South of Kanazawa
Twenty miles south of Kanazawa is Natadera, a temple founded in 717 by the priest Taicho, in a small valley that features a rocky hillside with caves.
A legendary ascetic with powers to fly and to disappear and appear elsewhere, Taicho climbed Hakusan (“White Mountain,” 8,865 feet) and at a crater lake near the peak, had a vision of its mountain goddess emerging from the waters and becoming the Buddhist goddess of mercy Kannon. He enshrined an image of the eleven-headed, thousand-armed goddess in one of the caves.Today, Natadera is dedicated to world peace and natural harmony. Visitors can enter one of the womb-like caves to light a candle in worship, wash away the impurities of life, and be symbolically reborn.
The garden with a swan pond is said to represent the Bodaraku mountain of the Pure Land of Kannon. There were very few people when we visited, and the spiritual aura of the valley was intense.
Photos: left: the gate at Natadera; right: the rocky caves and pond.
Source: Excerpted from Dennis Kawaharada’s “Roads of Oku: Travels in Japan”
Below from Natadera’s website on the origins of the temple:
The origins of Natadera
Natadera has its principal deities the Eleven-headed Thousand-Armed Kannon(Sanskrit:Avalokitesvara), the Hakusan Myori-daigongen(Engulish:the Supreme Power of Hakusan), and the natural rocky mountain caves, has worshipped both gods and Buddha from it’s beginnings.
The main shrine line within the rocky caves. From ancient times, it was considered a place where the souls of men underwent transmigration(Skt: samsara), as well as a place for the regeneration of the Shinto purification ritual, a sacred ground of the mothers womb, and a natural dojo(Skt:bodhi-manda, English translation:the platform of enlightment, a place where one holds the teaching of nature to be important, and where one’s heart can be healed.
Taicho brought the teachings of Jinenchi from the heart of the Yoshino mountains, and founded the temple in the beginning of the Nara Period, in the first year of the Yoro Era(717 C.E.), calling it Iwaya-dera.
The name was changed to Natadera by the emperor Kazan, who ruled during the Heian Period. In his later years, Kazan often stayed at the Heian Period. In his later years, Kazan often stayed at the temple, and designed the gardens to resemble the Bodaraku mountain of the Pure Land on which lives Kannon(Skt:Sukhavati.)
In the middle ages, the temples buildings were completely destroyed by fires due to wars. Most of the buildings that stand now date back to the
17th year of the Kan‐ei Era(1640 C.E)in the Edo Period, and were made possible by contributions from the Daimyo(Feudal Lord)of the Kaga Clan, Maeda Toshitsune. The seven buildings are now designated as Important National Cultural Properties, and as official scenic parks.