Ennin | Biography


1. Ennin | Biography

Ennin (793 -864), better known in Japan by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi, was a priest of the Tendai school of Buddhism in Japan, and its 3rd Zasu ("Head of the Tendai Order").

Ennin was instrumental in expanding the Tendai Order's influence, and bringing back crucial training and resources from China particularly Esoteric Buddhist training, and Pure Land teachings.

2. Birth and origin

He was born into the Mibu family in present-day Tochigi Prefecture, Japan and entered the Buddhist priesthood at Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei (Hieizan) near Kyoto at the age of 14.

3. Trip to China

In 838, Ennin was in the party which accompanied Fujiwara no Tsunetsugu's diplomatic mission to the Tang dynasty Imperial court. The trip to China marked the beginning of a set of tribulations and adventures.

Ennin was one of 8 Japanese Buddhists who studied in China at that time and spent there 9,5 years (838-847).

Initially, he studied under 2 masters and then spent some time at Wutaishan (Japanese: Godaisan), a mountain range famous for its numerous Buddhist temples in Shanxi Province in China.

Later he went to Chang'an (Japanese: Chōan), then the capital of China, where he was ordained into both mandala rituals. He also wrote of his travels by ship while sailing along the Grand Canal of China.

Ennin was in China when the anti-Buddhist Emperor Wuzong of Tang took the throne in 840, and he lived through the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 842–846.

As a result of the persecution, he was deported from China, returning to Japan in 847.

4. Return to Japan

In 847 he returned to Japan and in 854, he became the 3rd abbot of the Tendai sect at Enryaku-ji, where he built buildings to store the sūtras and religious instruments he brought back from China.

His dedication to expanding the monastic complex and its courses of study assured the Tendai School a unique prominence in Japan.

While his chief contribution was to strengthen the Tendai Tantric Buddhist tradition,

the Pure Land recitation practices (nembutsu) that he introduced also helped to lay a foundation for the independent Pure Land movements of the subsequent Kamakura period (1185–1333).

Ennin also founded the temple of Ryushaku-ji at Yama-dera.

5. Literary work

He wrote more than 100 books.

His diary of travels in China, Nittō Guhō Junrei Kōki, was translated into English under the title Ennin's Diary: The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law.

Sometimes ranked among the best travelogues in world literature, it is a key source of information on life in Tang China and Silla Korea and offers a rare glimpse of the Silla personality Jang Bogo (787–846).

Ennin's travel books are precious as historical sources, although they have some errors. His book was the first written document about China and its life by a foreigner.

He did not write an evaluation of what he saw, but rather wrote about religious matters and Chinese life under the Tang Dynasty. His diary is a good source on the practice of popular Buddhism in China.

He described ceremonies as well. Ennin brought back many sūtras and mandalas to Japan. He struggled in his travel during the Tang’s persecution of Buddhism (842-846).

Another contribution on his books was about Korea, which records details of Korea's active trade with North-eastern China. Korea had a dominant role in trade between East China, Korea, and Japan at the time.