I left off Monday’s post about last summer’s visit to Myomanji, a temple on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan, when a monk came running up to my son and handed him a piece of paper….
To our surprise, the paper contained an English-language printout explaining the history of the temple. The monk had printed it out because he worried we wouldn’t understand the temple’s history based on the Japanese-language signage. (He was correct…most of the Japanese was technical enough that neither my son nor I could read it well.)
Here’s what we learned:
Myomanji was established in 1389 by the founder of the Nichiren school of Buddhism–a monk named Nichiju.
Myomanji’s greatest treasure is a bronze bell, originally dating to 828, under which the monks of Dōjōji Temple sheltered a monk named Anchin when he attempted to hide from the wrath of an innkeeper’s daughter whose love for him transformed her into a dragon. According to legend, the dragon’s wrath made the bell so hot that it burned poor Anchin to death, and melted the bell.
In 1359 the bell was re-cast (from the melted bronze of the original). During the inauguration ceremony for the new bell, a beautiful but unknown woman appeared among the dancers, circled the bell, and disappeared beneath it. Thereafter, disasters occurred every time the bell was rung, and the monks became so terrified of the haunted bell that they buried it in the mountains.
In 1585, a samurai dug up the bell and brought it to the monks of Myomanji, appointing them to act as its guardians. Since that date, the monks have guarded the bell and held an annual ceremony for the souls of Anchin and Kiyohime.
And no…they still don’t ring it.
The bell at the monastery gates is a bronze replica, cast from a mold of the original bell, which is kept away from public view in the heart of the monastery.
I had so many takeaway lessons from this “cool little temple” my son wanted me to see.
— Don’t turn up your nose at humble things – they’re often more important than they seem.
— Be kind to strangers – your actions may transform their understanding.
— Don’t ring strange bells. You might accidentally summon a really angry dragon from the lake.