Due South : Zentsuu-ji, Kagawa – General Info and Kuukai
Zentsuu-ji : General Info
Zentsuu-ji is a name of the temple which was built by the well-known monk Kuukai a.k.a. “Koubou-daishi” (The Grand Master Koubou)
(The French fashion label “Kookai” is named after the priest.)
Then, the location where the temple is also began to be called as “Zentsuu-ji”.
*About the title “Daishi”
It seems that the title was originally from China.
I don’t know its Chinese pronunciation.
In Japan, it was (is?) a posthumous title given by the Imperial Court generally to the chosen high priests.
Kuukai is one of 24 high priests who has got the title, but now, he is often referred as just “daishi (san)”, so it may sound like the unique title just for him.
How to get there
The Zentsuu-ji (officially spelled out as “Zentsuji”) station is next to Kotohira.
From Kotohira, it only takes about six minutes by a local train.
From the Okayama station, take a train to the Zentsuu-ji station.
20-minute-walk from the station.
Although there is a free city bus running from the station, it only runs twice a day to the temple.
See here for the bus timetable (Japanese website).
[About the train to Zentsuu-ji]
If you take a limited express train (need extra fee for the express ticket), it goes direct and takes about an hour.
If you take an ordinary train (no extra fee unless you want to have a reserved seat), you may have to transfer at least once and takes about an hour and a half.
Every train from Okayama going to stations in the Shikoku island crosses the Seto Oohashi (the bridge across the Seto Inland Sea).
So, when it’s windy, it often gets delayed or stops.
Born in 774 in the province of Sanuki, the present Kagawa prefecture, as a member of the Saeki family.
His father was one of the local officials who were in charge of governing the region.
At the age of fifteen, he moved up to Kyoto to become a government official like his father.
He had learnt from his uncle, and when he was eighteen he entered an elite bureaucrat training school.
However, he soon left the school and started Buddhism training in mountains.
When he was 31, he went to China to study at his own expense.
After two years, he brought back a huge amount of Buddist items like scriptures, pictures and ritual implements.
The list of items were handed to the Imperial Court.
This catapulted him into the limelight.
He even gained a trust from the Emperor.
Based on the knowledge he had learnt in China, he established a new Buddhist school called “Shingon-shuu” (lit. “True words religion”), which is now one of the major Buddhism sects.
In 816, he asked a permission to the Imperial Court for establishing a temple in Kouya-san (Mt. Kouya) in the present Wakayama prefecture.
Emperor Saga accepted his request and gave him the mountain.
The name of the temple is Kongoubu-ji, but probably much more famous as “Kouya-san”.
(The temple was closed to women until 1872.)
At the age of fifty, he was asked by the Emperor to take over Tou-ji (lit. East Temple) in Kyoto, one of the temples that the government established and managed.
Since his first literal work in 797, he wrote many books about Buddhism till he died in 835.
Kuukai is also very famous for his hand-writing.
There is a proverb in Japanese, “Koubou mo fude no ayamari” (“Even Koubou could brush error”), which means “Anybody makes a mistake” (“Nobody is perfect”).
Other similar proverbs are:
“Saru mo ki kara ochiru” (“Even a monkey could fall from a tree”).
“Kappa no kawanagare” (“Even kappa
* could drown in the river”).
*Kappa is a Japanese monster who lives in the water.
[My personal impression of Kuukai]
Honestly speaking, I felt that Kuukai was far from generous or modest, with too much self-esteem, after my research for this post.
His first book was to praise Buddhism to compare with other two major religions in Japan, Confucianism and Taoism.
The book was to explain that he chose Buddhism of the three because it was the best.
In his later work, he seemed to have concluded that his Shingon-shuu was the best of all the Buddhist schools.
Also, when he took over Tou-ji, he appealed to the Imperial Court not to allow monks to live there except ones from his Shingon-shuu, in spite of the fact that there were monks usually from various sects back then in this sort of government-owned temples so that they could learn different doctrines together.
His outrageous and arrogant request was accepted.
I’ve never read his works, so I cannot tell my impression is right, but I can’t help doubting if he just wanted to praise himself, insisting “I am the best!” in his works.
Next post : The temple and around
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