Byodo-ji Temple (Sakurai City) (平等寺 (桜井市))

Located at Miwa Sakurai City Nara Prefecture, Byodo-ji Temple now belongs to the Soto sect. It is also called Miwa-bessho (remote religious facilities from main temple facilities). The principal image is Shaka Nyorai. It was once Jingu-ji Temple (temples associated with shrines) of Omiwa-jinja Shrine.

Origin and History

It is not known when it was founded. Its temple history says that it was founded by Prince Shotoku.
However "Omiwa-Jinja Shi" (The history of Omiwa-Jinja Shrine) denies it, saying that it was founded by Kyoen on the ground that 'a statue of Kyoen was enshrined in Kaisan-do Hall (temple where the statue of founder priest is placed) of the temple.'
"The History of Omiwa-cho Town" suggests that it was founded by Kukai. There is no specific descriptions of the temple in historical materials of ancient times.

Only after the Kamakura period, it was specifically described in historical materials: "Mirokunyorai Kanno Shoso" (The selection of the influence of Mirokunyorai) described it for the fist time in 1236. It is clear with no question that Byodo-ji Temple existed and was called "Miwa-bessho" at the time. Kyoen built a Kanjo Dojo seminary of the Shingon sect beside Omiwa-jinja Shrine. The Dojo was called "Miwa-bessho." Relatively soon after that the seminary came to be called "Byodo-ji Temple." This is the oldest description whereby we can clearly identify the temple in a historical material now.

In the end of the Kamakura period, the temple filled a position of betto-ji (a temple attached to a shrine) of Omiwa-jinja Shrine--the position superior to Daigorin-ji Temple, which was also ranked as a jingu-ji (betto-ji). In the meanwhile, "Daijoin jisha zojiki" (Miscellaneous Records of the Daijo Temple and Shrine) describes that Byodo-ji Temple and other temples were imposed Goyosen (the money paid to the authorities) by the Kofuku-ji Temple (Sakurai City). Byodo-ji Temple, like other temples in Yamato Province, was a branch of Kofuku-ji Temple. It also retained a relation with Daigo-ji Temple, because it taught Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts). This is why two groups of monks were formed in the temple--a group of academic monks (Kofuku-ji Temple Daijo-in) and a group of Zen monks (Sanbo-in of Daigo-ji Temple). The two groups existed together. "Daijoin jisha zojiki" also describes that there were fierce conflicts between the groups of academic monks and Zen monks in the middle of the Muromachi period.

Although the temple left the control of Kofuku-ji Temple and became a temple of the Shingo sect, it continued teaching Shugendo. Its Shuinchi (temple's territory authorized by the Edo shogunate) had a production of 80 koku (of crop yield). The layout of the temple can be confirmed in a manuscript in the Edo period. It depicts Kaisan-do Hall (temple where the statue of founder priest is placed), where Kyoen Shonin was enshrined, in the deepest part of Mt. Miwa. It also tells that there were several large and small Buddhist buildings such as Gyojado hall for ascetic training, Mieido hall to enshrine the founder's image, Hondo (a main hall), and Issaikyodo hall to store the Buddhist scriptures.

In 1868, the Ordinance to separate Buddhism and Shintoism (Buddhism and Shintoism Separation Order) was issued by Daijokan (Grand Council of State). This put Byodo-ji Temple under the control of shanin (shrine priests) of Miwa-sha in 1870. The Buddhist buildings were cleared away and Byodo-ji Temple was closed. In 1954, when "The History of Omiwa-cho Town" was in compilation, 'no trace of the Buddhist buildings is found in the site except for a stone wall left in the pagoda, and principal Buddha statues have been moved to Suisho-ji temple,' ("The History of Omiwa-cho Town," p.469).

In 1977, the temple was reconstructed as a Zen temple, 'Miwa-san Byodo-ji Temple' of the Soto sect. The temple's original layout has been also restored.

[Original Japanese]