Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Mysterious Mirror of Writing: Kūkai’s Poetry and Literary Theory

Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師 great teacher of Buddhism?), 774–835, was a Japanese monk, scholar, poet, and artist, founder of the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism. Shingon followers usually refer to him by the honorific titles of Odaishisama (お大師様?) and Henjō-Kongō (遍照金剛?).
Kūkai is famous as a calligrapher (see Japanese calligraphy) and engineer, and is said to have invented kana, the syllabary in which, in combination with Chinese characters (kanji) the Japanese language is written (although this claim has not been proven). His religious writings, some fifty works, expound the esoteric Shingon doctrine.

Literature was more than a hobby for Kūkai then. According to the Mahāvairocana-sūtra, ultimate reality is found in all speech and the root of speech is the soul of the universe, which Shingon calls Dharmakāya Mahāvairocana (Watanabe 204). Today this is know as the linguistic philosophy of what Kūkai called Sound, Word and Reality (声字実相の言語哲学) (Watanabe 204). [4] Kūkai writes, “The Tathāgata reveals his teachings by means of expressive symbols” (Hadeda 1972:234). Accordingly, all literature expresses the universe of the Buddha. Kūkai likely hoped that the development if this idea would provide no less than a Buddhist alternative to the dominate literary theories of Confucianism of his time (Abé 1999:310).

Read Kukai's writing and poetry here.

A Short Biography of Kobo Daishi

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