Eisai (栄西)

Minnan Eisai (also pronounced Yosai) was also called Yojobo, and his shi (a posthumous name) was Senkokokushi. He (May 27, 1141 - July 2, 1215) was the founder of a Buddhism religious sect, Rinzai sect, and kaisan (founder of a temple as the first chief priest) of Kennin-ji Temple. There was a heresy on the year of his birth. He was also ryuso (founder of a school, an originator) of the Yojo School of the Tendai Sect. He was also famous for conveying the custom of tea drinking throughout Japan.


He was born in 1141, the child of Sadato KAYO, Gonnegi (general staff of a shrine) of Kibitsu no miya (present Kibitsu-jinja Shrine in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture).

In "Kishi Kezu" (a family tree of the Ki clan) ("Zoku-Gunsho Ruiju" Book (Book of The Library of Historical Documents, Continued)), an anecdote stated the heresy that he was the child of KI no Sueshige, the younger brother of Chogen. However, this anecdote arose because Chogen dedicated himself to reconstructing Kibitsu no miya and Eisai succeeded to the position of Daikanjin (priest to collect contributions) at Todai-ji Temple where Chogen worked, so it was not considered an historical fact.

It was told that he read "Kusharon" (sutra of the Kusha sect) and "Basharon" (the Discourse on the Ten Stages) at the age of eight in 1148.

He underwent shukke tokudo (entering the priesthood, becoming a monk) at Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei at the age of 14 in 1154.

After that, he received his education and learned Esoteric Buddhism of the Tendai Sect at Enryaku-ji Temple, Anyo-ji Temple in Kibi Province, and Daisen-ji Temple in Hoki Province (Daisen-cho, Saihaku-gun, Tottori Prefecture). He excelled in gyoho (a method of ascetic practices) and founded the Yojo School named for his bogo (temple name).

He studied in the Southern Sung Dynasty in 1168 when he became tired of the Nihon Tendai sect, which had lost substance. He visited Mannen-ji Temple on Mt. Tendai and brought over "Tendai Shozo" 60 Books.

The Zen sect flourished in the Southern Sung Dynasty at that time, and he was significantly influenced by that. He felt that Zen was important for revival of Buddhism.

He went to the Southern Sung Dynasty again in 1187. He requested to visit India to preach Buddhism but could not get permission, so he studied under Kian Ejo at Mannen-ji Temple at Mt. Tendai.

He received Inka (Certification of spiritual achievement) of shiho(to inherit the dharma from a priest master) for the Rinzai sect from Kian Ejo in 1191. He returned to Japan in 1191.

He erected Fukueko-ji Temple and Senko-ji Temple and made effort to propagate Buddhism, mainly in Chikuzen Province and Higo Province.

The Zen sect by himself and Dainichibo Nonin flourished in 1194, so he was rejected by the Tendai sect and an imperial proclamation was issued on prohibition of the Zen sect.

He erected Shofuku-ji Temple (Fukuoka City) in Hakata in 1195 and made it the first Zen dojo (training hall) in Japan.

This temple later received a framed motto saying, 'Fuso Saisho Zenkutsu' (Japan's first Zen place) by Emperor Gotoba. Eisai received Injin (mystagogy certificates a Buddhist priest awards his followers) of the Shingon sect and blended in existing power and tried to make a feint.

He wrote "Kozengokoku-ron" in 1198.

It preached that Zen was not for denying the existing religious sects, and that it was important for revival of Buddhism.

He felt his limitations to propagate in Kyoto, so he went down to Kamakura and sought the patronage of the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

He was invited to Jufuku-ji Temple erected by Masako HOJO as the chief priest in 1200.

He erected Kennin-ji Temple in Kyoto by the protection of MINAMOTO no Yoriie in 1202.

Kennin-ji Temple was the temple of Sanshu kengaku (learning the three sects) of Zen, Tendai, and Shingon. From then, he was involved in the power of the bakufu and the Imperial Court and made efforts to promote the Zen sect by using this power.

He was appointed to Daikanjin at Todai-ji Temple ceded by Chogen in 1206.

He was appointed to Hoin (the highest rank in the hierarchy of Buddhist priests) in 1212.

He was promoted to Gonsojo (the lowest grade that can be held by one who has reached the highest rank in the hierarchy of Buddhist priests) in 1213.

From then, there was a lot of criticism about Eisai for his intense pursuit of political power. Especially, Eisai drew stringent criticism for engaging in the Daishi-go Ryo-go movement by steering the bakufu. His scheme was dismissed since there was no precedent of jugo (granted a pseudonym) in one's lifetime. However, Jien of Tendai-zasu (head priest of the Tendai sect) insulted Eisai as 'the incarnation of conceit in Buddhism' in "Gukansho" (Jottings of a Fool).

He died of illness in 1215. There were two theories about the place of his death, either Kamakura or Kyoto.

View of Eisai from others

Dogen, founder of the Nihon Soto sect, practiced at Kennin-ji Temple before entering the Southern Sung Dynasty and achieved magodeshi (disciple of disciple) relations with Eisai through Dogen's teacher Myozen. Dogen respected Eisai very much and introduced the episodes about him many times as 'Sojo-sama (high-ranking Buddhist priest) who died...' in "Shobogenzo-zuimonki" (collection of short talks, orations, comments on instruction and cautionary tales). In addition, regarding the issue of whether or not Eisai and Dogen had met in person, recent research has reported they did not met in person.

Major literary works

"Seigan-ji Temple Urabon Engi" (History of Urabon ritual at Seigan-ji Temple) was the only autographed document and a national treasure. It seemed that he wrote it when he stayed at Seigan-ji Temple in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka City.

"Kissa-yojoki" (Drink Tea and Prolong Life, A Note on Drinking Green Tea for Good Health) (All translator's notes by Shokin FURUTA, Academic paperback library, Kodansha Ltd. in 2000)

"Kissa-yojoki" consisted of Volume 1 and 2, and in Volume 1 it explained the variety of teas, the manufacturing process of green tea, and the effectiveness of tea drinking that made a body healthy. Volume 2 explained the effectiveness of and directions for use of mulberry against five diseases, Insui (present diabetes), paralysis, summer lethargy, smallpox, and beriberi. Because of that, its alternative title was Chasokyo (written as 茶桑経, meaning tea, mulberry, and sutra). The year of its writing is not certain, and there is no established theory, but it was generally considered 'The document to praise tea drinking' presented to MINAMOTO no Sanetomo in 1214 to be Kanbon (complete edition).

"Eisai-Kozengokoku-ron and Kissa-yojoki-" (written by Shokin FURUTA, Kodansha Ltd. in 1994)

[Original Japanese]