The Legend of the Origins of The Esoteric Teachings
According to Shingon legend, Vajrasattva, after having been initiated by Mahavairocana into the deepest mysteries of Buddhism, hid himself within an iron tower in southern India. There the Bodhisattva concealed himself for centuries, until Nagarjuna opened the Iron Tower and, according to one version of this legend, received from Vajrasattva the two major sutras of Shingon Buddhism, the Mahavairocana Sutra and the Vajrasekhara Sutra.
Herein lies the fundamental teaching and practice of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. Our bodies, speech, and minds in their present state become the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha, and we thereby become a buddha. This is the realm of the deep but lofty enlightenment that is unique to Shingon Buddhism.Dainichi Nyorai, The Chief Deity In Shingon Buddhism
In General Buddhism, it is said that Buddhism was taught by the Buddha Sakyamuni. The Shingon Tradition however teaches that it was the dharmakaya Buddha, the Tathagata Mahavairocana, and not Íakyamuni, who taught the Shingon teachings.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches that there are three bodies (kayas) or modes of manifestation of the principal of enlightenment in the world:
1. the Dharmakaya (hosshin)
2. the Sambhogakaya (hojin)
3. the Nirmanakaya (ojin)
In other words, there are three way in which we may view the Buddha, The Enlightened One. The follower should always remember that these three are one truth, or in the words of the Shingon Tradition, "the three bodies are one (sanjin soku itsu)."The Dharmakaya
The dharmakaya is that aspect of the Buddha which has eternal and unchanging existence. This is the foundation of being of all things in the universe. It is also the underlying foundation of being of the two other bodies of the Buddha. In the Shingon Tradition, the dharmakaya Buddha is given the name "Mahavairocana."The Sambhogakaya
The word "sambhoga" means "reward" or " recompense." When a highly advanced Bodhisattva cultivates many religious practices, these practice -- which are likened to a seed -- bear fruit (have their reward) in his attainment of Buddhahood. This state of his Buddhahood is the body of a Buddha known as sambhogakaya. In his sambhogakaya form, the Buddha appears as very large, in his glory, surrounded by hundreds of attendant Devas and Bodhisattvas, and dwelling in his Pure Land. Two examples of sambhogakaya Buddhas are Amitabha, who lives in his Pure Land, Sukhavati, and the Buddha Aksobhya, who lives in his Pure Land Abhirati.The Nirmanakaya
The Sanskrit word "Nirmana" means " a phantom" or " a ghost." A form that is ultimately unreal, temporary, and without absolute substance. This form that the Buddha assumes, for a while, in order to teach sentient beings. A form that he assumes in order to resemble those persons he is preaching to. This is the form of the historic Buddha, the Buddha Íakyamuni. The real form of the historic Buddha Íakyamuni, who was born in North India, who attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, and who died at the age of eighty, is actually that of the dharmakaya.
In Shingon Buddhism, many buddhas are enshrined as the Chief Deity of devotion. These different buddhas each have their own unique vows and powers to help. In other words, they lead us to salvation through the power of their vows and compassion to save all living beings. For example, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Kannon Bosatsu), Bhaisjyaguru Tathagata (Yakushi Nyorai), Acala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), Shoten (Ganesa), and also Kobo Daishi can all be enshrined as the main deity; and therefore Shingon temples have a variety of main deities.
To explain it this way might lead one to think that the deities in Shingon Buddhism are confusingly unsystematic, but actually this is not the case. As indicated by the Vajradhatu and the Garbhakosa Mandalas that are in Shingon temples, there is a system and an interconnectedness to the deities, and it can be said that the main objects of worship in Shingon Buddhism are these two Mandalas.
However, when we meditate on these Mandalas, we note that Mahavairocana Buddha is at the center, and that surrounding him are all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and devas that are protective deities.
Each temple, according to its past relationships and lineage, enshrines a certain deity in the Mandala as its main deity. In all matters, Shingon Buddhism takes these Mandalas as its foundation, and the overall main deity is Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), while all of the many other buddhas are emanations of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), which is the absolute Dharma Body, and manifest themselves in the world in order to enlighten all living beings.
Therefore, even though in Shingon Buddhism the overall main deity is Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), it is all right to have an affinity for another buddha and call it one's main deity. Although the main deity in each temple is different from each other, in Shingon Buddhism the Mandalas are the main tenets, and there is a deep significance to the fact that people can establish their own respective deity for salvation and as their main deity. However, we do need to touch briefly on the matter of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) as the overall main deity and Kobo Daishi as the main deity in Daishi belief.
The first virtue of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) is his universal radiance that dispels the darkness, and his ability to destroy suffering and despair. His second virtue is that his radiance has neither beginning nor end, and the light of his wisdom is like the sun, which always shines regardless of whether it is day or night. His third virtue is his ability to enlighten living beings, and the greatness of his compassion expresses the fact the he is the parent of life that continues to nourish allliving beings at all times. Kobo Daishi, whom we refer to as the Daishi and enshrine as a main deity, contains all the virtues of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) and saves all living beings as a Bodhisattva eternally alive.The Teachings of the Mahavairocana Sutra
Shingon Buddhism takes the seven chapters of the Mahavairocana Sutra (Dainichi-kyo) as the basic sutra for propagation, and has spread the belief in it to people. Its fundamental doctrine is explained in the "Chapter on the Stages of the Mind" in the first chapter. At the beginning of that chapter, it says,
"How do we become enlightened?
