Ron Green



I. Kūkai’s Ancestry and Childhood

1. Kūkai’s Ancestry on His Father’s Side
2. Kuaki’s Mother
3. Kūkai’s Childhood.
4. Kūkai’s Siblings.


II. Kūkai in Nara

1.      Uncle Ato Ōtari and the University.
2.      Nara in Relation to Kūkai.
3.   Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings


III. Mountain Asceticism

1.      Leaving the University.
2.      Gonzō.
3.      Kūkai and Gyōgi.
4.      Beginning Mountain Ascetic Practice.
5.      Kūkai’s Early Study of Buddhism.


IV. Kūkai in China

1.   From Departure to Arrival in China.
2.   Kūkai, Tang Politics and Chinese Tantric Buddhism.
3.   Kūkai’s Relationship with Huiguo.
4.   After Huiguo.
5.   The Return Trip to Japan.


V. Return to Japan

Kanseon Temple and Makiōsan Temple.


VI. The Takaosan Period

1.   Saichō and the Appointment to Takaosan.
2.   Living Proof of Sokushin jōbutsu: Kūkai becomes Henjō.
3.   Saichō, Kūkai and Taihan.
4.   The Rift Between Saichō and Kūkai.


VII. Mount Kōya

1. History and Early Legends of the Founding of Mount Kōya.
2. Kūkai’s Poetry.

VIII. Kūkai at Tōji Temple and Shingon as the National Religion of Japan 171
IX. Kūkai’s Ten Great Disciples 201
X. Belief in Nyūjō; Kūkai’s Perpetual Samādhi 212
Closing Remarks 226
Bibliography 229



DZ       Dengyō daishi zenshū (the Complete Works of Dengyō Daishi, i.e., Saichō).

KZ       Kōbō daishi zenshū (the Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi).

KKZ    Kōbō daishi kukai zenshū (the Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi Kūkai).

T          Taishō shinshū daizōkyō (the Taishō Tripi aka, i.e., the complete Chinese Buddhist 

Canon compiled in Japan during the Taishō era).

Ten Stages of Mind     Himitsu mandara jūjūshinron, Mysterious Mandala of the Ten Stages of Mind.

C.        Chinese

J.         Japanese

S.         Sanskrit


            Kūkai is by all accounts one of the most popular and enduring figures in all of Japanese history. For introducing Shingon Buddhism into Japan in the early Heian period (794-1184), the emperor awarded him the posthumous title Kōbō Daishi, literally Great Master who Propagated the Dharma. Yet, far from this being the extent of his accomplishments, Kūkai also exerted a major influence on the development of Japanese calligraphy, poetry and literary theory. He drew the plans for what has become one of the major spiritual and tourist destinations in Japan, the Mount Kōya temple complex. He constructed ponds and irrigation systems still in use in his native Shikoku today. One would be hard pressed to name another historical figure so prevalent in Japanese society. His life has touched people across a wide expanse of social backgrounds and historical epochs. Today, monks study his words and Japanese school children repeat aphorisms about him. “Even Kūkai’s brush makes mistakes,” for example, is the widely known equivalent to “even Homer nods.”

            In his time, six Buddhist traditions of Nara were collectively among the most powerful social forces in the country. Not only did these six traditions manage the way Buddhism was studied and practiced in temples, their leaders also made efforts to control indigenous religious practices throughout the countryside. In this environment, Kūkai championed such egalitarian ideas as universal Buddhahood attainable in this lifetime, the practice of equating Bodhisattvas with Shintō and folk deities, and the inclusion of previously outlawed shamanic-like practices in rituals inside and out of Buddhist temples. By promoting these ideas and implementing social programs based on them, Kūkai was able to change the shape of Japanese Buddhism and challenge such institutions as the Japanese state education system and literati-official court arrangement.

            While Kūkai’s theories and practices were sometimes controversial during his lifetime, his legacy is no less so today. Linguists still debate whether the famous Iroha poem should properly be attributed to Kūkai. This poem, clearly the product of genius, employs each syllable of the Japanese language only once while delivering a Buddhist message about the transience of life. Likewise, linguists continue to question the long held notion that Kūkai was the originator of the Japanese written syllabary, kana. To this day innumerable travelers along the Eighty-eight Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku in his honor insist the living Kūkai assisted them, as have countless others in times of need. Soon after his apparent physical death or parinirvāöa, stories arose saying he had instead entered an exceedingly deep state of samādhi and is still alive. Today, at his tomb on Mount Kōya, monks lay out a fresh change of clothes for him. Many faithfully await his next instructions.

            Stories of his deeds, many of which are nothing short of miraculous, abound in some of the most beloved literary and historical documents of Japan. Literally, thousands of legends of Kūkai circulate and continue to be produced. The sheer volume of materials, if not the implausibility of so many of the tales, can easily daunt biographers. For this reason, today’s scholars typically turn to the earliest sources for information about his life. These include short biographical sketches attributed to Kūkai himself and longer biographies by those who knew him best. Looking at these sources, one may still wonder whether he could have exchanged poems with the greatest figures of the Tang dynasty or mastered Sanskrit in just nine months. Regardless, the early works contain so many indications of his linguistic brilliance that we may ask who other than Kūkai living at that time could have written the Iroha poem or devised kana script, neither of which is mentioned in the earliest sources. Indeed, Kūkai’s literary success and his mastery of Shingon (literary “True Word” or mantra) may aptly be viewed as one act. Accordingly, Buddhist scholars who separate his literary prowess from what they consider his purely religious inclinations may neglect the importance of the interrelationship of words, literature, deeds and Buddhism in Kūkai’s thought. Add to that list Kūkai’s insistence on the direct experience of the great mystery in nature and we begin to see how his childhood in the forests of Shikoku many have shaped his Buddhist thought. Knowing these and other conditions of his life adds to our understanding of Kūkai’s Buddhism and provides evidence about how he has become the iconographic figure encountered in Japan today and for well over a millennium. With this in mind, it is the intent of the present study to bring to light the richness of the life of Kōbō Daishi.


            Some of the writings used in this study are those Shingon has come to consider the major biographies and resources on or by Kūkai. A number of these appear in the Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi Kūkai (hereafter KKZ). [1] An earlier version of Kūkai’s complete works was published in six volumes from 1901-1911 as Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi (hereafter KZ). [2] Both of these versions have been used here in order to examine Kūkai’s writings in three versions: what is considered the original Chinese, a turn of the twentieth century Japanese translation, and a modern Japanese interpretation. The KKZ includes a chronological index based on the dates appearing in Kūkai’s writings and extensive use of it is made here. The following is a summary of the biographical writings consulted, compared, contrasted and interpreted for this study.

