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Statue of Kûya by Kôshô, held at Rokuharamitsu-ji in Kyoto
  • Born: 903
  • Died: 972
  • Japanese: 空也 (Kuuya)

Kûya, or Kûya Shônin, was a Tendai monk and prominent early proponent of the recitation of the nenbutsu (i.e. chanting the name of Amida Buddha as a means to gain salvation).

He is known for walking through the streets chanting the nenbutsu and singing songs about Amida. He preached not only in the streets of Kyoto and the surrounding provinces, but is said to have even made his way as far north as Tôhoku or Ezo, where he preached to members of the Ainu community.[1]

A famous sculpture of Kûya, by Kôshô (c. 1230), depicts the monk carrying a staff topped by deer antlers, and with a series of tiny Buddhas emerging from his mouth, a representation of the nenbutsu being chanted and of its spiritual effect. The sculpture, held at the Rokuharamitsu-ji in Kyoto, was moved to a safer place outside the city during WWII; Lennox Tierney of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program ("Monuments Men") division in Japan played some role in ensuring its safety following the war, and its return to the temple.[2]


  • “Amida, The Pure Land, and the Response of the Old Buddhism to the New.” in Wm. Theodore De Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition, Second Edition, Columbia University Press (New York, 2001), 212-213.
  1. Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 53.
  2. Lindsay Whitehurst, "Utah professor was a real-life ‘Monuments Man’," Salt Lake Tribune, 2 Feb 2014.