Kuya (Koya) (空也)

Kuya or Koya (903 - September 11, 972) was a priest in the mid-Heian period. He is called Amida-hijiri, Ichi-no-hijiri and Ichi-no-shonin, and is recognized as the founder of pure-land teachings (Jodo-kyo) among the people.

He became a priest at a provincial monastery in Owari Province. Since his youth he had visited various provinces as a lay disciplinant, implemented social projects such as construction of roads, bridges and temples with reciting Myogo (Amida's name) of Namu Amidabutsu, and gathered followers widely without regard to their affluence or poverty. In 938 he recommended Buddhist invocation in Kyoto. In 948 he was given vows to follow the precepts by Ensho, the temple's head priest in Mt. Hiei-zan, but there is an opinion that he had a stronger relationship with Nara Buddhist society, particularly with the Sanron sect, as opposed to the Tendai sect. In 951 he made some statues including Juichimen Kannon (Kannon with eleven faces) (which exists in Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple). Additionally, he started to copy Kinji Dai-hannya-kyo Sutra in 950, and in 963 he held a mass for a large gathering of people on the shore of the Kamo-gawa River (Yodo-gawa River system). Through these activities he also deepened the relationship with aristocrats such as FUJIWARA no Saneyori. He died at the age of 70 in Higashiyama Saiko-ji Temple (later Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple).

His disciples became pioneers of 'Nenbutsu-hijiri,' such as Koya-hijiri, who as practitioners of Jodo-kyo caused it to become widespread among the people after the medieval times, and this had a great influence on Ippen during the Kamakura period. He is also admired as the founder of Odori Nenbutsu and Rokusai Nenbutsu (both of which mean "to recite Namu Amidabutsu while dancing"), but there is no evidence that Kuya himself practiced the so-called Odori-Nenbutsu.

According to "Kuya-rui," written by MINAMOTO no Tamenori, and "Nihon Ojo Gokuraku-ki," by YOSHISHIGE no Yasutane, there was a view that Kuya had descended from the Imperial Family (as an illegitimate child of the Emperor Daigo) during his life, but he did not voluntarily speak about his parents.

[Original Japanese]