1.      The Biography of Sōzu Kūkai by Kūkai’s direct follower Shinzei (真済, 800-60). [3] This is the earliest biography of Kūkai extant or known to have existed and therefore is often thought of as the most accurate.

2.      The Honored Spoken Memento. [4] This writing is sometimes referred to as Kūkai’s Will and is held up as Kūkai’s last words of advice to his followers.

3.      Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō, [5] which is a collection of writings including letters, poems, prayers, etc., attributed to Kūkai and gathered in part by his direct follower Shinzei. An examination of this title itself gives us some insight into Kūkai’s character. Henjō is a name for Kūkai, literally meaning Everywhere Shining. Specifically, it is the name Kūkai received at the time he was granted one of the tantric baptisms  (abhi·eka) and the name he used when granting baptisms to Emperors, the famous Heian period priest Saichō, and many others. It is also a name for Mahāvairocana, the sun deity Kūkai not only represented but became as the granter of the baptisms. The term for divination used in this title, hakki, is found in Confucian writings and the word seirei has a literal meaning of spiritual-nature or holy-nature. The title is interesting in that it connects Kūkai’s doctrine not only with Shingon but with Confucianism, which, along with Daoism and Buddhism, he studied before entering China. Kūkai maintained a clear interest in these philosophies throughout his life. As he says in the Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings, “If an individual chooses one, he does not necessarily repudiate loyalty and filial piety by doing so.” [6] In addition, the title points to the fact that according to Shingon, the truths it relates must, in some sense, be divined and approached experientially rather than understood on a strictly intellectual basis, at least as the term intellectual is typically understood.

4.      Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings. [7] This is a work of fiction considered largely biographical and attributed to Kūkai. Although the date of Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings is unknown, another work by Kūkai, Indications of the Goals of the Deaf and Blind, [8] is believed to be the draft for Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings and is dated the first day of the twelfth month of Enryaku 16 (797). In China, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism had already come to be known as the three teachings. Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings is a drama apparently meant to justify Kūkai’s preference for Buddhism in the eyes of his parents and others. It is the oldest example of Japanese fiction extant or known to have existed.

For modern biographies, among others, Shamon Kūkai by Watanabe Shōkō has been of value, as has Kūkai: Major Works by Yoshito S. Hakeda. Although the latter biography of Kūkai is short, it is packed with information. Likewise, the 1951 dissertation by Joseph Mitsuo Kitagawa entitled “Kōbō-Daishi and Shingon Buddhism” was useful. These books, along with Professor Kiyota’s works on Shingon, had been all but the sole resources on Kūkai in English for the past few decades until the appearance in 1999 of Abé Ryūichi’s The Weaving of Mantra, Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. This excellent contribution concentrates on the creation of Tantric Buddhist discourse in the Heian period. It is quite valuable in clarifying points brought out in imperial edicts as well as letters and other writings attributed to Kūkai. It was especially helpful here in interpreting the early biographies.

Another work often referred to is Kōbō Daishi Kūkai by Wakamori Taro. [9] This biography seems to be written as much for public appeal as academic research. The current study profited from the elaboration therein of early legends of Kūkai. Kōbō Daishi Kūkai Living Today by Miyazaki Ninshō [10] was also useful in this context. The numerous additional books and articles consulted less often can be found in the bibliography.


Chapter I.

Kūkai’s Ancestry and Childhood.

1. Kūkai’s Ancestry on his Father’s Side.

In the first article of the Honored Spoken Memento Kūkai says, “My father was of the Saeki family, a person of the Sanuki Kunitado district…My mother was of the Ato family.” [11] Kūkai grew up with his parents and nearest relatives in the rural Sanuki (讃岐) prefecture of Shikoku. Although his was a middle ranking noble family, in Shikoku they were removed from the activities of the capital and in many ways isolated from the ruling elite. Recent scholars have questioned whether the Saeki family was originally a branch of the powerful Ōtomo clan. Regardless of modern opinion, along with others of his time, Kūkai believed he was related to the Ōtomo and in many ways shared their circumstances. For this reason, we should reflect on what it meant to him and others to be considered part of the Ōtomo clan in the eighth century.

During Kūkai’s lifetime and for centuries before, Ōtomo family members distinguished themselves in positions of government and military as well as by their scholarship. Ancient Japan was ruled by a small number of clans, each of which came to be identified with a specific function in the governing hierarchy. As one of these ruling clans, the Ōtomo trace their roots to mythological times and appear in the earliest extant written records of the Japanese. By all accounts, just before Kūkai’s time they had fallen from their ancient position as one of the highest ranking and most powerful noble families of Japan. Like Kūkai, they were also known as protectors of the sun deity.

This reverence for the sun deity appears to span to the oldest written record of Japanese civilization, that of Chinese explorers of the third century CE. These explorers came upon what has been called the Yamatai kingdom somewhere in Japan. [12] Their account, known as the Record of Wei (Wei zhi, 221-265 CE), [13] documents the explorer’s finding of thirty countries ruled by the Shamaness‑queen Himiko (or Pimiko), who, accordingly, bewitched her subjects. Although the matter is an issue of some debate, historians generally admit the possibility that Queen Himiko, whose name can mean either Sun Deity or Sun Shamaness (among other possibilities), is the prototype for the mythical Sun Goddess Amaterasu, to whom the Japanese Imperial family traces their roots to this day. Accounts of Amaterasu are found in the earliest writings of the Japanese people, including the Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki, 712 CE) and the Chronicle of Japan (Nihon shoki also called Nihongi, 720 CE). [14] These national histories, written only 50-60 years before Kūkai’s birth, are generally believed to have helped maintain a social and political status-quo in the country, defining the function and social position of each clan in the ruling hierarchy for many centuries even to modern times. Kūkai’s own situation, including his decision to study Buddhism, may have depended largely upon the hereditary social position and other situations concerning his family at the time.

The Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan name the deity Ama‑no‑oshi‑hi as the ancestor of the Ōtomo clan. Owing to his bravery and military prowess, Ama‑no‑oshi‑hi is appointed head of Amaterasu’s guard and leads her entourage from the heavens to the sacred earth. The name Ōtomo itself means “Great Escort of the sovereign.” Later in the Chronicle of Japan, we find Hi no Omi, the Minister of the Sun, as head of the Ōtomo clan successfully leading the Emperor against people of hostile regions. Because of his success, Hi no Omi is granted by the Emperor the new title Michi no Omi, Minister of the Road. At the time described in the narration, said to be around 660 BCE, Michi no Omi “was enabled, by means of a secret device received from the Emperor, to use incantations and magic formulae so as to dissipate evil influences.” [15] This is a remarkable passage in relation to Kūkai’s later situation. As if restoring the historical position of his family, Kūkai returned from China with secret incantations (dhāraöī) for the expressed purpose of protecting the emperor and preserving the sacred country of Japan.

