Examining the volumes of Kūkai’s collected writings in the Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi (Kōbō daishi zenshō, hereafter KZ), it is clear that he devoted considerable time throughout his life to the composition, collection and criticism of poetry. Even for those only interested in Kūkai’s religious practices, I believe it is a mistake to overlook Kūkai’s poems and writings of and about poetry. By far, the most voluminous of all his writings is his Bunkyō hifuron (文鏡秘府論, Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing). This is “an extensive compendium summarizing the major poetic theories and rhetorical strategies of classical Chinese literature and a work that had a lasting influence on the development of Japanese poetry and poetics” (Abé 1999:104). Renowned Japanese poets who admired Kūkai’s literary criticism include Fujiwara no Sadaie (1162-1241)  and Matsuo Bashō (1644-94).  Nor is this a work that can be written off by scholars as an indication of his nature as a youthful dilettante, as his interest in Confucianism and Daoism typically and unjustifiably are. Instead, Kūkai was working on some form of the Bunkyō hifuron as late as 820.  This work appears to be the first writing in Japan on Chinese poetic syntax and is of interest to researchers today in that it mentions some lost writings of the Tang Dynasty (Bodman 1).
There are numerous indications that Kūkai’s considerable writing talent was recognized at court and by several emperors. As preserved in the Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō, officials requested that he write speeches, sermons and letters in their names. For Kūkai, however, writing was more than a convenient means of expression. As Ryūichi Abé puts it, “Kūkai did understand writing as a technology; however, it was for him not a tool for statecraft but a sacred technology necessary for creating and maintaining cosmic order” (Abé 1999:310). In this statement, Abé gets to the heart of the issue. For Kūkai, poetry and mantra were closely connected.
Literature was more than a hobby for Kūkai then. According to the Mahāvairocana-sūtra, ultimate reality is found in all speech and the root of speech is the soul of the universe, which Shingon calls Dharmakāya Mahāvairocana (Watanabe 204). Today this is know as the linguistic philosophy of what Kūkai called Sound, Word and Reality (声字実相の言語哲学) (Watanabe 204).  Kūkai writes, “The Tathāgata reveals his teachings by means of expressive symbols” (Hadeda 1972:234). Accordingly, all literature expresses the universe of the Buddha. Kūkai likely hoped that the development if this idea would provide no less than a Buddhist alternative to the dominate literary theories of Confucianism of his time (Abé 1999:310).
From this perspective, Kūkai’s activities in literary competitions and numerous exchanges of poems with individuals are occasions for widely disseminating Buddhist ideas. In this sense, poetry is upāya or skill-in-means, the very activity in which all Mahāyāna Buddhists should be engaged. Not only was he able to do this by including the abstractions of mantra in his verse, but by writing about meditative practice. We see this in his “Poem on Contemplation of Ten Illusions” (十喩觀 J. Jūyukan) and his “Poem on the Contemplation of Nine Appearances” (九想詩, Kosōshi).
For this reason, it would be a mistake to consider Kūkai’s exegeses more “philosophical” than his poems. An analogy could be made to the tendency of scholars to concentrate on the first chapter of the Mahāvairocana-sūtra, that dealing with doctrine, as the “most important” section to the detriment of the bulk of the sūtra, which deals with specific practice. In addition to understanding Kūkai’s view of the religiosity of activities of poetry, by reading his poems and letters in the Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō we can also get a feeling for the depths of Kūkai’s personality. We can also see how this could play a role in sustaining the tradition of Kōbō Daishi veneration.
In Kōnin 7 (816 when Kūkai was 43) Kūkai was involved in the momentous launching of the Mount Kōya temple complex. In the 8th month of that year, he received a requested from the emperor to contribute to the advancement of writing in Japan. At that time the emperor asked him to brush Chinese poetic works of ancient and modern poets on a four section folding screen. Kūkai’s own poem is also on the screen. The emperor was extremely pleased with the product and returned the same kind of seven-graph, ten-line poem Kūkai had written. In that poem, the emperor praises Kūkai’s virtue and purity of heart. In addition, the emperor compares Kūkai to the famous Chinese calligraphers Wang Xizhi (王義之, 303-79)  and his son Wang Xianzhi (王献之, 344-386). From the sentiments expressed in their poetry, it appears Emperor Saga and Kūkai may have surprisingly engaged in friendship. In modern textbooks, Emperor Saga, Tachibana Hayanari and Kūkai are known as the Three Brushes (三筆 , J. sanpitsu). From this comes the well-known aphorisms in Japan today such as “Even Kōbō’s brush makes mistakes” and “Kōbō does not need to select a brush.” While the founding of the Shingon tradition is typically the focus of studies on Kūkai, we can see from the poem of Emperor Saga that Kūkai was already held in high esteem for his contribution to the arts of calligraphy and poetry in Japan. We also see the affection the emperor had for Kūkai as a person.
I have selected the poems by Kūkai below to demonstrate the variety of his art. I briefly discuss each of these poems.
In the poem “Climb the Mountain to Contemplate the Hermit” (i.e. the Buddha), Kūkai uses a variety of mythological images to express his feelings during an ascetic venture in remote mountains. We see in this poem, contrary to typical depictions in biographies, even after returning from Tantric training in China, Kūkai was not hesitant to include Daoist and Confucian stories in his writings. Perhaps this can be seen as a testament to his non-sectarian attitude if not an indication that he was interested in combining beliefs (as later seen in Shingon’s drive to incorporate Shintō deities in their pantheon). Perhaps the most surprising point in the poem, in light of the biographical depictions, is Kūkai’s self representation as a figure much like the Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai (李白, 701-62), who is often identified as a Daoist, experiencing the truth in nature while intoxicated on alcohol. While the poem shows off Kūkai’s knowledge of Chinese literature, at the same time we see him as a human being rather than a saint. Beginning with classical Confucian references, the poem ends in contemplation of the mysteries of Mahāvairocana, immediate and before his eyes. This emphasis on immediacy or things just as they are (tathatā) is exactly that expressed in the previous chapter on the Ajikan. In my opinion, this is at the root of Kūkai’s philosophy and practice. Kūkai’s own explanation follows the title below. This is the first poem in the Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō.