It is by knowing our own mind as it truly is."
Human beings have the complete virtues of the Buddha in their own minds, and this mind that bears the virtues of the Buddha is called the mind that aspires to realize enlightenment. This is the first thing that must be understood.
The doctrines of Shingon Buddhism and the teachings of Kobo Daishi can be said to begin and end with the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment. The Mahavairocana Sutra is a sutra that explains the virtues of Mahavairocana Buddha, who is the source of life, and those virtues of the Buddha are expressed in the Sanskrit letter "A" (), which is pronounced "Ah". This letter A is the mind that aspires to be enlightened, and knowing one's own mind is to know one's own aspiration for the realization of enlightenment.
Kobo Daishi also said,
"The letter A is the mind that aspires to realize enlightenment."
The process by which one develops a single drop of the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment and becomes a buddha in this body is explained in the Mahavairocana Sutra in three phrases. The three phrases are as follows.
1.Make the aspiration for realizing enlightenment the cause;
2.Make great compassion the foundation of your actions; and
3.Perfect skillful means.
These phrases indicate the process for becoming a buddha in this body, and also clarify the content of that enlightenment.
First of all, raising the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment is the starting point for becoming a buddha. Next, it says that it is to be nurtured by taking action only through the Buddha?s ample compassion. Safeguarded by that compassion, we can move toward our objectives in all things, and even the attainment of enlightenment is through the power of the Buddha?s great compassion. The third phrase speaks of skillful means as the objective of perfection, and skillful means here refers to the skillful means for benefiting others. These three phrases explain that we must thoroughly engage in the Bodhisattva practice of contributing to the welfare and benefit of the world until the end of our lives.
When we contemplate our own minds, bodies, and lives, we see that the doctrinal teachings of Shingon Buddhism from the beginning to the end explain the centrality of the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment and the unity of ourselves with the Buddha, and we come to understand the teaching of nonduality in which human beings are equal with and not distinct from the Buddha.
What the belief in "be kind to all life," means is that we know the dignity of our own lives, and can discover in our own existences the realization of enlightenment and the lifeforce of the Buddha.Teachings of the Vajrasekhara
The Vajrasekhara (Kongocho-kyo), along with the Mahavairocana Sutra (Dainichi kyo), are the basic sutras for Shingon Buddhism. In Shingon Buddhism faith is propagated with these two great sutras forming the two wheels of a cart.
Kobo Daishi?s teacher, Master Hui-kuo (Keika) of the Blue Dragon Temple in Chiang-an of T'ang China, consolidated the Esoteric Buddhism based on the Dainichi-kyo with that based on the Kongocho-kyo, and Kobo Daishi received the entirety of these two lines.
Like the Mahavairocana Sutra (Dainichi-kyo), the Vajrasekhara explains the teaching of becoming a buddha in this body, which is the central doctrine of Esoteric Buddhism. Its formal title is "Sutra of the King of the Great Teaching Attested to in Mahayåna Bearing the Truth of All the Buddhas at the Vajra Peak." As expressed in this title, this sutra teaches the process by which the thirty-seven deities of the Vajradhatu Mandala actually embodied the truth of becoming a buddha in this body.
Therefore, as contrasted to the Mahavairocana Sutra, which is the sutra for the aspect of teaching the fundamentals of doctrine, the Kongocho-kyo is considered to be the sutra for the practical aspect that teaches the practices and the process for actually becoming a buddha.
Central to the Kongocho-kyo is what is called "the Meditation for Attaining the Buddha?s Body in Five Aspects," which is a process of practice and a method for becoming a buddha in this body. This is also referred to as "Attaining the Buddha?s Body Through Five Transformations," or "Attaining the Buddha?s Body Through the Five Methods."
They are presented here as follows.
1.Getting in touch with the basic mind.
This is the self-realization that we have the mind that aspires to be enlightened within our hearts.
2. Putting into practice the mind that aspires to realize enlightenment.
This involves the cultivation of the mind that aspires to be enlightened so that it gradually becomes pure and is enlarged.
3. Attaining the Vajra Mind.
As a result of cultivation, the mind that aspires to be enlightened becomes firm and hard like a Diamond gemstone.
4. Attesting to the Vajra Body.
This involves the realization of the Buddha nature that is within the mind and body, the attainment of an indestructible body, and becoming a Bodhisattva who always saves living beings.
5. The perfect fulfillment of the Buddha's body.
This is called the Vajra State of Mind in which our own minds and bodies come to share the same essence as that of the Buddha, and by attaining eternal enlightenment we conclude the process of becoming a buddha in this body.
Even by looking only briefly at the central doctrines of the Kongocho-kyo, we can understand the general essence of the teaching of Shingon Buddhism. The source for faith in and the teachings for fully developing our minds and bodies as the life of the Buddha is explained in the Kongocho-kyo. Certainly the fundamentals for the belief in the life that gives life are to be found here.Experiencing The Mandala
A Mandala is a symbolic representation of the Universe or a part of the Universe. A Mandala must also be seen as complete within itself for every part is holographic and expresses the whole. Since ancient times it has been recognized that words alone can not completely describe the vibrational essence of a particular deity. Generally a Mandala is a picture that describes the universe, or a part of the Universe, but it can also be a set of statues (like at Toji), a temple complex (like Koyasan or Borabadur, in Java) or any three dimensional representation. In Shingon traditionally there are two Mandalas that were brought back from China to Japan by Kobo Daishi. These represent the two lineages that combined to form Shingon. In India Mandala means a perfect circle. In the Indian tradition a circular altar was formed that become the place for invoking the spirit of the deity or deities during ritual ceremonies.
