Today my colleagues and I took a trip to Mt. Hiei to visit Enryakuji (延暦寺), one of the most revered temple complexes in the country and formerly known as the headquarters of the Tendai-sect of Japanese Buddhism. Although often thought of as synonymous with the main hall, the name “Enryakuji” does not refer to any specific building but rather the entire temple complex which encompasses Mt. Hiei. What is also important to note is that Enryakuji is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While it is easy to solely focus on the beauty of the temple grounds, I feel that there is much to be said for the actual trip to the top of Mt. Hiei. Driving up the mountain offered a breathtaking view of Lake Biwa and the city of Otsu which cannot be seen anywhere else. Throughout the drive, you’re able to see the juxtaposition of modern-day Japan against the untouched forests which blanket the mountain. Once you arrive at the temple after seeing the vastly different landscapes right next to each other, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve traveled to another time.
The temple grounds themselves were quite literally one of the quietest places I have ever been to. Of course it’s easy to say that any place that is situated on top of a mountain is bound to be quiet, but with the cities of Otsu and Kyoto sitting on its east and west respectively, to quickly find yourself in a place where most of the sounds that you have been hearing every day for the past 3 years are completely non-existent was truly a revitalizing experience for me.
Among the different temples we visited, the one that stuck out the most was by far the main temple, Konpon Chu-do (根本中堂). The temple was established in 788 by Dengyo Daishi (born Saicho 最澄), who is the founder of the Tendai school of Buddhism in Japan. The temple houses a Buddhist icon known as “Yakushi Nyorai”, which is the Buddha of healing and medicine, and it is said that Dengyo Daishi himself carved the statute. However, perhaps the most interesting thing about this temple is that the Buddhist statue has been continuously illuminated by a flame said to have been lit by Daishi Daigyo, for over 1,200 years. It is in this temple where visitors can see Buddhist monks going about their daily rituals, most of which have remained unchanged since the temple’s establishment over a millennium ago. After giving it some thought, I realized that this was what exemplified my experience visiting Enryakuji. The fact that while the world around it has changed so drastically throughout the years, time here seemingly stood still. Truly an experience I will never forget.