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What is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism? Buddhism dates back to about 2,500 years ago, when an Indian prince, Gotama Siddhattha reached Nirvana (the Buddhist enlightenment) and became a Buddha (the awaken one) in India. Buddhism, therefore means, "following the teaching of Buddha". It is also a solution to human suffering through spiritual training. In this sense, Buddhism is about, "teaching the way of the Buddha and becoming a Buddha". Buddhism spread from India to China, Mongolia and their neighbouring countries, via Central Asia (Northern Buddhism), and it reached Japan around the 6th century, through the Korean Peninsula. It also spread from India to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), before it reached Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand in the 11th century (the Southern Buddhism). Amongst the variations of Buddhism that spread all around the world, Shingonshu, based on the teaching of Kobodaishi Kukai, is a type called "Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism)". "Mikkyo" means "the teaching the way of revealing Buddha's hidden ideas". This teaching had already existed in Siddhattha's India, before it gradually began to spread systematic around the 7th century and came to be accepted in China and Tibet in the 8th century. Kukai introduced this teaching to Japan and developed it into Shingonshu.

Koya-san (Mt. Koya)

Koya-san is a mountain chosen by Kobodaishi as a Buddhist training centre for Shingon Mikkyo about 1,200 years ago (in 816) and the core of all Shingon temples, whose locations are found at 1,000m above sea level, which is higher than another Buddhist sancitity, Hieizan (Mt Hiei). The two wooden monoliths, designated as culturally important properties by the state, at the Main Gate, say, "Hibi no yogo o kakasazu shite, syojo no iseki o kenchi su (I visit anyone, any place, anyday, to see and learn from historic sites everywhere", which indicates that Kobodaishi's belief and determination to go to any place and help anyone in trouble with his two dicsiples. On top of the mountain is a basin shaped valley, where there is a sanctity called "Danjo Garan". At "Danjo Garan", many halls and towers, along with Buddha statues and "mandala" (Mikkyo paintings), welcome visitors. Okunoin is found in the deep forest of cedar trees, where there are many people's graves.

Kobodashi and Shingonshu.

Kobodaishi was born in what was then known as "Sanuki" (Kagawa Prefecture today). He started learning classical Chinese studies and history as early as at the age of 15 and then went on to read Chinese classics and Confucianism at the Department of Literature at the national university in the capital city when he was 18. While dilligently following the elite path, he met a famous monk and took a tutorial with him on Kokuzou-Gumonji (a Mikkyo method), the experience which was the beginning that led Kobodaishi's life to change radically. In 804, Kobodaishi became a monk at 20 and was chosen by the state as part of the first cultural mission led by Kadonomaro Fujiwara to Changan, the capital of the Tung Dynasty. Kobodaishi was taught the orthodox Mikkyo by a high monk, Keika, and was the eighth monk to be honoured with a "Ajari Henjo Kongo" title during his 2 year stay in the capital, before he returned to Japan in 806. As soon as he reached Japan, Kobodaishi began to go around the country and put a huge amount of effort into spreading the Shingon Mikkyo teaching everywhere. In 811, Dengyo Daishi, the founder of Tendaisyu Buddhism, became a disciple of Kobodaishi, and helped push Kobodaishi's fame among the Japanese Buddhists and in the imperial palace of Japan. A large number of people came to Kobodaishi and asked him to make them his disciples, finally leading to the establishment of Shingonsyu.

In 816, the then Emperor Saga endowed him with Mt Koya. Kobodaishi brought many of his disciples and carpenters to the mountain to have them organize and construct the Buddhist mountain. Koya-san Kongobuji was the result of their work. In 823, the government ordered him to take charge of Toji (the Eastern Temple of Kyoto). Since then, Toji has been used as both the main training centre of Shingon and its main philanthropic institution. The government ordered that Toji accomodate 50 monks on a permanent basis, ban monks from other sects from living there and focus on the monks' Mikkyo study.

