Japanese Legend – Koubou Daishi Kukai

Kukai, known posthumously as Koubou Daishi (弘法 大師), is one of the great men of the Heian period of Japanese history. Priest, scholar, artist and engineer, Kukai was a polymath of enormous talents and founder of the Shingon School of Japanese Buddhism.

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

At 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 then changed to Nyoku. Finally, when he received full ordination as a priest, he took the name Kukai, which he kept for the rest of his life.

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 Mahavairocana Tantra, one of the first 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 was unable to find someone 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 to 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 master of esoteric Buddhism 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 “Adamant Universal Splendor”. He was then chosen as the successor of the old monk at the age of thirty-two.

In the same month that he appointed Kukai as his successor, Hui-kuo told him: You received everything I had to convey. Now return to your homeland and spread this teaching in order to increase the happiness of the people and promote peace on earth. Hui-kuo died shortly afterwards.

Kukai returned to Japan in 806. The following year he went to the capital of Kyoto. He was allowed to instruct others about 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, he made an image 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 mountain sanctuary. This label 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 residents had to save on the 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 of goodwill brought a glass of water, to which the traveler, in thanks, 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 Hashigui-iwa Rocks

According to a 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 started to work using his new strength to transport huge rocks to the ocean, forming the base of his bridge. He worked so tirelessly that Amanojyaku realized that he could 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 that he had lost, Kukai stopped working leaving his bridge unfinished at sea (Rochas Hashigui-iwa).

Faith in Lord Kannon

When a man has problems, he prays for Kannon-sama (Lord Kannon).

But when he doesn’t, he forgets Kannon-sama.

It’s like sailing on the ocean.

When a man is in a storm, he calls for help as high as he can.

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

This is a result of the madness of ordinary people.

Only when they are struggling do they seek Kannon-sama.

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

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