May 27, 1141|
Bitchū Province, Japan
|Died||July 2, 1215(aged 74)|
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Myōan Eisai (明菴栄西, May 27, 1141 – July 2, 1215) was a Japanese Buddhist priest, credited with bringing the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and green tea from China to Japan. He is often known simply as Eisai Zenji (栄西禅師), literally "Zen master Eisai".
Born in Bitchū Province (modern-day Okayama, Okayama), Eisai was ordained as a monk in the Tendai sect. Dissatisfied with the state of Buddhism at the time, in 1168 he set off on his first trip to Mt. Tiantai in China, the origin of the sect, where he learned of the primacy of the Chan (later known in Japan as Zen) school in Chinese Buddhism of the time. He spent only six months in China on this first trip, but returned in 1187 for a longer stay as a disciple of Xuan Huaichang, a master in the Linji (Rinzai) line, at Jingde Si (Ching-te-ssu, 景德寺) monastery.
After his certification as a Zen teacher, Eisai returned to Japan in 1191, bringing with him Zen scriptures and tea seeds. He immediately founded the Hōon-ji Temple in remote Kyūshū, Japan's first Zen temple.
Eisai set about slowly propagating the new faith, trying to gain the respect of both the Tendai school and the Imperial court through careful diplomacy. Faced with the sometimes violent opposition of traditional schools of Buddhism such as Tendai, Shingon and Pure Land, Eisai finally left Kyoto for the north-east to Kamakura in 1199, where the Shogun and the newly ascendant warrior class enthusiastically welcomed his teachings. Hōjō Masako, the widow of Yoritomo, allowed him to build Jufuku-ji, the first Zen temple in Kamakura.
One feature of Eisai's activity not often noted is his continued eclecticism. He never renounced his status as a Tendai monk, and until the end of his life continued to engage in Tendai esoteric practices. Though he is credited with transmission of the Rinzai line to Japan, it remained for later teachers to establish a distinctly Japanese Zen free of admixture with the teachings of other schools.
Eisai founded Kennin-ji in Kyoto in 1202, died in 1215 at the age of 74, and is buried in Kennin-ji's temple grounds. Among his notable disciples was Eihei Dōgen, who himself traveled to China and returned to found the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan.
- Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1962). Sovereign and Subject. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 1014075
- Theosophy Trust: Eisai
- Buddhist Channel TV: First chief priest Eisai revered for spreading Zen and stimulating drink to nation