This poem is composed of 530 graphs. 53 graphs are arranged for rhyme according to yang.  In the past, (the poets) Ho Sheng (236-?, 何劭) and Guo Pu (郭璞, 276-324) concentrated on the wandering hermit with their own interpretation. The rhythm was refined, the writing exquisite. However, even though both mentioned the wandering hermit, like the small footstep of the ox, they could not explicate greatness. After I examined the writings, looking at those poems, reciting them again and again, I regretted there was no deep meaning.
Taking up the writing brush, making the black on white (paper), pointing and indicating the cave of the Great Hermit (Buddha), I was saddened with the worry (aware) of the ordinary dust (defilement). I figured impermanence (mujō) into the scenery. How can we illuminate even one step of the mysterious tortoise?  The perfect wisdom of the Great Hermit is summarized with 53 graphs. In this is the intention of arranging the present rhyme. Based on the capacity (of each sentient being) and considering their situations, the number will be larger. This is the intention of arranging the present rhyme. We should not concentrate on the graphs but should understand the meaning in one reading.
On high mountains the wind is created easily.
In deep oceans it is difficult to measure the volume of water.
People cannot know the limits of space.
Only the Dharmakāya fully knows.
(Small legged) Gull and (long legged) Crane, who cannot understand the provisional?
(Little) Ant and (big) Tortoise, who cannot distinguish the darkness?
Duke Ye Zigao considered the provisional meaning precious.
The first emperor of the Jin dynasty manifested the true phenomena with a mirror.
A crow sees only the rotten parts with its eyes.
A dog is intoxicated by the smell of garbage.
Even though all people consider styrax (蘇合)  beautiful,
(if they become attached to it) it is like a bug that is addicted to dung.
(A person who is strongly benevolent) is unlike a giraffe.
One who has lost his/her direction is like the sheep and dog (who the Shepard should care for).
Even though the parrot chatters very well
It is far away from the sayings of the wise.
Mountain dogs and wolves chase deer.
Lions eat roebuck (hornless river-dear).
Intense anger is not based on coldness and heat.
Improper speech imparts a serious wound.
Investing ones life dyes white to black.
Praise and criticism interweaves misfortune.
In the bowels, there are many poisonous insects.
On the body’s surface are the decorations of tigers and leopards.
(But) metal and stones can be ground (like the body).
Who can concentrate and admonish sturdiness?
Mugwart springs up together on hillsides and in the wasteland.
The families of orchids grow thickly on the south side of mountains.
The sun progresses like the journey of a flying arrow.
In the cycle of the four seasons, people go to death.
The leaves of the willow open in Spring rain.
The flower of the chrysanthemum withers in the autumn frost.
Autumn cicada cry in the fields.
Crickets sadly chirps behind a curtain.
Pine and cypress break on south passes (i.e., between peaks).
In northern cemeteries white aspen are scattered.
People are born and die in solitude .
(Like) lightening is this impermanence (mujō).
Wild geese and swallows alternately come and go.
The red peach formerly dropped the fragrance of the red flower.
The beautiful is robbed by the enemy named time.
Gray hair is not a lucky omen.
People of the past are not seen today.
People of today, why grasp for longevity?
Heat avoids the blowing wind over rocks.
Coolness follows the mist of the waterfall.
Singing madly in vine clothing
In a house of rocks and pine, drinking (wine) and chanting (verse). 
If thirsty one drinks ravine water.
If hungry one eats the food of hazy mist.
White Okera (白朮, a medicinal plant for longevity) conditions the heart and stomach.
Yellow Spirit (黄精, a medicinal plant for longevity) fills up the bones and flesh.
The colorful rainbow shines on the mountain.
A curtain of clouds stretches to fill the heavens.
Prince Chin despised the Han. 
Boyi of the Zhou (Dynasty) abstained from all grain. 
Laozi kept the One qi
Xuyou escaped the expectation of being assigned to the throne. 
The Luan  and Phoenix gather in the Paulownia tree.
The great Roc  lies on a bed of wind.
Koulkun Mountain  is the house of the west.
Penglai  is the house of the east.
Named objects hurt the true mind.
Suddenly ride the dragon to fly.
The flying dragon, to what garden does it travel?
The place is solitary, huge and pure.
The jeweled guest pavilion  is without dust.
The vajra walls are firm.
Companions come like the rain.
(Mahāvairo)cana sits in the center
(Mahāvairo)cana, ah,  who is invoked?
Originally (it) is the master of my heart. 
(It) pervades the earth with Three Mysteries. 
(It) adorns the pure land (or maö¶ala) of space.
The objects of the six senses are recorded on fine silk.
Coming and going employs bells and valleys. 
Discussions grind the point of the sword.
The expanse of universe is a narrow pass to walk. 
The rivers and oceans are small enough for one lick.
Life is without beginning and end.
The overcoming years, what are the limits of their boundaries?
Shining light fills the Dharmadhātu.
One syllable  is the necessary bridge over the stream.
The scenic road is as if one can only look to it. 
Thoughts put in line, my body is bundled.
Flying clouds, how many lives and deaths?
Haze, haze, rising up to space
Bundled in love like twisted in arrowroot vines. 
Flourishing, flourishing, thriving in mountains and valleys.
It is like a closed contemplation room.
In accordance with calmness and tranquility, to wander and roam.
The sun and moon shine in space and water.
The wind and dust cannot hinder this.
Certainly it is the same as the Dharma explained (by the Buddha).
Distinctions between others and myself are extinguished and die.
The ocean of the heart is cleansed by the wisdom of meditation.
Without affinity, endless wave after wave. 
Old people and crows have the same black color.
Those called jade and mouse are mutually protected. 
People’s hearts are not my heart. 
What virtues can be seen in people’s feelings?
Because the difficult horn  is without the eye of heaven, 
The selection revealed is only one written chapter.
The topic for this poem is Shinsen’en Garden, Emperor Kanmu’s imperial garden at the newly built Heian capital palace. The garden was a popular topic for court poetry of the time. The Chinese graphs used for Shinsen’en Garden are 神泉苑, with the meaning: God Spring Garden. The first three sentences of the poem uses the character 神, god. This is the second poem in the Collection Divining the Spiritual Nature of Henjō.
Autumn day viewing Shinsen'en Garden. 