In 826, Kobodaishi opened a school called "Syugei Syuchiin" for the public to the east of Toji. The school admitted anyone, regardless of his/her social class or wealth. His contribution to Japanese culture and infrastructure is also noteworthy: Kobodaishi was a great calligrapher, painter and sculptor; he invented "Iroha character system", discovered hot springs, taught the use of coal and petrol, funded the Mannoh pond work, and made bridges and roads. For this reason, Kobodaishi was called "The Mother of Japanese Culture". He died in 835 and was buried at Okunoin on March 21st the same year, in accordance with his will. After his death, Kobodaishi's high disciple, Sinnen Daitoku saw the successful construction of Garan and established Koya-san as one of the most important Buddhist training centres. Currently, there are 117 temples as well as Garan and Okunoin on the mountain, making it as a mysterious and inspirational core.

The Story of Koya-san

A famous story has been told as to how and why Kobodaishi chose Mt Koya, so far away from the capital and at 1,000m above sea level, as a sanctuary.

Story

After 2 years of studying hard, Kobodaishi was about to leave China from a beach in the Ming province and was already thinking deeply about where his Garan should be built, so he threw his The "Sanko" (three headed harpoon, a Buddhist tool) into the air, praying that the best site be found. The "Sanko" flew in the sky and landed where Garan currently stands. Kobodaishi looked for the "Sanko" everywhere and went to Uchi county in Yamato (Gojo city in Nara Prefecture today). There, he met a 2m tall hunter with a reddish dark face, an arrow in his hand and two dogs, white and black. Kobodaishi was led by the dogs to cross the Kino River and go deep into a steep mountain. Out of nowhere, a woman appeared and said to Kobodaishi, "I am the master of this mountain. I will help you". With that woman, Kobodaishi went even deeper into the mountain and found himself on a plateau shaped like the back of pot. He saw a pine tree. There, he found his "Sanko" hanging on the tree! It was then that he was convinced that the place was the best for his Mikkyo project and decided to open a Singon temple. The woman whom he met was the goddness enshrined at Nyutsu Hime Shrine in Amano village at the mountain foot. The hunter was also enshrined by Kobodaishi as "Kariba Myojin" (the god of hunting).

Koya-san Ceremonies

January

9:00 A.M. January 1st-3rd: Syu Syo-e (at Okunoin and Kondo). * "e" is pronounced as in "emblem". "e" means "ceremonies", "events" or "meeting". 9:00 A.M. January 5th: Syu Syo-e (at Daito). *Syu Syo-e refers to "The New Year Ceremony.

February

1:00 P.M. February 3rd: Daito Setsubun Kito-e - Prayers at Setsubun Ceremony (Bean Throwing Ceremony). 11:00 P.M.- Next Morning: February 14th-15th: Jouraku-e - The ceremony for mourning Buddha's death. For the visitors on the 14th, "udon" noodles will be served.

March

9:00 A.M. March 21st: Syo Mie-ku (at Okunoin) - The ceremony for appreciating Kobodaishi's teaching on the day of his death anniversary. 1:00 P.M. Three days in the mid equinoctial week (around March 20th) - Syunki Kondo Higan-e (at Kondo) - The ceremony for all spirits in the Three Worlds (defined to be the whole of worlds in which all living creatures reside, in Koya terms). March 20th (the lunar calendar): Kyu Syo Mie-ku O Taiya (at Garan) - The ceremony for the eve of Kobodaishi's demise day. The Lantern Ceremony is held at Danjo Garan. On this day only, the visitors are allowed into Mie-do.
March 21st (the lunar calendar): Kyu Syo Mie-ku (at Okunoin) - The ceremony held on the death anniversary of Kobodaishi to appreciate his teaching.

