The Seigan-ji Temple was constructed by an order of Emperor Tenchi in 667. Originally it was built in Nara, and was relocated to Ichijo-ogawa (present Kamigyo-ku) in Kyoto at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Then it was relocated again to Sanjo-teramachi, the present site, with the redevelopment of Teramachi by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1591.
The garden was created under the theme of “Nigabyakudo,” which was one of the teachings of Zendo Taishi (613 to 681), who brought the Chinese Jodo sect a great following. The “Nigabyakudo” is a metaphor in “Kangyo-no-sho” written by Zendo and it was depicted in pictures in many schools of the Jodo sect after it had been quoted and referred to by Honen Shonin and Shinran Shonin.
The story of “Nigabyakudo” is as follows.
A man was traveling to the west (heading to Gokuraku Jodo, a paradise). Then he turned around, feeling a premonition, and saw thieves and beasts (a metaphor of evil or temptation) were following him. He ran away and reached a place where two rivers were in front of him. The river to the south was burning with a great fire (a metaphor of human anger or complaints), and the river to the north was a river with deep water (a metaphor of human greed). He didn’t know whether he should proceed or turn back. However, when watching the river precisely, he found a white path (a metaphor of a pure belief, a yearning for paradise) 15cm wide between the two rivers, leading straight to the west. Then he heard a voice (the teachings of Buddha) from the east bank, and a shout (teaching of Amidabutsu) from the west bank. Thanks to them, he could successfully go across on the white path to the paradise, reciting “Amidabutsu” enthusiastically.
In the garden, the near side, which is the Hondo side, is regarded as the east and the far side is regarded as the west (Seiho-jodo, the west paradise). The left side of the stream flowing in the middle of the garden expresses the river with fire, and the right side expresses the river of deep water, shown using red stones and blue stones respectively as the bank stones. In addition, a stone bridge built over the stream represents the white path, and three garden stones at the end of the bridge represent Amida Sanzon (the statue of Amida Triad). Thus, the garden completely expresses the teachings of “Nigabyakudo.”