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Life of the Great Master Kobo of Mount Koya, 1300-1400

ife of the Great Master Kobo of Mount Koya

Life of the Great Master Kobo of Mount Koya (Koyadaishi Gyojo-zue), Volume 4, approx. 1300-1400. Japan. Handscroll; ink and colors on paper. Gift of the Asian Art Foundation, B67D17.

This handscroll is the only complete one surviving from a set that originally consisted of ten scrolls. The set, known as the Koyadaishi Gyojo-zue, illustrated the biography of Kukai (774-835), founder of the esoteric Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan. Kukai took his formal Buddhist vows about 804. That same year, he traveled to China seeking instruction in Esoteric Buddhism. After returning to Japan two years later, he introduced new texts, rituals, and teachings to high-ranking laypersons and priests. After Kukai's death, he was given the posthumous title of Kobo Daishi (Dharma-spreading Great Master), by which he is still known today. Kukai's disciples began to write legends about their master shortly after his death. Eight scenes from his legendary life, some of them describing miraculous events, appear in this handscroll.