Kuya statue stands as beacon in dark times

Standing Saint Kuya

A statue of the Buddhist monk Kuya is known for having small statues of Buddhas emerging from his mouth. The statue, usually kept in Kyoto, is currently on display at the special exhibition “The Saint Kuya and Rokuharamitsuji Temple” at the Tokyo National Museum through May 8. It marks the first time in half a century that people can see it in Tokyo.

The six Buddha statues represent Amitabha Buddha. Kuya was known for his tireless efforts to teach Buddhism by chanting, “I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha.”

Kuya was active in the middle of the Heian period (794 to late 12th century) amid rampant plagues and a series of events such as earthquakes, flooding and uprisings by Taira no Masakado and Fujiwara no Sumitomo. The disasters especially afflicted the common people.

The Buddhist monk helped the poor and sick throughout his life, earning him the nickname “Ichi no Hijiri,” a saint living among the ordinary people.

The standing statue, believed to be from the early Kamakura period (late 12th century to 1333), is only 117 centimeters tall, but its muscular appearance in a simple outfit so overwhelms many viewers that they cannot help but feel like standing straighter before it.

The statue is enshrined at Rokuharamitsuji temple in Kyoto and is normally only seen from the front, but at the Tokyo exhibition, visitors can view it from all angles.

With conflict and disease again creating an uneasy society, it may be even more special to some visitors to view the statue of Kuya. It will be a great opportunity to imprint into one’s mind the image of the saint who lived for the sake of others in trying times.