Each ancient ruling clan preserved its own history through oral and written transmission. The Ōtomo clan’s own legends affirm they historically revered the Sun Deity. One branch of the clan was called Himatsuri, Sun Worshipers. Legendary clan-member-heroes often have the word for sun (hi) in their names as do both deities mentioned above as progenitors of the Ōtomo clan, Ama‑no‑oshi‑hi and Hi no Omi. [16] Sun mythology from the various powerful clans eventually became a part of the imperial family mythology. The rising sun remains the symbol of Japan and the royal family. Likewise, for Kūkai the main deity for purposes of visualization during meditation is the Buddha Vairocana (also called Mahāvairocana), known in Japanese as Dainichi nyorai (大日如来), the Great Sun tathāgata or, metaphorically, the Great Illuminator. Before the Meiji restoration in 1868, when a mandate was passed to separate the identification of Shintō deities from those of Buddhism, effectively undoing what Kūkai had helped put into place, Vairocana was considered by many temples to be the same as the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. [17]

There are several versions of how the Saeki branch was formed from the Ōtomo clan and there may have been two divisions of the Saeki family. The root of one division is believed to be traceable to Emperor Keiko (c. 291-322). [18] Other accounts hold it was during the reign of Emperor Yūraku (reigned latter half of the fifth century), twenty-first emperor in the traditional count, that the Saeki branch of the Ōtomo clan was born. [19] At that time, Ōtomo Muroya (c. 456-506) took the name Omuraji and later came to be known as Saeki Muraji. The name Saeki is found being used as a family name in poetry written by Muraji’s grandson.

            According to a genealogy of Kūkai, a descendant of Ama‑no‑oshi‑hi, Takehi-no-mikoto, a warrior for legendary Emperor Jimmu (c. 40-10 B.C.), accompanied Prince Yamato-takeru in a battle to subjugate the Ainu people and was later granted land on the island of Shikoku. [20] In the Honored Spoken Memento, Kūkai explains his family roots related to this story saying, “In olden days, on expedition to the Ainu, (he) covered the party with earth.” [21] As a reward, according to various records of Japan, Takehi-no-mikoto was given land in Shikoku and for generations his family ruled as feudal lords of that land. The Biography of Sōzu Kūkai says, “Originally, he descended from the Heaven Honored. The next ancestor, in olden days, was Yamato Takehi-no-mikoto, who gained merit on an Ainu expedition and as a result was granted land. This was a service to the nation.” [22] The son of Takehi-no-mikoto, Muroya, became a minister. Muroya’s son, Omono, and his grandson, Wako, became governors (kunikko) of Sanuki in Shikoku. [23]

In the fifth and sixth century (the Yamato period) the Ōtomo‑Saeki family occupied a central position of governmental power. Just as their legendary ancestors, the Ōtomo‑Saeki were especially well known for, and proud of their military competence. Because of this, Ōtomo Kanemura (active 495-540) was enlisted in support of Emperor Keitai, twenty-sixth emperor in the traditional count (reigned early sixth century). Ōtomo Kanemura also supported the enthronement of Keitai’s sons Ankan (twenty-seventh emperor) and Senka (twenty-eighth emperor). However, it was during the reign of Emperor Kimmei (reigned 531 or 539‑571) that a fateful incident occurred that rival clans used as a pretext to discredit the Ōtomo clan. The fallout from this and other family miscalculations would have a detrimental effect on all clan members down to Kūkai himself.

In the midst of political power struggles with rival clans, as military leader, Kanemura was blamed for failing relationships with Paekche, one of the Korean kingdoms. Ōtomo family members had participated in two failed attempts to aid Paekche against neighboring Silla. As a result, in 540 Emperor Kimmei decided not to send any more support to Korea and to removed Kanemura from his post. Kanemura’s sudden loss of power became well known and widely felt throughout the family. Afterwards, in 552 Paekche attempted to regain Kimmei’s support by sending him a gilt statue of a Buddha some sources identify as Vairocana, the Sun Deity which would be most revered by Kūkai. The Chronicle of Japan, cites this event for the date Buddhism was officially introduced to Japan. [24] Later, traditionalists (anti-Buddhism factions in government having vested interests in preserving the proto-Shintō status-quo) blamed the Buddha image for a plague. As a result, some stories hold that the image was thrown into the Naniwa canal. [25] Legends say the statue was retrieved some time afterwards.

It is interesting to note the official introduction of Buddhism and perhaps the first Vairocana image in Japan was directly associated with political conditions surrounding Kūkai’s ancestors. Following the logic of the story, we may conclude that if Ōtomo family members had not failed in their attempt to aid Paekche, the statue of Vairocana may not have been sent.

In 645, the Taika Reform expounded the need for a permanent capital and afterwards Nara was built based on the layout of Chang’an, the capital of Tang China. In 646, by an edict, the governing position of kunikko, held in Shikoku by members of Kūkai’s Saeki family, was discontinued. Losing their posts, many officials moved to the capital and took minor positions. Saeki Tadamochi and Saeki Masao, relatives of Kūkai, were granted the rank of sukune. However, the family of Kūkai’s father was not granted a hereditary rank. [26]

Among members of the Ōtomo clan living during Kūkai’s lifetime, perhaps the best known today is the poet Ōtomo Yakamochi (718‑785), who died when Kūkai was eleven years old. As we will see, poetry became one of the driving forces in Kūkai’s life must have bee quite familiar with Yakamochi’s work. Yakamochi compiled the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Manyōshū). The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves is the first collection of poetry expressed in the Japanese language and is still considered one the greatest collections of poetry in Japanese history. The first volumes of the twenty books making up the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves probably appeared in the late Nara period, around the end of the eighth century when Kūkai was at the university in the capital. It likely had several compilers over the years. Ōtomo Yakamochi occupied the influential position as the last compiler of the great work, which contains poems by emperors, members of the court and common people. Kūkai himself was intensely interested in poetry, contributing to and compiling Heian period anthologies of poetry. His biographers have often understated the strength and significance of this aspect of Kūkai’s personality.

Witnessing his clan members being overpowered by others seeking to usurp their traditionally held political positions, a process still continuing since the time of Kanemura, likely prompted Yakamochi to write such poems of family encouragement as found in Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves poem number 4465, a translation of which follows.

