Kukai, Emperor Saga, and the Founding of Toji Temple

The Buddhist Channel, 11 June 2023

Kyoto, Japan -- Toji temple, also known as Kyo-o-gokoku-ji or the "East Temple," holds a significant place in the history of Kyoto. When Kyoto became the capital of Japan in 794 CE, only three Buddhist temples were permitted in the city. Toji was one of them. Emperor Kanmu founded Toji in 796 CE and declared it to be "The Temple for the Defence of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines." This designation established Toji as a state-sponsored institution, providing divine protection for the nation and its people.

During the early Heian period, Toji temple and its sister temple, Saiji, were built. Unfortunately, Saiji no longer exists, but Toji has endured to this day. As a court-sanctioned temple, Toji houses treasures and documents from the early Heian period and the Tang Dynasty. Its buildings span various periods, including the Kamakura, Muromachi, Momoyama, and Edo periods.

In 806 CE, Emperor Kanmu's second son, Saga, ascended to the throne as the 52nd emperor of Japan. Emperor Saga was renowned for his skills in calligraphy and his ability to compose Chinese poetry. He was also the first Japanese emperor known to have enjoyed drinking tea. Emperor Saga's passion for poetry and calligraphy led him to forge a friendship with the talented young Buddhist monk, Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi (774-835). Kukai was a skilled poet and calligrapher himself, and he had gained recognition for establishing a religious community on Mount Koya (Koya-san).

Before the emperor met Kukai, the monk embarked on a journey to China in 804 with a Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty's courts in Ch'ang-an. During his time there, he studied not only Esoteric Buddhism but also Sanskrit, cultural arts, and civil engineering. Recognizing Kukai's brilliance, Huiguo (746-805 CE), the 7th patriarch of Chen-yen, accepted him as a disciple in 805 CE. Following Huiguo's passing, Kukai became the 8th patriarch of Chen-yen, marking the transmission of Esoteric Buddhism from China to Japan. Upon his return to Japan, Kukai established the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism.

Meanwhile, the friendship between Emperor Saga and Kukai flourished. In the winter of 809, Kukai fulfilled the emperor's request to create calligraphy on a pair of folding screens. Over time, Kukai presented the emperor with books of poetry he had copied by hand (811), brushes and writings (812), books on Sanskrit and poetry (814), and screens adorned with his calligraphy (816). Kukai's profound influence on Chinese culture earned him the emperor's patronage, and historians of calligraphy note the marked impact of Kukai on Emperor Saga's writing style.

In 823, Emperor Saga honored Kukai by appointing him as the chief priest of Toji temple. Kukai subsequently transformed Toji into the central seminary of Shingon or Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. He is credited with establishing the first private school in Japan and adding various buildings to the temple, including the pagoda and halls. Toji has since served as the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.

One of the remarkable features of Toji temple is its famous pagoda, standing at an impressive height of 55 meters. It remains the tallest wooden building in Japan. Although the temple was founded in 796, the pagoda has undergone damage multiple times, and the current structure dates back to 1644. The Kodo Hall, situated in the center of the temple grounds, serves as the lecture hall and houses 21 Buddhist statues, some of the oldest in Japan. The Kondo Hall, one of Toji's original structures, functions as the temple's main hall and largest building. It is also home to Toji's primary object of worship, the wooden statue of Yakushi Buddha. The statue of Kobo Daishi can be found outside the Miedo Hall.

Over the years, Toji temple's major buildings suffered damage from earthquakes and fires but have been rebuilt to preserve their original layout and architectural styles. These temple buildings house numerous magnificent treasures, including statues, carvings, paintings, and artworks. In recognition of its historical significance, Toji temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 as part of the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto.

About Shingon Buddhism

Shingon Buddhism, also known as Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism, holds an important place within the Buddhist tradition. Shingon teaches that enlightenment is attainable within the believer's lifetime through proper training and discipline of the body, speech, and mind. It emphasizes the performance of special rituals, the use of sacred syllables, yoga, and concentration to help practitioners achieve a spiritual state akin to that of the Buddha.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv