To-ji: The World of Kukai : Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

The capital of Japan was moved to Kyoto in 794. Two temples were built to protect the city. The West temple was destroyed by fire. But the East temple remains. Its a testament to the style and beauty of the Hei An period. This is the five-storey pagoda. At 56 metres high, it is the tallest timber-built tower in Japan. The Imperial Court – 30 years after relocating the capital – bestowed the Eastern temple to the Buddhist monk Kukai.

This is the lecture hall for Buddhist teaching. Kukai placed 21 Buddhist statues in this room as stipulared in the tradition of Esoteric Buddhism. There are 5 Tathagatha statues in the centre. Tathagatha is a Buddhist figure that has achieved the highest state of enlightenment. The statue of Tathagatha Mahavairocana stands in the middle. He is the chief deity in Shingon Buddhism. There are five Bodhisattva statues in the Eastern side of the room. A Bodhisattva is a Buddha figure seeking further enlightenment. Five Vidyaraja statues in the Western corner have fierce expressions on their faces. Vidyarajas live between the human and the Buddhas world. They carry fire on their backs to burn away the worldly desires of mankind. The main Vidyaraja figure here is Achala Vidyaraja. He is believed to have the power to subdue all evil spirits. Kukai travelled to China as a member of a Japanese delegation and studied Esoteric Buddhism there. When he came back he brought a special Mandala painting with him. This is the Garbha-kosa-dhatu, or the Womb Mandala. Tathagatha Mahavairocana is depicted in the centre. He is surrounded by Bodhisattva figures. The layout of the Buddha statues in Tojis lecture hall represents the world of this Mandala. Vidyaraja figures are shown below the Tathagatha ones. The Achala Vidyaraja has been drawn on the far right of the fierce Vidyaraja figures. Recent X-ray studies on the Achala Vidyaraja statue led to an astonishing revelation. A white shade was found on the X-ray in the head part of the statue. After careful analysis, it turned out to be a metal case containing the ashes of Buddha. Kukai brought very sacred ashes from China and kept them there. It shows the importance Kukai placed on the Achala Vidyaraja deity.

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