Eiheiji: Balance and Beauty

Early morning is no doubt the best time to visit Eiheiji, a quiet Buddhist temple hidden in the mountains of Fukui and home of zen, a type of Buddhism that focuses on awareness through the practice of meditation, often to achieve inner peace and relaxed feelings.  

Peace, tranquility, calmness

Clear, crisp air breathes fresh awareness into visitors as they take in their surroundings; a stunning blue sky behind the mountains and forest, the ancient trees towering above moss-carpeted boulders, where visitors leave small stacks of rocks, creating a personal connection to nature’s balance.  In the shade of its centenarian cousin, a young sapling springs from the trunk of one of its fallen brothers.  Opposite in size and age, yet this too, balanced.

An old, moss covered stone walkway leads by a gushing river, its flowing water creating a steady rhythm highlighted by frequent bird cries.  The temperature is noticeably lower here, but as one climbs the steps, the early morning sun breaks over the mountaintop, delivering warmth and a hint of an inner warmth to be experienced in the temple ahead.  

Sunlight reflects off a pond and the endless ripples radiating from a small waterfall, onto rocks and trees behind a pond, creating visual echoes of tranquility.

A maze of beauty

After passing through the entrance gate, visitors can listen to a monk give an overview of the temple’s vast grounds as he explains each area on a large, mural-like map.  Visitors can rest on benches while listening, or simply skip the presentation altogether and follow the clearly marked tour path. 

Visitors will soon find themselves in a maze of long hallways, connecting corridors, steep staircases and spacious rooms, some with stunningly beautiful, nature-themed ceiling art, others with the simple warmth of well worn Japanese cyprus, but all decorative and constructed intricately.

One corridor leads to an inner courtyard garden, blending interior and exterior seamlessly.  Here, small streams run along one side of the pathway, flowing in harmony with the steady resonance of monks who chant endlessly in the private room on the other side.

The main hall, the largest building in the complex, faces due south, allowing the noontime sun to shine brilliantly upon worshipers who make offerings or sit quietly, the sunlight enveloping the temple, adding a physical warmth to a more calming spiritual warmth. 

Old mysteries

Some areas of the temple are off limits to the public, leaving one to wonder just how large it is, and what mysteries it shares only with the priests who study here. 

Near the end of the tour course, visitors encounter one of those mysteries – the Sanmon, or main gate, used only by residents of the temple, and only two times; once when they enter the temple as a novice, and once again when they leave as a fully trained monk.

There are surely more mysteries of Eiheiji and zen to discover as you spend time in the ancient hallways of the temple and the newer halls of the adjacent buildings.  Come see, feel and experience for yourself!

*  When visiting, please do not point your camera directly at the monks.