Gangoji Temple

 (World Heritage Site)

  the Shingon ritsu Sect
■ History ■ 

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Gangoji Temple and Dedication of the Great Buddha Hall
To celebrate the completion of the Great Buddha Hall of Todaiji Temple in 752 A.D.(the 4th year of the Shoho Era of the Tempyo Period),a ceremony was held in which Ryuzon,who was a grand abbot of the Gangoji Temple,with his three disciples dedicated the Kegon Sutra to the Great Buddha Hall.In addition,each of them also dedicated a poem in praise of the Great Buddha,one of which is as follows.

"Minamoto-no Nori-no Okorishi Tobuyatori Auka-no Terano Utatatematshuru"
(Lit.Representing the Temple of Asuka from where all rites and rituals of our nation of the rising sun were originated,we hereby present a poem to this Great Buddha)--From the Excerpt of Todays Temple.

Picture on this occasion,the priest reading aloud a poem in the presence of Empress Koken and her predecessor Emperor shomu and many other celebrities of the Imperial Court.The fact that to the fact that they still considered themselves the source of Buddhism in Japan and continued to refer to their temples as "Asuka Temple of Nara".

Chick and His Mandala
Chiko,a famous about of the Gangoji Temple in the latter part of the Nara Period,is well known as a a scholar of the Sanron school and as the first student specialized in studying the Judo denomination of Buddhism.He also expounded the philosophy of "Chiko's Mandala"(See rear page."Chiko's Mandala"is designated an important cultural property.).
The room in the temple where Chiko lived was called "Gokuraku-bo",and a picture of "Chiko's Mandala"was later enshrined there,making it a central place of worship.

Chiko Mandala
An infrared photography of the Chiko mandala of the Gangoji drawn on a wooden panel

Important Cultural Property

Gangoji,One of the Southern Capital's Seven Great Temples

Through the first half of the Heian Period,Gangoji Temple played a leading role among the Seven Great National Temples in the Southern Capital.During this time,Gangoji Temple made important contributions to the propagation of Buddhism in Japan including famous priests such as Gomyo.The Temple also initiated several Buddhist festivals such as Ullambana or Urabone, a Buddhist memorial service for the dead ,Kanbutsu-e or Flower Festival celebrating the birth of the Buddha,Monjyu-e,presumably the first systematic charity work introduced into Japan,and Butsumyo-eamong others.We imagine that the aristocrats living in the Heijyokyo area of Nara,the new capital,took great pleasure in making a tour of worship to all seven temples in a single day,as they were regarded as the birthplace of their Buddhist faith.

Latter Half of the Heian Period
The latter half of Heian Period saw a decrease in the power of the central government which supported the temples.This coincided with a decrease in the income of the sho-ens and the rise of new temples such as the Tendai sect and the Shingon sect of Buddhism,which were closely associates with and patronized by the aristocracy.The combination of these doomed all the temples under government patronage to gradual decay including Gangoji-Temple.

The Emergence of Gokuraku-bo
It was Chiko's Mandala that kept the torch Gnagoji Temple burning when it was in danger of total extinction.At about the same time that the Chamber of Imperial Prince Shotoku's Sacred Spirit was built in the reconstructed temple of Horyuji,another chamber was built in a part of the Gangoji Temple's priests'living quarters to enshrine Chiko's Mandala.The chamber was called "Gokuraku-bo"(Monaatery of Nirvana or land),and a part of it was later named "Gokuraku-do or "Mandala Hall".As the followers of the Jodo denomination increased, "Mandala Hall"became an important center of worship for them.

Gangoji Temple Is Supported by The People
During this time,the Temple was felt to its own means with no support from the government or members of the aristocracy.Their support was gradually replaced by that coming from
the general public.Throughout the later part of the Middle Age following the Kamakura Period,Gangoji Temple was a center of worship for people believing in Jizo,Prince Shotoku,the Shingon sect,and the Jodo denomination.The reason for this was that all of these beliefs had evolved from the faith in Grand Abbot Chiko.From this time until the Modern Age,Gangoji not only survived but prospered,attracting even more followers.The images of "Prince Shotoku Serving Parents"and "squatting Kobo Daishi",both designated Important Cultural Properties,and the statue of Joroku Amida Nyorai,made in the early years of the late of the 10th century,all are fine examples of the people's faith in Buddhism during that period.At the end of the Middle Ages,the temple's East Gate,designated an Important Cultural Property,was rebuilt at its present site after being transferred from the south-west monastery of Todaiji Temple.

Prince Shotoku
at his age of two
Prince Shotoku
at his age of sixteen

Important Cultural Property
Kobo Daishi

Important Cultural Property

Relics of Medieval People's Faith & The Research Institute of Cultural Property

The temple has in its possession about ten thousand relics that help to inform us about people's faith in the Middle Ages.These pieces are designated as important tangible cultural properties of ethnology.In addition to these,there are also many Buddhist image.We feel very lucky that all these pieces miraculously escaped damage from fires and period of civil strife.They are now regarded as invaluable resource materials for the study of Medieval temple and the people's faith.
Having this background,the Gangoji Research Institute of Cultural Property,Foundation Incorporated,was established in the temple compound to conduct research and categorize these important materials.The Institute is also studying a variety of ethnological objects related to Buddhism both from the Nara area and from all over Japan.Its research finding to date are regarded as significant achievements in this fields of study.One section of the Institute,the Center for Conservation of Cultural Property,is located in annex of Daijyo-Ryuji-Temple in Ikoma City. The Center is engaged in the scientific conservation and analysis of archaeological finds from excavation sites throughout Japan.

Gangoji institute for research of cultural property