In explaining Mandalas, Kobo Daishi distinguished four types:1. The Maha-Mandala
In Sanskrit Maha-Mandala means the Great Mandala. The Great Mandala expresses the entire universe in which, viewed broadly, human beings and all living things maintain harmony and interdependence with each other. It includes all of the other Mandalas.2. Samaya Mandala
Samaya is a Sanskrit word that means vow. The buddhas and bodhisattvas express their respective vows through their hands by forming mudras, or holding lotus blossoms, swords or other objects. The mudrås and handheld objects capture and express the essence that is hidden within that vow.3. Dharma Mandala
Dharma, in Sanskrit, means teaching or transmission. The methods for transmitting the mind of the Buddha to people are the sutras, Sanskrit words, and the names of the buddhas. The essence of the teaching is contained in bîja or seed mantras. Generally speaking, this refers to language, words, and written texts.4. Karma Mandala
Karma, in Sanskrit, means action, and this Mandala refers to the actions of the Buddha to teach and save people. In a broad sense, it refers to the actions and functions of everything in the universe, including the activities of people.
These four Mandalas depict the entire universe of the life force of the Buddha, but since we cannot easily understand them, the theory of these four Mandalas have been drawn as iconographic figures of the buddhas on two Mandalas, the Vajradhatu Mandala and the Garbhakosa Mandala, which Kobo Daishi received from his master Hui-kuo. The term Mandala usually refers to these two.
In the main halls of Shingon temples, scrolls of these Mandalas are enshrined. As one faces them, the one on the left is the Vajradhatu Mandala and the one on the right is the Garbhakosa Mandala. They both contain all of the buddhas meditated on in Shingon Buddhism, and in a real sense the Mandalas can be spoken of as the main objects of worship in Shingon Buddhism. In the Vajradhatu Mandala there are 1,461 deities, and in the Garbhakosa Mandala there are 414 (there are differences according to traditions). The Vajradhatu is divided into nine sections and is therefore referred to also as the Mandala of the Nine Assemblies, while the Garbhakosa is divided and arranged into twelve groups and is also called the Twelve Divisions of the Garbhakosa. All of these buddhas work for the salvation of this world.
The Vajradhatu Mandala represents the world of the buddhas explained in the Vajra Peak Sutra, while the Garbhakosa Mandala expresses the truth of the buddhas described in the Mahavairocana Sutra (Great Sun Sutra). Both Mandalas represent the true aspect and life of the universe explained by Shingon Buddhism.
At first glance, a Mandala may look disorganized, but if we look carefully and think about it, we see that it moves through a maintained order and harmony. That order is depicted in the Mandala through the forms of the many buddhas that praise and make offerings to Mahavairocana Buddha, the most important deity located in the center. This is a schematic of the world of the Buddha, which is called Mitsugon Bukkoku, the Marvelously Splendid Land of the Buddha.
The Vajradhatu Mandala expresses the function of the Buddha?s sturdy wisdom existing in all of the universe, and can therefore be spoken of as the activities of the masculine side of life. The Garbhakosa Mandala is also referred to by another name, the Great Compassion Mandala, and it manifests the mind of the Buddha?s abundant compassion that continually exists in the universe. Mahavairocana Buddha?s mind of compassion is manifested in the Garbhakosa Mandala and they manifest in Avalokitesvara (Kannon) Bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha (Jizo) Bodhisattva, Acala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), Great Heavenly Saint of Joy (Sho Ten), Vaisravana (Bishamonten), Sarasvati (Ben Ten), and Mahakala (Daikoku Ten), which are all deities with whom we are intimate since they bestow upon us compassion and joy. A central current flowing through life is the caring mind that gives birth to many things and nurtures them, and we can speak of these as the activities of the maternal side of life. The Mandalas represent, first of all, harmony and order; secondly, offerings and a focus point; and thirdly, wisdom and compassion. They teach us how the world of the Buddha is created in this world.The Teaching Of The Six Great-Elements
Through Shingon Buddhism a person knows of the Buddha?s great life force that exists in the entire universe, realizes that in meditation it will be seen to be of the same essence as that of ourselves. And further it has doctrines that teach practices for achieving this realization. Kobo Daishi, in order to explain the Buddha?s life force in a way that would be easy for us to understand, spoke about the expression of the Buddha-Nature through the Six Great Elements (Rokudai).
The formation of the world according to Buddhism is through the process of causal origination. This is the Buddhist view of the world by which everything in the world comes to be and continues to live in this world because of a great life force that is invisible to the eye. This life force takes on many different forms and manifests itself as the individual life of each thing.
The basic doctrine of the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism established by Kobo Daishi is called "The Causal Origination of Things Through the Six Great-Elements." It is a view of both the world, as well as human beings, and it teaches us about the true nature and formation of the world.
The causal origination of the world through the Six Great-Elements asserts that human beings along with everything else come to be because they possess the six characteristics and functions of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness. This is not simply the coming together of physical symbols, but in the sense that each element of earth, fire, water, wind, space, and consciousness has the activity of the great life force, they are expressed as the Six Great-Elements. We can clearly understand this by speaking of the life of the earth, the life of water, the life of fire, the life of the wind, the life of space, and the life of the mind.
In his work, "The Meaning of Becoming a Buddha in This Body," Kobo Daishi says,
"The Six Great-Elements interpenetrate without obstruction and are in eternal union."
This teaches us that the universal life force, which is comprised of the Six Great-Elements, forms the basis of all things that gave life as we do, and that we are in a state of harmony in having the same essence as that of the life of the Buddha.
The great element that is the earth refers to how the Earth is the Mother of life on earth. The great element of water is the water of life that gives moisture to all things and nurtures the power of life. The great element of fire is the energy that is possessed by fire, and is the working of life that gives heat and vitality to living things. The great element of wind is best thought of as the breath of the entire universe, it is constant movement. Each breath we take is life itself. The great element of space is the vast and eternal life of the universe that envelopsall things. The great element of consciousness is the life of the spirit that is in all things and is the functioning of wisdom.The Practice Of The Three Mysteries
The symbolic activities of Body, Speech, and Mind (the Three Mysteries or Three Secrets) are present everywhere in the universe. Natural phenomena such as mountains and oceans and even humans express the truth described in the sutras. The universe itself embodies and can not be seperated from the teachings. In his work, "Attaining Buddhahood in This Body," Kobo Daishi said,
"Form mudras with your hands,
recite mantras with your mouths,
and dwell in meditation with your minds."
These secrets allow you to experience the Buddha nature that exists within yourself and also of the larger Universe.The Secret of the Body: Esoteric mudra
Hand gestures called mudras express the form of the secret activity of the body. These mudras symbolically identify the practioner with the universe. The human body functions as symbolic of the larger universe. In the "Discourse or Visualization of Truth by Mindful Recitation," Kobo Daishi wrote:
"If the Buddhas are the Dharma Realm,
they exist within my body.
If I myself am also the Dharma Realm,
then I exist within the Buddhas."The Secret of Speech: Esoteric Mantra Recitation
The Three Secrets practice of speech expresses the secret activity speech through mantras and dharanî. Mantras and dharanis are formulas of invocation. Kobo Daishi wrote in "The True Meaning of the Voiced Syllable,"
"By reciting the voiced syllables with clear understanding, one manifests the truth, What is called ?the truth of the voiced syllable? is the three secrets in which all things and the Buddha are equal. This is the original essence of all beings. For this reason, Dainichi Nyorai?s teaching of the true meaning of the voiced syllable will startle into awakening those long sleeping.?
Shingon describes mantras in terms of the sound, the written Sanskrit and the symbolic meaning.The Secret of Mind: Internal Visualization
The secret activity of the mind is expressed in the internal visualization of the Buddhas and other daities, mantric symbols and other symbolic forms. The activity of mind permeated throughout all beings and all phenomenon.
Kobo Daishi wrote about this in "The Meaning of the Hum Syllable:"
?The three secrets of the Dharma Body are not limited even in the finest particles, and are not dissipated even by filling all of space. They enter stones, plants, and trees without discrimination. They enter humans, gods, demons, and animals without choosing. They extend to all places.
There is nothing through which they do not act."
The goal of exoteric meditation is the state of voidness, where body and mind are absorbed in non-activity. Shingon views this as a foundation to move to an awareness and affirmation of self and all phenomenon, at the esoteric levelThe Cultivation of the Three Mysteries.
When we speak of practicing the Buddha?s teaching, we are speaking of three things.
1.When we do gassho or put our hands together in front of an image or picture of a Buddha, this is called "the mystery of our bodies? action" (Shin-mitsu).
2.When we recite Mantras, this is called "the mystery of one?s speech" (Ku-mitsu)
3.When we meditate or think about the Buddhas, this is called "the mystery of the mind" (I mitsu).
These three mysteries together are called (Sanmitsu), and it is our task to make these "Three Mysteries" real in our lives.
What does it mean to make these "Three Mysteries" real in our daily lives? This means that we should act in a manner so that we do not do any bad actions which harm, or even inconvenience anyone else. It means that we should not use harmful speech or spread gossip and rumors, and it means that we should not have wrong views. This means that we should realize that all of our actions that we do from the moment that we wake up in the morning until we fall asleep at night, are all actions of the Buddha himself. All of the words that we speak to other people are the words of the Buddha himself, and the very thoughts that we have both day and night, are the very thoughts of the Buddha himself. If we are able to perfectly possess in ourselves these Three Mysteries, then we shall possess in our very own lives, all of the qualities of a Buddha. When we are able to discover and to realize, in a perfect manner, we have all of the qualities of a Buddha in our lives. This condition is called "attaining Buddhahood in this very life" (Sokushin Jobutsu) in the Shingon Tradition.Becoming A Buddha In This Very Life: Sokushin Jobutsu
The word "soku" means to cling to, to adhere to, to become one with another object. Sokushin Jobutsu means that one becomes a Buddha with one?s present physical body. The unique feature of this Shingon Teaching is that one does not become a Buddha only in his mind, nor does one become a Buddha after one has died. It means one is able to attain perfection of all of the qualities of a Buddha while one is yet living in his present physical body.
An essay on the Bodhicitta (Bodaishin-ron) says,
"One speedily attained Great Awakening
in the very body born of mother and father."
According to the Shingon Tradition, all things in this universe - both physical matter, mind and mental states - are made up of some six primary elements. These six primary elements are: earth (the principle of solidity), water (moisture), fire (energy), wind (movement), space (the state of being unobstructed), and consciousness (the six ways of knowing objects). Buddha as well as ordinary human beings are made up of these six elements, and in this sense both Buddha and human beings are basically and in essence identical. When we realize this truth, then our actions, our words, and our thoughts will undergo an experience of faith which will cause them to be correct and purify their surroundings. This living, physical body will be able to achieve Buddhahood. It was with this Truth that Kobo Daishi divided the condition of the physical attainment of Buddhahood into three stages.
These are the three types of Sokushin Jobutsu.
1. We are all Buddhas in Principle (Rigu no Jobutsu)
All creatures have received the great spirit of Mahavairocana by reason of their being born in this world as human beings. However, most humans do not realize this and therefore, they believe that they are ordinary, unenlightened creatures. When these people listen and understand the Shingon Teachings; they, then, come to realize that they are basically Buddhas, and with this experience, they attain the sphere of self awakening.
2. We become Buddhas through Empowerment (Kaji no Jobutsu)
A person now realizes that he is basically a Buddha, a fully awakened being, but he must do something in order to manifest or to practice this enlightenment in his daily life. The first step to this actualization lies in practicing the teachings. The devotee now strives to make his actions, his words, and his thoughts, one with the Three Mysteries of the Buddha. In his religious practice, the devotee is supported by the power of the Buddha, by his inherent state of enlightenment working itself to the surface of his experience: this is seen by the devotee as a force coming upon him from the outside, from the Buddhas, a power gained through his religious cultivation. This is what is called ?empowerment,? that is the giving of power to someone else. In this state, the devotee experiences the fact that the Buddha and himself have become oneness.
3. The Manifestation of Buddhahood (Kentoku no Jobutsu).
When the devotee has reached perfection in his cultivation of religious practice in the Three Mysteries, which purify his body, his speech, and his mind, the great spirit of Mahavairocana will then suddenly and clearly break forth and reveal the devotee as a fully awakened Buddha. At this point the ordinary person who has been working and cultivating in this manner, will be seen as a fully awakened Buddha, and he will come to be respected as a Buddha by others. Sakyamuni Buddha and Kobo Daishi were such persons who actualized this underlying state of enlightenment in their own life and are respected by a great number of people. When we too have come to realize that we possess these attributes, at the time of birth, we experience the Buddha-nature which is the potentiality for our becoming Buddha, whose actions, speech and thoughts, have been totally purified, then, it only remains for us to cultivate a life of faith.The Esoterically Adorned Buddha's Land (Mitsugon Kokudo)
If a person strives to heighten his religious consciousness to a stage where his actions, words and thoughts are viewed as one with the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas, then he has already become a Buddha. The society in which such a devotee lives now becomes a Pure Land. He lives in a Pure Land in this world. A Pure Land that he does not need to die in order to see. A Pure Land here and now and not limited to being in a future state. A Pure Land is a land in which a Buddha lives, and in the Shingon Tradition, this Pure Land now inhabited by a fully realized Shingon Devotee, is called the Esoterically Adorned Buddha?s Land (Mitsugon Kokudo).
The word Mitsugon means that this Pure Land is decorated or adorned with the Three Mysteries. Such a Pure Land is brightly shining,and in this Land there are no crimes, no fighting, and no artificial or phony behavior. There is no anger, no hatred, no envy, no sadness and no suffering. It is a world that is filled with peace and happiness. If all beings in this world were to become Buddhas, then such a pleasant Pure Land would appear before all our eyes. Therefore, in order to help create such an ideal society, we must work to have other people realize their innate Buddhahood at the very same time, as we are striving to become Buddhas ourselves.
In terms of how we might express this in today's terms, we can speak of human development and the actual formation of buddhahood, or personality development and the actualization of the buddha nature that is already within us as we live in the real world.
After practicing religious disciplines for six years, Sakyamuni attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Buddhagaya at the age of thirty-five and was honored as the Buddha, the awakened one. Kobo Daishi, having engaged in religious practices in his youth for ten years, crossed the ocean to T'ang China, where he received the Esoteric teaching from Master Hui-kuo, the Seventh Patriarch of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, and was granted the honorary name of Henjo Kongo, Universally Resplendent and Adamantine. He was thirty-two years old when he attained the stage of becoming a buddha.
Sakyamuni and Kobo Daishi attained enlightenment while living their own lives to the fullest within the very center of human affairs. In this way, the original teaching of Buddhism is one of actually realizing a great compassion and the true wisdom of the Buddha within an active and vibrant human life. This involves becoming a buddha in this body by practicing the way of the Buddha while we remain active in our own lives. It gives a powerful explanation about developing into a buddha who lives in the actual world. The reason why Kobo Daishi wrote "The Meaning of Becoming a Buddha in This Body" is because Shingon Buddhism takes its basic doctrine to be this idea of becoming a buddha in this body. In this work, Kobo Daishi says,
"The six symbolic elements interpenetrate
without obstruction and are in eternal union.
