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Ennin (圓仁)
A statue of Ennin.
TitleThird zasu, head of the Tendai Order
Born793 or 794 CE
DiedFebruary 24, 864(864-02-24) (aged 69–70)
SchoolTendai school
LineageSammon lineage
Other namesJikaku Daishi (慈覺大師)
Senior posting
PredecessorEnchō (円澄)
SuccessorAn'e (安慧)

Ennin (圓仁 or 円仁, 793 CE [1] or 794 CE – 864 CE), better known in Japan by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi (慈覺大師), was a priest of the Tendai school of Buddhism in Japan, and its third Zasu (座主, "Head of the Tendai Order"). Ennin was instrumental in expanding the Tendai Order's influence, and bringing back crucial training and resources from China, particularly esoteric Buddhist training and Pure Land teachings.

Birth and origin[edit]

He was born into the Mibu (壬生) family in present-day Tochigi Prefecture, Japan and entered the Buddhist priesthood at Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei (Hieizan) near Kyoto at the age of 14.

Trip to China[edit]

In 838, Ennin was in the party which accompanied Fujiwara no Tsunetsugu's diplomatic mission to the Tang dynasty Imperial court.[2][3] The trip to China marked the beginning of a set of tribulations and adventures which he documented in his journal. The journal describes an account of the workings of the government of China, which saw strong and able administrative control of the state and its provinces, even at a time of a supposed decline of the Tang dynasty. His writings also expanded on religious matters and commerce. He stayed in Xi'an for five years.[4]

Initially, he studied under two masters and then spent some time at Wutaishan (五臺山; Japanese: Godaisan), a mountain range famous for its numerous Buddhist temples in Shanxi Province in China. Here, he learned go-e nembutsu (五会念仏, "Five tone nembutsu") among other practices. Later he went to Chang'an (Japanese: Chōan), then the capital of China, where he was ordained into both mandala rituals: the Mahāvairocana-sūtra and the Vajraśekhara-sūtra,[5] along with initiation and training in the Susiddhikara Sūtra tantra.[6] He also wrote of his travels by ship while sailing along the Grand Canal of China.

Ennin was in China when the anti-Buddhist Emperor Wuzong of Tang took the throne in 840, and he lived through the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 842–846. As a result of the persecution, he was deported from China, returning to Japan in 847.[7]

Return to Japan[edit]

In 847 he returned to Japan and in 854, he became the third abbot of the Tendai sect at Enryakuji, where he built buildings to store the sutras and religious instruments he brought back from China. His dedication to expanding the monastic complex and its courses of study assured the Tendai school a unique prominence in Japan. While his chief contribution was to strengthen the Tendai tantric Buddhist tradition, the Pure Land recitation practices (nenbutsu) that he introduced also helped to lay a foundation for the independent Pure Land movements of the subsequent Kamakura period (1185–1333).[8] Ennin also founded the temple of Ryushakuji at Yamadera.

Literary work[edit]

He wrote more than one hundred books. His diary of travels in China, Nittō Guhō Junrei Kōki (入唐求法巡礼行記), was translated into English by Professor Edwin O. Reischauer under the title Ennin's Diary: The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law. Sometimes ranked among the best travelogues in world literature, it is a key source of information on life in Tang China and Silla Korea and offers a rare glimpse of the Silla personality Jang Bogo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald Keene, in his Travelers of a Hundred Ages gives Ennin's birth year as 793, not 794.
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Fujiwara no Tsunetsugu" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 211.
  3. ^ Sansom, George (1958). A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford University Press. p. 138,221. ISBN 0804705232.
  4. ^ Roberts, J. A. G. (1996). A history of China. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-312-16334-1.
  5. ^ "Profile of Jikaku Daishi" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2022-02-12.
  6. ^ うちのお寺は天台宗 わが家の宗教を知る (双葉文庫). 双葉社. 2016. p. 114. ASIN B01LWMY8TD.
  7. ^ Reischauer, Ennin's Travels in T'ang China.
  8. ^ Buswell, Robert E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0028657189.


  • Edwin O. Reischauer, Ennin's Diary: The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law (New York: Ronald Press, 1955).
  • Edwin O. Reischauer, Ennin's Travels in T'ang China (New York: Ronald Press, 1955).

External links[edit]