Legend of Kobo Daishi

The temple area around Mount Koya-san is largely regarded as the holiest of all monasteries in Japan, and the heart of Esoteric Buddhism. Koya-san was founded in a vision by the great Buddhist saint Kukai, known posthumously as Kobo Daishi. Japanese folklore radiates with praise and affection for Kobo Daishi, the wandering priest who had an enormous impact on the culture of early Japan.

During religious discourses, streams of divine light would flow form his body. He could purify brackish water, commune with certain deities, and restore the dead to life; so it is said. After his transition in 835, miracles continued to occur. There is a legend that when the retired Japanese Emperor Saga died, his coffin was carried mysteriously through the air to Mt. Koya, and Kobo Daishi came forth from his resting place (Gobyo Grave at the Okunoin) to conduct the Imperial funeral rites.

Temple where Kobo Daishi is enshrined

In the year 816 CE, tradition speaks of Kobo Daishi being awaken from a deep meditative trance by a hunter and two dogs staring at him. The two dogs, one black and one white, accompanied the hunter, who was really a forest god there to guide the young master. The three beings had materialized in order to show Kobo Daishi a sacred spot where he should construct the first temple of a prophesied religious community. Soon the hidden glen on the slopes of Mount Koya-san was a bustling monastic complex of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Two years before founding the monastery,

Kobo Daishi traveled to China, studied Esoteric Buddhism and introduced the Shingon sect upon his return. For much of his life he traveled throughout Japan practicing humanitarianism, sometimes posing as a poor beggar, other times as a wise sage or teacher of calligraphy or language. As a priest, Kobo Daishi would bestow miracles in the form of a spring well or bountiful orchard upon worthy village communities. His teachings are legendary in all parts of Japan, but Mount Koya-san was his home and it was here he passed away as an elderly man. However, the followers of Kobo Daishi do not believe he is actually dead, but in a deep meditative pose awaiting the Future Buddha (Maitreya, or last Bodhisattva), at which time Kobo Daishi will awake and they both will assist in the enlightenment of humankind.

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