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Keinin Magami

Keinin & Zen

Tracing the roots of Keinin Magami, Buddhist priest

A young man who had a revelation and entered the path of Zen.

Keinin Magami was born in 1976 as the eldest son of Ninko Magami, the head priest of Shoden Eigen-in and also a distinguished calligrapher. Despite being born into a family whose day-to-day work is running an historial temple, the young Keinin had no interest in entering the Buddhist priesthood, nor did his father have any intention of forcing him to take over the family temple. As a child, Keinin was no different from his classmates who were the children of business owners or office workers; his family just happened to be a temple household. The turning point came sometime after Keinin had graduated high school and begun studies at university. In 1996, having stepped out into the world and with the opportunity to mix many more people, the teenaged Keinin finally came to understand the importance of the history of his home Shoden Eigen-in, and the depth of the respect shown by those around him towards such history and tradition. It was then that his life’s true path was lit up right in front of his eyes.
Upon graduation from university in 1999, Keinin began his journey on the path of Zen Buddhist training. Zen is known to have the strictest training of all the Buddhist sects. Duties are relentless: waking up at 4 am to perform zazen meditation, then cleaning of the temple floors and garden, followed by a session of Zen mondo (philosophical riddles). Absolutely no private conversations or playing around are permitted. Even the one and only pleasure, food, is extremely austere. Eating meat and fish is forbidden, and the only vegetables that may pass the lips are those grown oneself. The staple food, rice, and the precious protein source, tofu, must be obtained by “mendicancy”, training that involves making rounds of homes of parishioners one house at a time to receive handouts. Of course, failure to procure such food means there is no rice or tofu for the day.
Looking back on his days in training, Keinin says he is glad he chose that path, despite the hardships. “The kindness of people, being grateful for things, and the joy of living were deeply impressed on me.” Keinin recounts “For example, one day when I was making my mendicancy rounds as always, an elderly woman with a bad leg chased after me as fast as she could, saying 'Please take this, monk', and handed me rice and a donation of money.
The feeling of joy brought tears to my eyes. I've never forgotten how I felt then.” Keinin says that he felt able to commune with all manner of things his religion.
In 2002, having completed three whole years of strict training, Keinin was allowed to begin his duties at the famous Kodai-ji temple. Although his family temple and Kodai-ji are related through Kennin-ji temple, at the time it was unusual for one temple to take in a priest from another temple. It was an unconventional choice. At Kodai-ji, a temple to which a large numbers of tourists flock each year, Keinin served as publicist, assuming diverse duties including handling interviews with the media, and appointments with travel agencies. Keinin's efforts as publicist were eventually recognized, and he has since risen to his current position of deacon of the temple. As he concurrently holds the post of vice-head priest of his family temple, Shoden Eigen-in, Keinin's days are extremely busy.

