Confucius was useless. To a disciple inquiring, “May I ask about death?” he’d replied, “You do not even understand life. How can you understand death?”

Growing up in rural Shikoku in the late eighth century, a boy destined for greatness rebelled against being trained for distinguished mediocrity. His name was Kukai. We know him better as Kobo Daishi, a title posthumously bestowed, meaning roughly “great Buddhist sage.” What could Confucianism teach of life if it shrank from facing death? Was death not universal? Kukai sought — demanded — universal, all-encompassing truth. Nothing less would do.

Unable to view this article?

This could be due to a conflict with your ad-blocking or security software.

Please add japantimes.co.jp and piano.io to your list of allowed sites.

If this does not resolve the issue or you are unable to add the domains to your allowlist, please see out this support page.

We humbly apologize for the inconvenience.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.