- (773/4-835)Under his posthumous name Kobo Daishi he is probably the best-known Buddhist monk in Japanese history. He is credited with all kinds of miraculous and practical abilities including flood-control and the invention of the kana syllabary and is believed by the devout to be dormant in samadhi rather than deceased. His birthplace Shikoku has a famous pilgrimage circuit (junpai) dedicated to him. Kukai first studied Chinese classics, then practised Buddhist austerities in Shikoku and in 804 journeyed to China. Saicho (Dengyo daishi) was in another ship on the same voyage. Kukai returned to Kyoto in 806 with esoteric initiations from Hui-kuo, a direct disciple of the Indian monk Amoghavajra. He devoted his life to promoting Shingon Buddhism, in 816 establishing a great monastic centre on Mt. Koya in Kii province some distance south of Nara. He wrote a number of literary and Buddhist works of enduring importance, showing the superiority of Buddhism over Confucianism and Taoism and stressing the central esoteric teaching that with appropriate techniques of esoteric Buddhist meditation it is possible to realise 'in this very body' that all phenomena are manifestations of the Buddha of light, Vairochana (Dainichi nyorai). Kukai's disciples contributed to the development of shugendo. The later Shingon view of kami as suijaku 'trace-manifestations' (see Honji-suijaku) helped raise the status of the kami to the level of Buddhist divinities but cannot be attributed to Kukai himself. Though he always remained on good terms with the court, shrine priests and the established Nara Buddhist clergy he showed no awareness of 'Shinto' as a teaching. According to one legend Kukai alone has seen the miraculous 'ten treasures' which may or may not exist in the Iso-no-kami jingu at Tenri, Nara prefecture. According to the Kujiki they were handed down by Amaterasu to the early ruler of Yamato called Nigi-haya-hi, a predecessor of Ninigi.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.