Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Shingon (Japanese Esoteric Buddhism): Myoe & Kukai

Buddha at Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina (picture by A/Z, for more se here); 

"Shingon is the Japanese pronunciation for the Chinese 'Zhenyan,' meaning literally 'mantra'; thus the Shingon is the Mantra sect. It is the esoteric or tantric branch of Japanese Buddhism, the counterpart to the Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism and traces its origins to Indian tantra... The Shingon headquarters was established on Mount Köya, relatively far removed from the capital of Kyoto, for centuries the political, cultural, and religious center of Japan. The Shigon founder Kükai had located it on Mount Koya for good reason, in part to establish the religious and institutional independence of this esoteric form of Buddhism in Japan."
"Myoe was a Buddhist monk ordained in the Shingon tradition, but this was not his only sectarian affiliation. In the latter half of his career, he served as abbot of Kozanji, a temple of the Kegon (Chinese Huayan) sect... it was not uncommon for Buddhist monks in medieval Japan to be ordained in multiple sectarian lineages."
"Among the various Buddhist doctrines Myoe invoked, he placed particular emphasis on the classic Mahayana notion of emptiness, first formulated by Nagarjuna. This provided Myoe with a widely accepted basis for his Buddhist thought; ironically, very few other Buddhists of his time made it the cornerstone of their thought... there [also] some striking similarities with the Daoist thought of the fourth-century BCE figure Zhuangzi. In particular, both Myoe and Zhuangzi closely analyze the use of language, its limits and possibilities, and its relation to illusion and reality."
"Myoe came to form close relationships with a number of women, both historical and mythic. These relationships raise questions about the relationship between form and emptiness, samsara and nirvana, eros and compassion. For Myoe, who largely rejected the dominant patriarchy of his day, women came to play crucial roles both in his mantra practice and in his life as a whole... He was recognized by the foremost contemporary authority on waka poetry Fujiwara Teika as a preeminent poet, and he kept a diary of his dreams and visions for over thirty-five years."
"For the purposes of articulating their visions of spiritual liberation, historical accuracy was not necessarily important; Honen, Shinran, Dogen, and others are well known for their creative 'misreadings' of sacred texts... Of course, much of the literature of the Mahayana including the sutras is built not on historical literal truths but on the idea of discerning the highest truth of emptiness beyond the artificiality  of fixed ideas... highest spiritual truth takes priority over conventional historical truth... Myoe invokes transcendent, cosmic deities expressing the highest truth as the very source of immanent, earthly lineages."
"In China, Tantric Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian monk Vajrabodhi (671-741), who translated key  sutras, introduced methods of practice, and won the favor of many Chinese from the emperor down... When we turn to the case of India, however, the Tantric lineage quickly becomes more obscure. Vajrabodhi's master was Nagabodhi, who in turns was tutored by Nagarjurna. Now, Vajrabodhi lived during the seventh and eight centuries, and Nagarjuna approximately during the second. This would mean that Nagabodhi would have to have lived at least five hundred years. To make matters even more complicated, the Tantric Nagarjuna, scholars now believe, differed from Nagarjuna the Madhyamika dialectician, the first Mahayana exponent of emptiness. The Tantric Nagarjuna's master was an even more mythical figure, Vajrasattva, who purportedly heard Mahavairocana expound the dharma..."
"Unlike Zen and most other schools, then, Indian and Chinese Tantric Buddhism, the ancestors to Japanese Shingon, do not appeal to a purely historical lineage originating with the person of Buddha Sakyamuni [Gautama]; instead, they trace their ancestry to ever more legendary and mythic figures until one reaches the cosmic scale fo the Buddha Mahavairocana [regarded as the dharma body, containing all other buddhas and bodhisattvas]."
"According to Myoe, the 'profoundity of the profound dharma is constant. The Shingon is profound because it expounds the shallow as profound."
"With the all-inclusive cosmologies of the Shingon and Kegon with Mahavairocana as the center... virtually any celestial deity could infuse Myoe with its mystic power."
"Most monks these days envisage the buddha dharma they have chanced to learn not as a key to emancipation but as a means fro attaining high rank, a trivial, contemptible thing" [Myoe].
"... truly sudden realization is to be found in gradual practice, and true immediacy in meditation."
"'To believe, accept, and obtain virtue is like becoming intoxicated with the mushrooms' [Myoe]... Furthermore, 'intoxicating' carries both the positive connotation of 'inspiring' or 'entrancing' on the one hand, and the negative connotation of 'poisonous' on the other."
"Social and moral decay, institutional corruption, and spiritual lassitude plagued China in the fourth century BCE as much as in thirteenth-century Japan."
