Zenji.

The colored silk scroll found in the Daijo-ji Monastery today was recently restored with the help of a graphic study by computer that redefined the volumes and the dimensions of the figure, identifying the original pigments to recreate Tettsu Gikai Zenji’s face and clothing in the most readable way possible.

After the restoration of the cloth and recovering the clear image of details in the Tettsu Gikai’s serene image, the monk at Daijo-ji say that they feel closer to their Founder and receive more strength and encouragement from the Transmission of his Teachings.

The Hymn of Kanazawa, Daijo-ji

Written by Reverendo Tenrai Ryushin Azuma Roshi for the commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Founder Tettsu Gikai Zenji’s death

Translation done by Shinobu Nakajima, then in English by Lisa Ten shin

 Original text of the Hymn of Daijo-ji

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1. At the sunrise of the Tōkō
mountain that overlooks the Kaga plain,
the purple cloud is spread upon
the roof the Temple
that changes at every season
it’s clothing with elegance.
We are at Kanazawa, Daijo-ji.

2. Seven buildings within the Temple,
our cultural patrimony.
The statue of Shakyamuni
graciously collocated in the main room.
Praying to it with our hands united
we hear the sound of the bell.
We are at Kanazawa, Daijo-ji.

3. Eight-hundred year have passed
without losing the air of the past
with moss, grass and trees intact.
The morning and evening
we practice Zazen,
receiving the compassion of Buddha in our hearts.
We are at Kanazawa, Daijo-ji.

4. Dogen Zenji of Eihei-ji
and Keizan Zenji of Soji-ji.
Tettsu-Gikai connected the two deep links,
our Founder.
We are at Kanazawa, Daijo-ji.

5. The world is in continuous change.
Our sadness with never end.
We try to achieve eternal serenity.
We pray for peace and prosperity of our world.
We are at Kanazawa, Daijo-ji.

Pilgrimage: "On the Path of Tettsu Gikai Zenji"

Japan, May 28th, 2008 from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

Excerpt from Shinnyo’s diary

Daijo-ji Monastery: Room dedicated to the Founders called Rempodo from Keizan Zenji, that holds the urns with the ashes of:
Dogen Zenji, Koun Ejou, Tettsu Gikai Zenji, Keizan Zenji, Meiho Zenji.
In this Room there are also the “Purple Tables” called “Ihai” with the names of Daijo-ji Abbots inscribed up until the 69th and the wooden statues representing the first Abbots of the Monastery, other than Dogen Zenji.

I have been told that we will leave the day after tomorrow- after chouka, the Morning Ceremony, and shuku, breakfast- from 8.00 a.m. for a day visiting the places where Tettsu Gikai Zenji lived, Zenji (Fukui 1219-1309) Founder and the First Abbot of the Daijo-ji Monastery and Third Abbot of Eihei-ji- after Eihei Dogen and Koun Ejou.

Cover of the book written by Tenrai Ryushin Azuma Roshi 72nd Abbot of Daijo-ji Monastery, titled:
“In Honor of Tettsu Gikai Zenji Founder of Daijo-ji- Study on his way of life in poverty”.
Style of his way in life meaning: with modesty and with intoku which means “virtue of the shadow” therefore doing good for the well-being of other without physical presence. There is a Japanese saying that exemplifies the intoku concept: "intoku areba kanarazu yoho ari" which can be translated as “Whoever has done good for other without physical presence will have an apparent and tangible repayment.” – or – “Accumulating virtue in the shadow you will see the beautiful news in the sun”.

Author: Azuma Ryushin, born in Kyoto in 1935. Provost of the Buddhist University for Women in Komazawa and now Honorary Professor of this institution. He received a Masters in Buddhist Literature. His is the current Abbot of the Daijo-ji Monastery in Kanazawa and Counselor of the Dahihonzan of Soji-ji, one of the two principle Soto Zen Buddhist Monasteries in Japan.

We left in two cars, ten monks and two Roshi. The breakfast was informal, not what we usually do- in these days we have shuku in the Sodo, the Meditation Room, with the five bowl set for Oryoki- and the Tenzo, the cook, had prepared onigiri, rice rolls for the meal.

The first stop was a Kinome Touge, to see Dogen Zenji’s tomb that is found at the end of a footpath through the mountain. Kinome means flowering tree and touge, step, therefore the place is called “Il step of the flowering trees”. The landscape is beautiful, the lush green, we are not at the summit of a hill, rather in a field where the first Mausoleum for Dogen Zenji was built, Founder and First Abbot of Eihei-ji.

A large gray granite tomb with an altar, on the side were the Funeral Monuments of Koun Ejou and Tettsu Gikai Zenji, in that order, Second and Third Abbots of Daijo-ji.

Here Eihei Dogen and Tettsu Gikai said goodbye to one another, separating: Dogen Zenji, at this time was ill, returned to Kyoto where he later died, Tettsu Gikai Zenji, went back to Eihei. Ji where he become the Third Abbot.

Ino Roshi read his epitaph on the gravestone above the monument and then we put flowers in the two vases on Dogen Zenji’s tomb, lit the candles and together recited the Daisishin Darani, the Darani of the Great Compassionate Mind, as a funeral commemoration. Then in line, one after another, we each lit a stick of incense, kneeling before the altar.

