Kukai, as Kobo Daishi is also called, is credited as a father of Japanese culture. A renowned poet and scholar, he is said to have invented hiragana phonetic writing system for Japanese. In China he was introduced to esoteric Buddhism. Kukai entered China in 804, but returned to Japan in 806, two years short of his scheduled 20-year study period. Because of this, he was not allowed to enter Kyoto, and was said to have had stayed in
Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, for about two years.
At first Kukai became disillusioned with his studies. The ructions with the Otomo clan left him without a highly placed patron which dimmed his career prospects. Kukai went through a decisive transformation while at university that led to him abandoning his studies and becoming a wandering mendicant. Mendicants were despised by the government and the aristocracy, so Kukai could hardly have been seen to fall further.
There are about 3,000 folktales and legends about him told all over the country. No other person in Japan has ever commanded such devotion.
Kirihataji, Cut Cloth Temple
The name comes from a story about a miracle that happened when Kobo Daishi visited a temple and decided to do a seven-day ritual. During that week, a young girl came every day and brought him food. When he finished, he went to her hut to thank her and to beg for some cloth to mend his clothes. He only asked for a couple of small scraps, but she gave him enough fine, hand-woven cloth for a new priest's robe.
He thanked her and asked how someone so obviously cultured and skilled came to be living all alone in a hut in the mountains, far from the capital. Her mother was a lady of the court and father a guard. Shortly before she was born, the father was exiled for rebellion and the mother, fearing some danger to the baby, prayed for guidance from
Kannon. The prayer was answered with advice to go to Shikoku, where she brought up her daughter until she died, leaving the girl alone, as she was when Kobo Daishi met her.
Inspired by the story, Kobo Daishi carved a statue of Senju Kannon, the form of Kannon with 1,000 arms symbolizing the infinite ways this Bodhisattva reaches out to help those who call for her help. The girl then asked Kobo Daishi to cut her hair and make her a nun. He did. Instantly, a
rainbow-coloured cloud came down from the sky and the girl attained
Buddhahood, changing into a statue of Kannon. Kobo Daishi then took the two statues and enshrined them in the temple, which he founded in her
Until the time of Kobo Daishi, most Japanese Buddhists believed that women could not attain
Buddhahood. They thought a woman had to first be re-born as a man. This is one of several stories about Kobo Daishi that supports a view found clearly in his writings that everyone can become a Buddha "in this very body."
Long time ago there was a man called Emon Saburo. He was very rich, but all he wanted was to be richer still. One winter day a wandering monk came to his gate, prayed and held out his begging bowl to appeal for food. Saburo coldly refused him. Next day the same monk came again, but Saburo angrily drove him away. The monk kept on returning. On the 8th day Saburo struck him with a stick, dashing his bowl to the ground.
The monk came no more. But on the next day the eldest son of Saburo died, and the next day another. Eight days passed, and every one of his eight children was gone, to his grief and horror. Saburo then realized how wrong-headed and evil he had been. What he had to do, he determined, was to go and find that holy man and beg absolution. Soon he was following the monk's trail, asking for alms, begging for food himself every day.
He went around and around Shikoku Island for four years, but in vain. Having already made 20 rounds, he decided to make one more round in the reverse direction, instead of trying to catch up with the monk. His health was failing, but he had to keep searching. On his way to Shozanji deep in the mountains, Saburo fell down, ready to die. At that moment, Kobo Daishi, the monk he had been searching for, appeared before him. The saint, knowing everything, forgave
Saburo, saying his sincere repentance had washed away his sins.
Greatly relieved, the man was about to close his eyes. Then Daishi asked if he had a last wish. He answered that he would like to be reborn as the lord of Iyo, his home province, to have the power to do great good for his people. Daishi picked up a small stone, wrote something on it, and pressed the stone into the dying man's left hand.
Some time later the wife of the Lord of Iyo gave birth to a baby boy whose left hand would not open. They tried everything but they could not open it. At last they called in the head priest of their family temple
Anyoji. He chanted powerful prayers and finally the baby's hand opened. Inside was a stone and on it was written
"Emon Saburo Reborn."