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Unformatted text preview: ò Daishi, or Great Teacher Kòbò), who traveled
to China in 804 on the same mission as Saichò. Kûkai, who founded a
Shingon center atop Mount Kòya near modern Osaka, was without question one of the most outstanding figures in Japanese history. The distinguished British scholar of Japan, Sir George Sansom, has said of him:
His memory lives all over the country, his name is a household word in the
remotest places, not only as a saint, but as a preacher, a scholar, a painter, an
inventor, an explorer and—sure passport to fame—a great calligrapher.2 Among other things, Kûkai is credited with inventing the kana syllabary.3 Most likely kana was more the product of evolution than invention.
But it is also believed that knowledge of Sanskrit provided at least some
of the inspiration that led to kana, and Kûkai is known to have become
an avid student of Sanskrit during his three-year stay in China.
Kûkai’s scholarly accomplishments were imposing. In a tract entitled
The Ten Stages of Religious Consciousness, he made perhaps the most
famous attempt in Japanese history to synthesize and evaluate various
religious beliefs according to their higher or lower “stages of consciousness.” At the bottom, Kûkai placed the animal passions, where no religious consciousness at all existed; he then proceeded upward by stages
through Confucianism, Taoism, various Hinayana and quasi-Mahayana
sects, fully developed Mahayana and, finally, to the ultimate religious
consciousness of Shingon itself.
Shingon is centered on belief in the cosmic buddha Vairochana (in 52 The Court at Its Zenith Japanese, Dainichi). All things—including the historical Buddha, Gautama, and such transcendent beings as Yakushi (the healing buddha)
and Amida (the buddha of the boundless light)—are merely manifestations of this universal entity. In order to enter into communion with
Dainichi and realize the essential oneness of all existence, the supplicant
must utilize the Three Mysteries of speech, body, and mind. Proper ritual
performance requires the coordinated practice of all three mysteries; but
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- Spring '13