The Shingon School

      The Shingon (Tantric) tradition of Mahayana Buddhism arose in India in approximately the 6th century AD, although its roots go back many hundreds of years before that.  It, too, adopted the position that none of the Hinayana (and now none of the Mahayana) was to be rejected. If the world was indeed the body and the mind of Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai),
then all religious teachings possessed  in some measurethe Truth, and especially all Buddhist groups must possess this Truth in greater or lesser degree. Tantrism began as a movement more concerned with the Practice of Buddhism than with any theoretical reformulation of doctrine. The practice of Tantrism was primarily concerned with the means by, which once could attain Buddhahood, to supreme awakening in this very life. Since Tantrism was concerned with both the ritual and meditation practices leading to enlightenment, the Shingon tradition has developed highly complex and long rituals that monks and qualified laymen undergo to approach enlightenment. In general, Tantrism has been more concerned with practice than with doctrinal speculation. newsym.gif (15357 bytes)

     In the Shingon school of Buddhism, (formally introduced into Japan by the Master Kukai, Kobo-Daishi, 774-835 AD) it is taught that all things of this world -all creatures,as well as all inanimate things - are in essence the body of the chief deity, the Buddha Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai). All of the various other schools of Mahayana Buddhism posit in their world view the situation wherein man finds himself separate from the ideal state, from Buddhahood, and so must work himself up to that state. All schools of Buddhism view Enlightenment (Buddhahood, satori, or Nirvana) as a mental state, a state of mind wherein the mind is totally awakened to its real nature (totally and truly self-aware). Thus, other schools would view the religious life as a life devoted to eliminating the evil in one's mind, to purifying the mind, and to concentrating the mind in and through meditation. The Shingon school, however views the world as coming into existence through the permutations or changes in the mind of the Buddha Mahavairocana. Thus Enlightenment for the Shingon Buddhist consists in the realization that he is, here and now, truly one with Mahavairocana. As long as he does not fully realize this, he is enmeshed in the realm of birth-and-death (samsara). When once he does realize this true state of things, then he attains full Buddhahood in this very life (sokushinjobutsu). A state of awakening in this life is thus the goal of Shingon Buddhism.

     Kukai taught that all things in this world are to be regarded as Buddha's and as deities, deserving of our love and respect. Various groups of these deities Buddha's, and Buddha's to be (Bodhisattvas) are especially venerated in Shingon Buddhism, and their pictorial and often highly symbolic representations are call Mandalas/Mandaras. (Since one of the distinctive features of Shingon Buddhism was its presentation of the major and minor deities in the form of Mandalas, this school of Buddhism was initially called the Mandara-Shu, the school of Mandalas.)

     The Buddha's and Bodhisattvas are conceived of as the major deities from out of both the Hinayana and the Mahayana traditions that one should have great reverence for and meditate on, for one's eventual attainment of Buddhahood. They are not, however, conceived of as gods to be worshipped in order that they may give us what we want rather they are taught to be manifestations of that one underlying Ultimate Reality that we term Dainichi-Nyorai, the Buddha Mahavairocana. All of them represent certain aspects of the Ultimate Truth, manifested through human form and color, and through their seed syllables.

     Certain monks of the Kamakura period found their unique and very personal religious inspiration in only one Buddha, or in one specific text or in one unique practice and so, in their blind devotion to their personal way of salvation, denigrated Buddha's, scriptures, and practices not to their personal liking. To do so denies the reality underlying all these Buddha's and Bodhisattvas, denies the truths manifested in all Buddhist scriptures, and denies the fact that men have differing temperaments and capacities for religious practice and understanding, and so would effectively bar men of different makeup from ever making any real progress in the religious life. Further such attitudes introduce into Buddhism a spirit of intolerance, a spirit which gives rise to misunderstanding and ill-will. Shingon Buddhists deny any such attitude, and so look to all the Buddha's and all the all the Bobhisattvas for their compassionate guidance and understanding.




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