It is said that Shōku Shōnin, then known as Kotaro Chuta, was born with his hand tightly clenched. His parents, surprised by this, prised his hand open and found he was clutching a needle.
As a young man he worked for the son of Lord Tokihira Fujiwara until one day a precious imperial stone, which had been passed down through the Fuijiwara family for generations, got broken. When the young lord found out he took the blame, knowing in fact it had been Chuta’s fault. He told his father that he had broken the stone and the enraged Lord Tokihira beheaded his own son.
Chuta was grief stricken and vowed to spend the rest of his life praying for the kind-hearted young lord who had died in his place. At the age of 36 he became a wandering ascetic priest known as Shōku Shōnin and vowed to achieve enlightenment by purifying himself through austere practices. These practices were designed to loosen his attachment to his six sense organs; eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and mind. It is believed that he would go for days without eating or drinking before food and drink appeared, flying out from the sutras he was chanting.
Shōku Shōnin founded Engyoji Temple after receiving spiritual enlightenment from Monju, the God of Wisdom and Intellect. Monju informed Shōku that anyone who climbed Mount Shosha would be purified in body and in spirit. After Shōku established the temple, people would climb the mountain to ask for divine favours. Pope Kazan and the Emperor Godaido were among those who entered the sacred grounds.
Shōku Shōnin died at the age of 98 and was enshrined in the Founder’s Shrine at Engyoji. It is said that the lantern in the shrine was lit over 1,000 years ago and still burns to this day.
- Himeji Tourist Guide & Map
- Information signs on Mount Shosha