Photo/IllutrationA scene from the seventh “Ippen Hijiri-e” scroll depicts Ippen and others chanting a prayer and dancing on a raised platform in Kyoto in respect for Buddhist monk Kuya (903-972), as many people gather to watch them. (Provided by the Tokyo National Museum)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--Remove the walls you have built within yourself, don't compare yourself to others, and treat all people equally.

These are a few of the teachings of a prominent Buddhist monk being celebrated at an exhibition under way here.

Ippen (1239-1289) traveled around Japan during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) introducing Buddhism to common people by reciting prayers as he danced, and is famous for having founded the Jishu sect.

About 130 artifacts, including the 12 national treasure "Ippen Hijiri-e" scrolls owned by Shojokoji, the head temple of the Jishu sect in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, also known as Yugyoji, are on display at “Art of the Ji Shu: A New Sect of Buddhism in the Kamakura Period,” which started at the Kyoto National Museum on April 13.

The exhibition also commemorates the 700th anniversary of the death of Shinkyo (1237-1319), the second founder of the sect who took over Ippen's activities.

GUIDE FOR FUTURE PEOPLE

Ippen’s teaching “Let everything go” sounds like he recommends a lifestyle of not holding onto unnecessary things. However, what he really wanted to say is “remove all mental walls.”

Masayuki Nagasawa, a lecturer of studies on Jishu at Taisho University, said Ippen's wisdom can be summarized as follows: “Treat all equally.”

Ippen argued that people with any ideology, belief, social status or gender must be saved by Amitabha, whether they are wealthy or poor. All individuals are equal before Amitabha, and thus it is useless to force one’s views on others, compare oneself with others, or divide them into friends and foes.

Ippen hit upon the idea when he was 36 years old, according to the traditional reckoning.

As "Ippen Hijiri-e" shows, Ippen received an oracle ordering him to “introduce Buddhism to all people, including believers in Buddhism, non-worshippers, and men and women of any status” in Kumano in what is now Wakayama Prefecture.

He then left his hometown in what is now Ehime Prefecture and traveled throughout Japan to Iwate and Kagoshima prefectures, distributing strips with words of prayer and explaining Buddhist teachings to locals.

"Ippen Hijiri-e" records the travels and life of Ippen, who died at 51 by the traditional counting.

The 12 scrolls with illustrations and texts total 130 meters in length, and all will be displayed in rotation in the first and second rounds of the exhibition.

A close examination of the scrolls shows many people in various landscapes in different regions, such as men and women of all ages enthusiastically praying and dancing by vigorously shaking their bodies.

In a scene depicting Kyoto, aristocrats riding ox-drawn carriages and a nearly naked individual who appears to be physically disabled can be found. Although Ippen is a noted monk, he is not painted in an especially decorative way.

Ippen presented his Buddhist scriptures to others and burned other books two weeks before his death. He told his disciples not to hold a funeral and took his last breath silently, according to "Ippen Hijiri-e."

The 11th and 12th scrolls depict his final days.

The scrolls were completed in 1299, 10 years after his death. While the texts were developed by Shokai (1261-1323), a leading disciple of Ippen who appears in "Ippen Hijiri-e,” the illustrations are said to have been painted by artist En'i.

At the end of "Ippen Hijiri-e” is a sentence that states the scrolls will “also serve as guidance for people in 1,000 years.”

Shinkyo took over Ippen’s teaching at 53 by the traditional reckoning, traveled mainly in the Koshinetsu region, helped establish the foundation of the sect and died at the age of 83.

His life is detailed in the 10 “Yugyo Shonin Engi-e” scrolls, which are designated by the government as an important cultural property.

The first round of the exhibition will continue through May 12. The second round will start on May 14 and end on June 9. For more details, visit the museum’s website at (https://www.kyohaku.go.jp/eng/index.html).