Step with the left foot, step with the right foot,  Shinsen seasonal things.
Mind confused cannot return.
High terrace god reached with non-human power.
Pond mirror clear deep pool containing radiant sunshine.
Crane sound reverberates heaven, tame in the imperial garden.
The snow-goose wings hesitate, folded up about to fly.
Swimming fish frolic in seaweed, their fate to swallow a hook.
Deer call, deep grass dew dampened clothes.
All that roam all abide, feeling the sovereign’s virtue.
Autumn moon, autumn wind, the entry doors of emptiness (§ūnyatā).
Holding grass in their mouths, chewing the bridge to what non-existence?
Patter, patter,  leading one another in dancing the profound mystery  of existence.
The topic for Kūkai’s poem is the “Contemplation of the Nine Appearances” (J. Kusōkan).  This is a meditation on nine stages of decomposition of a corpse, mentioned in numerous Buddhist texts for overcoming desires. Shingon sources on the life and practices of Kūkai typically point to the Ajikan (meditation and the syllable “A”) as Kūkai’s distinctive meditation practice, although Kūkai makes no specific mention of the Ajikan in his writings. In contrast, although here is a written source, biographies typically make no mention of Kūkai’s practice of the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances of a corpse, perhaps seen as less glamorous than the Ajikan or simply unfitting of an activity of a saint.
The Nine Appearances of Death. 
1. The Appearance of the Newly Dead.
The days and months in this world are short.
The months and years after death in Yomi  are long.
The passing of life in the present world is like a Mayfly,
Alive for a moment it soon comes to death.
In a hurry like the winds and clouds,
Leaving the house of poverty,
Like extinguishing a fire, one leaves the castle of desire.
Life is already completed
One’s name is recorded in the register of death. 
The lifespan of all that is living is like mist.
The celestial carpenter is faulty.
But we must pay our account.
Read this verse and grieve.
2. The Appearance of Bloating.
The knoll of a cemetery is wide and in vain.
Human habitation is far away and there are no visitors.
Pure white moonlight passes over a plain.
The gloomy swish of wind flows through autumn leaves.
The burden of sorrow is shown in every direction.
There is only one corpse seen,
Lying prostrate and naked on a pine knoll.
Damaged hair, long evening sleep,
The four marks of existence  are merely passing.
The person of the half teachings  was not thrown away.
One who formerly ate in the kitchen of myriad sacrifices,
Now is the meal for all kinds of animals.
3. The Appearance of Blue Extravasated Blood.
One cannot eternally escape the demon.
The grave is deep and bottomless.
You are concealed in the light of the full moon.
The precious mirror transforms and you are rotting.
Already it is like the flame of a lamp blowing in the wind
and the same as a fallen twig of a flower.
With the sun’s passing, there is increasing rotting.
With the coming of every moon, the self is increasingly blackened.
White maggots wiggle under holes.
Above the bones are blue flies.
Greedy thoughts of that formerly loved (i.e., the body)
are all sorrowful, becoming all shameful.
4. The Appearance of Rubbish
All good things of the four elements go bad.
The reason is the five skandhas  must be depended upon.
The departure of one’s wind and fire is not far away.
Water and earth become decayed and rotten.
The dawn of black and blueness spreads completely
Pus like bruised and rotting weeds
Flows like sap from the nine orifices.
The entire body is extremely stinking and filthy.
Beasts of prey crouch down beside it.
An ominous bird screeches grasping a piece.
The remaining body, rubbish in this field.
Where does the spirit (魂, J. tamashī) go in consequence?
5. The Appearance of Disorder.
The bond of created views (見縛, J. kenpaku. S. d¨· i-k¨ta-bandhana)  is a difficult and complex net.
That of discrimination (分段, J. buntan) is without permanent reward.
Life is swift like a flying arrow.
The body is empty like morning dew.
Even an imperial face becomes pus and blood.
Fragrant substances are in vain, decomposing and rotting.
Stinking air chases the wind far.
The fat of the abdomen follows a stream as if in a flame.
The remaining clothing furthers his shame.
The elegant pillow no one can see.
Grief extends without limits.
Wipe a tear and return along a different path.
6. The Appearance of a Group of Waxy Bones.
(People are) afraid of the unfamiliar shadow of the other side.
Like a butterfly living in the world of clouds.
Life is short like a flash of lightening.
Soon we are reduced to rubbish and dust beneath a pine.
While alive, it is a city of morning flowers.
Afterwards, now, there are the bleached bones of a person.
The yellow swan does not call your name. 
The green willow  revives not the field.
Spring flowers compete in their fragrance.
The bright moon shines on the empty mountain.
The calling bird’s screech is eternally sad and lonely.
In the end, the desolate (person) will not know the spring.
7. The Appearance of a Group of Bleached Bones.
There are sparse remains of the desolate person,
Gloomy and scatted distant from the population centers.
Seeing there is a rotten ragged skull,
Instantly it is like being in the middle of a swamp.
The pine and cypress make excellent shade.
Wild briers and reeds sit in the moisture.
The wind and elements constantly bleach out.
The frost and dew also drips.
The sun comes following sun: withering.
The years go after years: whitening.
Even if planting the slender willow root
How can we invite Bian Que (扁鵲)? 
8. The Appearance of Bleached Bones Separating.
The non-eternal (永無 J. yōmu) is like an empty dream.
The dusty realm is like a bubble in nature.
This corrupt world is a detestable place.
Jambudvīpa (閻浮提 J. Enbudai)  is an unpleasant dream.
Flesh and blood are changed in the night moon.
A green willow cannot restore a flower.
Fingernails and hair become dirt and grass.
The skull and neck are scattered east and west
becoming concealed among scattered leaves.
The time of autumn chrysanthemums can be pleasant.
Falling tears cannot be suppressed.
Empty is a person’s act of crying.
9. The Appearance of Becoming Ashes.
Mountains and rives endure thousands of generations.
A person’s affairs are shorter than a hundred year.
One’s skull and knees become exhausted and destroyed.
A casket and vault become like dust.
The spirit (魂, J. tamashi) and the corpse have no place for dependency.
What is entrusted to the god spirit (神魄) of the mound?
The monument above bears a temporary name.
Instead, you are at the bottom of the mound.
