Nirvana Ceremony Nehan


Nirvana Ceremony (Nehan-E 涅槃会 ねはんえ )

***** Location:Japan
***** Season: Early Spring (Feb. 15)

***** Category: Observance


This is a Buddhist ceremony in memory of the passing away of Shakyamuni, the Buddha, traditionally on the full moon day of the second lunar month, nowadays on the 15th of February (seldom on the 15th of March) in many temples.

There are many more Japanese kigo for this event, I will list just a few more.
Shaka is a common abbreviation for Shakyamuni.

Shaka lying down, ne Shaka 寝釈迦
Nirvana Statue, nehanzoo涅槃像

Nirvana, nehan 涅槃, o-nehan お涅槃(おねはん)
Shaka nemuru, Shaka sleeping 釈迦眠る
..... neshaka ne Shaka 寝釈迦(ねしゃか)

Temple with a Nirvana Ceremony, nehandera 涅槃寺
Painting of a Nirvana Scene, nehanzu 涅槃図
Parting in February, nigatsu no wakare 二月の別れ
Parting of the Buddha, hotoke no wakare 仏の別れ
Buddha leaving, sarishi hotoke 去りし仏

Offering Rice Dumplings from the New Year offerings, mochibana-iri 餅花煎
dangomaki 団子撒き(だんごまき)"throwing dango dumplings"

Buddha's nose excrements, shaka no hana-kuso 釈迦の鼻糞
a thin horse, yase-uma 瘠せ馬

Buddha's Memorial day, bukki 仏忌

sendan no kemuri 栴檀の煙(せんだんのけむり)
smoke of fragrant chinaberry wood

tsuru no hayashi 鶴の林(つるのはやし)"forest with cranes"
kakurin no yowa 鶴林の夜半(かくりんのよわ)"wake of the cranes in the forest"

When Shakyamuni entered nirvana under the Bodhi tree, the tree withered and became white like a crane.

(Some of these kigo are hard to translate in a short English version.)


observance kigo for mid-spring

CLICK for more photos

yuikyoo gyoo-e 遺敎経会 (ゆいきょうぎょうえ)
last sermon memorial ceremony at temple
Daiho-onji in Kyoto 大報恩寺
This temple has a famous "Buddha hall" Senbon Shakadoo 千本釈迦堂 with 1000 statues.

senbon nenbutsu 千本念仏(せんぼんねんぶつ)
nembutsu ceremony for 1000 statues

kundoku e 訓読会(くんどくえ)"reading the last sutra"
yuikyoo e 遺敎会(ゆいきょうえ) "Legacy Teaching Sutra" memorial

This ceremony is held on the 22 day of the 3rd lunar month. Monks from the temple Chishaku-In 智積院 of Higashiyama are invited, the last scripture of Shaka, the "last preaching sutra, the Yuikyo, is read and Nenbutsu prayers are recited.

mono ni koi samenu nemimi ya yuikyoogyoo

clinging to things -
the final sermon of Buddha
is not for my ears

Matsuse Seisei 松瀬青々 (1869 - 1937)


Statues and paintings of Shakyamuni on his death bed are not so common in Japan, but often seen in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Pilgrims meditating and paying respects at the place of the Buddha's Parinirvana at the Nirvana Temple, Kushinara.


Buddha's Life and Pilgrimages to the Holy Places

The earliest centres of Buddhist pilgrimages were the places associated with the life and Teachings of the great Master. These four places are Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara. Lumbini, in what is now Nepal, is the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. The others are in India: Bodh Gaya was the place, under the pipal or Bo tree, where the Buddha was enlightened after practising meditation for several years. Sarnath was the scene of His first teaching and Kusinara was the place of His death or final Nirvana.

After the death of the Buddha, the relics of His body were collected from the funeral pyre and divided into eight parts. These were distributed to the claimants and stupas, or burial mounds, were erected on the relics. The practice of pilgrimage in Buddhism probably started with visits to these places, the purpose of which was to achieve personal advantage such as rebirth in a good location, as well as to honour the great master. Thus the custom of pilgrimage has been widespread among Buddhist for many centuries and is common to both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.


Painting of a Nirvana Scene, nehanzu 涅槃図

Some famous temples have a painting of this scene, with the disciples gathered around weeping, animals and all in pain and mourning the passing away.