They are not apart from any of the Four Mandalas.
Through practice of three-secrets empowerment,
they manifest immediately.
The universal web is what we call this body.
All things are natuarally endowed with Bodhisattva wisdom transcending the essential mind, the subsidiary minds [limited aspects of mind],
and the objects of the senses.
Each of the Five Wisdoms is endowed with unlimited wisdom.
Since it is the power of the perfect mirror,
this is true enlightened wisdom."
This means that each of our individual lives are in a nondual relationship of being one with the expansive life of the Buddha, which is called the Six Great-Elements; with the activities and.form of the Buddha, which is called the Four Mandalas; and with the Buddha's body, speech, and mind, which are called the Three Mysteries. Kobo Daishi taught this path for becoming a buddha, saying,
"By forming mudras with your hands,
reciting mantras with your mouth,
and dwelling in deep meditation with your mind,
your will receive the grace of being in harmony
with the body, mouth, and mind of the Buddha,
and will quickly attain enlightenment and become a buddha."The Exoteric Teaching (Kengyo) and the Esoteric Teaching (Mikkyo)
The founder of Japanese Shingon Tradition, Kobo Daishi (Kukai), divided the whole of the Buddhadharma into two types : the Exoteric Teaching (Kengyo) and the Esoteric Teaching (Mikkyo). According to Kobo Daishi, it is only the Shingon Tradition which is the Esoteric Teaching, while all of the rest of the Buddhadharma are the Exoteric Teachings.
The Exoteric Teachings were all taught by the Nirmanakaya Buddha, the historic Buddha Sakyamuni. These Exoteric Teachings were modified in some ways when Sakyamuni taught the common people depending on their understanding skills. Furthermore, these teachings contained illustrative stories to hold the attention of his listeners. Stories which were not absolutely true. Such teachings are termed "Upaya teachings" (hoben-gyo) or "teachings which employ expedient means" to get their point across. These stories were devices to raise the spiritual consciousness of his listeners but were not teachings which contained the full presentation of the absolute level of Truth. Kobo Daishi commented that it would take the devotee a very long time to reach the state of Buddhahood if he were to cultivate his religious practices solely on the basis of the Exoteric Teaching truths.
The Esoteric Teachings, on the other hand, were preached by the dharmakaya Buddha, the Tathagata Mahavairocana. Mahavairocana understood the real aspects of the existence of all things in the universe, and through this enlightenment experience he came to possess, in perfect measure, all of the qualities of perfection. He then directly presented the full content of his enlightenment experience in the scriptures of the Shingon Tradition. He did not employ any "teaching devices" or ?expedient means? in this full presentation of the Truth. There was no consideration for the spiritual capacities or the intellectual facilities of his hearers. This was a presentation of the Truth with no admixture of anything less than the absolute level of Truth. Therefore, if the devotee cultivates his religious practice based on the directions given in the scriptures of the Shingon canon, he will attain to the unsurpassed state of Buddhahood in the shortest amount of time possible. It is for this reason then that the Esoteric Teachings were considered by Kobo Daishi to be the highest of the teachings contained within the Buddhadharma.
At the foundation of true religious belief lies doctrinal teachings and ritual practices to put those teachings into effect every day. Shingon Buddhism in particular is formed by the two pillars of doctrine and practice established by Kobo Daishi. Shingon Buddhism, teaches a profound doctrine and the right practices for human development. Therefore it must be understood that Shingon Esoteric Buddhism does not present itself simply as a religion of practical benefits, but is also a religion that recommends proper human development through right teachings.
The ultimate objective of the teachings of Shingon Buddhism is "to excel in skillful means," as explained in the Mahavairocana Sutra. The manner by which we pursue our lives, the way in which we relate to people, in other words, our own actions in life are to be regarded with utmost importance.
In one sense this is a religion that takes as its ideal what is spoken of as "personally becoming a buddha" as a result of correct practice, that is, becoming a perfect buddha in one's own body, the "perfect body of the Buddha" that is spoken of in the Kongocho-kyo. The teaching of Shingon Buddhism is based on the belief in these two pillars, and it allows each one of us to live fully the life we treasure as our one and only life safeguarded, as it was explained earlier, by the vows and protective powers of many buddhas.Salvation And Enlightenment
Shingon Buddhism, which was founded by Kobo Daishi, grants salvation and enlightenment to human beings who would otherwise be caught in the cycle of birth and death. Once a person is able to enter the gate of this religion, he or she will be able to receive that salvation and guidance of many buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is a religion in which that person will be fortunate enough to be able to recite the mantras that are the Buddha?s own words.
No matter which part of the Shingon teaching you take and look at, it places us in the arena of the Buddha?s profound enlightenment, which is also an awakening to human life. Kobo Daishi introduced Shingon Buddhism and emphatically explained two points as its special characteristics:
1. Attainment of enlightenment in this very body.
2. The present moment that clearly teaches the content of enlightenment.
Throughout his writings he explained these two aspects for example, the Teaching of the Three Phrases from the Mahavairocana Sutra that we mentioned earlier; or the process of moving toward enlightenment that is explained in the "Commentary to the Mahavairocana Sutra? as the
Five Transitions consisting of:
1. The aspiration for the realization of enlightenment
5. Skillful means;
or the Meditation for Attaining the Buddha?s Body in Five Aspects from the Kongocho-kyo all clarify the line of thinking for becoming a buddha as well as the content for living as a buddha. In Kobo Daishi?s many writings such as "The Meaning of Becoming a Buddha in This Body," "The Ten Stages in the Development of the Mind," and "The Meaning of the Secret Sammaya Precepts of the Buddha," the enlightenment and salvation of the Buddha are similarly explained.
Along with the vows and practices of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, Kobo Daishi and his vow reveals to us the depths of enlightenment and the actual evidence for becoming a buddha on the path to buddhahood which he himself walked. It is a blessing of Shingon Buddhism to make it possible to come into direct contact with the practices leading to salvation. It is precisely the salvation and enlightenment of Kobo Daishi and the many buddhas of the Mandalas that are turned in our direction as they extend the hand of salvation down to us.Prayers For Empowerment
Among Buddhist groups, the Jodo Shinshu does not practice prayers for empowerments or teach that there can be benefits in this world, but all of the other Buddhist groups engage in praying to the buddhas for practical benefits in this world. It is natural for people to want to be blessed with good health or an economic livelihood so that they can live. In this life which we speak of as one in which all things change, we human beings, who have no idea what might happen next, all want to escape from calamities safely, and to that end we pray for ourselves and others, asking for the protection of the buddhas. It must be said that this mind of prayer is most noble in this world.
The fundamental nature of human life and existence, regardless of the individual or society, lies in what might be called the ideal of wanting to live, the search for happiness, and the desire for human livelihood.
Shingon Buddhism is spoken of as being the main organization among Buddhist groups for petitionary prayers and practical benefits. This is because it affirms as its fundamental point that the body as it is should be healthy, and that there should be the empowerment (Kaji) of both material as well as spiritual benefits. All of this is a natural matter of course, and we have no trouble in saying that those who think that prayers for empowerment (Kaji) and practical benefits are superstitious are people who do not know the true conditions of life. The reason for this is that our religion of truth asks that this body become a buddha, and seeks to know that this earthly world is none other than the pure land of quiescent radiance.
At the end of "The Secret Key to the Heart Sutra," he wrote,
?Manjusri and Prajna can dissolve confusion, drench those who have lost the way with sweet nectar, cut off ignorance, and destroy a host of demons. It is the year 818 and a great epidemic is sweeping the country. The Emperor personally copied the Heart Sutra with a brush dipped in gold ink. Following the pattern of other commentaries, I have composed a work on the main points of the sutra, and even before I uttered the words marking the end of this task, people who recovered from their illness were standing about the roadways. Night had turned into the brilliant light of day.?
Thus he wrote about the raging epidemic of 818 suddenly lifting through the power of the Heart Sutra. No matter how advanced science may be, this is still a world in which we cannot put an end to calamities just through human power. The power of the Buddha?s blessings and eternal life are still necessary, just as the power accumulated through our own merits is also necessary. When these three powers join to form one entity, the Buddha?s blessings take effect.
In his "Attaining Buddhahood in This Very Body," Kobo Daishi wrote,
Empowerment (Kaji) express the unity of
the Buddha?s great compassion and the faith of living beings.
The bestowal of empowerment (Kaji)
is the like sunlight from the Buddha?s radiance
shining on the water (the lifeforce) of the minds of living beings,
and the receiving of the empowerment (Kaji) is
the water (the lifeforce) of the practitioner's mind
feeling the sunlight from the Buddha.
We must say in addition here that prayers for empowerment (kaji) and worldly benefits cannot be obtained apart from the practice of the Three Mysteries of the body, speech, and mind.The Shingon Buddhist View Of Life
We who have been born as human beings in this world face the great human questions of how to live, how to die, and what happens after death. Buddhism teaches the way to enlightenment against the background of the idea of transience in regard to the problems of birth, old age, illness, and death.
Young people think that their lives are limitless, and live with great hopes and dreams. This is to be thought of as a good thing. However, as people get older, they come to feel day by day the limits of their own lives.
Odaishisama described his later years in which he secluded himself in a room, burned incense, made offerings of flowers, chanted sutras and led his mind through the Three Mysteries of the Buddha. He passed the days in this manner, and said,
"I will return to the mountain forever."
What he expressed was his determination to enter into Eternal Meditation. There are some differences in the way in which faith is viewed by Saicho, Dogen, Eisai, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren, all of whom are founders of Buddhist sects in Japan; but they all agree on the matter of having to return to the Pure Land where the Buddha exists. This we are able to know from the letters written at the end of their lives. At the beginning of "The Precious Key to the Secret Treasury," Odaishisama wrote,
Born, reborn, and born again,
The beginnings of their births they do not know.
Dying, dying, and dying once again,
The end of their deaths they do not know.
Here he laments the human condition in which people know nothing about their previous births, and remain in the dark about the strange world they go to after they die. Odaishisama is indicating through this passage that our "life and minds" can rely on the limitless world of the Buddha that lives in the past, present, and future.