Since the advent of the god upon Mt. Takachiho

our ancestors have served the Imperial family with bow and arrow,

and led the warriors throughout the land,

vanquishing all who did not obey the Emperor.

The conquest finished, at Unebi

a palace was erected in Yamato,

and the Sovereign sat upon the throne.

Ever since, the Ohtomo [27] have been in favor with the court.

Remember all this, my beloved clansmen,

and n’er disgrace the good name of our forbears. [28]

This poem expresses family sentiment at the time of Kūkai’s childhood and similar feelings are expressed in Kūkai’s writings. Specifically, the Ōtomo clan had always maintained a high position in society from the perspective of the proto-Shintō deities, a position directly protecting the emperor. Family members felt they should remember this now in the period of their decline. Looking at Kūkai’s work from this perspective, though rival clans may have promoted Buddhism as a tool for limiting the power of the Ōtomo and other old ruling clans, Kūkai, raised in the tradition of proto-Shintō mythology, mastered Buddhism, created an influential doctrinal classification hierarchy that would rank the temples of those rival clans below his own family, and brought the proto-Shintō pantheon into the fold of his styled Buddhism.

Among the contributors to the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves are twenty‑seven poets giving their family name as Ōtomo. [29] These include Yakamochi’s father, Tabito (665‑731) who is famous for his poems on drinking and hedonism, and one of Tabito’s sisters, Lady Ōtomo of Sakanoe. Over four hundred of Yakamochi’s own poems appear in the collection and numerous others written to or about him. As the Ōtomo family was in a state of social decline, like the poem above, poems by the family members often express this fact. Yakamochi himself was a chamberlain to Emperor Shōmu, a position granted on basis of good looks and demeanor.

The Fujiwara family presented the main threat to the Ōtomo as well as members of many of the other powerful clans. Faced with the growing power of the Fujiwara, Ōtomo Yakamochi remained distant from the ruling elite. However, when the four leading members of the Fujiwara family were killed by a smallpox epidemic in 737‑8, Yakamochi grew close to the new leading minister Tachibana no Moroe (? ‑757). From 746 to 751 Yakamochi was Governor of Etchū (present day Toyama Prefecture). In 754, he undertook military duty in Kyushu. After ex‑emperor Shōmu died, the Fujiwara family was able to regain power and work against Tachibana. Yakamochi was then appointed governor of Inaba (present Tottori Prefecture), a lesser position than he had known as governor of Etchū. His career suffered from that point onward. Fujiwara no Tanetsugu (737-85) was placed in charge of constructing a new capital in Nagaoka, a move believed by some historians intended to facilitate the escape of the growing power of the Nara Buddhists. However, two members of the Ōtomo clan assassinated Tanetsugu in a coup attempt. Although Yakamochi had tried to remain neutral, after his death in 785, rival clans members posthumously linked him to the murder. As a result, Yakamochi’s rank was stripped, his property was confiscated and his ashes, along with his son, who was probably around the age of Kūkai and very possibly known by him in the capital city, [30] were sent into exile to distant Oki.

Ironically, the dishonor to Yakamochi may have at the same time preserved the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves. Yakamochi’s property, including the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, was confiscated and kept under government lock and key. The property remained in government custody until after the capital’s eventual move to Heian-kyō (Kyoto) and was probably not opened until Yakamochi’s titles were restored some twenty years later in an amnesty of 806. That year Kūkai returned from China and apparently was not allowed to enter the capital for uncertain political reasons likely related to this incident. One of Yakamochi’s last poems, found near the end of the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves reads: “Man’s life is brief. So turn your eyes to nature, taking care to follow Buddha’s teachings.” [31]

After Kūkai’s time, it was one of Ōtomo Yakamochi’s great-grandsons, Tomo Yoshio, who, according to the True Record of Three Generations (Sandai jitsuroku), on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of Jogan 3 (861) petitioned the court, asking that the children of Kūkai’s father, Saeki Tagime, be granted the posthumous hereditary high court title of Sukune. During that time, and continuing to a lesser extent in Japan today, a person’s achievements furnished the means to social recognition or disgrace for relatives. Therefore, granting this petition restored the hereditary titles to that branch of the Ōtomo clan based on Kūkai’s merits. [32] This also points to the fact that the court recognized the relationship between Ōtomo Yakamochi and Kūkai’s Saeki family in the ninth century.

In summary, the argument against the relationship between Kūkai’s branch of the Saeki family and the Ōtomo clan is based on the point that some families named Saeki were granted the court title and family name Sukune after fighting with Ainu, while others were not. Those granted the title were related to Saeki-no-Muraji and those not granted the title at that time, including Kūkai’s father, were unrelated.

Kūkai may have been related to Saeki no Ima Emishi (佐伯今毛人), who was the leader of the family descended from Saeki-no-Muraji. Ima Emishi took a leading role in building the housing for the large Vairocana statue at Tōdai Temple in Nara. Ima Emishi died on the third day of the tenth month of Enryaku 9 (790). However, Tsunoda Bun’ei hypothesizes that Kūkai had no connection with Saeki no Ima Emishi but the confusion arose as follows. “Kūkai descended from the Sanuki Saeki no Atai, as did Chisen, Shinga, Shinzen and Chishō, [33] the family turning out in great numbers those who gained control of the Buddhist world. Because of this, imagination was extended to include Ima Emishi. Especially Kūkai was the elder statesmen of the Saeki family but there was probably no opportunity for him to meet with Ima Emishi.” [34] However, because Ima Emishi’s built the Saeki temple building in Nara and Kūkai was known to have a connection to it, the possibility of their meeting and family relationship is strengthened. In addition, it is clear from various writings that Kūkai believed he was related to the Ōtomo clan (e.g., his letter to an Ōtomo general Tomo no Kunimichi, cited below) and so did others of his time (i.e., the great-grand son of Ōtomo Yakamochi). Also, as mentioned below, Enchin (814-89), the son of Kūkai’s sister, became head of the traditional Ōtomo clan temple in 866.

