The Sacred Koyasan: A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha

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For more than one thousand years, the vast Buddhist monastery and temple complex on remote Mount Koya has been one of Japan's most important religious centers. Saint Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), founder of the esoteric Shingon school and one of the great figures of world Buddhism, consecrated the mountain for holy purposes in the early 800s. Buried on Koyasan, Kobo Daishi is said to be still alive, selflessly advocating for the salvation of all sentient beings.

Located south of Osaka, Koyasan has attracted visitors from every station of Japanese life, and in recent years, more than a million tourists and pilgrims visit annually. In Sacred Koyasan, the first book-length study in English of this holy Buddhist mountain, Philip L. Nicoloff invites readers to accompany him on a pilgrimage. Together with the author, the pilgrim-reader ascends the mountain, stays at a temple monastery, and explores Koyasan's main buildings, sacred statues, mandalas, and famous forest cemetery. Author and reader participate in the full annual cycle of rituals and ceremonies, and explore the life and legend of Kobo Daishi and the history of the mountain.

Written for both the scholarly and general reader, Sacred Koyasan will appeal to potential travelers, dedicated armchair travelers, and all readers interested in Buddhism and Japanese culture.

About the Author:
Philip L. Nicoloff is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For those who have been to the mountain, the contents of this book should bring memories streaming back, and also illuminate sites on the mountain whose meanings otherwise may have been obscure. For those planning to go to the mountain, this book offers an extraordinary way to prepare.” — Journal of Asian Studies

“The wide-lensed approach employed by the author makes this general study a useful introduction for students embarking upon studies of Japanese religions, but it would best be used as a companion to more in-depth studies … There is much new material here for scholars to build upon. It will no doubt be a catalyst that will inspire further studies on this fascinating site and particularly, one hopes, on the contemporary aspects which Nicoloff brings to light.” — Eastern Buddhist

“Nicoloff … writes extremely well, and his descriptions of the location and of his experiences there make for vibrant and compelling reading … immensely enjoyable … a very useful and finely-crafted description of what one sees and what goes on at a major Buddhist center.”— Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

“…a capable piece of scholarship, referencing academic studies of Koyasan, Kukai, and Shingon. Yet the descriptions of the landscape and ritual activity, and even the lengthy section on the history of the place, are so beautifully written that it reads more like a fine piece of travel writing. This is Buddhism as a living—and lived—phenomenon, and a welcome reminder that Buddhism remains a vibrant presence in Japanese society.” — Buddhadharma

“This is a well-rounded historical and contemporary account of one of the most important sacred sites in Japan. The author opens up a significant area of inquiry for those studying Buddhism and Japanese culture, and integrates the personal dimension with the historical materials in a fascinating and compelling way.” — Steven Heine, author of Doµgen and the Koµan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shoµboµgenzoµ Texts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780791472590
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2007
  • Pages: 430
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip L. Nicoloff is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction     xv
Going to the Mountain     1
The Celestial Railroad     1
Outside the Fudo Entrance: The Women's Hall     5
Staying at a Shukubo Temple     15
Our Midday Arrival     15
Evening     20
"A Mind of Rapture": The Morning Sutra Service     24
The Life and Legend of Kobo Daishi (Kukai)     31
The Early Years     33
To China's Ch'ang-an and Hui-kuo     41
Conquest of the Japanese Capital     45
The Founding of Koyasan     58
Servant to Emperor and Nation     61
Kukai's Theory of the Ten Stages     67
The "Death" of Kukai     70
Twelve Centuries on the Mountain     75
Abbot Kangen Visits the Tomb (835-921)     75
Joyo, Fujiwara Michinaga, and Ex-Emperor Shirakawa (921-1129)     80
Koya-hijiri, the Rise of Pure Land Buddhism, and Kakuban (1073-1143)     82
Kiyomori (1150-1186)     86
The Kamakura Era (1185-1333)     88
Under the Ashikaga Shogunate (1336-1573)     92
Oda Nobunaga: Koyasan under Siege (1571-1582)     95
Hideyoshi and Koyasan's Wood-Eating Saint(1582-1603)     102
Under the Tokugawa (1603-1867)     110
Meiji Persecution and the Buddhist Revival (1867 to the Present)     113
Court of the Central Halls     123
The Great Stupa: Daito     124
The Golden Hall: Kondo     131
Hall of the Portrait: Miedo     148
Shrine of the Mountain Gods: Myojin-sha     150
Some Other Sights of the Garan     153
Three Mountain Institutions     161
Kongobu-ji: Headquarters Temple of Koyasan Shingon-shu     161
Daishi Kyokai Honbu: Headquarters of the Daishi Mission     167
Reihokan: Museum of Sacred Treasures     177
The Temple Town     183
Educating a Shingon Priest     191
The Student Years     191
Advancing in Rank     196
A Pilgrimage Through the Forest Cemetery     201
First Bridge to the Middle Bridge     202
The Middle Bridge     209
On to the Third Bridge     214
The Inner Temple and Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum     217
The Halls before the Tamagawa     217
The Jewel River and the Miroku Stone     221
The Torodo: Lantern Hall     224
The Gobyo: Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum     229
Record of a Night's Vigil at the Gobyo     231
The Morning Fire Offering     238
Kobo Daishi's Birthday Celebration     241
Celebrating Kobo Daishi's Nyujo and the "Changing of the Robe"     249
Preparing the New Robe at Hoki-in     249
The Solar Sho-mieku     250
The Lunar Sho-mieku     252
Addendum: Rituals of Shakyamuni's Birth and Death     257
Annual Rituals for the Dead     259
Bon: Mid-summer Visitation of the Dead     259
Higan-e: Ceremony of the Other Shore     264
Leaving the Holy Mountain     267
Notes     271
Glossary     339
Sources Cited     355
Index     369
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