The Story of Koyasan

Mount Koyasan (Mount Kōya) rises some 2800 feet above sea level. Its summit, a somewhat irregular plateau, is surrounded by interesting forest scarps that end in eight directions and devout Buddhists believe that these eight points are representing the petals, eight in total, of the lotus flower.

At this site, a far cry from the conspiracy world of Japan’s powerful feudal families, one of the greatest spiritual and religious sites of the world of Buddhism was founded. In its glory days, Koyasan is believed to have included more than 9000 of the most beautiful temples, libraries, shrines, and other impressive buildings, and the monastic population is believed to have been some 90,000 in those days.

Gradually, the glory faded and natural disasters destroyed so many of the beautiful buildings. In general, wildfire was the greatest enemy of the temples and also at Koyasan, many fires swept through the area, fueled by strong mountain winds.

Today, the Golden Temple, Kondo, the Great Pagoda, the Garan, more towers and temples, as well as over fifty monasteries that include rooms to serve pilgrims who come to pay their homage and respects to the Buddha as well as to Kobo Daishi, are an impressive metropolis and center of Buddhist spirituality.

The site includes a university, a historically important library, and more schools that are under the control of the Koyasan Shingon sect. Koyasan is indeed a very unique religious and spiritual center. Koyasan has more religious artworks than at any other monastery or temple in Japan.

The Story

During the days that Kobo Daishi was staying in China, the Japanese Emperor, as he had heard of Daishi’s reputation and fame, asked him to rewrite a faded name of one of the rooms in the Royal Palace. Kobo Daishi accomplished the job while writing simultaneously with five brushes. While staying on the Asian continent, he had also refined his calligraphic skills through Monju Bosatsu (the Lord of Wisdom).

The legend goes that while being in China, Kobo Daishi threw a three-pronged thunderbolt (his sanko ) up in the air. The sanko then vanished in the direction of his homeland of Japan at the speed of lightning. Later, it was retrieved at the top of a tree near Mount Koya. Today, this site is still marked by a sanko-pine tree.

When Kobo Daishi traveled to desolate regions of the world, he could make the land fruitful through his enchantments. Upon returning to Japan (in 806), he submitted to Emperor Heijo an overview of religious paintings and drawing, various sutras, and commentaries that he had brought with him from China. Shingon-shu followers actually believe that their sect was founded in the year 807. From these days onward, Kobo Daishi was advancing his doctrine while he performed some pretty miraculous works that gained him high favor with the Japanese Emperor for his painting and writing skills.

At religious discourses, impressive streams of highly divine light would flow from his body. He had the capacity to purify brack water, to commune with deities, and to restore death into life again, so it is believed. After he transitioned in 835, the miracles continued. There is the legend that after the Japanese Emperor Saga passed away, the coffin with the Emperor’s body was mysteriously carried through the skies to Mount Koya. It is said that Kobo Daishi rose from his grave (the Gobyo Grave at Okunoin) to make sure the Imperial funeral rites were conducted properly.

Even today, the memories of Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, live on, even in the remotest of places in Japan. In fact, the name Daishi has remained to be literally something like a household name across Japan. He is all across the nation remembered as a scholar, a saint, a spiritual healer, a savior, a brilliant calligrapher, the inventor Japan’s Kana syllabary alphabet, an engineer of waterways, a Bodhisattva, and the founder of the first public schools in Japan. Millions of Japanese still believe that Kobo-Daishi is resting quietly meditation, but that he is still active in this world in a very active way, and that he is leading all of us on the planet to salvation.