Kyotanabe City has a border with Osaka Prefecture and Mt. Kannabi in a westward direction and the clear waters of the Kizu River expands eastward. Since ancient times, this area has developed as an intersection between Yamato Kaidō which leads to Kyoto from Nara, and an old highway which leads to Osaka from Nagoya. Shūon-an Ikkyū-dera temple is located in a village which was called Takigimisono-shō in previous times.
Shūon-an Ikkyū-dera was originally called, Myōshō-ji, its origin goes back to Daiou-Kokushi (also known as Nanpo Jyōumyōu), a high priest from Rinzai sect of Buddhism, who returned from practice in the Tang-dynasty era China to build the Zen training monastery here. However, the temple was caught up in the war during Genkō era and was severely devastated. In Kōshō era (1455-6), Ikkyū Zenshi (the master of Zen), who is a sixth generation of Daiou-Kokushi’s disciple, restored the temple to admire relics of its founder and was renamed Shūon-an to “repay a kindness of master”.
Ikkyū Zenshi lived the second half of his life in Shūon-an. Even after he was elected as an abbot of Daitokuji-temple when he was 81 years old, Ikkyū remained in Shūon-an as his principal place.
Before the time around the Meiji Restoration, the name Shūon-an was noted on formal documents. Today the temple is widely known as Ikkyū-dera since it is closely linked with Ikkyū Zenshi, who is loved and respected by ordinary Japanese people. Shūon-an is a government-designated historical beauty spot that has 9 Important Cultural Properties of Japan including the main hall, the abbot’s hall and the seated Ikkyū Oshō statue.
Ikkyū Sōjun, the Muromachi era Zen Buddhist monk from the Daitoku-ji branch of Rinzai school, was born in Kyoto in 1394.
Ikkyū Sōjun, who is said to be the illegitimate child of emperor Go-Komatsu, initiated at Ankoku-ji temple in Kyoto and was given a name of Shūken. His talents in Chinese poetry blossomed at a young age, he composed “Chōmon-shunsō” at the age of 13, and “Shun-i-shukka” at the age of 15. These two pieces of Chinese poetry created a sensation among people in Rakuchū (old city of Kyoto).
Ikkyū led a vagabond life without sticking to Śīla (one of three sections of the Noble Eightfold Path) in Buddhism or authoritarianism, he is seen as an embodiment of Zen-oriented spirit of Fukyō (A Buddhist terminology which affirmatively accepts aberrational behaviors as an expression of Buddhahood), which can be recalled to Zen monks in Tang-dynasty era China. That is why his humanized way of life resonated with many generations of Japanese citizens. Ikkyū also wrote a number of exquisite collections of poems such as “Kyō-un-shū”, “Zoku-Kyō-un-shū”, “Jikai-shū” and “Gaikotsu”, today he is known as one of the most typical figures that represents Higashiyama Culture.
Experiencing a life full of twists and turns, Ikkyū finally settled down in Shūon-an with great affection until his jijaku (death) at the old age of 88. The mausoleum of Ikkyū is in Shūon-an and is under the jurisdiction and custody of government's Imperial Household Agency since he is an Imperial prince of the emperor Go-Komatsu.
He sought, by eating fish and drinking spirits and having commerce with women, to go beyond the rules and proscriptions of the Zen of his day, and to seek liberation from them, and thus, turning against established religious forms, he sought in the pursuit of Zen the revival and affirmation of the essence of life, of human existence, in a day civil war and moral collapse.
— Yasunari Kawabata on Ikkyū
Nobel Lecture, “Japan, the Beautiful and Myself”, December 12, 1968