Book Reviews of Sacred Koyasan: A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha

Sacred Koyasan: A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha
Sacred Koyasan A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha
Author: Philip L. Nicoloff
ISBN-13: 9780791472606
ISBN-10: 0791472604
Publication Date: 11/8/2007
Pages: 336
Rating:
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
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5 stars, based on 1 rating
Publisher: State University of New York Press
Book Type: Paperback
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reviewed Sacred Koyasan: A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha on + 5 more book reviews
From Amazon:
From the Back Cover
For more than one thousand years, the vast Buddhist monastery and temple complex on remote Mount KÅya has been one of Japan's most important religious centers. Saint KÅbÅ Daishi (also known as KÅ«kai), founder of the esoteric Shingon school and one of the great figures of world Buddhism, consecrated the mountain for holy purposes in the early 800s. Buried on KÅyasan, KÅbÅ Daishi is said to be still alive, selflessly advocating for the salvation of all sentient beings.

Located south of Osaka, KÅyasan has attracted visitors from every station of Japanese life, and in recent years, more than a million tourists and pilgrims visit annually. In Sacred KÅyasan, the first book-length study in English of this holy Buddhist mountain, Philip L. Nicoloff invites readers to accompany him on a pilgrimage. Together with the author, the pilgrim-reader ascends the mountain, stays at a temple monastery, and explores KÅyasan's main buildings, sacred statues, mandalas, and famous forest cemetery. Author and reader participate in the full annual cycle of rituals and ceremonies, and explore the life and legend of KÅbÅ Daishi and the history of the mountain.

Written for both the scholarly and general reader, Sacred KÅyasan will appeal to potential travelers, dedicated armchair travelers, and all readers interested in Buddhism and Japanese culture.

"This is a well-rounded historical and contemporary account of one of the most important sacred sites in Japan. The author opens up a significant area of inquiry for those studying Buddhism and Japanese culture, and integrates the personal dimension with the historical materials in a fascinating and compelling way." -- Steven Heine, author of DÅgen and the KÅan Tradition: A Tale of Two ShÅbÅgenzÅ Texts

Amazon REader review:
Scintillating Summation of a Sacred Summit, February 7, 2008
By Crazy Fox (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Sacred Koyasan: A Pilgrimage to the Mountain Temple of Saint Kobo Daishi and the Great Sun Buddha (Paperback)
Okay, just to put all the cards on the table, I was already predisposed in this book's favor at first sight. Shingon Buddhism and its founder, Kukai (Kobo Daishi), sparked my intense fascination all those years ago when I first started acquainting myself with Japan and Japanese Buddhism and has remained a persistent if sometimes understated obsession ever since. And my visits to Shingon's mountain headquarters, the extensive temple complex up on Koyasan, remain one of my fondest memories of the 1990's. So, yes, I was thrilled to see a substantial book-length study of Koyasan finally come out in English. And given Koyasan's immense importance as a religious site, about time too!

Given all that, the book still exceeded my expectations and is probably one of the most thoroughly enjoyable as well as brass-tacks informative books I've read in quite a while. The style is deceptively informal and colloquial, even a bit cheesy now and then, but a veritable mountain of painstakingly thorough research and years of firsthand experience have been weaved into this narrative with a deeply serious enthusiasm that only comes from true labors of love. All of which trumps the fact that, in a way, this is not a specialized work of groundbreaking original scholarship in the sense that something new has been translated and/or analyzed in expert's jargon. Rather it is a superb synthesis of such studies skillfully and accessibly unpacked while informed by a keen observational eye--all rendered in the engaging format of a kind of personally meaningful travelogue.

Indeed, a vividly concrete account of getting to and leaving Koyasan frames the main body of the work, the latter of which comes alive with detailed descriptions of the main buildings of this extensive temple complex--what they're like, what they contain, what goes on there, their place in the overall institutional framework, and such--AND the temple town and its many old and quirky shops (including a venerably vintage sake shop) as well as Koyasan's many and varied ritual and festival cycles all taking place at these many locations. Coupled with this and giving it depth is a highly reliable retelling of the life and thought of the man who established Koyasan in the 800's, Kukai (Kobo Daishi) along with the many legends that grew up around him--and then a fascinating and thorough history of Koyasan starting with Kukai's immediate disciples and following the tale through the ages up until the Meiji persecutions of the late 1800's and on into present times. One also gets a good solid portrait of the average life of a monk at Koyasan from youth to old age, from novice to head of the Shingon order.

A short review such as this actually can't do justice to both the variety and the fine level of detail packed not only in the main narrative but also in the footnotes. Definitely check the latter or you'll be missing out. That said, this is not a travel guide in the sense that you are given info about travel routes and accommodations and such; if you are actually planning to physically visit Koyasan, you will want to consult other sources for that. But for understanding what's actually going on once you get there this book might very well be almost indispensably useful. Anyway, whether you're riding up the cable car starting your own pilgrimage or sitting somewhere on the other side of the world imagining it all, "Sacred Koyasan" is just the thing for getting into the spirit of this holy place at once highly civilized and cozily rustic, quietly austere and exuberantly festive, mystically esoteric and down-home familiar, freshly contemporary and old as the hills.