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Bodhisena was a Buddhist monk from south India who had an important role to play in the development of Japanese culture. In the 8th century there were many Indian monks in China teaching Dhamma and translating Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. In 730 the Japanese envoy to the Chinese court, met Bodhisena and invited him to visit Japan . After a harrowing journey Bodhisena and his party, which included an Indian lay man named Buttetsu, arrived in Osaka and later moved to Nara , the capital.

The Japanese had previously had contact with Chinese and Korean monks but being from the land of the Buddha Bodhisena was looked upon by his hosts as having particular authority and he was treated with extraordinary reverence. He was asked to consecrate the newly completed giant Buddha statue in the Todaiji Temple in Nara . Over the next decades Bodhisena expounded the Dhamma, taught Sanskrit and is credited with influencing the development of the Japanese kana script. In recognition of his saintliness and learning in 750 he was appointed head of the Sangha in Japan . For his part, Buttetsu introduced the principles of Indian music and dance to Japan , choreographed dances for the royal court, and composed a book for teaching Sanskrit. Bodhisena died in 760 at the age of 57.

Bodhisena (Sanskrit बोधिसेन Chinese and Japanese 菩提僊那) (704–760) was an Indian Buddhist scholar and monk, known for traveling to Japan and establishing the Kegon school, the Japanese transmission of the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism.

His stay has been noted in the official history records called the Shoku Nihongi, where he is referred to as Bodai-Senna.

Early years

Bodhisena got mystical inspiration from Manjusri Bodhisattva. He initially went to China, having heard that he could meet the incarnation of Manjusri at Mount Wutai. However, on reaching Mount Wutai, he was told the incarnation was in Japan. He also became acquainted with the tenth Japanese ambassador to China, Tajihi no Mabito Hironari. He also met the Japanese monk Rikyo.
Voyage to Japan

On the invitation of Emperor Shōmu, he visited Japan to spread the use of Sanskrit and establish Huayan Buddhism in the country. He traveled with the Japanese delegation of Tajihi no Hironari, via Cambodia and Champa in Vietnam.

On the same ship were other important historical figures.

They included the traveling companions Genbō and Kibi no Makibi. Genbo was a monk and was returning from China with the over 5,000 fascicles that made up the Chinese Buddhist Canon. Kibi brought with him the arts of embroidery, playing the lyre, and the game of Go. Kibi is also said to have invented katakana, whose Sanskrit influence is attributed to Bodhisena. The Man'yōshū contains a poem by Kibi about a crow that fed on rice grown by a Brahmin.

The famous Chinese Buddhist monk Dōsen (道璿, Chinese Daoxuan, 702–760) greeted him upon arrival.

Accompanying Bodhisena was a Cambodian priest and musician called Fo-t'ieh in Chinese (also known as Buttetsu and Fat-triet). He later resided at Daian-ji with Bodhisena, and wrote a work on the Sanskrit alphabet. He also composed religious dances representing subjects taken from Indian mythology, which came to be known as Rin'yu-gaku or Champa dances. These dances were still extant in the early 20th century.
Life in Japan

The party arrived at Naniwa (Osaka) in August 736 and was met by the monk Gyoki.

According to a number of sources, Gyoki and Bodhisena recognised each other from a past life. According to the Shui Wakashu, quoting from the Tōdaiji Yōroku, Gyoki stated that they were together at Vulture Peak when the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisena, called the "Baramon Sojo" (Brahmin Priest), additionally refers to them being together at Kapilavastu. He also recognised Gyoki as the reincarnation of the boddhisatva Manjusri he was seeking. Their exchange is recorded thus:


    On the Holy Mount,
    In the presence of Sakya,
    The self consistent
    Truth we swore has not decayed:
    I have met with you again!

Baramon Sojo in reply:

    The vow we swore
    Together at Kapilavastu
    Has borne fruit:
    For the face of Manjusri
    I have seen again today!

Gyoki conducted Bodhisena to Nara and presented him to the emperor. He was treated with great honour and lodged in the temple called Daian-ji, where he founded Kogen Buddhism and also taught Sanskrit

In 752, Emperor Shōmu asked him to perform the eye-opening ceremony for the giant bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana built in Tōdai-ji. Dosen also played a significant role. The painting of the eyes was done by Bodhisena.

After a visit to Mount Tomi (Nara), Bodhisena petitioned the emperor to name the prayers' hall there Ryōsen-ji (霊山寺?), as he found the place to strongly resemble the mountain in India where Buddha preached, known as Vulture Peak, or Ryoujusen (霊鷲山) in Japanese.

Bodhisena resided in Daian-ji (大安寺) in Heijō-kyō for the rest of his life. He died on February 25, 760 at Daian-ji temple, and was buried on the Ryoujusen (霊鷲山) mountain, following his wish when he died.


Japan’s traditional court dance and music still preserve some of the forms introduced by Bodhisena into Japan.

The fortyseven letters of the Japanese alphabet are said to have been devised after the pattern of the Sanskrit alphabet by the Japanese Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi (774-835 AD). The arrangement of the Japanese syllabary based on the Sanskrit system is also attributed to the influence of Bodhisena in Japan, which, according to Riri Nakayama, “will continue as long as the Japanese language continues to exist”.
See also