Ryogen (912 - January 31, 985) was a priest of the Tendai Sect who was active in the Heian period. His posthumous name was Jie Daishi. He was commonly known as Gansan Daishi. He was known as the person who rendered the most meritorious service for the restoration of Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei.
Although Ryogen was the 18th Tendai-zasu (the supreme position in the Tendai Sect) and a real-life person, he has been the target of folk belief since the medieval period and even in the 21st century, he is worshipped as 'Yakuyoke Daishi' (Calamity Dispelling Master).
In 912, Ryogen was born as a son of the Kozu clan, then the local Gozoku (local ruling family), in Torahime, Asai-gun, Omi Province (present-day, Torahime-cho, Higashi-Asai-gun, Shiga Prefecture). He was called Kannonmaru (or Hiyoshimaru) in his childhood. When he was 12 years old (or 15 years old), he went up to Mt. Hiei and became a Buddhist priest. Although Ryogen was not a direct disciple of Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) and his rank was not high, he gradually distinguished himself as an able priest through refuting high priests of traditional Buddhist temples in Nanto (southern capital (Nara)) or praying safe delivery of a child for the Empress of Emperor Murakami, and finally he achieved Tendai-zasu, the supreme position in the Tendai Sect, in 966. When Ryogen became Tendai-zasu, Enryaku-ji Temple was devastated as it had lost many doto (temple halls and towers) including Konpon-chudo Hall, due to the big fire that broke out in 935. A fire broke out also in 966, the year when Ryogen became Tendai-zasu, but Ryogen reconstructed doto which was destroyed by fire, with the support of FUJIWARA no Morosuke, the maternal relative of Emperor Murakami (father of the Empress). Further, he reconstructed Konpon-chudo Hall, which was a small hall when it was initially constructed by Saicho, as a magnificent hall and laid the foundations of Mt. Hiei's garan (ensemble of temple buildings). In 970, he enacted 'Nijurokkajo Kisho' (26 Points sworn oath) which stipulated disciplinary regulations in the temple and strived to suppress armed priests' violence. Ryogen is revered as the person who rendered the most meritorious service for the restoration of Enryaku-ji Temple thanks to his various achievements, including the reconstruction of Mt. Hiei's garan, the rise of Tendai Doctrinal Studies and the maintenance of discipline in the precinct. He had many disciples and among them, Genshin (Eshin Sozu), the author of "Ojoyoshu" (The Essentials of Salvation), was famous in particular. Although his Shigo (posthumous name) granted by the Imperial Court was Jie Daishi, he was commonly known as 'Gansan Daishi' since the anniversary of his death is January 3rd. At the site of Ryogen's old residence, called Joshinbo, in Yokawa on Mt. Hiei, there is a Shiki Kodo (Four Seasons Lecture Hall) (it is so named because a lecture of Hoke-kyo Sutra (Lotus Sutra) was conducted at this hall once every four seasons) and it is called 'Gansandaishi-do' as Ryogen's image is enshrined in it.
Jie Daishi, Ryogen, has various other names such as 'Tsuno Daishi' (The Horned Master), 'Mame Daishi' (the Master of the Beans) and 'Yakuyoke Daishi' and these are worshipped by a wide range of people. It is believed that Ryogen was the founder of 'omikuji' (sacred lots) which is now seen at many temples and shrines throughout the nation.
A lot of Ryogen's sculptures and paintings called 'The image of Jie Daishi,' especially those produced in the Kamakura period, exist in many halls and temples inside the precinct of Mt. Hiei as well as other temples belonging to the Tendai Sect. These images have standardized appearances as the image for worshipping and their common characteristics are that they have slanted-eyed, severe facial expressions while holding juzu (beadroll), and tokkosho (a pestle with a single sharp blade at each end, found as an attribute of Buddhist guardian figures, and a symbolic item in Esoteric Buddhism) (a kind of Buddhist tool) in the hands.
Legend Surrounding Ryogen
Tsuno Daishi - It is a painting that depicts an ogre that has 2 horns and is so thin and is nothing but skin and bones. According to legend, it is the image of Ryogen when he repelled a Yakubyo-gami (a deity of the transmission of epidemics) by transforming himself into an ogre. Paintings of Tsuno Daishi were stuck on houses located in Sakamoto, at the foot of Mt. Hiei, and Kyoto as talismans for amulet.
Mame Daishi - It is a painting that depicts 33 bean-sized images of Jie Daishi on paper. As Jie Daishi (Ryogen) is believed to be the incarnation of Kannon, this painting depicts 33 images of Jie Daishi based on the teaching of 'Hoke-kyo Sutra' that advocates that Kannon transforms itself into 33 figures in order to rescue Sattva.
Examples of the Long-Standing Image of Jikei Daishi (Ryogen)
The image at Enryaku-ji Temple (Hongakuin) - 1265
The image at Shiga Guho-ji Temple - 1267
The image at Shiga Kongorin-ji Temple - 1286
The image at Shiga Kongorin-ji Temple - 1288
The image at Kyoto Manjuin Temple - 1268
Principal Temples at which Jikei Daishi (Ryogen) is Enshrined
Ryuzo-ji Temple (Aoyagi Daishi) in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture - grand festival : January 3rd.
Soshu-ji Temple (Sano Yakuyoke Daishi) in Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture - grand festival : February 11th.
Hongakuin (Haijima Daishi) in Akishima City, Tokyo Prefecture.
Jindai-ji Temple in Chofu City, Tokyo Prefecture- grand festival : March 3rd.
Rinno-ji Temple in Taito-ku Ward, Tokyo Prefecture.
Kitain Temple (Kawagoe Daishi) in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture.