Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": KUYA- 'THE SAINT OF THE STREETS'


The rise of Pure Land Buddhism was not merely an outgrowth of the new feudal society, translating into religious terms the profound social changes which then took place. Already in the late Heian period we find individual monks who sensed the need for bringing Buddhist faith within the reach of the ordinary man, and thus anticipated the mass religious movements of medieval times. Kuya (903-72), a monk on Mt. Hiei, was one of these. The meditation on the Buddha Amida, which had long been accepted as an aid to the religious life, he promoted as a pedestrian devotion. Dancing through the city streets with a tinkling bell hanging from around his neck, Kuya called out the name of Amida and sang simple songs of his own composition, such as:

He never fails

To reach the Lotus Land of Bliss

Who calls,

If only once,

The name of Amida


A far, far distant land

Is Paradise,

I've heard them say;

But those who want to go

Can reach there in a day.

In the market places all kinds of people joined him in his dance and sang out the invocation to Amida, 'Namu Amida Butsu.' When a great epidemic struck the capital, he proposed that these same people join him in building an image of Amida in a public square, saying that common folk could equal the achievement of their rulers, who had built the Great Buddha of Nara, if they cared to try. In country districts he built bridges and dug wells for the people where these were needed, and to show that no one was to be excluded from the blessings of Paradise, he travelled into regions inhabited by the Ainu and for the first time brought to many of them the evangel of Buddhism.

Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), PP. 193-4

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