Posted by: odzer | July 31, 2008

Kukai and Zentsuji Temple

Every place has a person or two that seem to have done everything or invented everything. Kukai known during his lifetime as Kobo Daishi is one such person. I first heard of him from an American friend of mine around a decade ago. This most remarkable man is credited as having done several things during his life time. He was a poet, a calligrapher, a linguist, an inventor, a self taught engineer, a diplomat, a buddhist monk and a great influencer of the world around him. Kukai was born in the year 774 in the Sanuki province of the Shikoku Island of Japan. Disenchanted by his formal education that was set around turning out bureaucrats for the government he turned his attention towards Buddhism. At the age of 31 he had a chance to go to China on a diplomatic mission and there he encountered Sanskrit and improved on his knowledge of Buddhism. This had a profound impact on him both in terms of starting the esoteric branch of Buddhism known as Shingon and also he is credited for inventing the Japanese writing system known as Kana. I must confess i find the order of the characters of Kana very similar to North Indian languages.

Kukai returned back to Japan where he not only created the Japanese characters that we still use today but also is also credited for having started the Zen tradition, inventing the Udon noodles which are famous all over the world. Contributing to the Samurai system and also having repaired a reservoir in Manno town. It is said that he completed the difficult repair work in just 3 months.

I had a chance to vist Zentsuji the birthplace of Kukai this March. I was excited and happy to see the place from where such a man originated. Kagawa prefecture is a really beautiful and peaceful place with beautiful mountains, a really cold sea and beautiful temples. Every year people make an annual pilgrimage to Shikoku from all over Japan and Zentsuji is the biggest of the 88 temple circuit that they follow. I noticed many similarities between temples in Tibet which also has an an esoteric form of Mahayana Buddhism and Japanese temples. They even had Dharmapalas on the enterances! I am posing some pictures of my visit with some descriptions for you to get a visual sense of the place.

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