Suns and moons (i.e., time) yellows and whitens (i.e., weathers) the earth.
In the end, the wind returns the blackness to the mountain.
There is only the treasure of the Three Vehicles.
Without cultivation, this person is of the eight pains (八苦, J. hakku).
The six consciousnesses (六識, J. rokushiki), now where are they?
In the four elements a worthless name remains.
In the winter the surrounding moss is green and fertile.
In the summer grass bores into the mound and thrives.
(The body is) a sack in which provisions still exist.
Beneath the pine, it is like green hair.
Green, green  uniting mound and clouds.
Shh, shh,  the voice of the evening pine.
A description similar to that in “The Nine Appearances of Death” can be found in what is considered Kūkai’s earliest writing, the Rōko-shiiki (Indications of the Refuge for the Deaf and the Blind). Researchers believe Kūkai wrote the Rōko-shiiki as the draft for Sangyō-shiiki shortly after leaving the National University around 793. Both are fictionalized accounts considered closely autobiographical. Likely related to the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances of a corpse, Kūkai had the following to say in the Rōko-shiiki.
The grave-yard where pine-trees and hisagi trees grow is the place where we stay for the longest time. Wife, children and brothers who lived amicably cannot be seen again in the silent grave. No one can chat with intimate friends in the waste cemetery. You will be ruined alone in the shade of the high pine-trees and will sink in grass amid twittering birds. Many grubs come out wriggling from the eyes and mouth. Dogs fighting each other showing their teeth bite the face as well as legs and other parts of the body. Wife and children who look at the spectacle are disgusted and go away covering their noses. Relatives and strangers flee hiding their faces. What a painful sight it is? The body of a beautiful and graceful lady who took plenty of delicious food has now become dung of dogs and birds. The form of fair and beautiful lady is now burnt vainly by a cremation fire…The demon that deprives you of your life accompanies a noble man as well as a humble man…A corpse corrupts and is mutilated among grass and the soul of the deceased is boiled in a boiler of the hell… (Yamamoto 1983:13).
In the description above we find many of the same descriptive elements Kūkai uses again in his poem “Contemplation of the Nine Appearances.” In addition, his depiction in the Rōko-shiiki and “Contemplation of the Nine Appearances” follow the narrative arrangement in the sūtras and theses. The meditation is described in the Dasheng yizhang (大乘義章, Essays on the Meaning of Mahāyāna)  by Huiyuan (慧遠, 334-416). A biography of Huiyuan appears in Biographies of Eminent Buddhist Monks by Huijiao (died 554). Huiyuan is famous for being “the founder of the Chinese Pure Land tradition and the first Chinese monk to create a Buddhist community in China” (Fung, II:241, f. 2). Pure Land tradition in China and Japan advocate Contemplation on Nine Appearances of a corpse. Much like Kūkai, early in life Huiyuan studied Confucianism and Daoism, turning to Buddhism after reading the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra. His description of the Contemplation on Nine Appearances of a corpse is as follows.
Why contemplate the nine appearances? Because in the deceased are aspects of the ascetic. Because desires are refuted and sexual desire is a thief.
Start by contemplating aspects of the deceased, looking at the person at the time of death. The word expresses breath exiting and not returning. This is death. This is the sentiment I should feel in order to rebuke defilements.
Second is the contemplation of bloating. I see the corpse as a bag like myself, having the same original form. This is the sentiment I should feel in order to refute covetousness.
Third is the contemplation of sediment. To see the corpse, wind blown, exposed to sun, turning into blue/green sediment, spoiling from the original color. This is the sentiment I should feel.
Fourth is the contemplation of oozing. To see the corpse as blue/green sediment, as explain before, does not last long. The bad smell is detestable. This is the sentiment I should feel.
Fifth is the contemplation of spoiling. Contemplating the corpse transformed by wind and sun, seriously damaged on the earth, pus and blood flowing out. This is the sentiment I should feel.
Sixth is the contemplation of blood discharge. The corpse is spoiling, as explained. Flesh and blood spread uncontrolled. This is the sentiment I should feel.
Seventh is the contemplation of food of insects. Contemplating the corpse not burnt, not buried, thrown away in the wilds. Many hunting insects are lured to this food. Seeing the relationship to my own body, this is the sentiment I should feel.
Eighth is the contemplation of the group of bones. Its flesh being exhausted, I only see a group of bones like a group of beams.
Ninth is the contemplation of scattered parts. The remaining sinews are eliminated. The group of bones separated. For this comes the name contemplation of scattered parts.
In the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa-śāstra  there is the contemplation of burning a corpse. To see the bones in fire burnt completely to ashes. Thinking about oneself in this way is the sentiment you should feel, it says. Why does this thesis speak of death? It is the new shapes and forms of evolving. It is like obtaining purification together. It is because this is not explained. It is to understand the essence of the sequence, it says. These are nine appearances of your own nature and means of repentance by means of the aspects of the deceased (T. 44 n. 1851 p. 735b28-c18.).
The Contemplation of the Nine Appearances of a corpse is mentioned prominently by Zhiyi (智顗, 538-597) the Chinese patriarch who systematized (or founded) the Tiantai tradition. As mentioned earlier, Zhiyi’s writings were extremely important to Saichō. Zhiyi’s opus magnum, the Moh zhiguan (摩訶止觀, translated into English by Thomas Cleary as Stopping and Seeing)  describes the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances in terms close to those used by Huiyuan (translated above) and by Kūkai in his poem. Zhiyi also refers to the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances of a corpse in the following writings: The Zhiguan fuxing zhuan hongjue (止觀輔行傳弘決),  The Shichan boluomi cidi famen (釋禪波羅蜜次第法門)  and his important book Account of the Phrases of the Sūtra of Golden Light (金光明經文句記).  Zhiyi’s teacher Huisi (慧思 , J. Eshi, 515-577) mentions the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances in his Dharma Teaching of All Dharmas Without Dispute Samaya (諸法無諍三昧法門, C. Zhufawuzhengsanmeimen). 
The Visuddhimagga gives several descriptions of meditation on the moon disk that sound close to the Shingon Ajikan meditation. In chapter three of the Visuddhimagga, forty subjects of meditation are listed. Among these the Visuddhimagga speaks of the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances of a corpse. “The ten impurities are: a bloated corpse, a purple corpse, a putrid corpse, a hacked-to-pieces corpse, a gnawed-to-pieces corpse, a scattered-in-pieces corpse, a beaten-and-scattered-in-pieces corpse, a bloody corpse, a worm-infested corpse, a skeleton-corpse” (Buddhaghosa 104).
The Contemplation of the Nine Appearances is also mentioned in the Daśabhūmika-sūtra. This is a sūtra, which, together with the ten stages found in the Mahāvairocana-sūtra, was likely to have been important to Kūkai in writing his Ten Stages of Mind. The Daśabhūmika-sūtra explains of the ten stages (bhūmi) of a bodhisattva's progress. 
The Contemplation of the Nine Appearances is also mentioned in The Great Collection of Scriptures for Wise Protection (大方等大集經賢護分). This is a version of the Mahāsamnipāta-sūtra (大方等大集經Dafangdeng daji jing)  made by Jñānagupta and others in A.D. 594. The sūtra is said to be a collection of teachings given by the Buddha “from the age of 45 to 49 ...to Buddhas and bodhisattvas assembled from every region, by a great staircase made between the world of desire and that of form” (Soothill). Other Buddhist canonical scriptures mentioning the Contemplation of the Nine Appearances include the Dharma of Contemplation the Mystery of Desires Sūtra (禪祕要法經),  the Five Teachings of Concentration Sūtra Dharma Used for Desires (五門禪經要用法),  the Sūtra on the Twelve Disciplines (佛説十二頭陀經)  and the Account of The Yogācāra-bhūmi (瑜伽論記, C. Yuqielun ji), a collection of commentaries on the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra in 48 fascicles by Dunlun (遁倫). 
Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing 
by Kongōbu-ji Meditation Śramana Henjō Vajra (Kūkai).
The basis of the teachings of the Great Hermit (i.e., the Buddha)  is to benefit sentient beings by the teaching of names.  For the benefit of the world, writing and composition have their origin in the times of virtuous people. Consequently, in the midst of emptiness and in the midst of rubbish there was the appearance of written characters. On the turtle shell and the dragon back,  natural writing is disclosed. The transformation from the age of the sages of ancient times over many revolutions of celestial bodies is reflected in the educational training of the people of all the countries on earth. Like the sound of all sorts of musical instruments, laypersons  were governed by the brilliance of writing. Elegant! Lustrous!  In the internal worlds and the external worlds (the world Buddhists and non-Buddhists), who remembers this? As an old sūtra says, the non-backsliding bodhisattvas  surely were the first to understand writing and composition.
Confucius had these sayings, “My children, why do you not study the Book of Odes? The Odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the immediate duty of serving one's father, and the remoter one of serving one's prince;”  and, “The man who has not studied the Chau-nan and the Shao-nan is like one who stands with his face right against a wall.”  Thus, the meaning of writing and composition is wide! It is far reaching!
Through writing, the five sounds are captured and the significance of five colors is grasped. Through composition, reason shines. The meaning of writing is not obscure.  The cause of writing is explained by name. In intonation, the meaning is grasped. The name explains clearly, those not yet awakened become aware. The three teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) share in this. The five vehicles share the same wheel track. Why do strangeness and difficulties enter the sūtras?  The Laozi has profound and solitary harmony. Confucius stated immediately and directly. Ziyu and Zixia grasped his words.  Qu  and Song  wrote brilliant poems. Those of the two Han periods were the ancestors of our words. The writers of the three countries were our older brothers. The essence of rhyme was transmitted by mind.  Meter was transmitted orally. The successors of Shen Yue  and the Liushan ;  the predecessors of Wang,  Jiao,  Cui  and Rui.  The theses on the four tones developed. The taboos of literary production were debated. Yellowed scrolls over flowed writing boxes. Carts were filled. On the path there are the poor yet cheerful,  those who have abandoned the circles of copying, the child and the one who loves the pursuit of knowledge,  making decisions without cause.
The mendicant (I), under the guidance of my maternal uncle, studied literature, studying abroad in Changan China and listening to other theses. Even though my strong motivation was quiet meditation, I did not waste this opportunity.
Since its ‘rediscovery’ by scholars of Chinese poetry in 1901, Kūkai’s Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing has been noted for its importance in elucidating techniques of Tang and pre-Tang Chinese poetry and prosody otherwise lost to researchers.  Bodman translates the title of the work “A Treatise, Comprising a Model for Writing and a Thesaurus of Rare Expressions” (Bodman 168). The original title does encompass these ideas Bodman points to as Kūkai’s two main concerns in the thesis: providing “both a ‘guide for composition’ (文鏡) and a ‘thesaurus of valuable expressions’ (秘府)” (Bodman 15). In addition, however, the component of “mirror” and “mysterious district” are equally important for Kūkai’s purposes of interpreting writing within the frame of Tantric Buddhism as he saw it. In this case, mirror, which has a long history of spiritual associations through Daoism in China and Shintō in Japan, indicates that writing and language are not simply entities detached from human beings but both a reflection of humans and, in reality, not separate from humans. To rephrase this more succinctly, exactly like Mahāvairocana, language can be a mirror for individuals, who, in the end, realize primal inseparability of the assumed ‘other.’ For this reason, in the title, Kūkai also refers to language as the “mysterious treasury” or “mysterious district” (秘府). As we have seen, the idea of mysterious is of utmost importance in Kūkai’s writings and thought, associated inseparably with Shingon.
Kūkai writes above, “As an old sūtra says, the non-backsliding bodhisattvas surely were the first to understand writing and composition.” Bodman gives the following alternative rendering of the sentence, “Therefore, someone who is well-versed in the sutras and who bravely advances on the path to becoming a Bodhissatva (sic. Bodhisattva) must first of all understand literature” (Bodman 162). While Bodman does not profess to offer a literal translation, interpretively his rendering is on the mark. In the Ten Stages of Mind, Kūkai makes it clear that the highest level of a bodhisattva’s advancement is the stage in which mantra is understood. Likewise, Kūkai writes above, “In intonation, the meaning is grasped.” This is true of the intonation of Chinese words, to which Kūkai devotes considerable time in Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing, and to mantra and the mantra-like aspect of intoning all words. Accordingly, words, Mahāvairocana and humanity are all interconnected. The interconnection of humanity and Mahāvairocana can be realized through the study and use of words. This is the essence of Kūkai’s literary theory.
