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Japanese Legend – Koubou Daishi Kukai

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Kukai, known posthumously as Koubou Daishi (弘法大師), is one of the great men of the Heian period of Japanese history. A priest, scholar, and engineer, Kukai was a highly talented politician and founder of the Shingon School of Japanese Buddhism.

Koubou Daishi Kukai was born in 774 in Sanuki Prefecture in Shikoku, in what is now Kagawa, and grew up in what is now Zentsuji Temple. His birth name was Saeki. Legend has it that his mother became pregnant after having a dream about an Indian sage that entered her abdomen.

At the age of seventeen, he managed to enter university, received a classical Chinese education, and then went to Daigakuryo in Nara to continue his studies of Confucianism and Taoism. And he trained his memory using the Akashagarbha Mantra.

In 793, at the age of twenty, he decided to enter the priesthood. Initially, he changed his name to Kyokai, and later changed it to Nyoku. Finally, when he received full ordination as a priest, he took the name Kukai,

In 804, Kukai was selected to be part of a government-sponsored expedition, along with another famous monk Saicho (the founder of Tendai Buddhism), to China to try to understand and interpret the Mahavairocana Tantra, one of the earliest texts of Tantric Buddhism, first written in India.

At twenty-four, he wrote an essay called “Indications of the Three Teachings” (Sango Shiiki), explaining his reasons for the priesthood.

He studied the sutra intensely, but found it difficult to understand. To his dissatisfaction, he could not find anyone in Japan who could explain certain parts of the sutra, so he decided to travel to China, where the text was translated from the original Sanskrit into the classical Chinese form common in Japan. In 804, he received permission. official to study abroad.

He traveled to China in the company of an official mission that included the Japanese ambassador. Four months after his arrival in the Chinese capital, he was accepted as a student of the esoteric Buddhist master Hui-kuo. For the next eight months, Hui-kuo instructed Kukai in esoteric Buddhist theory and practice, and gave him the religious name of Henjo Kongo which means “Universal Adamantine Radiance”. He was then chosen as the old monk’s successor at the age of thirty-two.

In the same month that he designated Kukai his successor, Hui-kuo told him: You have received everything I had to impart. Return now to your homeland and spread this teaching in order to increase the people’s happiness and promote peace on earth. Hui-kuo died soon after.

Kukai returned to Japan in 806. The following year he went to the capital of Kyoto. He received permission to instruct others in what he had learned from Hui-kuo and soon gave an inaugural class on Dainichi-kyo at the Kumedera temple in Nara, the place where years earlier he had found the text.

He founded a temple on Mount Koya (高野山) in 816. In early 823, Kukai received the Toji temple (東寺), a temple located at the entrance to Kyoto. When Koubou Daishi was 42 years old, he made a picture of Kannon sama in a tree to help people in their critical year. Since then, more than 1200 years have passed, but people still have faith in Kannon-sama (Lord Kannon) and go to this place, now known as “Tachiki Kannon” or “Tachiki-san”.

Kukai died on Mount Koya on April 23, 835, and it is believed that even now he remains in eternal samadhi in his bodily form within the inner sanctuary on the mountain. This belief is also a legacy of the people’s fervent admiration for him.

More ubiquitous are the tales about wells and springs associated with Kukai.

A typical story is that in a certain village there was not enough water for irrigation, so the villagers had to economise on the use of water they extracted from a distant well. One day, a traveling monk passed through the village and asked for a glass of water. The villagers willingly brought a glass of water, to which the traveler, in gratitude, struck the ground with his staff and a fountain of water gushed out. The traveler was actually Kukai.

Another story is the legend of Kukai and the demon Amanojyaku of the Rocks Hashigui-iwa

According to one legend, the monk Kukai came to visit Kushimoto. He competed against the demon Amanojaku to build a bridge to connect Kii Oshima to the main island. Kukai set to work using his newfound strength to haul huge rocks out into the ocean, forming the base of his bridge. He worked so tirelessly that Amanojyaku realized he might lose.

So the devil cheated

Just before dawn, while it was still dark, Amanojyaku made the sound of a rooster crowing. Kukai heard the sound and thought his time was up. Thinking he had lost, Kukai stopped work leaving his bridge unfinished at sea (Hashigui-iwa Rocks).

Faith in Lord Kannon

When a man has problems, he prays to Kannon-sama (Sir Kannon).

But when he doesn’t, he

It’s like sailing the ocean.

When a man is in a storm, he asks for help as loud as he can.

However, as soon as the water is mirror-smooth, he forgets he screamed.

This is the result of the madness of ordinary people.

Only when they are suffering hardship do they seek out Kannon-sama.

We hope you have faith in “Tachiki Kannon” and lead a happy life.

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