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Statue of Gyōki, Kobe, Japan

Gyōki (行基?) (668–749) was a Japanese Buddhist priest of the Nara period, born in Ōtori county, Kawachi Province (present day Sakai, Osaka), to Son of Koshi no Saichi.[1] According to one theory, He was Korean descendent line.[2][3]

Gyōki became a monk at Asuka-dera temple in Nara at the age of 15, and studied under master Dōshō as one of his first pupils. Gyōki studied Yogacara (唯識), a core doctrine of Hosso, at Yakushi-ji. In 704, he returned to his birthplace to make his home into a temple, then started to travel around Japan to preach for commoners and help the poor.[4] He formed a volunteer group to help the poor mainly in the Kansai region, building 49 monasteries and nunneries that also functioned as hospitals for the poor.[5] Gyōki and his followers roamed the countryside, teaching common people about Buddhism, building temples that were more like community centers, and organizing irrigation and other public works projects to help the poor.[6]

Since regulations at the time strictly prohibited activities by priests outside their monastic compounds, his travelling around the country made him a non-official, private priest (i.e. not registered through the Office of Priestly Affairs (僧綱 Sōgō?)).[7] Gyōki and his followers were persecuted by the government, although Gyōki's popularity and administrative skill in public works later earned him a pardon from the government. Gyōki was later recognized, and in 745 became the first priest who was given the rank of Daisōjō.[5]

Gyōki-zu maps[edit]

Gyogi Bosatsu is widely recognized as the founder of mapping in Japan. "The proclaimed ‘founder’ of Japanese cartography was one Gyogi Bosatsu (668-­‐749AD), a Korean monk who spread the message of Buddhism around the nation along with the call to construct roads, bridges, and canals in the country. According to a 14th-century Tendai source, “the bodhisattva Gyoki [Gyogi] travelled Japan and determined the boundaries of the country…[and] at that time he drew what he saw: the shape of the country as a one-­‐pointed vajra.”[8] The Vajra is a symbol for both a thunderbolt and a diamond. Gyogi Bostasu saw, through travelling the mainland, that Japan was indeed shaped something like a lighting bolt—a symbol of the “natural force” of the land— and at the same time having the “irresistibility” of a diamond. Having worked in this irresistible locale his entire life, Gyogi Bosatsu is also often considered Japan’s first civil engineer, as he literally paved the way for infrastructure and the creation of places of worship. Thus, Gyogi-­type Buddhism is fundamentally congruent to the availability and specific imagery of early Japanese maps."[9]

"Even though no proof exists that Gyogi ever made a map himself, the term "Gyogi type maps" has come to be applied to early provincial maps he inspired... Their most notable feature... was the way in which they depicted the provinces in balloon shapes (round or oval) clustered around Kyoto, the capital. The main purpose of Gyogi-type maps seems to have been to show the relationships of the provinces with one another and the capital."[10]

"The earliest Japanese maps, attributed to a Buddhist priest called Gyogi Bosatsu (668-749), shows a curious affinity with modern notice boards in public parks. A scheme of outline loops showing land ownership and boundaries, with south generally at the top, characterized this form of mapmaking, a response to the government's need for feudal information. Examples of such estate surveys surviving from the Nara period in the eighth century (named after the ancient Japanese capital city). They are legible and informative, but unrelated to other aspects of accuracy. Although none of Gogyi's own maps survive today, cadastral maps in his style still exist in the Shosoin, an imperial archive from that time, and are shown occasionally in the city of Nara. The Gyogi style represented loyalty to a valid tradition. These schematic loops of information, rather than realistic shapes, continued well into the nineteenth century, as did the complex Buddhist world maps, which were also unrelated to knowledge of the world's shapes of land and sea, but rather, maps of a spiritual landscape."[11]

During the construction of Tōdai-ji, the government recruited Gyōki and his fellow ubasoku monks to organize labor and resources from the countryside. He contributed to building of Tōdai-ji and also built several ponds. He died on February 2, 749 at the age of 80 and was buried at Chikurin-ji, now in Ikoma, Nara. The Imperial Court in Kyoto posthumously granted him the title of Bosatsu in 751, so in Japan he is often referred to as Gyōki Bosatsu.[5][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "大僧正舎利瓶記" DaiZoujou-Sharibyouki (Epitaph of Gyōki)
  2. ^ Jonathan Morris Augustine. Buddhist hagiography in early Japan: images of compassion in the Gyōki tradition. 
  3. ^ "More about Monk Gyōki". A to Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary. Retrieved February 3, 2011.  "The “Great Priest” Gyoki (668-749 AD) was born in Osaka with Korean background "
  4. ^ Phyllis Jestice (2004). Holy people of the world: a cross-cultural encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. p. 335. ISBN 1-57607-355-6. 
  5. ^ a b c Abe, Ryuichi (1999). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. Columbia University Press. pp. 78–80. ISBN 0-231-11286-6. 
  6. ^ Ronald S. Green. "Gyōki, Bodhisattva of Japan (668-749)". Retrieved April 9, 2010. 
  7. ^ Augustine, Jonathan Morris (2005). Buddhist hagiographies in early Japan: images of compassion in the Gyōki tradition. London: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 8, 19–20. ISBN 0-415-32245-6. 
  8. ^ Max Moerman, Demonology and Eroticism: Islands of Women in the Japanese Buddhist Imagination. (Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2009) 357.
  10. ^ Waters, John K. 1999. "Ten Thousand Rare and Valuable things." Mercator's World. Volume 4 (1) January/February 1999. Pages 16-17.
  11. ^ Franklin, Colin. 1997. "A Western View of Japanese Mapmaking." Mercator's World. Volume 2 (1). January/February 1997. ISSN: 1086-6728. Pages 29-30.
  12. ^ Rekishigaku Nihon Kokunai Iinkai (1965), Japan at the XIIth International Congress of Historical Sciences in Vienna (snippet), Nihon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai, p. 7, "Inoue Kaoru discusses Gyōki, a low-born Buddhist priest who worked for the Great Image of Buddha at the Todaiji." 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cortazzi, Hugh. 1983. Isles of Gold: Antique Maps of Japan. Weatherhill Publishers.
  • De, Bary, and Yoshiko Dykstra. Sources of Japanese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • Nakamura, Kyoko. Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition. Surrey: Curzon, 1997.

External links[edit]