April 19, 2022

Listening to Tennendo Kukai

Known as a calligrapher and poet who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhist teachings gained through the recitation of esoteric mantra, Kukai was an influential monk and the patriarch of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Kukai traveled to China in 804 C.E. to study under the Buddhist master Huiguo of the famed Ximing Temple in Chang'an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty. Huiguo had gathered the disparate elements of Indian and Chinese Esoteric Buddhism into a cohesive unified system, and after his death Kukai returned to Japan with these teachings as his acknowledged successor.

He would gain the favor of the emperor through the practice of chanting esoteric mantras that were said to create favor for the emperor over his rivals, maintain the harmony of the four seasons, and protect the nation in general. He would go on to found Kongobu-Ji Temple at Mount Koya, which serves as the central temple of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Known as Kobo-Daishi, the Great Mater of the Propagation of the Dharma, Kukai would occupy much of his time fundraising for the temple compound's considerable construction until his death in 835 C.E. Taking the Kobo-Daishi as inspiration, Tennendo Kudai provides a bold and masculine fragrance that seeks the clarity of the mantra Kukai espoused.

Tennendo describes Kukai as a "dignified scent based on the best Aloeswood of fragrant woods available." The dark intricate package is based upon a lacquer work that Kukai himself ordered, the restored box now considered a Japanese national treasure. The ripples in the pattern of Kasay, the robes of a fully ordained Buddhist monk, are drawn on one side of the black lacquer box, with giant fish, monsters, turtles, etc., on the other. Highlighting the dignified and elegant fragrance of the finest rich and spicy Aloeswood, Tennondo Kukai, like its packaging, is bold, masculine, and superb.

Tennendo Kukai's stick note is powerful, masculine, and sharp. Within rich leather notes providing a feeling of a luxurious sharp and spicy cologne, Kukai adds a musk top note that is rich, attention getting, and invigorating. The tan stick is strong and masculine, energetic and alive, full of potential. It is a stick that demands to be lit, to take action, and to be listened to.

Alight, Kukai begins with a soft sweet note of Aloeswood that is surprisingly reserved given the juxtaposition to the powerful masculinity of the unlit stick. Slowly this gives way to a wonderfully bitter Aloeswood note that begins to resume the rich earthy leather tones prior to lighting. Here notes of musk and a sharp spicy cologne come to the forefront, resuming Kukai's masculine feel so prominent while unlit. Throughout the burn, although the spicy sharp tones and musky cologne note are the most prominent, there is a soft sweet tone beneath akin to dark chocolate which is delightfully decadent and rounds off the rougher edges of Kukai's fragrance.

There is a depth and darkness to Kukai that gives a mysterious richness to the fragrance. It feels ancient, full of wisdom. Strength and solidity anchor Kukai to the senses with a feeling of protection and safety. Kukai's fragrance feels fatherly, like a strong patriarch that sets the tone for the family. As the burn continues, there is a richness that develops, deepening beyond the individual notes to a well developed chord that appears as the musky cologne permeates the senses. Deep, rich, luxurious, Kukai continues to soften the longer the burn continues, like a father's affection well earned, almost appearing somewhat sweet in its presentation.

Kukai would make a wonderful fragrance for meditation as the presentation is so consistent and full of richness. The longer the stick burns, repeating its mantra of individual notes, the more deeply the fragrance sinks into unconsciousness, allowing the mind to empty and dissolve within it. For a fragrance that is so overtly masculine, there is a softness that is welcoming to Kukai that feels restful, relaxing, and tranquil. Action, motion, and power are implied here, like that of a mountain reaching the clouds, yet a foundation of earthiness and solidity anchors Kukai to awareness as the mountain to the earth.

Kukai's after-note at first continues the depth of the burn, rich and dark, with lingering notes of a superb earthy Aloeswood hanging in the air. The sweet notes seen at the very start of the burn return, with a fruity dark chocolate mixing with a rich sweet tobacco note providing a delightful fragrance upon returning to the space. Kukai's after-note is outstanding, extremely long lasting, and with a multi-dimensioned presentation that is more dynamic and mutable than during the burn if only much more restrained and reserved.

With powerfully rich and spicy wood notes mixed with delightful musk tones, Kukai blends select spices and the highest quality Aloeswood into a magnificently masculine fragrance brimming with luxury. An experience of great depth and richness presented in a truly profound fragrance, Tennendo Kukai is a mantra worthy of repeating.

Breathing in,
spring green upon the trees.
Breathing out, I smile.

Tennendo Kukai is available in the following sizes: