Kūkai (774-835) on the Shugei Shuchiin School

Translated by Ronald S. Green
Coastal Carolina University

Ceremony for (the establishment of) the Shugei Shuchiin School, with preface (綜藝種智院式序) [1]

The retired advisor Fujiwara no Tadamori has a residence in the left part of Kujō (Ninth Ward in Heian/Kyoto). The area of land is more than two chō (one chō = about 120 square meters) and there is a house with five rooms.  On the east side of the premises is an institution of medical compassion.[2]  Near the west there is the Shingon Shrine (i.e., Tōji temple). Pressing on the south is the field where one returns to the origin at the end of life (i.e., a cemetary). On the north side is a neighborhood facility where clothing and food are stored and distributed. There is bubbling spring water in the front and back, like mirrors. Running water drifts and overflows to the left and right. The coming winds in pine and bamboo are kotos. The pressing rains in plums and willows are ornimental brocades. In spring there are chirping voices of birds. Great wild geese go flying by.  When the hot and thirsty come, that is at once eliminated and they arrive at a cool refreshing rest. For the west trigram, there is the White Tiger’s great road.[3] For the south trigram there is the Vermilion Bird’s small pond. As black silk (Buddhists) and white silk (laypersons) stroll freely, why is the mountain forest necessary?[4] Horses and carts go and return continuously morning and evening.

This mendicent has been thinking of ways of helping people, secretly hoping to establish an institution for the three teachings.[5] One word was breathed out echoed and a thousand pieces of gold came back in response. Always giving alms with no deeds or contracts, the land was bestowed for a long term. Without the trouble of having to spread out pieces of gold,[6] suddenly the victorious army attained the forest spring.[7] Instantly upon sensing the original vow, the name (of the institution) was established as “Shugei Shuchiin” (Institution for Cultivating Knowledge of a Broad Weaving of Arts), so called as a record of the attempt to make such a type. Either the nine schools of thought[8] or the six Confucian arts[9] are to be used as the boats and bridges for crossing.  The ten kinds of inexhaustible treasures [10] and the Five Sciences[11] are the only jewels that benefit others. In this way, the abilites of the tathagatas of the three worlds (past, present, and future) came from a combination of these studies that accomplished great awakening. The virtuous saints of the ten directions all went through these teachings and demonstrated complete knowing. A beautiful meal is not made with one taste. A wonderful tune is not made with a flat pitch. The cycle of life and death is broken with ita; nirvāṇa is verified with mita.[12] Who could abandon this?

Thus, the holy emperors and virtuous state officials who came before established temples and installed institutions, admiring this and propagating the way. However, those enrobed in the vihāra[13] (i.e., monastics) lean on Buddhist scriptures in play. Those of the scholar's tree indulge in vacant luxuriant investigations of outside (i.e., non-Buddhist) writings. As for the cylinders of the three teachings and writings on the Five Sciences, obstructed with mud they cannot pass through. I hope to establish an unrestrained institution that cultivates knowledge of a wide range of arts and universal collections of the three teachings to promote people of all talents to shine like three suns to illuminate the thoroughfare in the faint night of confusion, to bridle together the five vehicles[14] and urge on the multitude of deer into the park of awakening.

Perhaps a person with a problem may say: “Prior people with insight divulged the matter in this way, but it has not yet appeared to satisfaction.  For example, Kibi no Makibi’s two teachings,[15] Isonokami no Yakatsugu erected a library,[16] and there were other institutions like this. People go and leave only footprints in the dirt.”

The reply: “Whether things flourish or are abandoned is necessarily due to people. Whether people rise or sink is determined by the Way. The expanse of the great ocean is deepened according to the multitudes that flow into it. Mount Sumeru is extensive because of the multitudes of mountains that accomplish its height. Great buildings are supported by small buildings of timber. The head of state is defended and supported by numerous trusted aides. That being the case, many similar people are difficult to exhaust and a small pairing of people is easy to collapse. This is dictated by the logic of nature. Now, it is hoped that favor will descend from the solitary person (i.e., the emperor), the joint powers of officials of the three highest ranks, the noble flowers of the various clans, and all schools of the great virtuous ones (i.e., priests), joined with me for a common purpose, will continue to succeed for a hundred generations.”

That person with the problem says, “That’s good.” Maybe someone else with a problem might say, “Our country has opened numerous schools in succession, encouraging a variety of arts. Under a clap of thunder, what is the contribution of an added mosquito’s sound?”

The reply: “In the capital of Great Tang China, private schools were established in each neighbor for the universal education of children. Each county also opened village schools to widely guide the blue uniforms. Consequently, the capital was overflowing with gifted children and those skilled in the arts filled the country. Now, our city flourishes. However, there is only one national university and we do not have private village schools. Consequently, the children of the poor and lowly have no place to inquire about a ford to cross. One would have to go far for these good things and to travel there would also cause them to be extremely exhausted. Now, we are establishing this one institution as a universal crossing for the blind youth.[17] Is this not also good?”

The person with the problem says, "I seems that if it can indeed be so, it would be of utmost beauty and utmost good. It would vie with the two luminous bodies (i.e., the sun and moon) for brightness. It would compete with the two appearances (i.e., heaven and earth) for longevity. It is a wonderful plan for the benefit of the country. It would benefit the people like a precious island.”[18]

Although I am not smart, throw on one basketful of earth and, wow, nine ren.[19] Add a drizzle of dust and, whoa, it extends to the eight directions. I hope to repay the extensive virtue of the four debts of gratitude,[20] by acting upon the three dots as the cause of goodness.[21]

Recruiting Teachers Section

The Analects of Confucius say, “It is humanity (ren) that makes a neighborhood beautiful. If you choose to live in a place that lacks humanity, how can you increase in wisdom?[22] Another writing says, “Roam in the Six Arts.”[23] The (Mahāvairocana) Sūtra says, “An ācārya (Buddhist master) starts out green with many arts simultaneously.” The Treatise (on the Ten Stages)[24] says, “In achieving Bodhi (awakening), a Bodhisattva first seeks knowledge and techniques of the areas of the Five Sciences.” Therefore, Sudhana traveled to one hundred and ten cities seeking fifty teachers.[25] The Bodhisattva Sadāprarudita constantly cried out in a city and was cut up in seeking the deep Dharma.[26] In this way, he attained wisdom.

In a place where a person of humanity resides, you can always find support for the ways of the Five Sciences. In seeking the Dharma, it is necessary to have a multitude of central teachers. For the path of learning, there must be adequate resources of food and clothing. Four conditions must be provided for this to be achieved.[27] Therefore, we should arrange for these four conditions to aid the crossing of the multitudes of life. Even thought I say they reside in a place that has the Dharma, it seems as if we are without teachers so people are unable to attain liberation. Thus, we must first make a request for teachers. It can be said the there are species of teachers. One is those of the Way, another is the secular. Those of the Way, consequently transmit the Buddhist scriptures. Those who are secular, consequently propagate the outside (i.e., non-Buddhist) writings. Truly, the secular is not separate, my teacher eloquently said.[28]

-       Things teachers of the Way transmit

On the right, the two teachings the conspicuous (exoteric) and the mysterious (esoteric) are those of monastics, depending on which ideas they like. Simultaneously, the propagation of the outside writings is assigned to secular teachers. For those who have a happy interest in studying the inner sūtras and commentaries, there are Dharma teachers whose hearts reside in the Four Immeasurables[29] and Four Assistances.[30] Without resigning to exhaustion, not considering nobility or low status, they should give proper instructions.

-       Things secular professors[31] should teach

Nine classics[32] and nine schools of thought,[33] three subtleties[34] and three histories,[35] seven abstracts[36] and seven dynastic histories,[37] such literature and such inscriptions are among these types of writings. Things such as the sound, such as exegesis, whether about punctuation or conveying the meaning, one part of one document can develop the mental abode of the blind youth. As with the people of the Way, the ideas liked by those of the outside canon, the luxuriant teachings of filial piety and uprightness, should be followed and properly imparted. If aspiring to teach literary writings to those with blue lapels and yellow mouths, the heart of a red veiled teacher must reside in compassion.[38] They should have minds of honestly and filial piety. Not considering nobility or low status, not seeing poor or rich, they should properly tear upward and instruct with tireless zeal.[39] “In this triple world, you are my children”, the Great Enlightened teacher roared.[40] “People of the four seas are all brothers”, the sage leader (Confucius) beautifully said.[41] We cannot fail to admire this.

