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Monk Dengyo Daishi Saicho

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Dengyo Daishi Saicho
Monk Dengyo Daishi Saicho (767 - 822 AD)

Monk Dengyo Daishi Saicho is an Heian Era High Priest and is the founder of Tendai sect of Buddhism in Japan.  The Tendai faith were originally founded in China in around 538 AD but it was introduced to Japan by Monk Dengyo Daishi.  He along with Monk Kobo Daishi Kukai were responsible for two largest sects of Buddhism (Tendai and Shingon) in Japan.

Monk Dengyo Daishi's original name was Mitsukube Hirano, but he is also known by his nickname as Saicho as a young man.  He was born in a village in the northeastern suburbs of Kyoto city called Omi, on the shores of Lake Biwa.  His parents were Chinese immigrants and his father was a scholar and follower of the Chinese Buddhism doctrine called Confucianism.  Thus Monk Saicho grew up with the proper religious training of Buddhism (although of the Confucian faith).   As he became a young man, Saicho grew into a well known Buddhist scholar and preacher for the locals.  At the age of 19, Monk Saicho, decided to become a Buddhist Monk and moved to the Mt. Hiei mountains (Hieizan) in the suburbs of Kyoto, not too far from where he was born.  There he built a hut, where he prayed, studied and started his life as a Buddhist Monk.

During this time he has grown fond of a Chinese Buddhist faith called Tien-tai and chose those preachings as his Buddhist faith.

At this time, then Emperor Kammu, grew tired of the power hungry Nara Buddhist establishment moved the Capital City of Japan from Nara to Kyoto City in 794 AD.  After this move, Emperor Kammu, chose Monk Saicho as his high priest for the new capital. 

As Emperor Kammu developed immense admiration with young Monk Saicho, he commissioned him to go to China and study the Tien-tai sect further.  Thus Monk Saicho, ended up in China garnering all the knowledge about Tien-tai faith as he can.  On his return to Japan from China, Monk Saicho, now equipped with all the nuances of the Tien-tai sect officially introduced this faith to Japan as Tendai Sect on Mt. Hiei by erecting a new stupa and building many temples, now known as the Enryakuji Temple Complex

During his travels in China, Saicho also interacted with another young Monk from Japan travelling in China called Kukai (Monk Kobo Daishi).  But they had differences in believing which faith is better for the masses, thus never collaborated further.  And as such Monk Kukai went ahead with his version of the Buddhist faith called Shingon, where as Monk Saicho was responsible for the introduction of Tendai faith to Japan.

Upon his death, the Japanese Emperor elevated his status as the "Great Master" (Daishi) and gave him a title called Dengyo Daishi.  That is how he is currently known to all his followers "Monk Dengyo Daishi Saicho".

For many years after Monk Dengyo Daishi passed away, the Tendai faith of Buddhism was the official religion of Japan and was decreed as such by the ruling Emperors.  But soon, Shingon sect and other sects have taken away some of the followers of the Tendai sect.  Even with that Tendai sect is now considered one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan, with followers numbering into millions all over the world.

(Above, the picture of Monk Dengyo Daishi, courtesy of Enryakuji Temple website). 

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