Around the time of Kūkai’s death, a report to the throne by Tomo no Yoshio’s (伴善男) also claims the Saeki of Sanuki and the Ōtomo descend from common ancestors. [35] Another writing from the time, True Record of Three Generations, [36] reports the sons of the deceased Saeki Atai Takimi, who were living in the Sanuki Kunitado district, were granted the surname Saeki Sukune. [37]

In the first year of Tenchō (824), Tomo no Kunimichi (伴国道), was sent out on a conquest of the Ainu. As a farewell gift, Kūkai wrote the poetic work “Presented Poem in Companionship for Proceeding to the Shore District,” seen in the Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō. Therein, Kūkai writes, “There is a distinction between Buddhists and Laypersons.” [38] Tomo (, abbreviation of Ōtomo, 大伴) and Sai (, as in Saeki, 佐伯) are older and younger brothers.” [39]

Biographers have found various names or given alternative readings to the Chinese graphs used for the name of Kūkai’s father. These include Saeki Atai Tasami or Tagimi, [40] Yoshimichi [41] and Saegi Ataegimi. [42] According to some sources, the family of Kūkai’s father, the Saeki, and his mother’s family, the Ato, were related. This family tie was strengthened when the younger brother of Kūkai’s father, Ōtari, was adopted into the Ato family. [43]

2. Kūkai’s mother.

Kūkai’s mother was of the Ato family. The Ato are thought to have become naturalized Japanese citizens, descending from Korean aristocratic heritage. There is a common belief from later periods that Kūkai’s mother was either named Tama-yori or Akoya (阿古屋). [44] One of the meanings Tama-yori can have is Jewel Purity. This may be related to the idealization of a woman’s role in the natural countryside of the past. In both Shintō and Shingon tradition, there is also an assumed purifying element to human suffering and the undertaking of austerities. Kūkai’s mother is popularly seen as one who especially suffered for the sake of her son. [45] As is well know, even after seeing a child through youth a mother’s worries and prayers typically do not end. It may be that people thought this was particularly true in the case of Kūkai’s mother. She must have been troubled by their separation when at the age of fourteen or fifteen he left his parents’ home in order to study with uncle Ōtari. At eighteen, Kūkai entered the National University in the capital, far from his native Shikoku. But perhaps causing a mother more worry was his sudden decision to drop out of the university and disappear into the mountain forests of Shikoku. Later, such a forest quest received official government recognition and approval. However, at the time Kūkai did this it was not entirely condoned. Nor would his mother’s worries have ended when he finally reemerging from the mountains and officially entered the path of the Buddha. It was then that Kūkai was determined to go abroad to China. The journey itself was perilous. His mother would have known of the severe weather at sea and numerous past shipwrecks occurring on the same route. Kūkai’s own ship encountered bad weather and was fatefully washed to a remote area of China where he was stranded for months without being allowed to go ashore. He finally entered the Chinese capital city of Chang’an. But his life there would mean more separation from his aging and worrying mother who likely did not know of his condition for long periods.

A female deity by the name of Tama-yori-hime is found in Shintō myth recorded in both the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan. In addition, the name Tama-yori-hime may be given to any woman who is god-possessed. [46] Tama-yori-hime expresses the notion that a spirit (tama, ) has dropped into (yori, 寄り) a woman (hime, : beautiful woman; or hime, : princess). [47]

There are several versions the story of Tama-yori-hime preserved in the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan, but all follow the same general pattern. Tama-yori-hime and her sister Toyo-tama-hime (Great Jewel Deity) were children of the Dragon King of the Sea. On land, the Heavenly Grandchild, Hiko-hoho-demi no Mikoto, was grieving because he had lost his elder brother’s sacred fishing hook and in order to find it, he sank into the sea in a basket. There, guided by a turtle, he met one of the Dragon King’s daughters Toyo-tama-hime and eventually a great child was conceived. Toyo-tama-hime instructed the Heavenly Grandchild to not look at her during childbirth. However, overcome with curiosity he stole a glance into the room to see that she had changed into a dragon. Because he had violated the taboo of the mystic instructions, Toyo-tama-hime abandoned him and the child on land and barred the path back into the sea. That is to say, had he not looked into the room, humans could walk between the worlds of the land and sea at will. Still, unable to completely abandon the child, Toyo-tama-hime sent her sister, Tama-yori-hime, to nurture and bring him up.

Kūkai’s mother then is the namesake of this virgin nurturing mother deity. In this mythological story, when the Heavenly offspring is grown, he takes his aunt Tama-yori-hime as royal consort and together they produce children of Japanese Imperial lineage. It is also said that during a storm on Kūkai’s return voyage from China, the Dragon Deity of the Sea appeared to protect the patriarch of Shingon. In tantric symbolism, the appearance of the dragon goddess may indicate a mystical insight on the part of the practitioner. [48]

The other given name attributed to Kūkai’s mother is Akoya. Akoya means Pearl Oyster. Likewise, as stated above, the name Tama-yori-hime means Great Jewel Deity. Furthermore, the word ‘yori’ also has the meaning ‘drop into.’ In that case the name Tama-yori would mean the Jewel Dropping Into (i.e., dropping into the oyster). Such double entendres, known as kake kotoba, are abundant in Japanese literature and so the possible relationship of the two names is not far fetched. In Japanese shamanism, to refer to the ‘pearl dropped in the mouth’ is to say that a shamaness has mystical power. [49] It is through her mouth that the jewel, the voice of the world beyond, is received. The names Tama-yori and Akoya popularly attributed to Kūkai’s mother may suggest this connection. In relationship to Kūkai these stories again link Shintō and Buddhism in a way similar in idea to those held by mountain ascetic (Shugendō) practitioners as well as Kūkai himself. 

We can only guess what Kūkai’s relationship with his mother might have been like after he returned from China and rose to prominence in the world of Japanese Buddhism. However, according to tradition, Kūkai built Jison hermitage (慈尊院) for his mother and in honor of the future Buddha Maitreya. [50] Jison hermitage is located at the foot of Mount Kōya, outside of the temple complex, and was possibly used primarily by nuns and other women interested in Shingon. Kūkai’s mother and his cousin, Ato Mototada many have lived at a lower temple located at the foot of Mount Kōya, outside of the temple complex proper. [51] This makes for a nice image considering his mother may not have been allowed to ascend the mountain to visit her son at the temple owning to her gender.

Throughout the countryside of Japan, one can see stone images of Kūkai seated beside a woman. According to priests at Mount Kōya, where a stone image of a women exists beside that of Kūkai, all such representations of women found in close proximity to Kūkai could not possibly denote any other than his mother since a Buddhist saint would have had nothing to do with other women. [52] It may also be that at one time stone images of women were used at Mount Kōya to be broken by Shingon practitioners in order to symbolize their renouncement of mother, wife and desire. [53] According to this theory, the identification of the image evolved over the years to the current interpretation as Kūkai’s mother. It is believed that, though a woman, Kūkai’s mother was saved from rebirth in this world of saµsāra by the virtue and spiritual powers of her son. For this reason and because it was through his mother that the revered founder crossed over into this world, her image is allowed at Mount Kōya regardless of the ban on women there until recent times.

