by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.21

Three Buddhist priests deeply related to the Renkeiji Temple in Renjaku-cho

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about three Buddhist priests deeply related to the Renkeiji Temple(Map C-4)in Renjaku-cho. This is number twenty-one in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The building directly in front of you when you walk through the entrance to Renkeiji Temple is dedicated to the priest Donryu. When I used to visit this temple with my mother, I was always told, "Pray to O-Donryu-Sama" (Pray to the priest Donryu). So I have joined my hands in prayer at that temple ever since I can remember. I wonder what he did? I would like to look at the history of the Renkeiji Temple.
The Donryu Hall in the Renkeiji Temple
The Donryu Hall in the Renkeiji Temple
The Priest Kanyo
The founder of the Renkeiji Temple was the priest Kanyo. He was born in 1522 and was a nephew of Renkeini who was the mother of DAIDOJI Masashige, Lord of Kawagoe Castle. Kanyo became a priest in Odawara and was initiated into the secrets of the Jodo (Pure Land) doctrine by the priest Tenkei at the Zojoji Temple in Edo and others. He built many temples and converted many others to the Pure Land sect after 1549. In 1558 Kanyo was invited to Kawagoe by his aunt, Renkeini, where he founded the Renkeiji Temple.
Fiver years later at the age of 43, Kanyo was promoted to the position of 10th master of the Zojoji Temple. He established the "Kanyo Teachings," which even now must be mastered by every priest nominated to become head priest of a Jodo temple throughout the country. He retired from the Zojoji Temple four years later and lived at the Renkeiji Temple in Kawagoe in order to concentrate on praying to Amida Buddha. One of his disciples was the priest Genyo, who restored the Zojoji Temple to greatness.
The Priest Genyo
The priest Genyo was born in 1544. He became a priest at the age of 10 and in 1561 at the age of 18, he became a disciple of Kanyo at the Zojoji Temple. They say that Genyo followed Kanyo when Kanyo moved to the Renkeiji Temple in Kawagoe. After Kanyo passed away in 1574, Genyo left the Renkeiji Temple. In 1584 at the age of 41, he was promoted to the position of 12th master of the Zojoji Temple.
TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, Zojoji Temple and "Kanchi-Kokushi"
In July 1590, TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi destroyed Odawara Castle killing Lord Hojo. TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, one of Hideyoshi's retainers, was given control of eight provinces making up the Kanto Region for his services in this battle and entered Edo Castle on August 1 of the same year. Ieyasu's family temple was Daijuji Temple in Mikawa (now in Aichi Prefecture) and the Zojoji Temple was its head temple. Through the priest Genyo's good offices, the Zojoji Temple became strongly connected with Ieyasu and prospered.
Ieyasu was victorious in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and established his Shogunage at Edo in 1603. Two years later, he retired from the position of Shogun and his son, Hidetada succeeded him. However, in actual fact he remained the real ruler of the Shogunate. In 1610, Emperor Goyozei gave Genyo the high-ranking title of "Kanchi-Kokushi." He became No. 1 in the Jodo sect and the Zojoji Temple was comparable with the Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. The Kanchi-Kokushi played an important role as a political adviser to Ieyasu.
The Priest Donryu
The priest Donryu was born in 1556. He became a priest at the age of 13 and in 1570 at the age of 15, he became a disciple of Genyo (Kanchi-kokushi) at the Zojoji Temple. Once he had a dream about "swallowing a bad dragon." His name is based on this story.
In 1613, TOKUGAWA Ieyasu built the Daikoin Temple in Ota (now in Gunma Prefecture) in order to hold a memorial service for NITTA Yoshishige, whom he believed to be his ancestor. Upon the recommendation of the Kanchi-Kokushi, Donryu was invited to become the founder. He was 58 years old.
In those days, the ill effects of the cold weather caused much damage, for example crop failures. As the peasants lived in extremely poverty, there was a sorrowful practice in which babies were killed because their parents were unable to raise them. The priest Donryu lamented this fact. He persuaded the people in the villages in the northern Kanto region to stop this practice and used rice, given by the Shogunate to the temple, to save babies and children. Upon learning of this, the Shogunate was surprised and ordered him to take appropriate steps. Finally, he devised a strategy in which babies became disciples of the Daikoin Temple from birth up to the age of 7. In this way, many children were saved. He visited the Renkeiji Temple several times and his documents are kept by the temple to this day.
Priest Donryu's own handwriting (about 400 years ago) By courtesy of the Renkeiji Temple
Priest Donryu's own handwriting (about 400 years ago)
By courtesy of the Renkeiji Temple
Even now many people, mainly in the Kanto Region, pray to the priest Donryu. The 8th day of every month is "Donryu Day" in the Renkeiji Temple and various events are held there to please people.
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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Illustration of Kawagoe