The excavated finds of Darumaji, and the Legend of Shotoku Taishi and his encounter with the starving beggar


Darumaji Temple, Ōji Town, Nara Prefecture

Darumaji is a temple belonging to the Nanzenji branch of Rinzai Zen tradition in Nara. The temple appears in the Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan) entry for December of the 21st year of the reign of Emperor Suiko (613), as well as in the later legend (from late-Heian to early Kamakura-times) and the temple maintains a tradition of having been founded upon the legendary story of Prince Shōtoku and a starving man at Mt. Kataoka, who turns out to be none other than Daruma Taishi (Bodhidharma).

The temple has achieved some public interest and attention due to the crystal quartz reliquary in the shape of a Five Elements Stupa and the stone Hokyoin pagoda excavated from (what is said to be the starving man’s grave) below the main hall (see below).

During repairs to the main hall, a small stone chamber was detected with a stone stupa deposited in upright position. A square hole had been carved into the body of the stupa, in which a haji ware lidded vessel had been placed, within which a quartz crystal reliquary in the shape of a Five Elements Stupa was found, in which a relic had been placed.

stupa in situglass stupa

Left: Stone stupa as deposited. Removing the ceiling stone (of natural stone), the stone stupa made of volcanic tuff was found deposited in upright position. The stone chamber, square in horizontal plan and 50 cm to a side by 80 cm deep, consisted of piled up natural stone and roof tiles. From within the stone chamber minute amounts of dispersed cremated bone were also recovered. Right: Quartz crystal reliquary in the shape of a Five Elements Stupa

According to the report of the excavations of Darumaji:

A stone stupa, ordinarily erected above ground, being deposited in an underground stone chamber in upright fashion, is exceedingly rare. From a typological examination of the artifacts, including the stone stupa, and the results of investigations in the vicinity of the main hall, the deposit is inferred to have been made around the mid 13th century. As the grave (kofun) of the starving man, held to have been an incarnation of Bodhidharma, was repaired at about the same time that Darumaji was founded, it is thought that the stone stupa was deposited in connection with the repair of the tomb. These artifacts and features may be evaluated as showing a new facet of Buddhist relic belief that was popular nationwide in the Medieval period.

Extract from: Darumaji: A stone stupa deposited upright, a new facet of Medieval Buddhist relic belief by Okajima Eishō, Yamada Takafumi (

The Nihon shoki describes an episode of Shotoku’s sympathetically reaching out to a starving man:

Suiko 21 (613) 12th month,1st day. Prince Shotoku traveled to Kataoka. At that time,a starving man was lying by the side of the road. Accordingly,the crown prince asked him his name,but the man did not respond. Shotoku, observing this situation, provided the man with food and water and removed the coat he was wearing and covered the starving man with it. He said to him,“Lie there in peace.” Shotoku then sang this verse:

On the sunny hill of Mount Kataoki,

Look! There lies a poor traveler

Starving for food.

Were you born without parents?

Without a lord prosperous as a bamboo?

Look! There lies a poor traveler

Starving for food.

The Prince and the Monk: Shotoku Worship in Shinran Worship, K.D.Y. Lee

The dying beggar tale gets developed with more embellishments with later version over time (see p. 54, The Prince and the Monk…), along with the enlarged sage and eventually kami status of Shotoku Taishi.

For more readings on the legend see:

A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup p. 113-114

Shotoku and Daruma

Sand and Pebbles (Shasekishū): The Tales of Mujū Ichien, a Voice for Pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism p. 180  By Mujū Ichien, Robert E. Morrell

The Prince and the Monk: Shōtoku Worship in Shinran’s Buddhism by Kenneth Doo Lee. Page 54 the embellishments to the dying beggar tale and the development of the legendary sage and kami status of Shotoku Taishi

Shosan on Daruma’s nen

Darumaji Temple, Ōji Town, Nara Prefecture

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