Painting by Myoson 仏涅槃図_命尊筆

CLICK for enlargement !
英一蝶 Hayabusa Itcho

. . . CLICK here for the full scene !
Painting from The Boston Museum


The above painting is from Hooryuu-Ji (Horyuji)

. Nehanzu Haiku from Temple Horyu-Ji  


Nyanzu にゃハンズ Nyan - I am a cat !


Nehan-e Ceremony at Koofuku-Ji Temple in Kyoto

At Koofuku-Ji the Nirvana Sutra (Nehan Kyoo) is held in high esteem since the Nara period around 750. The Nirvana Ceremony (Nehan-e) is celebrated here since 860. At this temple the ceremony is also called Jooraku-e 常楽会, another kigo for spring.
The ceremony starts at 10 in the morning, sutras are chanted, sacred music performed and sweet ricewine (amasake) is offered to the people.


Temple Sennyuu-Ji, Kyoto 泉涌寺

The Nirvana painting on paper at this temple 大涅槃図 is one of the largest in Japan, 8 m wide and 16 meters long. It weighs 400 kg. It was painted by 明誉古上人 during the middle Edo period.
The ceremony is held on March 15, but the famous painting is shown to visitors from the 14th to the 16th.
Click on  スタート  to get a slide show of important cultural properties of this temple.




Offering Rice Dumplings from the New Year offerings
mochibana-iri 餅花煎

The rice dumplings (mochi) that are left over from the New Year offerings are quite hard. They are cut and slightly barbequed (iru 煎る)to be offered to the Buddha and later eaten by the people.

Worldwide use

Nehan Statue in Ruan Pabang, Laos


Things found on the way

Saijiki, monthly events in Kyoto
(Japanese only)


Nehan-e ya shiwade awasuru juzu no oto

Nehan Ceremony -
wrinkled hands in prayer and
the sound of rosary beads

Tr. Gabi Greve
. Rosary beads (juzu 念珠、数珠, 誦数) .

Buddha's Nirvana Day —
wrinkled hands together,
the sound of the rosaries

Tr. ?haikupedia

Matsuo Basho, 1694
shortly before his death

- - - - -

source : yamabuki517
Priests passing the "Fence of the Gods" to the inner shrine.

kamigaki ya omoi mo kakezu Nehanzoo

within the fence of the shrine -
what a surprise to find
(a statue of) Buddha lying down to die

Written at
. Ise shrine 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingu .  
During this time, the distinction between Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine was not so distinct and many religious places housed both.

This hokku was written on the 15th day of the second lunar month, the ceremony for the Nehan Buddha.

kamigaki 神垣 fence of a shrine, "Fence of the Gods"
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


- - - - - Kobayashi Issa - - - - -

shooban ni warera mo gorori nehan kana

let us also lie down
and recline like Buddha -
Nirvana Ceremony

Tr. Gabi Greve

. . . . .

shini hana wa patto sakaseru hotoke kana

dead flowers suddenly
are made to bloom ...
The Buddha!

This haiku refers (obscurely) to the Second Month, 15th Day festival of Buddha's Death Day, commemorating Gautama Buddha's entrance into nirvana (i.e., his death).
Tr. and Comment: David Lanoue

. . . . .

juzu kakete yamabato narabu nehan kana

doves with prayer beads
in line waiting for

Tr. Chris Drake

. Comment by Chris Drake .



nehanzu no kai ika ni shite kitari kemu

the shell on the Nehanzu -
I wonder how it came
to be there ?

Ozawa Minoru 小澤實 (1956 - )



on the human body
butterflies are assembling -
Nirvana Festival

Kakimoto 柿本多映


at 一畑山薬師寺 Temple Yakushi-Ji, Aichi, Okasaki town

nehanzu o afururu tsuki no hikari kana

suffused in moonlight ––
image of the Buddha
entering Nirvana 

Tr. Abigail Freeman

. Kuroda Momoko 黒田杏子 .   

The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.



the hot water from the well
is pooring out steadily -
Nirvana Ceremony




Nirvana Ceremony -
people are assembling
at the feet of the Buddha



涅槃 Nehan

涅槃像あかき表具も目にたゝず  沾圃
山寺や猫守り居るねはむ像  不撤
貧福のまことをしるや涅槃像  山蜂

Nehan-e ya shiwa-de awaseru juzu no oto

Nehan Ceremony-
wrinkled hands in prayer and
the sound of rosary beads

Matsuo Basho 芭蕉


Nirvana Temple
the meditating pilgrims
and your eyes

paying respects
in the holy temples
teaching silence

Geert Verbeke


nirvana ceremony ~
a butterfly buddha flutters
among human buddhas

reclining Buddha ~
a little fly settles on
his closed eye

nirvana ceremony ~
the maitreya buddha
watches his children

Narayanan Raghunathan
India, September 2009

Related words

***** West Wind on the Day of the Nirvana Ceremony,
nehan nishi 涅槃西風




Saijiki for Buddhist Ceremonies


Wakare - Parting with friends
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

- #nehan #nehanzu -


Gabi Greve said...

南蔵院 Nanzo-In
福岡県糟屋郡篠栗(ささぐり)町 / 1035 Sasaguri, Sasaguri-machi, Kasuya-gun, Fukuoka

The temple is famous for the statue of Shakyamuni, Reclining Buddha.
The statue is 41 meters long, 11 meters high and weighs 300 tons.

Gabi Greve said...

Famous scroll depicting death of Buddha on display at Kyoto temple -

by The Asahi Shimbun

A towering early 15th century scroll depicting Buddha's death is being shown here during this year's memorial service to commemorate "the enlightened one’s" passing.

The vertical scroll, measuring 12 meters in length and 6 meters wide, is on display at Tofukuji temple in the city's Higashiyama Ward.

It was created by painter and monk Mincho (1352-1431) in the early Muromachi Period (1338-1573), and is one of the largest "nehanzu" (paintings of Buddha's death) in Japan.

The painting depicts the dying Buddha with his head facing west as he is surrounded by mourning disciples and animals. A cat is depicted at the bottom of the picture grieving Buddha’s death, a rare feature in a nehanzu painting.

The scroll hangs from the ceiling of the temple’s main hall, which features the famed “soryuzu” painting of a dragon, drawn by Japanese-style painter Domoto Insho (1891-1975).

Gabi Greve said...

Rebirth of ‘lost’ Heian Period dying Buddha temple painting

KYOTO--A painting depicting the Buddha’s death that was housed in a little-known temple here for years unidentified as a priceless historical relic is finally set to gain official important cultural property status.

The painting is one of the rare works attributable to the late Heian Period (794-1185), a fact that its owners at the Sainenji temple, in an unassuming neighborhood of Kyoto’s Shimogyo Ward, had not known.

“I was so surprised, because I had never expected to discover another Buddhist painting from the Heian Period,” said Yoshitoyo Ohara, head of the Kyoto National Museum’s conservation and restoration department, who was in charge of the academic study that uncovered the painting’s history.

“Butsu Nehanzu” (image of the Buddha’s nirvana) was in active use at memorial services until relatively recently, but the painting’s new status will finally allow it to undergo full-scale refurbishment.
: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201603310046.html

Gabi Greve said...

金剛山 Kongozan  多聞院 Tamon-In 悲願寺 Higan-Ji
世田谷区北烏山4-12-1 / 4 Chome-12-1 Kitakarasuyama, Setagaya
In the garden is a stone sculpture of the nehanzu 涅槃図 reclining Buddha. It is a present from temple 壺阪寺 Tsubosaka-Ji in Nara.

Gabi Greve said...

Legend about
Priest and painter Choo Densu 兆殿司 Cho Densu (? - 1431)

The painter Densu painted a Nehanzu 涅槃図 Nirvana scene of the death of Buddha. But it was a painting full of wonders.
When he painted a dragon, the dragon would fly to heaven.
When he painted Fudo Myo-O, his flaming halo would begin to burn in flames.
Once he wanted to paint a dragon and prayed to the deities to show him one. Suddenly the water in the pond of the temple begun to churn and a dragon showed his features.
The colors and pigments for his paintings were from a special source at 稲荷山 Mount Inariyama.
When Densu painted the Nehanzu scene, a cat came along with a brush and pain in its mouth.
So he painted one cat into the scene.