April

9:00A.M. April 8th: Bussyo-e (at Kongobu Ji) - The ceremony for Buddha's birthday. The visitors will be offered a cup of sweet sake. 9:00 A.M. April 10th: Dai Mandara Ku (at Garan) - The ceremony for praying for the after-life happiness of in the past and spirits by Koya's high monks, and "Mandara Kuyo" (the ceremony using a Mikkyo painting, "Mandala"), aimed at dedicating treasures to the world of the gods. The monks will hold an outdoor ceremony on a big scale, ranging from the Daiedo to Kondo, and the hymns will be heard around the ceremony rostrum. 9:00 A.M. April 21st: Okunoin Mando-e (at Okunoin) - Prayers for world peace and appreciation for the Four Blessings (parents, all living creatures, the Emperor and the Three Buddhism Treasures, inlcluding Buddha, the Buddha teachings and monks, and after-life happiness of all spirits).

May

May 3rd - 5th: Syunki Kechien Kanjo (at Kondo) - The ceremony for connecting you to Buddha in Taizo-kai (the World of Wisdom). 9:00 A.M. May 21st: Bosyo So Kuyo Okunoin Daisegaki-e - The ceremony for praying for the after-life happiness of all the sprirts enshrined in Okunoin and paying respect to all spirits. May 1st-2nd (the lunar calendar): Sanno-in Kaki Inori. 6:00 P.M. May 3rd: Sannoin Rissei.

June

9:00 A.M. June 15th: Syuso Goutan-e - The birthday ceremony for Kobodaishi. At noon, there will be a parade called "Hanamido Togyo" from Ichino Hashi to Kongobu Jj. 9:00 A.M. June 9th - 10th (the lunar calendar): Uchi Dangi (at Kongobu Ji) - The Koya monks will conduct a catechism session on the Mikkyo teachings. 6:00 P.M. June 10th-11th (the lunar year): Misaisyoko (at Sannoin) - The ceremony for reading and appreciating the Konmyo Saisyo O-kyo Scriptures, and praying for peace in the country.

July

1 P.M. July 15th: Migoki (at Daito) - The ceremony for praying for the after-life happiness of the Emperor Saga and the Emperor Godaigo.

August

9:00 A.M. for one week from Auguest 7th: Fudan-gyo(at kondo) - The ceremony for all spirits. The mantra will be read out without any pause. 6:00 P.M. August 13th: Manto Kuyo-e - the Candle Festival (at Okunoin) - From 7:00 P.M., there will be about 100,000 candles offered by the visitors, on the 2 kilometer trail from Ichino Hashi to Okunoin.

September

9:00 A.M. September 11th: Dento Kokushi-ki - The ceremony for appreciating the teachings of Sinzenn-daishi, who was the second chief Koya monk after Kobodaishi and the Imperial Honoured monk, on his death anniversary. 1:00 P.M. Three days in the mid equinoctial week (around September 20th) - Syu-ki Kondo Higan-e (at Kondo) - The ceremony for all spirits in the Three Worlds (defined to be the whole of worlds in which all living creatures reside, in Koya terms). 9:00 A.M. September 23rd: Ichiza Dosya Kaji Hou-e (at Kondo) - The ceremony for praying for the after-life happiness of all spirits.

October

7:00 P.M. October 1st-3rd: Okunoin Mando-e (at Okunoin) - Prayers for world peace and appreciation for the Four Blessings (parents, all living creatures, the Emperor and the Three Buddhism Treasures, inlcluding Buddha, the Buddha teachings and monks, and after-life happiness of all spirits). 8:00 P.M. October 1st-3rd: Syuki Kechien Kanjo (at Kondo) - The ceremony for connecting you to Buddha in Kongo-kai (the World of Wisdom). It is highly recommendable that you attend this ceremony as well as the Spring Kechien Kanjo. 12:30 P.M. October 16th: Myojin-sya Syuki Taisai (the Myojin Autumn Festival). 9:00 A.M. October 27th: Shigo Housan-e - The ceremony for appreciating Kukai's being honoured as "Daishi" (the Big Master), as he has been called since his death, by the Emperor Saga.