 Poet and court bureaucrat. He used the pen name Teika, the Chinese reading of Sadaie, became a bhik·u and published numerous poems and collections. See Frédéric 2002:208.
 Japan’s most famous Haiku poet.
 Kūkai composed a shorter work entitled Bunpitsu ganshinshō (文筆眼心抄, KKZ 6:913), dated the Summer of Kōnin 11 (820). Because this is believed to be a synopsis of the longer work, scholars believe Kūkai composed the Bunkyō hifuron several years before 820 (Abé 1999:480 n. 96). For a detailed study of the Bunkyō hifuron, see Konishi Jin’ichi, Bunkyō hifuron kō, Vols. 1-3. Kyōto: Daihasshū shuppan 1948-1952. Also see: Nihon Bungakushi by Konishi.
 See Kūkai’s Meaning of Sound, Word, and Reality (Shōji jissō gi, 声字実相義), translated into English by Yoshito S. Hakeda (Hakeda 1972:234).
 Poet and the most famous Chinese calligrapher of the Jin Dynasty. He and his son Wang Xianzhi are known as the “Two Wangs,” founders of the Wang tradition of calligraphy.
 The Buddha is referred to as the Great Hermit in the second chapter of the Nirvāöa-sūtra. T. 12:375c. “The Great Hermit enters Nirvāöa, the sun sets on the land.” Also see the opening line of the Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing below.
 遊山慕仙詩. KZ 10:16-8; KKZ 6:158-64.
 Yang here refers to the first of four tones in Chinese reading.
 A metonym for the Buddha.
 Japanese snowbell; Japanese styrax
 This does not sound like the picture of Kūkai presented in the biographers attempting to establish the seriousness of the “sect” founder. It sounds like the Daoist poems of Li Bai. Likewise, this poem is full of allusions to Zhuangzi, and secondarily to the Confucian Book of Odes. Kūkai was very flexible. He could pick-up any doctrine to make his point. This reminds us of the point that the word shū in Shingon-shū means at that time “the central tenet” not “sect,” as typically translated.
 The modern Japanese interpretation from KKZ says this passage refers to Prince Ruan Xian, who assented to the Milky Way. Ruan Xian was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. During the Wei dynasty (220-265 CE), members of the Chinese literati who shared the same philosophical outlook sometimes formed coteries. The most famous of these circles was the 'Seven Sages (or immortals) of the Bamboo Grove' (zhulin qixian). Most of the members of this group were Daoist philosophers and poets. Others were musicians. The members of the circle were Xi Kang (224-263 CE), Ruan Ji (210-263 CE) and his nephew Ruan Xian (both of whom were poets and musicians), Liu Ling (221-300 CE) the wine connoisseur, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong and Shan Dao the devout Daoist. In this poem, it would be fitting for Kūkai to refer to this group. However, I do not see how the reference is drawn from Kūkai’s Chinese phrase.
 The Biography of Boyi (J. Hakui, 伯夷) in the Shi Ji (Records of the Grand Historian, c. 85 BC). The Biography says: “Confucius said…Boyi…abstained from eating all grain, reclined (or hid) at the head of Yangshan Mountain, gathered ferns and ate them (义不食周粟，隐于首阳山，采薇而食之). According to this well known story repeated my Mencius and many others, in political protest, Boyi withdrew from secular life, refusing Zhou grain when that dynasty replaced the Shang. He starved as a result (Fung, v. 2:192, f. 4). The ostensive focus of Kūkai’s reference may be on the hermit and his asceticism. Coupled with the previous line, however, there is a political statement involved in the hermit’s life as well.
 In Chapter 1 or the Zhuangzi, Xuyou (許由, J: Kyōyū) declines the emperor’s offer to ascend the throne on the grounds that he does not seek fame and the emperor rules well.
 The Luan (鸞, J. Ran) is a mythical auspicious bird.
 A Roc (鵬) is a bird of enormous size.
 A high mountain in Tibet.
 Penglai (蓬莱, J. Hōrai) is the Daoist legendary mountain of the immortals.
 According to the Japanese commentary in the KKZ, this refers to the Jeweled Tower (or stūpa) of the Vajra Dharmakāya (宝楼閣金剛法界宮), in which the Buddha Mahāvairocana resides (KKZ 183, f. 28).
 Kūkai likely uses the exclamation ‘ah’ because that is the Sanskrit syllable designating Mahāvairocana in the Mahāvairocana-sūtra.
 Master or king of my heart/mind (我心王) is an expression appearing in numerous Buddhist scriptures and commentaries. It typically refers to the notion that the mind creates the appearances of the phenomenal world. Here, it is Mahāvairocana that is the creator of the phenomenal world.
 The Three Mysteries (J. sanmitsu, 三密) are the mysteries of the body, mind and speech. Shingon prescribes corresponding practices involving mudrā, maö¶ala and mantra respectively for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime (J. sokushin jōbutsu, 即身成仏).
 The sense is: High rising mountains are like brushes. Ocean water is like ink. Phenomenal objects are like large characters and the entirety of phenomenal reality is like a sūtra. Accordingly, heaven and earth are a natural scripture. This metaphor is found in the Huayan-sūtra (華嚴經) and numerous other sūtras. “Mountains as brushes” (山毫) also appears in Kūkai’s Meaning of the Word Hūµ. In a four-character poem in that work he writes, “The earth as ink, the four bodies. The mountains as brush, the three mysteries. Original nature is complete. Solid like without change. This is the meaning of the word Hūµ” (地墨四身山毫三密 本自圓滿 凝然不變 污字實義). (KZ, ??).
 This is a prominent idea in the Huayan-sūtra.
 This means worldly behavior involves resorting to outside objects such as bells and valleys.
 Here Kūkai refers to the expanse of the universe as the “three kinds of thousands.” This is an abbreviation for the expression, “Three kinds of thousands-and-thousands of worlds” (三千大千世界), meaning the expanse of the universe or the great chiliocosm (KKZ 184, f. 35).
