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map of Ishina Seisui Temple

Ishina Seisui Temple

How to get

You CANNOT get to this temple by walk. It is too far from Aikawa. Take #9 bus (Kaifu-sen) at Aikawa bus stop. Get off the bus at Ishina-Kita bus stop. There are three bus stops in Ishina villege; Ishina-Minami, Ishina-Naka, and Ishina-Kita. Third one is the nearest, but you don’t have to worry about getting off at other "Ishina-" bus stops because they are close each other. The temple is just in front of Ishina-Kita bus stop.

Photo.19.1 Ishina Seisui Temple

This is a temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism1). Shingon Buddhism in Japan was initiated by Koubou Daishi Kuukai (774 - 835). The story of Kobo Daishi and the history of this temple are written on the wooden board by the road.

There are two wooden Buddhist statues inside the main hall of Ishina Seisui Temple. Those were sculpted by a traveling monk "Mokujiki-Gyodo (1718 - 1810)". Before telling his story, cautions must be made. Buddhism has nothing to do with idol worship, it is 100 percent spiritual. But it is also true that some of Buddhist statues are so beautiful and artistic that one may think of such statue as an object of worship. Because of that, people who don't like Buddhism tend to say bad things as if it were idolatry. It is not, and such a comment comes from ignorance. This caution is important because Mokujiki-Gyodo sculpted more than 1,000 wooden Buddhist statues through his "travelling practice". Without this caution, someone may regards those statues as idolatry.

Another caution would be how we think about a balance between faith and deeds. Ordinary people could not live a life like Mokujiki-Gyodo. If you look at how small part the Jacob is in the New Testament, or if you read what Shinran says, the answer for the faith-deeds issue is already clear. Faith is more important than deeds. But look at what Mokujiki-Gyodo had done; travelling all over Japan by walking thousands of miles, enduring hard practice, praying for village people, and carving one thousand wooden statues. It is too much deeds. But the important thing is that, still we can see a great faith of Mokujiki-Gyodo through what he had done.

Actually Mokujiki (木食) means an ascetic practices in which a person does not eat any farm products, but only eat raw natural food like nuts in the forest. The word Mokujiki also means monks who commit these disciplines. There had been several Mokujikis who were active on Sado; Tanzei, Chouon, Seigan, and Gyodo2). Therefore, if one said just Mokijiki, it would not identify the specific monk Mokujigi-Gyodo. Later he put "Mouth (口)" on left side of Chinese character "jiki (食)" for his name. So it was "木喰" that can identify the specific monk Mokujiki-Gyodo. The following part uses only "Mokujiki" for simplicity.

Photo.19.2 Large Ginco Trees of Ishina Seisui Temple

Mokujiki is said to have been born in 1718. But it was not clear, perhaps he might have said his age 10 years older than real age. His birth place was currently at Furuseki-marubatake3), Shimobe-cho, Nishiyatsushiro-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture. So it was not in Sado island. Anyway it is quite difficult to find the place on a map because it is too under-populated mountainous area. At age of 14, he got out of his home, went to Edo that is currently Tokyo, and worked many kinds of job. When he was 22, he decided to be in priesthood because he met a high-rank priest of Kogi-Shingon Buddhism who taught him a meaning of life. In 1762, Mokujiki succeeded the precepts of Mokugiki practice from Mokujiki-Kankai of Rakan Temple in Mito, and also got a name "Gyodo". At this time he started wishing to travel4).

In 1773, at the age of 56 (46?), he got on the road. He kept on traveling for 37 years, until his death. It was in 1778 at age of 61 when he started sculpturing Buddhist statues in northern island of Hokkaido. He travelled many places in Japan and on the way, he carved 1000 of statues, drew many pictures, and read 600 of short poems of Tanka. A book shows routes that he traveled5). Total distance is not clear, however, it is surprising that not a young man but an eldery traveled such a long distance without help of modern transportation.

Photo.19.3 River flows into the sea at the north end of Ishina Village

He came to Sado on May 23rd in 17816) and left on May 15th in 17857). It was rare for Mokujiki to stay in one place for four years, excepting 10 years in Hyuga-Kokubun Temple in current Miyazaki Prefecture. One of reasons is thought to be people’s hospitality in Sado8). During 4 years in Sado, he made some 40 Buddhist statues and 110 writings-paintings9). At the same time, two years were spent for rebuilding Buddhist Hall on Mountain Dantoku, and one and plus year was spent for building Kuhondo in Kitahirasawa10).

After leaving Sado, he continued travelling mainly in western Japan. He died at the age of 93. His last carvings were seven statues in Kofu, but they were burnt and lost by the fire bombings of Kofu Air Raid in July 6-7th, 194511). As to where and how Mokujiki died, his nephew had never told to anybody. So it has been secret for so long, but one book reads that he spent his last days in a cave behind the grave of his master Mokujiki-Kankai at Okunoin of Iwayasan Bukkoku Temple in Mito. It seems to be better to keep it mystery that no one knows, though, the book says it is what Mokujiki’s descendants say12).

When Mokujiki started carving in Hokkaido, there was no smile on face of his statues. But over the years, his statues started smiling, eventually showed loud laughter in his last years. Statues in Ishina Seisui Temple were made in still early years of his carving. So they don’t look smiling, although the lady in the temple told me that these two shows signs of start of smiling. It is very heartwarming to see a smiling Buddhist statue of Mokujiki-Gyodo.

Photo.19.4 A Resident of Ishina-Kita Village