Kūkai 空海 (774-835) was the founder of Japan's Shingon 真言 sect (lit. = True Word School) of Esoteric Buddhism. His posthumous name is Kōbō Daishi 弘法大師 (the Great Teacher). This Heian-era monk remains one of Japan's most beloved Buddhist saviors -- folklore says he attained Buddhahood before death. Portraits of him abound. The Japanese today tend to ignore doctrinal differences when honoring him.
Modern drawings of Kobo Daishi
Kūkai traveled to China in 804, and was initiated in esoteric teachings by the Chinese priest Huiguo. Kūkai returned in 806, and by 816 obtained imperial sanction to construct his monastery on Mt. Kōya (Koya or Koyasan), a serene location on the Kii peninsula still considered a holy land and one of modern Japan's most popular pilgrimage sites. Kūkai's mausoleum is located here as well (in the Okunoin 奥の院). The main temple at this multi-temple complex is Kongōbuji Temple 金剛峰寺, with over 100 other temples on and around the area's eight main peaks.
Kūkai (aka Kōbō Daishi) played an active role in many fields, performing rituals for the emperor, constructing a large reservoir in Shikoku for the common people, and establishing the first school for common citizens. His legend is riddled with folklore. He is credited with everything from inventing Japan's kana script to introducing homosexuality. He is one of Japan's most celebrated calligraphers, and supposedly published Japan's first dictionary. He became a major patron of the arts, and reportedly founded hundreds of temples across Japan. The Shikoku Pilgrimage to 88 Sites is a popular pilgrimage attributed to Kukai, and many pilgrims who walk this route today carry a staff bearing the words "we two walk together."
Shingon is Japan's version of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism. Together with Hinayana and Mahayana, Vajrayana represents one of the three basic forms of Buddhism in Asia today. It is especially strong in Japan and Tibet, and intricately connected with the mandala artform. Shingon's most prominent deity is Dainichi Buddha, whose symbol is the vajra (thus Vajrayana, the Sanskrit term for Diamond Vehicle).
Painting of Kūkai, Question and Answer Ceremony, 問答講本尊 (Mondōkō Honzon)
弘法大師・丹生・高野明神, Treasure of Kongōbuji Temple 金剛峯寺, 14th Century
Most pieces for the Q&A ceremony date to the Kamakura period.
Most come from Kongōbuji Temple at Mt. Kōya.
The statue in our estore is a modern reproduction of this piece.
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Nichiren Shōnin 日連上人 (1222 - 1282) was the founder of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism (also known as the Lotus or Hokke 法華 sect). Nichiren was a radical religious reformer who once studied at the powerful Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei, as did Honen, Shinran, Eisai, and other noted monks of that period. Nichiren vehemently disagreed with the new Jōdo 浄土 (Pure Land) sects, and proclaimed both old and new Buddhist movements to be false religions. He preached in the streets, hoping to revive the purity of Tendai faith in the Lotus Sutra and blaming existing religious sects for the problems then facing the country. He was arrested and exiled twice by authorities, but in each case was later pardoned. He believed faith in the Lotus Sutra alone would bring liberation, and recitation of the phrase "Hail to the Lotus Sutra" was the sole path to salvation. Today, some 85% of Japan's population claim to be Buddhists, with the largest group (around 25 million people) belonging to the Nichiren sect. The head-temple of the sect is located on Mt. Minobu 身延 in Yamanashi prefecture and is known as Kuonji Temple 久遠寺.
(L) Portrain of Nichiren, 1406, at Jōgyōji Temple 上行寺
(R) Painting of Nichiren, 17th century, Myōkenji Temple 妙顯寺
17th century painting by Tan'yuu 狩野探幽 (1602-74), Honpouji Temple 本法寺, Kyoto
Depicts Ryuu-no-kuchi 龍口法難図, a widely known illustration of Nichiren's life. When
Nichiren was about to be executed at Ryuu-no-kuchi 龍の口 beach near Kamakura,
legend says he was saved by a miraculous light from heaven that broke the executioner's sword.
Matsumae-Hokke-ji Temple 松前法華寺
Date unknown. This depicts Nichiren in a very common pose,
with Lotus sutra in left hand and a club (???) in the other.
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