Kukai 774-835, one of the most significant monks in the history of Heian Buddhism. Unlike Saicho, Kukai was native Japanese; he came from an aristocratic family. He was a brilliant and creative man, and as a young man he began by studying Confucianism, but soon mastered Taoism and Buddhism as well. |
In 804 Emperor Kammu sent Kukai to China. He landed near the mouth of the Changjiang and traveled by river, canal and road to the great Tang capital of Chang-an where he became a disciple of Hui-kuo 746-805 at the 青龍寺 Qinglongsi. Though Changan had declined following Anlushan rebellion, it was still the greatest city in the world at this time. The Chenyen (Shingon) school of esoteric Buddhism was a popular form of Buddhism at the time in Changan, through the influence of the Indian esoteric master, Amoghavajra, who had translated and circulated a large number of esoteric texts.
In the autumn of 806, Kukai returned to Japan aboard a diplomatic ship and landed at Dazaifu in northern Kyushu. With him he brought
hundreds of volumes of texts of Amoghavajra's translations of esoteric Buddhism as well as many Sanskrit texts. On Mount Koya he established a major temple that remains today the center of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.