3. Kūkai’s Childhood.

Kūkai was born in 774 in Byōbu‑ga‑ura (Screen Bay), an inlet village near Tado district in the Sanuki prefecture of Shikoku. Zentsū-ji city, which is further inland, also claims to be his birthplace, pointing to a dilapidated temple said to be on the very spot once occupied by his parents’ house. In an effort to reconcile the disputed honor, it has been suggested that at the time of his birth, the sea was much farther inland and Screen Bay was at Zentsū-ji. [54]

People in Japan at that time often did not mark their date of birth clearly and this is the case for Kūkai as well. According to the Honored Spoken Memento, Kūkai said near the end of his life in 835, “It is now 62 years since I was born and 41 years since ordination.” [55] This places the year of his birth as Hōki 5 (774). Shinzei’s Biography of Sōzu Kūkai agrees with the Honored Spoken Memento, saying at the time of his parinirvāöa, Kūkai had “lived 62 years and been ordained 41 years.” [56] Since Shinzei was close to Kūkai we may conclude this date was likely acceptable just after Kūkai’s death. Biographies from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) all follow accordingly. [57] However, according to the Japanese national history, Continuation of the Continuing Record of Japan [58] written in 840, five years after Kūkai’s death, Kūkai entered perpetual samādhi (nyūjō) at the age of 63. If so, he would have been born in Hōki 4 (773). In agreement with this date is a passage from a letter for Taihan (泰範, born 778) to Saichō, dated the fifth day of the eleventh month of Kōnin 3 (812). That letter, thought to have been written or edited by Kūkai, says, “Kūkai’s living years are forty.” For these reasons, some feel Kūkai was probably born in Hōki 4. However, since Amoghavajra died in Hōki 5, Kūkai could not have been the reincarnation of that holy man, as often presumed, if he was born in Hōki 4. For this reason, the year Hōki 5 may have been adopted. [59]

Shingon followers celebrate Kūkai’s birthday on June fifteenth. Critics however believe this date was decided upon some four hundred years after his death. [60] According to Watanabe, the first time this date was seen was in the Miscellaneous Records of True Customs, [61] written by Raiyu (頼瑜, 1226-1304) of Kii-shū’s Negoro Temple in the middle Kamakura period. Future biographies followed the example. [62] Such biographies explain that the fifteenth day of the sixth month is the day Tripi aka Master Amoghavajra died in China and was reincarnated in Japan as Kūkai. In Kūkai’s own writing, the Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings, he says he was born when the sun strikes the fresh leaves of the camphor tree, which corresponds to the sixth month. [63]

Like many founders of religious groups who are considered saints by the followers, much has been made of mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of Kūkai. One story has it that he was born from a blossom. [64] Kūkai’s parents are also said to have both had a simultaneous dream in which an Indian saint appeared. The saint told his parents that a son would be born to them after a twelve-month pregnancy. At that moment the saint entered the womb of the mother and became Kūkai. Twelve months later, he was born, supposedly with his hands together as if in prayer.

Kūkai is held to be the reincarnation of the Indian saint Amoghavajra (J. Fuku Sanzo, also called Fuku Kongō, C. Bukong jingang, 705‑774), who is the one said to have appeared in his parent’s dream. Amoghavajra was born in Ceylon and was the third major master of Tantric Buddhism to come to China (at least as far as Shingon is concerned), bringing a part of what would become the Shingon teachings. He arrived in that country at the age of ten and at fifteen became a student of the second major Tantric Buddhism master in China, Vajrabodhi (J. Kongōsatta, C. Jingangji, 671‑741). When Vajrabodhi died, Amoghavajra returned to Ceylon and India where he gathered numerous Tantric texts, which he brought back to China, translating many into Chinese. Amoghavajra became a teacher to three Chinese Emperors, Xuanzong (713‑55), Suzong (756‑62) and Daizong (763‑79). It was under his leadership that Tantric Buddhism, known in Japan as mikkyō, the “secret” or “mysterious teachings” from the Chinese mijiao, reached its height of popularity in China. Because of his accomplishments, Amoghavajra was named the sixth patriarch in the line of succession in transmitting the Shingon doctrine.

When Kūkai was born, feelings of political and social disgrace still lingered in the family. Some believe he was named Mao (True Fish, 真魚) or Tōtomono (Precious One or Our Treasure, 貴物) though the origins of these names are uncertain. [65] The name Mao is seen in later biographies of Kūkai. Japanese legends often evolve from a fishing-based culture, revering ocean deities, etc., and the name Mao may reflect this. In early materials such as the Biography of Sōzu Kūkai and the Honored Spoken Memento, this name is not found. In article one of the Honored Spoken Memento the name Tōtomono appears. [66]

The Biography of Sōzu Kūkai says, “The master was born with extraordinary perception. He had much insight into personal affairs. After the age of five or six years, in the space of the surrounding ri, [67] he was said to be a wonder child.” [68] The Honored Spoken Memento incorporates various folk legends of Kūkai being a child prodigy. Such stories of Kūkai are often similar to or identical with legends of other religious figures. One says he was conceived when his mother drank the sun. There are also stories that his crying voice was dhāraöī. [69]

Legends also hold that from early childhood Kūkai had the virtues of an advanced priest and recited sūtras. In Saigoku Temple in Onomichi in the Bingo prefecture there is a small clay image of a Buddha believed to have been made by Kūkai when he was a child. In the Honored Spoken Memento, Kūkai says, “At the time I lived with my parents, around the age of five or six, I dreamt I spoke with the various Buddhas sitting on an eight-leaved lotus flower. Even though that was the case, I did not talk to my parents about my devotion. Nor did I speak of it with anyone else. At that time, I received my parents’ affection and was called Tōdomono. When I was twelve years old, my parents told me the following story. ‘Our child, in olden days, you were certainly a disciple of the Buddha. Why do we say this? It came from an Indian, a holy priest who appeared in a dream. We saw him entering the bosom. This was the child’s conception. Therefore, that child is probably some disciple of the Buddha.’ I heard this and in my child’s heart was happy. Often, out of mud, I made Buddha figures. Making a small practice hall near our house and installing the Buddha figures inside, I bowed and prayed.” [70] The Hōmotsu-kan Museum at the Zentsū-ji temple, near Kūkai’s place of birth, has a small clay pagoda they say was modeled by Kūkai at the age of seven. They also have a sūtra scroll designated a National Treasure. On the scroll, a bodhisattva on a lotus pedestal accompanies each graph. According to the museum, Kūkai drew the calligraphy and his mother the painting. [71]

