Shikoku 88 Introduction

Kõbõ Daishi (Kukai)

Kukai, known posthumously as Kõbõ Daishi, was born in 774 into the Saeki clan, a declining aristocratic family, in Zenutsuji, Kagawa provice (Shikoku). He is one of the most well known figures in Japanese history and is accredited with many great deeds.

kobo daishi vajra tokko

He was a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist who founded the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism. Shingon followers usually refer to him by the honorific title of Odaishisama (お大師様) and the religious name of Henjō-Kongō (遍照金剛).

Kukai’s biggest legacy, the Buddhist sect he founded – Shingon – teaches that enlightenment can be found in this lifetime through spiritual practice. Though that enlightenment would be reached by monks practicing in monasteries, Shingon differed from Saicho’s Tendai philosophy in that it taught that enlightenment was possible in a single lifetime. Enlightenment was achieved by realizing the Dainichi Buddha – the primordial source of all beings in the universe and the underpinning of all physical forms – within one’s own body. This difference: studying tomes versus passing secretive rituals from teacher to student, is the essential difference between Tendai and Shingon.

Throughout Japan, one often hears his name and one can visit many places that he is said to have visited during his lifetime. His legacy also includes the Shikoku Pilgrimage of 88 temples, associated with his life in his birthplace of Shikoku. Clouded by the mist of time, it is not actually known whether or not he indeed founded the pilgremage, however the thousands of pilgrims that have travelled this route, believe that Kukai is always with them for comfort and protection.

In 835, Kukai died on Mt. Koya aged 62. Kukai’s body was not cremated but entombed, according to his will, on Mt. Koya (below). His followers believe, that he is not dead but merely meditating, awaiting the coming of the Maitreya bodhisattva, successor to the present Buddha.

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