Odaishisama's Shingon Esoteric view of life is based on the idea of the how things originate with the Six Great-Elements of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness, which we dealt with earlier as the Life of the Six Great-Elements. The word "great" in the phrase "Six Great Elements" is easily understandable by us if it is explained as the great life of the Buddha, and all of the Six Great-Elements are expressed in the single sanskrit letter "A" .
The Shingon view of life lies in the realization that there is no beginning or end to the world of the Buddha expressed by the letter "A", or, to put it in other terms, that life is eternal as is indicated by the idea that the letter "A" originally was not created. The meditation on the letter "A" and the practice of the Three Mysteries in which we overcome duality and become one body with Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) are not merely seeking to become a buddha that is limited to a corporeal body but is an enlightenment that permeates both birth and death. If this were not the case, then the words that we cited earlier from Odaishisama ends up being dead words.
What Shingon Buddhism explains as the liberation from birth and death lies in the point at which the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment in which we seek to be enlightened becomes one with the world of the letter "A", and is indicated by what Odaishisama called "the identity of the letter "A" with the aspiration for the realization of enlightenment."
The essential thing is to hold fast to the belief expressed in the saying,
"We emerged from the letter "A" and to it we will return."
This poem was added to the end of an eloquent poem written when Chisen, one of Odaishisama?s beloved disciples, died at the young age of 37. It reads,
"Sorrow of sorrows:
to realize the uncreated,
in the single letter A."
After living a full life in this world, our finite bodies pass away according to the law that all living things must die, and our life force and minds are led by Odaishisama to the world of the letter "A", which can also be spoken of as the Pure Land of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) where the seven Buddhas such as Acala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), Sakyamuni, and Mañjusri (Monju) Bodhisattva will save each in turn on the seventh day after we die, the twenty-seventh day, and the thirtieth day. After passing through forty-nine days, we shall become buddhas.
People who have faith in Shingon Buddhism will be in Dainichi Nyorai's Pure Land of Mysterious Adornment that spans the past, present, and future; and will be welcomed in the future after their deaths in the Tusita heaven, which is the Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva where they will attain eternal life. Kobo Daishi referred to this as "ascension to Tusita.
Odaishisama is also living in the Tusita Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva, and he leads us and saves us in life and death. This is why we recite the mantra of Maitreya Bodhisattva, "Om maitareiya sowaka," prior to chanting "Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo" in front of Kobo Daishi's sanctuary at Koyasan. It is the belief of the followers of Shingon Buddhism that we live "together with the Daishi" and go to the Tusita Pure Land, after we die.General Background of Shingon
SHINGON BUDDHISM is a religion that was established by Kôbô Daishi (Kûkai) at the beginning of the Heian period (9th century), and its teachings are known as Shingon Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon Buddhism).
This form of Buddhism is also known in Japanese as mikkyô, meaning "secret teaching". Mikkyô is one of several streams of practice within the Mahâyana Buddhist tradition. Mikkyô blends many doctrines, philosophies, deities, religious rituals, and meditation techniques from a wide variety of sources. Assimilation of Hindu and local deities and rituals was especially marked in the Buddhism that became Mikkyô. Such diverse elements came together over time and, combining with Mahâyåna philosophical teachings, formed a comprehensive Buddhist system of doctrine and practice.
The teachings of Shingon are based on the Mahâvairocana Sutra (J: Dainichi-kyô) and the Vajrasekhara sutra (J: Kongôchô-kyô) , the fundamental sutras of Shingon. These sutras were probably written during the last half of the seventh century in India. They contain the first systematic presentation of Mikkyô doctrine and practice.
Shingon represents the middle period of esoteric Buddhist development in India. This, extending from the seventh into the eighth century, was the time when the Mahâvairocana Sutra and Vajra Sekhara Sutra were compiled. Esoteric Buddhist history was practiced from India to Central Asia, Ceylon, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. The Mikkyô tradition continues in Japan today, but in other lands where the Indian source tradition developed in varying ways, the esoteric Buddhist teachings have mostly declined, some to the point of extinction.Deties
IN SHINGON BUDDHISM there are many buddhas in whom followers have a special sacred connection. Each have special characteristics for which they are believed in. These many buddhas have their own special vows and powers of salvation. This is just as it is with people in society, all of whom serve in the world with their own specialties in various spheres. For example, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (Jizô), Acala Vidyârâja (Fudô Myôô), Bishamonten, Benten, and Kôbô Daishi, who became a buddha, can all be the main deity around which people focus their belief in different temples.
JUSAN BUTSU, the Thirteen Buddhas of the Shingon School, are often found represented together in painted images consisting of five Buddhas, seven Bodhisattvas and Fudô Myôô. All together they represent the chief deities of the Taizokai and Kongokai mandalas. In Shingon these thirteen Buddhas assist people during their life and continue to assist them after death to guide them into the realm of enlightenment
The timeline, respectivley to the list above, of invocation by living Shingon followers for the deceased believer is as follows: seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first,
twenty-eighth, thirty-fifth, forty-second, forty-ninth, one hundredth days and on the first year, third year, seventh-year, thirteenth year and thirty-third year memorials of a believer's death.
On each of the individual deities' pages you will see the image of the deity, to the right of which will be the deity's bija, or Sanskrit seed syllable, and the bija's Japanese and Sanskrit pronunciations.