Enryaku-ji 延暦寺 the monastery on Mount Hiei overlooking Kyoto, was founded in the late eighth century by Saichō 767-822, also known as Dengyō Daishi, who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan from China. |
A significant monastery in Japanese history, it is the headquarters of the Tendai sect, a Buddhist sect was popular among the aristocracy during Saicho's time and the incubator for a number of later sects; Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren.
With the support of the Emperor Kammu, Saichō ordained a hundred disciples in 807. Maintaining a strict discipline on Mt Hiei, his monks lived in seclusion for twelve years of study and meditation. After this period the best students were retained in positions in the monastery. Others graduated into positions in the government and court.
At the peak of its power, Enryaku-ji was a huge complex of as many as 3000 sub-temples and maintained a powerful army of warrior monks, 僧兵 Sōhei, who fought battles for power with other monasteries and civilian leaders. In the tenth century, succession disputes broke out between Tendai monks of the line of Ennin and Enchin. These disputes resulted in opposing Tendai centers at Mount Hiei, the Sanmon 山門 Mountain Order, and at Miidera, the Jimon 寺門 Temple Order). Warrior monks fought to settle the disputes, and Tendai leaders began to hire mercenary armies who threatened rivals and even marched on the capital to enforce monastic demands.
As part of a program to remove and unite the country, warlord Oda Nobunaga ended this Buddhist militancy in 1571 by attacking and destroying most of Enryaku-ji's buildings and monks. The current buildings date from the latter half of the 16th century to the first half of the 17th century.