The temple is where we find priests and nuns studying, practicing, and teaching the Dharma. Lay followers come to the temple to learn from these priests and nuns and also to pay homage to the central Buddha image. The Head Temple (honzan) is the original temple of the founder of the school or sect. It serves as the center of the denomination and helps to preserve the teachings as they are transmitted over the years. All other temples of the denomination are organized around a system based on scale, social standing, and history. In the case of Jodo Shu, our Head Temple is Chion-In in Kyoto. There are seven Head Temples, like Zojo-ji in Tokyo. There is also an associate Head Temple, four special temples, and over 7000 ordinary temples.
The Two Deva Kings (Ni-o)
Originally, most Japanese temples were built in mountainous areas, because the seclusion and quiet has been thought to be more appropriate to studying and practicing the Dharma. The entrance gate of a temple is called "san-mon" (mountain gate) for the above reason. At the both sides of the gate, two hard-muscled guardians of the temple stand with fearful expressions, one with open mouth and the other with closed mouth. The function of these two Deva Kings is to prevent evil spirits from invading the temple as well as to double check on believers' sincere faith.
Why Visit a Temple?
People visit temples for many reasons. The main reason is of course to have contact with the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha. However, they have many other reasons and motives as well. People visit temples to see and admire the art there, such as statues of the image of Buddha, paintings, architecture, etc. Many people visit temples for funeral ceremonies, following memorial services, and for visiting the adjoining cemetery. (In Japanese Buddhism, memorial services are held on the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 13th, 17th, 23rd, 27th, 33rd, and 50th anniversaries of the death of a person) These days, many temples run various schools such as nursery schools, kindergartens, primary schools, and upward to even universities. Temples also manage organizations for the special welfare of the handicapped, the sick, and the elderly. Therefore, people visit temples for these reasons too. People visit temples for many reasons and Jodo Shu temples open their gates to everyone since the heart of the Original Vow (hongan) is to relieve everyone from troubles and hardships without exception.