Tôdaiji monastery, (in) Nara, Nara Prefecture, JP

Raw data

Tôdaiji (“Great Eastern Temple”) is located in Nara City’s Zôshi Township, to the east of where the Heijô Palace used to lie. It was pledged in 741 by Emperor Shômu to be the central administrative temple of a network of state temples for the six Nara sects of Buddhism. In 743, construction began on the Great Buddha Hall. In 752, Shômu participated in the “Eye-Opening Ceremony” of the Great Buddha, a towering gilt bronze statue of the Vairocana. The monastery had jurisdiction over 50 subsidiary temples or cloisters.

- “Tôdai-ji.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tōdai-ji
- Tamamuro (1992: 658)

The blind Chinese monk, Ganjin (Jianzhen), the abbot of Daming Temple in Yangzhou, China, spent five years at Tôdaiji. Starting in 754, he supervised the construction of the ordination platform (Kaidan’in) to the west of the Hall of the Great Buddha. The retired Emperor Shômu and ruling Empress Kôken, as well as 400 others, underwent a “first bestowing of the precepts” at the ordination platform. However, Ganjin decided to retire to Tôshôdaiji after coming into conflict with the Ritsu (Vinaya) school of Buddhism, one of the six sects of Nara.

- Ooms (2009: 245)
- “Ganjin.” http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O108-Ganjin.html

Tôdaiji protected the imperial institution with 52 yearly ceremonies. In the Nara and Heian periods, the monastery had three leaders: (1) a chief monk appointed by the imperial court (bettô), (2) a cabinet of elders (sangô), who were responsible for finances and political relations with the court and other temples, and (3) the five masters (goshi), who directed the monk community. In the late Heian period, the monks had their own assembly (shuto or manji).

Both Kûkai, founder of Shingon, and Saichô, founder of Tendai, were ordained at this monastery. Tôdaiji's Vinaya master Yojin criticized Saichô in a treatise.

In the mid-8th century, the court allowed Tôdaiji to reclaim land for rice fields. By 770, Tôdai-ji appears to have controlled 92 estates in 23 provinces mainly in the Northwest. In the 10th century, Tôdai-ji’s income also came from private estates commended by aristocrats, as well as tribute from 5000 households, which was collected and forwarded by local governors. According to the 12th-century Tôdaiji monjo, Tôdai-ji had two particularly important estates in Mino, Akanabe and Ôi, acquired in the late Nara or early Heian period.

By the late 10th century, some of the reclaimed land became wasteland as local elites became stronger and Tôdaiji's influence at court gradually declined in favor of Shingon and Tendai sects. In 1096, Tôdaiji quarreled with officials of Mino (and later its own estate manager and local cultivators in Uzura township) over new fields in the Akanabe and Ôi estates, eventually losing some. Laws enacted by Emperor Go-Shirakawa in 1156 allowed provincial governors to confiscate new land (without documentation). Although pressured by the governors of Iga, Tôdaiji managed to keep the newly reclaimed fields to the east of Nabari River classified as part of the older Kuroda estate in Nabari District of Iga Province. In the 12th century, Tôdaiji jointly owned some estates with other temples, such as Kôfukuji, Daianji or Sainanji.

During the same period, there were ongoing disputes with rival monastery Kôfukuji. Tôdaiji also tried to challenge the Shingon sect in Kyoto by claiming that Tôji should be seen as a branch temple, and Daigoji as a subordinate temple, but an imperial decree of 1018 legitimized Daigoji's independence. In the 13th century, cultivators on Tôdaiji's Ôbe estate in Harima aligned themselves with Jôdoji against their proprietor. The Jôdoji temple followed the new single-practice Amidist religion, Jôdo-shinshû (True Pure Land). The spread of this religion was accompanied by increasing rural resistance to Tôdaiji.

Tôdaiji was burned down in 1180 during the Genpei Wars, and rebuilt in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) under the supervision of the monk Chôgen. The current Great Buddha Hall, rebuilt in 1709, is the world’s largest wooden structure at 48 meters (157 feet) tall. Yet, along with its 15-meter (49-foot) Vairocana Buddha, it is apparently only two-thirds the original size. Within the main precincts, the Mirror Pond was located between the South Gate and the Great Buddha Hall. Behind the hall was the Lecture Hall, surrounded on three sides by monks' quarters. Also on the precincts was the Hachiman Shrine and smaller “daughter temples” (or cloisters), such as Tonanin, Sonshô’in, and Shingon’in, as well as residences. Monks here studied the Sanron, Kegon and Shingon teachings. The Shosoin is a repository containing around 9,000 art objects from Persia, China, Korea and Japan dating to the 7th and 8th centuries. There are many important Buddhist sculptures.

-Groner (2000: 241)
- Piggott (1995: 46-49, 53-54, 61)
- Piggott, ed. (2006: 285-7, 295, 353, 355, 361)
- Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 225-6)
- “Japan Atlas Historic Sites: Todaiji Temple.” -http://web-japan.org/atlas/historical/his13.html

Src: JPN

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Mar 20, 2010

"In Japan, the first ordination platform was built in 754 at the command of the Retired Emperor Shomu at Todai-ji temple in Nara under the supervision of Ganjin (Chien-chen), a naturalized priest from China. There Ganjin conferred precepts upon about four hundred persons including the Retired Emperor Shomu and his consort. This ordination platform was a temporary structure, and a permanent ordination hall was thereafter established within the precincts of Todai-ji temple."
- http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php?id=1627
Input by: tmciolek, Aug 07, 2014

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 07 Aug 2014

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200 m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Todaiji monastery, JP.

General location of the Todaiji monastery, JP.
Lat 34.689165 Long 135.839720
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (http://www.fallingrain.com), 2009.

Google Map link:


Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Tôdaiji 東大寺. Alternative English spelling: Tôdai-ji, Todaiji

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Nara Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Almost exactly, Lat 34.689165 Long 135.839720 - based on visual identification of the monastery in satellite images, using maps.google.com - tmciolek, 26 Mar 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Nara-shi (Nara City), Zôshi-chô

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

  • Heijô-kyô (Heijô Capital)

8. The settlement's coordinates

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

  • Kegon (mainly). Over half of Tôdaiji lecturers were of the Kegon school between 859 and 940, but there was also a strong Sanron presence. -Groner (2002: 134)

11. Date-early

MBM chrono-tag 0733-66c - tmciolek 21 Jul 2014
0733-66c 0767-99c 0800-32c 0833-66c 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32c 1133-66c 1167-99c 1200=> dated-el

12. Date-intermediate

  • Kamakura period (1185-1333) -Piggott (1995: 46)

13. Date-late

MBM chrono-tag 1200=> - tmciolek 21 Jul 2014

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

  • Tôdaiji and Tôshôdaiji are linked to Daming Temple in Yangzhou through the Chinese priest Ganjin (Jianzhen)
  • The monastery jointly managed estates with Kôfukuji, Daianji and Sainanji

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Documents, architecture

16. Additional notes

  • There were at least 300 resident monks, since that is the number that participated in a celebration of the rebuilding of Tôdaiji in 1180, according to the Zoku yôroku. - Piggott (1995: 48)
  • By 770, Tôdai-ji appears to have controlled 92 estates in 23 provinces mainly in the Northwest. - Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 225-6)
  • It controlled 54 estates in the early 13th century - Piggott (1995: 54)

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data].

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