Friday, May 22, 2015

A Poetics of Kukai (Kōbō Daishi)

The basis of the teachings of the Great Hermit (i.e., the Buddha) is to benefit sentient beings by the teaching of names. For the benefit of the world, writing and composition have their origin in the times of virtuous people. Consequently, in the midst of emptiness and in the midst of rubbish there was the appearance of written characters. On the turtle shell and the dragon back, natural writing is disclosed. The transformation from the age of the sages of ancient times over many revolutions of celestial bodies is reflected in the educational training of the people of all the countries on earth. Like the sound of all sorts of musical instruments, laypersons were governed by the brilliance of writing. Elegant! Lustrous! In the internal worlds and the external worlds (the world Buddhists and non-Buddhists), who remembers this? As an old sūtra says, the non-backsliding bodhisattvas surely were the first to understand writing and composition.

Confucius had these sayings, “My children, why do you not study the Book of Odes? The Odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the immediate duty of serving one's father, and the remoter one of serving one's prince;” and, “The man who has not studied the Chau-nan and the Shao-nan is like one who stands with his face right against a wall.” Thus, the meaning of writing and composition is wide! It is far reaching!

Through writing, the five sounds are captured and the significance of five colors is grasped. Through composition, reason shines. The meaning of writing is not obscure. The cause of writing is explained by name. In intonation, the meaning is grasped. The name explains clearly, those not yet awakened become aware. The three teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) share in this. The five vehicles share the same wheel track. Why do strangeness and difficulties enter the sūtras? The Laozi has profound and solitary harmony. Confucius stated immediately and directly. Ziyu and Zixia grasped his words. Qu and Song wrote brilliant poems. Those of the two Han periods were the ancestors of our words. The writers of the three countries were our older brothers. The essence of rhyme was transmitted by mind. Meter was transmitted orally. The successors of Shen Yue and the Liushan; the predecessors of Wang, Jiao, Cui and Rui. The theses on the four tones developed. The taboos of literary production were debated. Yellowed scrolls over flowed writing boxes. Carts were filled. On the path there are the poor yet cheerful, those who have abandoned the circles of copying, the child and the one who loves the pursuit of knowledge, making decisions without cause.

The mendicant (I), under the guidance of my maternal uncle, studied literature, studying abroad in Changan China and listening to other theses. Even though my strong motivation was quiet meditation, I did not waste this opportunity. 
Selection from the Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing in Kōbō daishi zenshō (Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi) translated by Ron Green (

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