-     Things concerning food and provisions for teachers

“A gentleman is not a hanging gourd” is a maxim of Confucius.[42] Sakyamuni explained, “All beings depend on food to live”.[43] That being the case, if we wish to propagate the Way, it is necessary to feed the people. Whether it is the wages of a person of the Way, a secular person, or perhaps a teacher, it must be kept in mind that those of the path of learning in every case must be provided for. Even so, because I am a person of the Way who is normally in accord with purifying poverty, I have not yet handled expenses for provisions or confirmed many things. If you think of benefitting the country and benefiting people, desire to throw out confusion and prove there is awakening, then like me, please give a speck of dust[44] in donation and mutually help with my wish and from lifetime to lifetime, generation to generation, together on the cart of the Buddha’s vehicle, we will commonly benefit the multitudes of life.

Recorded by Daisōzu Kūkai

15th day of the 12th month of Tenchō 5 (current January 23, 828).






辭納言藤大卿。有左九條宅。地餘貮町。屋則五間。東隣施藥慈院。西近眞言仁祠。生休歸眞之原迫南。衣食出内之坊居北。涌泉水鏡而表裏。流水汎溢而左右。松竹風來琴箏。梅柳雨催錦繍。春鳥哢聲。鴻鴈于飛。熱渇臨也即除。清涼憩也即至。兌白虎大道。離朱雀小澤。緇[46]素逍遥。何必山林。車馬往還。朝夕相續。貧道有意濟物。竊庶幾置三教院。一言吐響。千金即應。永捨券契。遠期冒地。不勞給孤之敷金。忽得勝軍之林泉。本願忽感。樹名曰綜藝種智院。試造式。記曰。若夫九流六藝濟代之舟梁。十藏五明利人之惟寶。 故能三世如來。兼學而成大覺。十方賢聖。綜通而證遍知。未有一味作美膳。片音調妙曲者也。立身之要。治國之道。斷生死於伊陀。證涅槃於蜜多。弃此而誰。是以前來聖帝賢臣。建寺置院。仰之弘道。雖然。毘訶方袍偏翫佛經。槐序茂廉空耽外書。至若三教之策。五明之簡。壅泥不通。肆建綜藝種智院。普藏三教。招諸能者。所冀三曜炳著。照昏夜於迷衢。五乘並鑣。驅群鹿於覺苑。或難曰。然猶事漏先覺。未見其美。何者備僕射之二教。石納言之芸亭。如此等院。並皆有始無終。人 去跡穢。答。物之興癈必由人。人之昇沈定在道。大海資衆流以致深。蘇迷越衆山以成高。大廈群材之所支持。元首股肱之所扶保。然則多類者難竭。寡偶者易傾。自然之理使然。今所願者。一人降恩。三公勠力。諸氏英貴。諸宗大徳。與我同志百世成繼。難者曰。善也。或有人。難曰。國家廣開庠序。勸勵諸藝。霹靂之下。蚊響何益。答。大唐城。坊々置閭塾。普教童稚。縣々開郷學。廣導青衿。是故才子滿城。藝士盈國。今是華城。但有一大學。無有閭塾。是故貧賎子弟。無所問津。遠方好事。往還多疲。今建此一院。普濟瞳矇。不亦善哉。難者曰。若能果如此。盡美盡善。與兩曜爭明。將二儀競久。益國之勝計。利人之寶洲。余雖不敏。投一簣哉九仞。添涓塵乎八埏。報四恩之廣徳。爲三點之良因。



語曰。里仁爲美,擇不處仁。焉得智。又曰。遊於六藝。」經曰「初阿闍黎兼綠衆藝。」論 曰「 菩薩爲成菩提,先於五明處求法。」是故善財童子巡百十城。尋五十師。常啼菩薩常哭一市。切求深法。然則得智。在仁者之處。成常資五明之法。求法必於衆師之中。學道當在衣食之資。四者備而有功。是故設斯四緣。利濟群生。雖云有處有法。若無師者無由得解。故先請師。師有云種。一道。二俗。道所以傳佛經。俗所以弘外書。眞俗不離。我師雅言。








右九經九流。三玄三史。七略七代。若文若筆等書中。若音若訓。或句讀。或通義。一部一帙。堪發瞳矇者住。若道人意樂外典者。茂士孝廉隨宜傳授。若有靑矜。黃口志學文書。絳帳先生心住慈悲。思存忠孝。不論貴賤。不看貧富。隨宜提撕。誨人不倦。三界吾子大覺 師吼。四海兄弟將聖美談。不可不仰。










[1] Entry 102 in the Henjō Hakki Shōryōshu, 1st entry in Scroll Number 10 of that document found in Volume 6 of the Kōbō Daishi Kūkai Zenshū.

[2] Seiyakuji-in: a facility for the protection and medical treatment for the sick and orphans.

[3] The Eight Trigrams of the Yijing are used to divine an auspicious location. The White Tiger is a Chinese constellation and mythological guardian of the west.

[4] That is to say, since there are both lay and monastic human resources, there is no need for people to go to the mountains to study.

[5] The three teachings are Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

[6] The Buddha’s patron Anathapindika, offered to buy Jetavana Grove from Prince Jeta by covering the entire grove with gold coins.

[7] This refers to Prasenajit, a 6th century BCE ruler of Kosala, who took advice from the Buddha and made donations to him.

[8] Confucians, Daoists, Yin and Yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Diplomats, Miscellaneous, and Agriculturalists.

[9] Rites or propriety, music, archery, chariot operation, and calligraphy or literacy.

[10] Ten kinds of inexhaustible treasures that every Bodhisattva are given in the Flower Garland Sūtra (Avataṃsaka Sūtra). They are (1) faith in the emptiness of all phenomena, (2) moral conduct, (3) mortification of taking the shame upon one's evil deeds, (4) conscience of taking self reproach upon one's misconduct, (5) listen and learning the teachings of Buddha, (6) earning the merit of performing a charity to the poor, (7) wisdom of discerning the ignorance of suffering, the ways to emancipation and nirvāṇa, (8) right recollection of the endless cycle of the life of the rise and fall and the world, (9) preservation and practice of the Dharma, and (10) attainment of wisdom to propagate the Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings.

[11] The Five Vidya, Five Sciences, or Five fields of learning from India are grammar and linguistics (śabda-vidyā), skills and crafts, such as mathematics (śilpakarma-sthāna-vidyā), medicine (cikitsā-vidyā), logic and epistemology (hetu-vidyā), psychology, self-development and self-understanding (adhyātma-vidyā).

[12] Kūkai uses both of these expressions as transliterations of the word “pāramita”, Buddhist perfections.

[13] Vihāra are Buddhist monasteries.

[14] The five vehicles are those of ordinary people, heavenly beings, voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, and bodhisattvas.

[15] Kibi no Makibi (695–775) was a noble of the Nara period. The two teachings are Buddhism and Confucianism.

[16] Isonokami no Yakatsugu (石上 宅嗣, 723 – July 23, 781) was a Japanese noble and scholar of the late Nara period. He established a library called Untei.

[17] The two characters translated here as “blind youth”, 瞳矇 (tóngméng), literally mean “blind pupils”. However, note 65 on page 700 of the KKZ says the characters mean “those who are young and reasonable”.  Similarly, Pan Chung-kwei (page 2) says that the two characters are equivalents of童蒙 (also tóngméng), which would render the phrase to mean “young and ignorant”, the second character coming from “covered” rather than “blind”.

[18] Note 68 on page 700 of the KKZ says this should be “precious jewel”.

[19] This is a reference to the Chinese idiom “the lack of one basketful of earth spoils the entire effort to build a nine-ren mountain.From the “Hounds of Lu” section of the Book of History (Shujing). Ren () is an ancient unit of measure between 1-3 meters.

[20] The four depts. Of gratitude are the debts owed to one's parents, to all living beings, to one's sovereign, and to the three treasures of Buddhism. These four are in the Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sūtra.

[21] In Siddhaṃ script used in Japan and China to writing Sanskrit, the sound “i” is written with three dots in a triangle (). In the Nirvana Sūtra, three dots it is used as a metaphor for the Dharma-body, prajñā, and nirvāṇa, all three being necessary for attaining Buddhahood. [see Charles Muller in the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism and his sources: Ui, Nakamura, Soothill, JEBD, and Yokoi.

[22] In the “Li ren里仁 section, 4:1.

[23] This is found in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji). See note 7 above for the Six Confucian Arts.

[24] Pusa dichijing 菩薩地持經, T.30 n.1581, 0889a26.

[25] In the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, book 39 of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Sudhana actually visits 52 kalyāṇa-mittatā (wise advisors), 20 of whom are female.

[26] Sadāprarudita in the Great Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (The Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in 8000 Lines), scroll 27 and in the Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom (大智度論, Mahāprajnāpāramitā-śāstra),  96. Like a story in the Lotus Sūtra, in this story his determination was tested and he sold his own flesh in order to pay for lessons in the Dharma.

[27] The four conditions that Kūkai lays out in this talk are place, teachings, teachers, and living provisions (food, clothing, etc.).