Some have pointed out that if from the time he was twelve years old, Kūkai had heard he was the reincarnation of a disciple of the Buddha, he would probably have set his sights on Buddhism from the beginning, without having studied Confucian teachings at the university. [72] The Honored Spoken Memento seems to have anticipated this issue, or perhaps the author/s already had to deal with it in the past. It says in the voice of Kūkai, “Then, my uncle on my mother’s side, Ato Ōtari, said, ‘Even though I think you are a disciple of the Buddha, enter the university and study the written materials of the world of learning. That is the best foundation for a person.’” [73]

Other stories say as a child Kūkai declared to heaven that if he were not granted religious vision he would throw himself off Mount Shashin. Some say he did so and was caught by one or more vidyādhara. [74] Vidyādhara are angel-like flying beings that appear in Indian Buddhist iconography around the heads of deities. A vidyādhara is the “Bearer of Wisdom,” [75] perhaps symbolizing in this story Kūkai’s attainment of the vision he was seeking.

Another story says at thirteen years of age Kūkai entered a nearby state‑established provincial temple and became a monk. Wakamori believes that these stories are almost certainly fabricated later and that a child at that time would not have been allowed to roam with such a degree of independence. [76] However, little is known of his life before he was the age of fifteen that biographers have been able to accept as historical fact rather than legend. The Japanese poem entitled “Namu-daishi,” (Praise Daishi) handed down by Shingon followers, summarizes the legends of Kūkai’s childhood.

1. On the fifth day of the middle decade of the sixth month in the fifth year of Hoki, in the Baron’s Hall on the shore of Byobu, in the land of Sanuki, a bright light shone. It was the birth of our great sage.

2. When the lad was but five years old he would sit constantly among the lotuses, and there hold converse with the Buddhas. But what he spoke of he never told, not even to his mother.

3. In his heart there arose the desire to save mankind from all their sorrows and pains, and he sought on Mount Shashin to accomplish this desire by the sacrifice of his own life. Then angels came and saved him from death.

4. Whilst at play he built himself a pagoda of clay. The four Heavenly Kings at once came and stood guard over it. The Imperial Messenger passing by saw the prodigy and was amazed. “This,” said he, “is a divine prodigy.” [77]

3. Kūkai’s Siblings.

At the beginning of Kūkai’s fictional story Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings, the author explains he is writing the story in part to express to his disapproving relatives that he can still have filial piety while being a Buddhist. In part three of the story, the Buddhist character comments, “My two elder brothers have already died and, to my sorrow, the fortunes of all our relatives are in decline.” [78] Biographers have considered Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings to be closely based on Kūkai’s life, even pointing to Kūkai having two elder brothers. [79] Assembling information from various sources, biographers postulate Kūkai had three brothers and two sisters. There appears more information about some of his siblings than others. A summary of what is believed about his siblings follows.

Kūkai’s older brother remained in Shikoku as a part of the local gentry. Kūkai’s older sister, Chiye, married a Shintō cleric of Takino-miya. Their son was Chisen, who became a disciple of Kūkai. [80] Kūkai’s younger brother, closest to Kūkai’s age of the two younger brothers, was Shinga (801-879). Like Chisen, Shinga became Kūkai’s pupil and was placed in charge of the repository of scriptures at Tōji Temple in Nara after Kūkai’s death. Kūkai’s younger sister was the wife of Wake [81] Iyenari (宅成), and mother of Enchin (814-91). Enchin played an important role in the development of the Japanese Tendai Tantric tradition of Buddhism, known in Japan as Taimitsu, mysterious Teachings of Tendai as opposed to Tōmitsu, mysterious teachings of Tōji where Kūkai propagated his teachings. At the age of sixteen, Enchin became a pupil of Gishin (781-833), the successor of Saichō as leader of Tendai. Enchin spent six years in China and studied the teachings and practices found in the Mahāvairocana-sūtra, the Vajra§ekhara-sūtra and the Susiddhikara-sūtra [82] at Qinglong temple, where Kūkai had studied. While in China, he also visited Mount Tiantai and built a sanctuary for Japanese monks at Guoqing Temple. Returning to Japan in 858, Enchin gained the support of Emperor Seiwa (850-80, r. 859-76), Fujiwara Yoshifusa (804-72) and the latter’s son Mototsune (836-91), who controlled the Heian court. Enchin was the founder of the Tendai Jimon tradition, in distinction from Ennin’s Sanmon tradition on Mount Hiei. In 866, he became head of the traditional Ōtomo clan temple, Onjōji, a Tendai temple of the Jimon tradition in the Onjōji section of Otsu city. [83] From there he engaged in a power struggle with Ennin (794-864) for the leadership of the Tendai tradition. In 868, Enchin became the fifth zasu (座主, the person in charge of the congregation as opposed to administration of the temple) of Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei. He held this position until his death at the age of seventy-eight in 891. [84] After their deaths, the rivalry between Enchin and Ennin broke into armed combat among their disciples. Enchin was known posthumously as Chishō Daishi.

Kūkai’s youngest brother was the father of Shinnen (or Shinzen) (804-91), known by the honorific posthumous title Dentō Kokushi. Shinnen was entrusted as the head of the temple complex on Mount Kōya after Kūkai entered perpetual samādhi. Along with Kūkai’s brother Shinga, Shinnen proposed the idea that Mount Kōya was a Buddhist Pure Land and in 883, convinced Emperor Yōzei that the main temple there, Kongōbu-ji, was a place of ancient manifestations (kojaku) of the Buddhas. [85]


[1] 弘法大師空海全集, Kōbō daishi kūkai zenshū.

[2] 弘法大師全集, Kōbō daishi zenshū.

[3] 空海僧都伝, Kūkai sōzu den­, KKZ 8:5

[4] 御遺告, Goyuigō, KKZ 8:37-95

[5] 遍照発揮性霊集 Henjō hakki seireishū. Volumes 1-7 are found in KKZ 6:147-481. Volumes 8-10, collected after the time of Shinzei, continues as Collection of Readings for Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō, Supplement of Related Selections (遍照発揮性霊集補閥抄, Toku seireishū obasshō) in KKZ 6:484-427.

[6] Hakeda 1972:102.

[7] 三教指帰, Sangō shiiki, appearing in KKZ 6:5.

[8] 聾瞽指帰, Rōko shiiki, KKZ 6:125.

[9] 弘法大師空海, Kōbō daishi kūkai.