Shinnyo reciting the Daihishin Darani after offering incense to Eihei Dogen Zenji’s tomb at Kinome Touge.

Group photo at Kinome Touge in front of Eihei Dogen Zenji’s tomb.

We then left to go to Namitsuki Tera, the ancient Temple presumably belonging to the Dharuma-shu School, later transformed into a Temple for the Shingon School, in homage what was the first place where Tettsu Gikai Zenji arrived at the age of 13 and began practicing in this region following the Teacher of that Temple. This Temple does not exist today, but it remains as a memory, surrounded by trees and wild foliage, the entrance door, made in wook, with a large cord canopy that wraps the Torii, the door’s interior entablature, decorated by six cord tassels, hung from an equal distance between each other.

Torii – entrance door – in Namitsuki Tera in the Echizen province, ancient name for the Fukui Prefecture in the Joganji-cho neighborhood. It is the last testimony of the ancient Namitsuki Temple.

The next stop was a visit to the principle Monastery of the Soto Zen School, Daihonzan Eihei-ji found in the Echizen mountains, given this name because it was founded by Eihei Dogen Zenji and finished construtction in 1244.

We visited many Rooms, from the Sodo, to the Butsuden, to the Joyoden, the Room where the Zuise Ceremony will be celebrated on June 21st, from which I will receive the title Jyoushoku, or Abbot.

A majestic Monastery, framed by the mountain. Perfectly clean, in order, an immense. Surrounded by trickling water and green. Everywhere shinto, new monks, during their training months, that quickly and silently work, light and powerful in their dedication to a truly difficult practice.

Group photo at the entrance of the Eihei-ji Monastery in front of the commemorative Sign with this written in the center: "Tettsu Gikai Zenji 700th Anniversary of his death”
on the left: “Open to visit the Ceremonies from January to November 2008”
on the right: “Intensive Ceremony period from the 16th to the 21st of April”

We then stopped in from of a rest area not far away and sat upon an earthwork, in the sunshine of an enchanting spring day, we ate onigiri, salad and fruit prepared at Daijo-ji before leaving. Then we went to Kippou-ji, the first mountain Temple founded by Eihei Dogen Zenji, the first of Eihei-ji, and was about five hours away by foot, as a stone indicated near the entrance door.

Kippou-ji no torii – Entrance door to the Kippou-ji Temple.

We then arrived at Eisen-ji, a Temple of the Tendai School, that unfortunately, due to my incomprehension of Japanese, I didn’t understand how it was linked to the life of Tettsu Gikai Zenji.

The seventh stop, Onsen!!! Since we got back to Daijo-ji too late to take an evening bath, we took thirty minutes to stop at the Springs to wash and to refresh, then we left. We then went to a part with big century-old obokesugi plants, Japanese citron trees; it is a custom to plant these trees near statues of Buddha as an honor to him.

We followed our pilgrimage until we arrived near Kanazawa, to Dabibaka of the Founder of Daijo-ji: the term dabi means cremation and haka means tomb, therefore a sort of tabernacle-reliquary of Tettsu Gikai Zenji, inaugurated on August 13th, 2007 by my Teacher Ryushin Azuma Roshi, now the Abbot of Daijo-ji. This monument was forgotten for a long time, then rediscovered in 1927 and moved a place belonging to the Agricultural Association of Taiheiji. It was recognized as a Historic Monument by the Community of Nonoichi-machi in 1967 and on the 700th anniversary of the death of Tettsu Gikai Zenji in 2008, was restored and moved to a new place in the Community of Nonoichi-machi and named as a Cultural Patrimony of the Community.

We gave homage to Tettsu Gikai Zenji’s Funeral Monument by offering flowers, lighting candles and incense, and reciting the Shari Raimon, the Sutra dedicated to Reliquary homages.

Tettsu Gikai Zenji’s Funeral Monument restored and moved to the Nonoichi-machi Community

The tenth and final stop, Daijo-ji Ato where ato means trace, print. It is a monument built from a commemorative stone with a stone high relief at the side representing Fudou-sama, the fire protector. In fact, it sits exactly at the first setting of the Daijo-ji Temple, before it was destroyed by a fire.

Commemorative stone with the inscription: "Trace of the 1st settlement of the Daijo-ji Monastery, Ishikawa Prefecture, Nonoichi-cho Community, outside of the Koanken Temple.”

Goonki Ceremony

 Photograph of the funeral celebration of the death of Tettsu Gikai Zenji

Photo taken on October 14th, 2008 at the Daijo-jo Monastery in Japan at the end of the five days of Goonki, the funeral Celebration commemorating the 700th anniversary of the death of the Founder and First Abbot of Daijo-ji: Tettsu Gikai Zenji. The current Abbot Reverend Ryushin Azuma Roshi is in the center of the photo, surrounded by all of the Teachers and monks closely related to Daijo-ji along with close followers.

The Founder’s tomb in the Daijo-ji cemetery

 Tomb of the founder Tettsu Gikai Zenji

Kaizan bochi: tomb of Founder Tettsu Gikai Zenji in the Daijo-ji cemetery (photo by Genryu Tamura)