"If one's heart is pure, the truth can be found in wiping one's behind" [Myoe].
"Wonhyo was told by an elder master he would not know the full meaning of the dharma as long as he remained attached to purity, and so... he set off into town and the redlight district."
"In the Buddha Way, one should first of all obtain the appropriate amount of knowledge such that it will empower one's practice. To know the appropriate amount is to be the one who truly knows" [Myoe].
"One will know well if ignorance is removed. Those who know well always desire to act" [Myoe].
"Sentient beings believing [in what they say] is as though they eat the mushrooms. To believe, accept, and obtain virtue is like becoming intoxicated [entranced & also 'poisoned'] with the mushrooms."
"... the pharmakon of the Mantra of Light does adhere even to bodies in impure places... before it is scattered the sand should be revered like the relics of the Buddha."
"... when I was still a child, I went to the meditation hall to practice in the middle of the night without anyone's knowledge, seeking to attain true faith and wisdom... In observing the practices of the masters of the exoteric and esoteric teachings, I was grieved by their outrageous behavior about which I did not know what should be done..."
- Mark Unno, Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004); 

"This versatile man [Kukai] has often been depicted as a scholar-monk with three faces and six arms. Such a representation implies a mysterious entity whose entirety can be grasped only vaguely."
"Esoteric Buddhism was for a while perhaps the most international form of Buddhism in the East. Though it was short lived in China and in the Southeast Asian regions such as Ceylon and Indonesia, it survives to this day in Tibet and in the Himalayan kingdoms."
"Kukai did not actually invent the kana syllabary, but its emergence owed much to his introduction of Sanskrit studies, for the kana system is formed on the basis of the Sanskrit alphabet."
"The Esoteric Buddhism of Kukai, though incomparably more complex and sophisticated than Shinto, had many elements compatible with the later. A few of these were the idea of the oneness of man and nature, a belief in the magical efficacy of the word (mantra in the former, kotodama in the latter), and the concept of a ritually consecrated realm."
"Kukai's The Secret Treasure-house of the Mirrors of Poetry is the most important extant book about the poetical theory and phonology of Six Dynasties and Early T'ang China..."
"The Mahavairocana Sutra was the basic text of Esoteric Buddhism representing the most recent phase of seventh-century Indian Buddhism."
"Chinese civilization attained its peak of glory in the T'ang period (618-907). When Kukai reached Ch'ang-an, the city was the cultural center both of China and of Central and Eastern Asia... Of the foreign temples it is certain that one was Nestorian Christian and one was Zoroastrian or Manichaean."
"Kukai met Master Hui-kuo (746-805), the patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism in China, who lived in the East Pagoda Hall of the Ch'ing-lung Temple. Master Hui-kuo (Keika in Japanese) had inherited the Dharma of the Esoteric tradition from the famed master Pu-k'ung, or Amoghavajra (705-74). This Buddhist school was transmitted to China in 716 when an Indian master, Subhakarasimha (637-735), came to China by invitation of the Emperor Hsüan-tsung (r. 713-55)... in 720, another great master of Esoteric Buddhism, Vajrabodhi (d. 741), arrived in Canton by sea..."
"Though Kukai [at the time Emperor Saga turned out to be his promoter] remained inactive socially, he must have been well known as a poet, calligrapher, writer, and master of Esoteric Buddhism."
"The School of Arts and Sciences was a private school open to all students, regardless of their social status or economic means. It was the first school in Japan to provide for universal education. Behind it was Kukai's convinction of the oneness of humanity, his ideal of equal opportunity in education, and his belief in the intrinsic value of each individual. Affirming the importance of both religious and secular studies, Kukai included in his curriculum Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism." 
"According to Kukai, the historical Buddha is but one manifestation of Mahavairocana, who exists in history and yet at the same time transcends it. Mahavairocana in his samadhi is timeless and eternally present in a state of bliss... Those who have been denied a chance of salvation by the Exoteric teachings—such as the cursed ones (icchantika) and those guilty of serious crimes—can be saved by the  most rudimentary Esoteric practice of reciting a mantra."
" It was in 830, five years before his death, that Kukai produced his most ambitious work, the Ten Stages, perhaps the most comprehensive religious work that has come down to us in Japan."
"Kukai conceives man as 'body-mind,' not as mind or body, nor body and mind, and holds that this 'body-mind' is grounded in the 'Body-Mind,' the secret and sacred living Body-Mind of all, the Dharmakaya Mahavairocana... all men as well as all other sentient beings are particular 'body-mind' beings participating in the 'Body-Mind.' It is this 'Body-Mind' that is represented in the Shingon mandalas, which describe various aspects of Mahavairocana."