[10] 現代に生きる弘法大師空海, Gendai ni ikiru kōbō daishi kūkai.

[11] (KKZ 8: 39). The Biography of Sōzu Kūkai says, “Those of the secular surname Saeki were Sanuki Kunitado district persons” (KKZ 8:5).

[12] The exact location is a matter of current debate.

[13] The Wei zhi forms a small part of the Record of the Three Kingdoms (San guo zhi).

[14] According to the Japanese creation myth found in both the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan, the male and female deities of the Plain of Heaven, [14] Izanagi and Izanami respectively, descended to the sacred island and erected a pillar. The two deities circumambulated the pillar, the male to the left and the female to the right. Behind the pillar they copulated and among the divine children they produced was the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. A custom coming about much later, growing in popularity from the twelfth through seventeenth century, and still persisting on Kūkai’s native island of Shikoku, involves making a pilgrimage to eighty-eight temples in honor of Kōbō Daishi. Traditionally circumambulation of a Buddhist stūpa or other structure is considered sacred only if performed clockwise. However in the Shikoku pilgrimage, owing to Kūkai’s supposed desire to unite Buddhism with Shintō and folk beliefs, a counterclockwise trek around the island is valued not only because of the merit gained by undertaking the increased difficulties of the terrain in that direction but also because Izanami’s steps were to the right, counterclockwise, around the pillar.

[15] Aston 1972:133.

[16] Since the stories found in the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan are believed to have been passed along orally for centuries before the written language was adapted from Chinese, the original meaning of the word “hi,” presently represented by the Chinese graph for the sun, cannot be known with certainty.

[17] According to legend, the first identification of Mahāvairocana with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, supposedly marking the beginning of honji-suijaku, the practice of identifying the “original” form of a Shintō deity as a Buddhist deity, championed by Shingon and often attributed to Kūkai, occurred when Emperor Shōmu (724‑748) sent the Buddhist monk Gyōgi (died 749) to the Ise Shrine to ask the Sun Goddess for permission to cast the huge Vairocana image at Tōdai Temple in Nara, sometime around 743.This legend has only been traced to as early as the Genkō Shakusho of the fourteenth century, after honji-suijaku had become popular (Matsunaga 1984 I:122-3).

[18] Kitagawa 1951:112.

[19] Wakamori 6.

[20] Kitagawa 1951:112.

[21] KKZ 8:39.

[22] KKZ 8:5.

[23] Kitagawa 1951:112.

[24] Some historians say the year the Buddha image was sent was 538 (Matsunaga 1982 I:9).

[25] Collcutt 56.

[26] Kitagawa 1951:113.

[27] This is another transliteration of Ōtomo.

[28] Honda 337.

[29] Umehara Takashi believed the original books of the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves contain a disproportionate number of poems by those later considered political victims: Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, Ōtomo no Yakamochi, Prince Arima, Prince Otsu’s sister, etc. This raises the question: was the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves published as an attempt to appease the wronged spirits of the victims, as was practiced in other circumstances of the time?

[30] There is no record indicating whether in childhood Kūkai knew or at least met Yakamochi. Although the meeting is doubtful, Kūkai was considered a child prodigy, allowed at an early age to study poetry with his uncle, the tutor of Prince Iyo (d. 807).

[31] Number 4468, Honda 337.

[32] Hakeda 1972:12 n. 2.

[33] Also called Enchin.

[34] Tsunoda Bun’ei, 256-7.

[35] Watanabe 27.

[36] 三代実録.

[37] Watanabe 27.

[38] Literally, “Black” (, used to mean Buddhists in China due to the drab color of their robes) and “White” (used as the first graph for laypersons, 素人).

[39] KKZ 8:251.

[40] Hakeda. Takimi is another possible reading.

[41] Casal.

[42] Kitagawa.

[43] Kitagawa 1951:112.

[44] Miyazaki 143.

[45] Wakamori 118.

[46] Kitagawa 1990:370.

[47] As these words are said to pre-date Buddhist influence in Japan, the spoken versions accordingly pre-date the introduction of Chinese graphs into Japan. This situation, along with the fact that Japanese tradition places a high value on the many possibilities of double (or more) entendres or homonyms in the language, makes it difficult or impossible to determine one definite meaning for terms found in the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicle of Japan.

[48] The appearance of the dragon may also symbolize insight or the Dao itself for Chinese Daoists (Sullivan 171).

[49] Miyazaki 145.

[50] Imaizu 420.

[51] Kitagawa 1951:147.

[52] Wakamori 106.

[53] Wakamori 108.

[54] Casal 95.

[55] KKZ 8:49.

[56] KKZ 8:13.

[57] Watanabe 25. Also see the letter Jitsue sent to China to report Kūkai’s death (Hakeda 13: KZ 5:391).

[58] Shoku nihon kōki.

[59] Watanabe 25.

[60] Hakeda 1972:6; Watanabe 26.

[61] Shinden zōki.

[62] Watanabe 26.

[63] KKZ 6:5.

[64] Wakamori 5. This parallels the birth story of Padmasambhava (Lotus Born), also of the eighth century, who is credited with bringing Tantra from India to Tibet.

[65] See Hakeda 14n.

[66] KKZ 8:38.

[67] Old Japanese measurement of distance. It could be singular or plural here.

[68] KKZ 8:5.

[69] See Miyazaki 142-53.

[70] KKZ 8:38-9.

[71] The museum displays a robe and ritual stick, supposedly presented to Kūkai by his master in China, Huiguo. They also have a jar and begging bowl allegedly used by Kūkai.

[72] Watanabe 12.

[73] KKZ 8:39.

[74] Watanabe 9.

[75] Huntington 730.

[76] Wakamori 9.

[77] Kitagawa 114; Lloyd 243.

[78] Hakeda 124; KKZ 6:5.

[79] e.g., Watanabe.

[80] Kitagawa 1951:113.

[81] Wake: “Ancient title for imperial princes, and sometimes conferred upon noble families in the eighth and ninth centuries” (Frédéric 2002:1026).

[82] The Susiddhikara-sūtra (蘇悉知羯羅経) T. 18 n. 883. Along with the Mahāvairocana-sūtra and the Vajra§ekhara-sūtra, the Susiddhikara-sūtra is among the most important scriptures for Shingon.

[83] Imaisu 104.

[84] Matsunaga 1987 I:165; Imaizu 78.

[85] Matsunaga 1987 I:196.

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[To the left, Sailor Mars invokes the mysterious power of the bija seed-syllables, mantras of the Womb Mandala of Japanese tantric tradition.]