Concept

Jianzhen

Summary
Jianzhen (; 688–763), or Ganjin in Japanese, was a Chinese monk who helped to propagate Buddhism in Japan. In the eleven years from 743 to 754, Jianzhen attempted to visit Japan some six times. Ganjin finally came to Japan in the year 753 and founded Tōshōdai-ji in Nara. When he finally succeeded on his sixth attempt he had lost his eyesight as a result of an infection acquired during his journey. Jianzhen's life story and voyage are described in the scroll, "The Sea Journey to the East of a Great Bonze from the Tang Dynasty." Jianzhen was born in Jiangyin county in Guangling Prefecture (present day Yangzhou, Jiangsu) China, with the surname of Chunyu (淳于). At the age of fourteen, he became a disciple of Dayun Temple (大云寺). At twenty he travelled to Chang'an for study and returned six years later, eventually becoming abbot of Daming Temple. Besides his learning in the Tripiṭaka, Jianzhen is also said to have been an expert in medicine. He opened the Buddhist temple as a place of healing, creating the Beitian Court (悲田院)—a hospital within Daming Temple. In autumn 742, an emissary from Japan invited Jianzhen to lecture in Japan. Despite protests from his disciples, Jianzhen made preparations and in spring 743 was ready for the long voyage across the East China Sea to Japan. The crossing failed and in the following years, Jianzhen made three more attempts but was thwarted by unfavourable conditions or government intervention. In summer 748, Jianzhen made his fifth attempt to reach Japan. Leaving from Yangzhou, he made it to the Zhoushan Archipelago off the coast of modern Zhejiang. But the ship was blown off course and ended up in the Yande (延德) commandery on Hainan Island. Jianzhen was then forced to make his way back to Yangzhou by land, lecturing at a number of monasteries on the way. Jianzhen travelled along the Gan River to Jiujiang, and then down the Yangtze River. The entire failed enterprise took him close to three years. By the time Jianzhen returned to Yangzhou, he was blind from an infection.
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