The history of Shoden Eigen-in

So, what kind of temple is Shoden Eigen-in anyway? Let's take a moment to look at its history and roots. Originally, Shoden Eigen-in existed as two separate, independent temples, Shoden-in and Eigen-an. Both were sub-temples of Kennin-ji temple, with Shoden-in being established around 1264 to 1275, and Eigen-an being established around 1346 to 1370.
A chance meeting in front of the temple gates between the founder of Eigen-an, Ninko Mugai, and military commander at the time, Yoriari Hosokawa, gave birth to an association between the temple and the Hosokawa family that has spanned over 600 years. Shoden Eigen-in continues to be the family temple of the Hosokawa family to this day, with a Hosokawa line descendent, artist and former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, contributing fusuma (paper sliding door) paintings to the temple. Today Shoden Eigen-in sits on the original location of Eiden-an.
Shoden-in was originally a short distance from the current location, and has a deep connection with Urakusai Oda, the younger brother of shogun Nobunaga Oda. Unlike his older brother who dominated vigorous and bloody battles, the culturally-inclined and multitalented Urakusai contributed to the prosperity of the Oda family with his intellect, sometimes acting as a negotiator participating in reconciliatory negotiations. After his older brother was defeated in battle, Urakusai lived in seclusion in Kyoto. He borrowed Shoden-in and made it his lifelong residence. Putting his artistic talents to use, he established a tea house, Jo-an. in the temple garden, and founded a school of tea ceremony known as Urakuryu. The grave in which Urakusai and his wife lie still remains in the former temple grounds.
In the mid-19th century , a government movement to abolish Buddhist temples saw the eradication of numerous temples throughout Japan. As part of that movement, Shoden-in was relocated and merged with Eigen-an to form a single entity, the present day Shoden Eigen-in. Jo-an, was sold to a powerful zaibatsu (conglomerate) and moved from Shoden-in to Tokyo. Jo-an was subsequently relocated again to Inuyama City in Aichi Prefecture where it is presently still preserved. The tea house standing in the grounds Shoden Eigen-in today is a replica of the original, built by Keinin’s father Ninko.
As we have seen, Shoden Eigen-in is a prominent temple both in religious and cultural history. Despite this, the temple had never been opened to the general public. However, with Shoden Eigen- in's fusuma paintings, artwork by the famed Sanraku Kano, and connections to the Hosokawa and Oda families, Keinin felt that even among all the historic and culturally-rich sub-temples of Kennin-ji, Shoden Eigen-in had a wealth of cultural riches, which he wanted to share with all manner of visitors, showing them another aspect of the depth of Kyoto.
For the second straight year, the temple will have special public openings in spring and autumn. The public's reaction has been excellent, with many visitors commenting that they were unaware of existence of such a calming place, right in the middle of Gion’s hustle. Many neighborhood residents have also visited, saying they had always wanted to see what the temple was like inside. Opening the temple to the public was the right decision. Perhaps in a thousand years time, Keinin will still be spoken of as the priest responsible for this turning point in the temple's history.

Kenin & Tea

Exploring the origins of Kenin Magami, tea master 

Salvation and gratitude. A silent conversation, carried out through the tea ceremony

Keinin began the practice of tea ceremony formally about fifteen years ago. As the son of a Buddhist priest, Keinin had been drinking matcha (the powdered green tea used in tea ceremony) since he was a child, and tea had always been part of his life, but it wasn’t until his father built a replica of Jo-an, Urakasai's tea house , that Keinin became seriously interested in tea ceremony. Keinin was still at university at the time, and while he had already made the decision to become a Buddhist priest, he lacked conviction about his future. With his father serving as head of the Urakuryu school of tea ceremony and having reconstructed an historic teahouse, Keinin came to realize that he was likely to be headed in this direction eventually. The fact that Keinin's father Ninko was a nationally renowned calligrapher in addition to being a Buddhist priest also had a big influence on the son. “While he is both my father and my instructor, as a man he is also my rival. I will never reach the level of my father in the calligraphy world. That's why I want to try to master a different field to my father.” Keinin says this is what spurred him to begin tea ceremony.
We asked Keinin what tea ceremony is to him. Taking some time to think, he replied quietly “Tea ceremony saved my life.”
No matter who we are, we all have ups and downs in our life. Sometimes things go well, and other times they just don't go right. Keinin says that at a time when his life wasn't going so smoothly, sitting in zazen meditation and performing the tea ceremony enabled him to let go of the unpleasantness, the difficulties, and the personal problems confronting him.
“Even now when I perform a tea ceremony, I do it with feelings of gratitude. Not towards anyone in particular. It's a ritual for offering gratitude for everything: for the people there in the tea house with whom I'm sharing the tea, for the fact the we have this opportunity to commune, and for the tea itself. So while it is on a personal level, all the tea I make is 'tea of gratitude'.”
Salvation and gratitude. Transcending even the aesthetics of the tea ceremony, the tea made by this Buddhist might be a “silent conversation” held deep down in his heart.

Salvation and gratitude. Transcending even the aesthetics of the tea ceremony, the tea made by this Buddhist might be a “silent conversation” held deep down in his heart.

The Buddhist priest’s love of tea, captured in the phrase Zencha Isshin.

It was the Zen Buddhist monk Eisai, founder of Kennin-ji Temple and the Rinzai school of Buddhism, who in the year 1191 first introduced the custom of drinking matcha to Japan. Half a century later, Daio-kokushi introduced “tea ceremony”, and subsequently the Zen Buddhist priest Ikkyu Sojun of Daitoku-ji Temple taught the tea ceremony to his apprentice, Murata Juko, who is considered the true forefather of the Japanese tea ceremony. As such, Zen and tea ceremony are deeply intertwined. The origins of the tea ceremony are thought to lie in a ritual developed in China. After being brought to Japan, which then evolved independently into the Japanese tea ceremony.
Zen and tea ceremony have much in common: the proscribed movements Zen tea rituals and tea ceremony, the austerity of a Zen temple and the drawing room of a tea house, the ritual washbasin for "purification", and the silent meditation that requires no words. Furthermore, it's no exaggeration to say that phrases most used to describe tea ceremony ichi-go ichi-e (literally "one time, one meeting") and wasei seijaku (literally "harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity")- come from the Zen spirit. And the phrase "Chazen ichimi" ("Zen and Tea Ceremony are the same") articulated by the grand tea master and proponent of the development of tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu, clearly shows that tea and Zen are inseparable.
On the other hand, the Zen Buddhist priest Keinin taught us the phrase Zencha isshin (literally "Zen and Tea, one heart"). These are the words of the present chief priest of Kennin-ji Temple, Taigan Kobori. Keinin explains the intent of these words saying "For a tea master tea is everything, but for a Zen Buddhist priest, tea is simply one part of Zen". He says that the world of tea ceremony is one world within the infinite world of Zen.
"What is important is not shape, but heart. Of course, tea made in accordance with proper etiquette is refreshing. But I believe that tea made with a careless heart, tea that is tea in form only, even when made according to the etiquette, will not move the hearts of guests." He says that jikishin, an honest and sincere heart, is of the utmost importance. We see a glimpse of the silent and strong will fitting of the man who is both a tea master and a monk of the tea ceremony's roots, Zen Buddhism.

From the path of Zen to the path of tea, and then to the path taken by Urakusai.

Abounding with touches of Urakusai Oda's genius, the celebrated tea house Jo-an is designated as a national treasure. The uraku windows lined with thin pieces of bamboo, the walls covered with wallpaper of old lunar calendars, and the unrefined alcove post that appears to be freshly cut are all famous features. The most unique characteristic of the tea house is the diagonally placed walls of the alcove. This design has the function of enabling the host to proceed smoothly from the entrance to the guest's seats, but even more importantly, highlights the unrefined alcove post and gives the room a sense of added depth, making it feel larger than it actually is. Although the tea house at Shoden Eigen-in is a replica, the detailed beauty left by Urakusai can still be thoroughly appreciated. Incidentally, one theory says that Urakusai was an ‘underground’ Christian (who were persecuted in Japan at this time) and thus named the tea house Jo-an after his baptismal name of Johan. There is another story of hidden images of Christ in the triangularly-placed alcove walls.
While making tea in the tea house, Keinin spoke of his wish to bring the original Jo-an relocated as described during the Buddhist temple abolition movement in the 19th century back to its original location at Shoden Eigen-in. “In Japanese we use the word yuisho. It refers to the roots of something or the status of something cultivated by history. Japanese people place particular importance on yuisho. So I think we have to bring Jo-an back to the place where its yuisho lies.” Likely to be the next head priest of the temple, Keinin says that bringing the original Jo-an is his mission. “Also, with other members of my generation I would like to re-establish the Urakuryu school of tea ceremony. The philosophy put into tea by Urakusai, in which he used reconciliation and culture to effect peace in an age of fierce wars is surely just what is needed in the world today.” Keinin is open about his personal hopes; to model his own life on that of Urakusai- a man from a samurai family who lived a secluded monk-like life and in the end left a far-reaching artistic legacy.
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