[28] This means that Kūkai’s Chinese Master Huiguo said that secular teachings are not separate from Buddhist teachings.

[29] The Four Immeasurables (brahmavihāras) are equanimity, love, compassion, and joy.

[30] The four assistances or four bases of conciliation found in the Sigalovada Sutta are (1) generosity or giving (dāna), (2) pleasant speech, (Pali piya-vācā; Sanskrit: priyavdkya), (3) beneficent conduct, (atthacariyā), (4) impartiality or freedom from bias (samānattatā).

[31] Teachers of Daoism and Confucianism.

[32] Nine classics of Confucianism are the Book of Changes (Yijing), Book of History (Shujing), Book of Etiquette, Book of Rites (Liji), Zao’s Annotation on Spring and Autumn Annals, Spring and Autumn Annals, Gongyang’s Annotation on Spring and Autumn Annals, Guliang’s Annotation on Spring and Autumn Annals.

[33] The nine schools of thought and philosophical schools of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770-220 BC). These are Confucians, Daoists, Yin and Yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Diplomats, Miscellaneous, and Agriculturalists.

[34] The Zhuangzi, Laozi, and Zhaoyi (Book of divination based on the Book of Changes).

[35] The Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), History of Han (Hànshū), History of Eastern (or Later) Han (HòuHànshū).

[36] The Seven Abstracts or Seven Epitomes was the oldest bibliography of ancient China. The compilation was begun in 26 BCE. The seven include the Six Arts, the Masters (of literature), the Poetry and Rhapsody, the Military literature, Calculations and divinations, medicine and hygine.

[37] Seven dynastic histories: Jinshu, Songshu (History of the Liu-Song period, 420–479), Qishu, Liangshu, Shenshu, Zhoushu, Peishu.

[38] Blue lapel refers to the school uniform. Yellow mouth means a young bird opening its mouth for food. In China, the Confucian scholar Ma Rong (79–166) mentions red or “peach color” in relation to emotional sensitivity. His biography appears in the Book of Later Han.

[39] Tearing upward is a Chinese expression usually meaning arouse attention in a student. Instructing with tireless zeal is an idiom from The Analects of Confucious.

[40] In Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sūtra, Shakyamuni Buddha says,  “This triple world is my property. All living beings there in are my children. There are many suffering in this world. Only I can save all living beings.”

[41] From The Analects of Confucius, Lunyu XII. 5.

[42] Shall I be like a gourd that can be hung, but never eaten?” Analects of Confucius, “Yang Huo” section, 17:7. This became an idiom, meaning do not become useless in your position. Kūkai also seems to use it to mean it is useless to have the teacher if there is nothing to eat.

[43] The Yogācāra writing Cheng Weishi Lun or Discourse on the Perfection of Consciousness-only (Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi), scroll 4, says, “According to the sūtras, all sentient beings universally depend on food to live.” T. 31 n1585, [0017b11].

[44] Footnote 114 on page 702 in the KKZ says that in this case, a speck of dust refers to material support.

[45] In the Kōbō Daishi Zenshū, Vol. 6, Henjō Hakki Shōryōshu (or Seireishū) Volume 10, pages 644- 651. I checked the Chinese against the Gunsho Ruijū (続群書類従 collection of Japanese classics sorted by type; orig. ed. 1819; comp. ed. 1911), edited by Hanawa Hokiichi (塙保己一 1746-1821), vol. 8 8(伝部) , pages 643-5. Punctuation is also in accord with the above version.

[46] Some texts say “綿” (cotton) instead of  ” (black silk). For example, see Gunsho Ruijū, page 643.  https://books.google.com/books?id=JIUMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA98-IA214&lpg=PA98-IA214&dq=%E5%BB%BA%E5%AF%BA%E7%BD%AE%E9%99%A2%E4%BB%B0%E4%B9%8B%E5%BC%98%E9%81%93&source=bl&ots=k0FKuSwZw9&sig=R0xrQiv6h_-MZbm0wBt_xjB-tuw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjlytaSzP3YAhWSnlMKHXYiDS4Q6AEIJzAA

[47] Here and in places below, the character “one” () indicates an indention dash (-).

[48] The character “one” () indicates an indention dash (-).

[49] The character “one” () indicates an indention dash (-).

The Shugei Shuchiin School
Nishikujo Ikenouchicho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-8416, Japan photo of the Shugei Shuchiin School