Eihei-ji (永平寺) is one of two main temples of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism, the largest single religious denomination in Japan (by number of temples in a single legal entity). Eihei-ji is located about 15 km (9 mi) east of Fukui in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. In English, its name means "temple of eternal peace" (in Japanese, 'ei' means "eternal", 'hei' means "peaceful", and 'ji' means "Buddhist temple").
Its founder was Eihei Dōgen who brought Sōtō Zen from China to Japan during the 13th century. The ashes of Dōgen and a memorial to him are in the Jōyōden (the Founder's Hall) at Eihei-ji. William Bodiford of UCLA writes that, "The rural monastery Eiheiji in particular aggrandized Dōgen to bolster its own authority vis-à-vis its institutional rivals within the Sōtō denomination."
Eihei-ji is a training monastery with more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence. As of 2003, Eihei-ji had 800,000 visitors per year, less than half the number of tourists who came ten years before. Visitors with Zen experience may participate after making prior arrangements and all visitors are treated as religious trainees.
In keeping with Zen's Mahayana tradition, the iconography in various buildings is an array of potential confusion for newcomers: at the Sanmon are four kings standing guard named Shitenno; the Buddha hall's main altar has three statues of Buddhas past, present and future; the Hatto displays Kannon the bodhisattva of compassion, and four white lions (called the a-un no shishi); the Yokushitsu has Baddabara; the Sanshokaku has a statue of Hotei; and the Tosu displays Ucchusma.
founded the temple in 1244.
Dōgen founded Eihei-ji in 1244 with the name Sanshoho Daibutsuji in the woods of rural Japan, quite far from the distractions of Kamakura period urban life. He appointed a successor, but sometime after his death the abbacy of Eihei-ji became hotly disputed, a schism now called the sandai sōron. Until 1468, Eihei-ji was not held by the current Keizan line of Sōtō, but by the line of Dōgen's Chinese disciple Jakuen. After 1468, when the Keizan line took ownership of Eihei-ji in addition to its major temple Sōji-ji and others, Jakuen's line and other alternate lines became less prominent.
As Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji became rivals over the centuries, Eihei-ji made claims based on the fact of Dōgen's original residence there. William Bodiford of UCLA wrote:
"Dōgen's memory has helped keep Eihei-ji financially secure, in good repair, and filled with monks and lay pilgrims who look to Dōgen for religious inspiration. Eiheiji has become Dōgen's place, the temple where Dōgen is remembered, where Dōgen's Zen is practiced, where Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō is published, where it is read, and where one goes to learn Dōgen's Buddhism. As we remember Dōgen, we should also remember that remembrance is not value neutral...."
The entire temple was destroyed by fire several times. During the late 16th century, disciples of Ikkō-shū attacked and burned the temple and surrounding buildings. Its oldest standing structure dates from 1794.