 The KKZ commentary interprets the one syllable as the syllable ‘A’ (KKZ 163).
 This may be a reference to the Book of Odes ＃218, which says, “The high mountain can only be looked up to. The scenic road can only be traveled” (高山仰止、景行行止). The KKZ commentary says Kūkai’s phrase mingles these two lines from the Book of Odes (KKZ 184, f. 37).
 This may be a reference to the Book of Odes # 2, which begins, “The Arrowroot vines spread out, extending to the middle of the valley” (葛之覃兮、施于中谷) (KKZ 184, f. 38). Hermits used arrowroot vines for making clothing. This is also the reference in the Book of Odes. Kūkai mentions wearing clothing of arrowroot wines in a letter written from Mount Kōya.
 The modern translation in the KKZ of this and the previous line is as follows. “If the ocean of the heart is cleansed by the wisdom of meditation, boundless compassion always expanding is achieved” (KKZ 164).
 The modern translation in the KKZ says, “Jade and mouse have the same name but different things are indicated by the word” (KKZ 164).
 T.14 n. 564 佛説轉女身經(The Buddha’s Doctrine of Transforming the Female Body Sūtra) says大仙人心、非下人心 (The Great Hermit’s Human heart is not the lower human’s heart).
 An abbreviation for the Land of the Difficult Horn (難角地). This refers to the time when a bodhisattva is in the mental abode of the 10 faiths of a bodhisattva (十信の菩提), the first ten stages in the 52 stage path of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva in this abode is only partially enlightened.
 One of the five kinds of vision. These are the eye of the body (肉眼), the eye of heaven (天眼), the eye of wisdom (慧眼), the eye of the Dharma (法眼) and, the eye of the Buddha (佛眼). The eye of heaven can be attained by humans through meditation. This is the vision to see near and far, past and future, inside and outside. (Nakamura 1999:266).
 秋日觀神泉苑. KZ 10:19.
 This is the sound of the left foot and right foot (彳, 亍). As in the “Nine Appearances of Death,” Kūkai uses onomatopoetic words, this time for the sound of walking.
 Patter, patter and leading one another in dance is from the Book of History (書経, see Translation by Legge, Shoo King, p. 283-4). Wild animals come up to the benevolent ruler. It mentions “birds and wild animals bustling, bustling” and “animals of all kinds lead one another in danceand all the chiefs of the official departments become truly harmonious.”
 Profound mystery (玄機), a Daoist term.
 九想觀 or 九相; S. navasaµjñā or navāpriya-saµjñā. Meditation on a corpse is for the purpose of curbing desires. One meditates on the unclean: vyādhmātakasaµjñā, its tumefaction; vinīlaka, its blue, mottled colour; vipa¶umaka, its decay; vilohitaka, its mess of blood, etc.; vipūyaka, its discharges and rotten flesh; vikhāditaka, its being devoured by birds and beasts; vikµi·ipitaka, its dismembering; asthi, its bones; vidagdhaka, their being burnt and returning to dust (see Soothill).
 KZ 10:173-76.
 Yomi is the realm after death.
 A note in the KKZ says this refers to the office of Enma (閻魔), the magistrate of the realm after death (KKZ 6:725 f. 10).
 Birth, existence, change, death.
 The KKZ says this refers to Sessen Doji (KKZ 6:725 f. 22). Sessen Doji was Śākyamuni Buddha in a previous lifetime, practicing austerities in the Snow Mountains (Japanese, Sessen). The story appears in the seventh or Shogyo (Sacred Behavior) chapter of Dharmak·ema's Chinese version of the Nirvāöa Sūtra. Sessen Doji had mastered the Brāhmaöas and other non-Buddhist teachings but had not yet heard of Buddhism. The deity Taishaku decides to test his resolve and appears before Sessen Doji in the form of a hungry demon. The deity recites half a verse from a Buddhist teaching: "All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and death." Hearing this, Sessen Doji begged the demon to tell him the second half. The demon agreed but demanded his flesh and blood in payment. Sessen Doji gladly consented and the demon taught him the latter half of the verse: "Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy of Nirvāöa." Sessen Doji scrawled this teaching on the rocks and trees for the sake of others who might pass by, and then jumped from a tall tree into the demon's mouth. Just at that moment the demon changed back into Taishaku and caught him before he fell. He praised Sessen Doji's willingness to give his life for the Law and predicted that he would certainly attain Buddhahood.
 五陰, J. go’on: form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.
 This term appears in the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra.
 This is a reference of being resurrected.
 The willow is the tree of spring. It is a symbol of life, supple, renewed, and alive.
 A famous Chinese physician of the Warring States period (fifth century CE). His biography is found in the Shi Ji (Historical Records) wherein he is said to have revived a prince from a coma.
 Our world.
 In Japanese aoi can be green or blue.
 Kūkai uses onomatopoetic words for the sound of wind (瑟瑟, C. se se, J. shichi shichi).
 T. 1851 n. 44:465a-875c.
 大智度論, C. Dazhi du lun, J. Daichidoron, S.Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra is a commentary on the Mahāprajñāparamitā-sūtra in 100 fascicles attributed to Nāgārjuna. The Chinese translation by Kumārajīva (鳩摩羅什, 350-409) is T. 25 n. 1509.
 T. 46 n. 1911. This writing records a series of lectures given on meditation by Zhiyi. It was compiled by his follower Guanding (灌頂) and was completed in 594. This is a major text for the Chinese Tiantai and Japanese Tendai traditions. The relevant passage is p. 122 b07-b09.
 T. 46. 1912 pp.141a-446c. See T. 46 n. 1912 p. 416c20-22.
 T. 46 n. 1916 pp. 475c-548c. See T. 46 n. 1916 p. 502c16-c20; p. 535c15-c17; p. 537a13- b06.
 T. 39 n. 1786. The relevant passage is T. 39 n. 1786 p. 0131b26- p. 131c02.
 See T. 46 n. 1923 p. 632c19.
 C. Foshuo shidi jing (佛說十地經). T. 287 n. 10 p. 535a-573. The relevant passage begins at T.10 n 287 p. 559b18.
 T. 397.13.1a-407a. For relevant passages see T. 13 n. 416 p. 875a24(04)- a26(07).
 Translation by Kumārajīva is T. 15 n. 613. For relevant passages see T15n0613_p0259a21-a22.