"... Kukai's motto reads 'attaining enlightenment in this very body'... 'bod (shin)' clearly does not mean the body as opposed to the mid but stands for 'existence' or 'body-mind-being.' The choice of the word 'body' over the normally expected 'mind' underscores the basic character of Kukai's religion: emphasis on direct religious experience through one's total being and not merely through the intellect."
"... the mantras, conveying as they do the essential meaning of these sutras, are most thoroughly impregnated with the preacher's spirit, compassion, wisdom, and saving power... Oral preaching is only one means of communication; preaching may sometimes be pursued by non-oral means, such as silence, gesture, color or form... all things in the universe reveal the presence of Mahavairocana."
"On his return from China Kukai said: 'Since the Esoteric Buddhist teachings are so profound as to defy expression in writing, they are revealed through the medium of painting.'"
"...  it was probably Hui-kuo who stressed the identity of Mahavairocana with the timeless Dharmakaya Buddha and who also taught that the Mahavairocana Sutra and Vajrasekhara Sutra were preached by the Dharmakaya Mahavairocana himself rather than by the historical Buddha, as Buddhist had always held."
"By defining Mahavairocana as the Dharmakaya, Kukai identified Mahavairocana with the eternal Dharma, the uncreated, imperishable, beginningless, and endless Truth. It is the realization of this truth which made Gautama the Enlightened One and which makes all bodhisattwas into Buddhas. The sun is the source of light and warmth, the source of life. Similarly, Mahavairocana is the Great Luminous One... 'Where is the Dharmakaya? It is not far away; it is in our body.'"
"... the Body of Wisdom is represented by the Diamond Mandala; the Body of Principle, by the Matrix Mandala. Kukai interpreted these two aspects of Mahavairocana as being inseparably related and asserted that both Bodies are nondual (richi funi)."
"... the term principle, in Chinese li and in Japanese ri, is Chinese in origin and has no exact counterpart in Sanskrit. 'Body of Principle' is therefore a Chinese concept... Li is one of the key words in  Hua-yen Buddhism and  means the universal principle underlying the multiplicity of particulars (shih)."
"The Six Great Elements are earth, water, wind, space, and consciousness... There is no creator other than the Six Great Elements, which are at once the creating and the created; the Six Great Elements are in a state of perpetual interfusion."
"The Sixt Great Elements are clearly analogous to the well-known five natural elements—fire, wood, earth, metal, and water; the Body of Wisdom and that of Principle, symbolized by the vajra and the lotus, or by the Diamond and the Matrix Mandalas, resemble yin and yang; and Mahavairocana, the Great Sun Buddha, recalls the Great Sun Goddess. In  the proposition that Mahavairocana is in a state of eternal harmony, the word 'harmony' is a translation of yuga, which in turn is a transliteration of yoga."
"... faith comes through the grace of the Buddha: it is not acquired by the individual but given."
"In the triple world [of desire, form, and non-form] there is no permanent residence; there is no fixed place in the world of transmigration. Sometimes my home is in heaven; sometimes, in hell. Sometimes I may be your wife or your son; at other times, your father or your mother. Sometimes the Tempter King is my teacher and heretics, my friends. Ghosts, birds, and animals may be our parents, children, or wives. From the beginning to the present, there has been no such thing as first and second... From the beginningless beginning, you and I have been transmigrating continuously without stopping in any fixed life" [the mendicant, in Kukai's Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings].
"Since the Esoteric Buddhist teachings are so profound as to defy expression in writing, they are revealed through the medium of painting to those who are yet to be enlightened. The various postures and mudras [depicted in Mandalas] are products of the great compassion of the Buddha" [Kukai's A Memorial Presenting a List of Newly Imported Sutras].
"They are bound by the rope of deluded thoughts and are intoxicated by the wine of ignorance. Their union is comparable to someone meeting another in a dream, or to travelers meeting each other by chance at the same inn" [Kukai's The Precious Key to The Secret Treasury].
"The Sravakas recognize the five sense perceptions and mind, but not the seventh or the eighth [consciousness]" [Precious Key].
"The good and wise are rare, the bad and foolish, abundant" [Precious Key].
"The mind, whose caracteristic is like that of empty space, transcends both individuation and nonindividuation" [Precious Key].
"... the various objects of sight are harmful like poison to the foolish, but beneficial like medicine to the man of wisdom" [The Meanings of Sound, Words, and Reality].
"... the colors of the five great elements are identified as yellow [earth], white [water], red [fire], black [wind], and blue [space]" [The Meanings of Sound...].
- Yoshito S. Hakeda, Kukai: Major Works (New York: Columbia University  Press, 1972);

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