Kobo Daishi (Kukai) was a renowned monk who established Shingon Buddhism during the Heian era. In 835, he entered into eternal meditation and in the year of 921 he was given the posthumous name of Kobo Daishi by Emperor Daigo. The meaning of the name Kobo Daishi recognizes his excellence as a teacher as well as his work and efforts to spread the word of the Esoteric Buddhism throughout Japan.
Kobo Daishi was born in 774 in the province of Sanuki (Kagawa Pref.) on Shikoku Island. When he was young, he studied Chinese classics and Confucianism under the guidance of his uncle, Ato-no Otari. When he was fifteen, he moved to the capital city to enter a government university where most of the graduates moved on to become bureaucrats. During his time at the university, Kobo Daishi became disenchanted with the secular world and began to develop a strong interest in Buddhism. Consequently, at the age of eighteen, he decided to live his life as a Buddhist monk.
When Kobo Daishi was thirty-one years old, he happened to read a scripture of Esoteric Buddhism called "Dainichi-kyo" (Mahavairocana Sutra). This sutra had a tremendous impact on him and thus he became very motivated to study more in depth about Esoteric Buddhism.
Kobo Daishi knew he must go to China in order to gain a better understanding of the Esoteric teachings.
Fortunately, Kobo Daishi was able to join a Japanese envoy in 804 that was traveling by boat to Xi'an (the capital of China at the time) to visit the Tang Dynasty.
After spending some time in China, Kobo Daishi was given the opportunity to learn the essence of the esoteric teachings under Abbot Huigou, an authority on Esoteric Buddhism.
Abbot Huigou then initiated him into the Esoteric Buddhism tradition. It was truly remarkable that Kobo Daishi was able to master the complex esoteric teachings and be selected to be the eighth patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism in such a short period of time. In spite of Kobo Daishi's initial 20 year directive to study Buddhism in China, he returned to Japan after only two years with the mission from Abbot Huigou to spread the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism throughout Japan.
Kobo Daishi is also known as the father of Japanese culture. He is renowned for his talents as a teacher, engineer, inventor, poet, calligrapher and creating the first public school in Japan.
Through his achievements and rising popularity, Kobo Daishi was summoned and requested to assist on a multitude of tasks and projects.
Yet he never lost sight of his desire to create a monastic center for Shingon Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism). In 816, after receiving permission from Emperor Saga, Kobo Daishi officially founded the seminary community of Koyasan. Since its induction, he dedicated himself to the work of creating an Esoteric Buddhism School while providing spiritual support for the common people.
Kobo Daishi entered into eternal meditation on March 21, 835, surrounded by his devote disciples. He is believed to be alive and continues to provide relief to those who ask for salvation.
In 2004, Koyasan was registered through UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The official title is the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range". Since being registered as a World Heritage site, more and more visitors from diverse countries have come to Koyasan to appreciate the rich history and its unique atmosphere.
Although the essence of Koyasan has remained the same, nowadays all walks of life are able to live in peace at the site where Kobo Daishi founded this sanctuary 1,200 years ago.