 T. 15 n 619 by 佛陀蜜多 (Buddha Tomida?). For relevant passages see T. 15 n. 619 p. 327c25-p. 328a10.
 Translated into Chinese by Gunabhadra 求那跋陀羅, T. 17 n. 783. For relevant section see T. 17 n. 783 p. 721 b16-b18.
 T 42, n. 1828.. For relevant passage see p 862a19- a22 and b27- c01.
 KKZ 5.
 Kūkai uses this expression from the Nirvāöa-sūtra in his poem “Climb the Mountain to Contemplate the Hermit” above. See note 7.
 In this opening sentence there is already the equation of Confucianism and Buddhism. The Buddhist teachings reveal the same thing Confucians aim for, to understand names. The theory that names are the ultimate truth of Mahāvairocana is expressed in Kūkai’s The Meaning of Sound, Word, and Reality. This has been compared to the words found in the Christian Bible (Greek version), “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God” (kaÂ 2,Îl µv Ò 8`(ol). See Kyōda 82.
 Refers to the Confucian truths: divination by reading turtle shells and “dragon bones” (i..e, scapulamancy).
 Literally ‘black necks’ (黔首).
 Kūkai writes “郁乎煥乎,” Elegant! Lustrous! According to a note in the KKZ, these two expressions refer to two passages in Secton 8 of the Analects of Confucius (Legge). First, 郁乎 is a reference to 8:14, which reads: “The Master said, ‘Chau had the advantage of viewing the two past dynasties. How elegant, elegant are the writings! I follow Chau.’” (子曰：「周监於二代 郁郁乎文哉 吾从周。」). Second, 煥乎 is a reference to 8:19, which reads: ‘The Master said, ‘Great indeed was Yao’s rule. Majestic, majestic! It is only Heaven is so grand, only Yao did this. Enchanting, enchanting! The people could not name it. Majestic, majestic! He had accomplishment of merit indeed. How lustrous! He had writing and composition.’” (子曰：「大哉堯之為軍也，巍巍乎，唯天為大，唯半 則之，蕩蕩乎，民無能名焉。巍巍乎，其有成功也，煥乎，其有文章).
 Kūkai uses phonetic graphs for transliterating avinivartanīya, one who has advanced to a Bodhisattva stage beyond the possibility of backsliding.
 “…From them we become largely acquainted
with the names of birds, beasts, and plants.”
子曰、小子、何莫學夫詩、詩可以興、可以觀、可以群、可以怨、邇之事父、遠之事君、多識於鳥獣草木之名. Legge, Analects, 17:9.
 The Master said to Po-yu, "Do
you give yourself to the Chau-nan and the Shao-nan. The man who has not studied
the Chau-nan and the Shao-nan is like one who stands with his face right against
a wall. Is he not so?"
子謂伯魚曰、女爲周南召南矣乎、人而不爲周南召南、其猶正牆面而立也與. Legge, Analects, 17:10
 Kūkai’s expression is 樹號, the mark of trees. This expression appears in T. 24 n 1459:06 618a.
 A note in the KKZ says this refers to the Upāya Section in the Lotus Sūtra, T. 9:5b. KKZ 5:10 n 22.
 Legge, Analects of Confucius, 11:3德行：颜渊、闵子骞、冉伯牛、仲弓；言语：宰我、子贡；政事：冉有、李路；文学：子游、子夏. “Distinguished for their virtuous principles and practice, there were Yen Yuan, Min Tsze-ch'ien, Zan Po-niu, and Chung-kung; for their ability in speech, Tsai Wo and Tsze-kung; for their administrative talents, Zan Yu and Chi Lu; for their literary acquirements, Tsze-yu and Tsze-hsia.”
 Quyuan (屈原, 339 –278 BCE), patriotic poet during the Warring States period.
 Song Yu (宋玉), poet and disciple of Quyuan.
 The modern translation in the KKZ says “mysterious transmission from mind-to-mind.” KKZ 5:7.
 Shen Yue (沈約, 441-513) author of Jiaozhufu 郊居賦 (Poetic essay on suburban living) and proposed the rules of tonal prosody.
 Followers of the Liushan jing (劉善経), a poetic writing including an essay on the four tones.
 Wang Zhangling (王昌齢, 698-755).
 Jiao Ran (皎然, c. 720-800) came from Zhangzheng (present-day Zhangxing County, Zhejiang Province). His family name was Xie and he claimed to be the tenth generation offspring of Xie Lingyun (385-433), a poet of the Southern Dynasties. Converted to Buddhism and was known for composing five-graph poems. He often wrote about a solitary and leisurely life. He was the author of Shi Shi, a book of essays on poetry, and was known as a poet-bhik·u.
 Cui Ma (崔融, 652-705) Tang court poet.
 Rui zhan (元兢) Early Tang poet and compiler of the Verses of Poets Past and Present (古今詩人秀句).
 Tsze-kung said, "What do you pronounce concerning the poor man who yet does not flatter, and the rich man who is not proud?" The Master replied, "They will do; but they are not equal to him, who, though poor, is yet cheerful, and to him, who, though rich, loves the rules of propriety." Legge, Analects 1:15.
 One who loves learning is mentioned prominently throughout the Analects. For example, “Tsze-kung asked, saying, ‘On what ground did Kung-wan get that title of Wan?’ The Master said, "He was of an active nature and yet fond of learning, and he was not ashamed to ask and learn of his inferiors!-On these grounds he has been styled Wan.’” Legge, Analects 5:15.
 Bodman notes, “In China, both Lo Ken-tse and Kuo Shao-yü drew on it heavily for their histories of Chinese literary criticism. In Japan, the study of Bunkyō hifuron reached full maturity with the completion of Konishi Jinichi’s three-volume study and critical edition in 1953, and with the publication of Nakazawa Mareo’s extensive textual notes in 1964 and 1965…in 1976 a new edition by Chou Wei-te was published in Peking, and in 1977 a master’s thesis by Cheng A-ts’ai was published in Taipei…The reason most frequently offered for the importance of the Bunkyō hifuron is the fact that it contains the first detailed description of the co-called “Eight Faults” of Shen Yüeh” (Bodman 2).