In China, Kukai received his training from the great Tantric master Hui-kuo (746-805). Hui-kuo had received transmission from two Tantric lineages: one based on the Mahavairocana Sutra, the other based on the Vajrasekhara Sutra. Under Hui-kuo, Kukai received initiation into the meditative techniques associated with both Tantric lineages, and then received ordination as a Tantric master. ...
The Heian period (794-1185) was the golden age of imperial court society. In its immortal works of literature, we see a world of consummately refined men and women who saw themselves as eschewing the grosser forms of violence, but whose lives centered around the love or art and the arts of love. We envision women seated sedately behind screens, perhaps waiting for the sweet intrusion of a lover; and we recall delightful parties centered on “verse-capping” or moon-viewing, and fashionable excursions to romantic mountain temples. ... The literary works reflect the world of the bijin (the “beautiful people”) who saw themselves dwelling kumonoue (“above the clouds”), devoted to miyabi (courtly elegance and taste). Needless to say, they were only a tiny percentage of Japan’s overall population, and the lives of those whose toil supported this elegance were far less advantaged. ... The literature reflects a looming, almost intoxicating sense that such beauty and love is fleeting, and will be gone once one tries to grasp it. Heian people had a deep sense of mono no aware, “sensitivity to things.” This sweet/sad feeling came out of attention to the transitoriness of human life and of all else [in] this “dewdrop world,” while at the same time appreciating beauty all the more in realizing it was passing away. (IJR, 102-5)
Outstanding among the Buddhist leaders of the Heian period was Kukai (774-835), a man whose genius has well been described: “His memory lives all over the country, his name is a household word in the remotest places, not only as a saint, but as a preacher, a scholar, a poet, a sculptor, a painter, an inventor, an explorer, and — sure passport to fame — a great calligrapher.” Indeed, his reputation was so great that Shingon Buddhism, the sect of Buddhism that he founded, is centered as much on the worship of Kukai the saint as it is on the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, the larger tradition to which Shingon belongs. From the ninth century to this day, faithful Shingon believers have revered Kukai as a living savior who still sits in eternal meditation on Mount Koya ready to respond to those who call on him for help. The divinization of Kukai is the product of an imagination inspired by faith, and it is also based on the memory of a real person of extraordinary accomplishments. (SJT, 153)
In 806, Kukai returned to Japan with mandalas, scriptures, and Tantric ritual materials. In 809, the emperor ordered Kukai to serve at Takasan-ji, the temple that was the center of the Heian Buddhist world. There, Kukai systematized Tantric doctrines, organized Tantric materials and sutras, and vigorously propagated Tantric Buddhism. In 816, the emperor gave Kukai permission to build a monastery on Mt. Koya, some distance from the capital. Until his death in 835, Kukai was also in charge of To-ji, a temple in the capital that was to be a center for Tantric art and practice. (Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience, 284-5; cf SJT, 154-7)
The teachings of Shingon are intended to guide people to [the] tenth stage of virtuous Buddha-consciousness. They do so by stressing that the highest Buddha is the Dharmakaya, the essential enlightenment nature of Buddhahood. This Dharma-body is a luminous reality of wisdom and compassion that penetrates and embraces all existence such that the Dharmakaya is actually one’s own innate Buddha-nature. Kukai identified this ultimate suchness of the universe with Vairocana Buddha, symbolized by the sun, which radiates its light to all beings in the universe. For Shingon, Vairocana, as the Dharma-body of the universe, preaches and acts continuously throughout the cosmos. ...
“In truth, the Esoteric doctrines are so profound as to defy their enunciation in writing. With the help of painting, however, their obscurities can be understood. The various attitudes and mudras of the holy images all have their source in Buddha’s love, and one may attain Buddhahood at sight of them. Thus the secrets of the sutras and commentaries can be depicted in art, and the essential truths of the Esoteric teaching are all set forth therein. Neither teachers nor students can dispense with it. Art is what reveals to us the state of perfection. (Kukai, quoted in SJT, 155)
Shingon & the State
Kyoto’s “East Temple
The Development of the Shingon Fire Ritual
Goma is a Chinese pronunciation of the Hindu term Homa which originated in India about 5000 years ago with earlier Zoroastrian [roots] and refers to offerings made to deities through the fire. (Fudosan Kongoji)
Both Tendai and Shingon Shu’s Goma Fire Rites are among the oldest found anywhere in the world and has its origins in ancient India where it was, and still is, known as ‘Homa’ — or more accurately Agni (Fire) Hotri (Rite/Ritual), and was originally performed by Brahmin Priests. The Homa can still be seen today practiced the length and breadth of India in both simple and quite elaborate forms by river sides, quiet places and Temples. (Tendai Sangha)
In contrast to the merciful Kannon, Fudo was represented as a “terrible figure, livid in color and of a ferocious expression. He is surrounded by flames and carries a sword and a rope to smite and bind evil. He is generally explained as typifying the fierce aspect assumed by Vairochana when resenting wrong doing.” If Kannon represented the female (or Garbha mandala), Fudo stood for the male (or vajra) and, as such, was popular with the rising warrior class, who —as the guardians of the state in the face of disorder — may have likened themselves to the powerful Fudo. Accordingly, the cult of Fudo spread to regions where nature presented its severest face — rocky crags and seashores. (SJT, 176)
The wood that is offered in the sacred fire, known as Gomaki or literally “energy for the Goma,” is inscribed with the wishes and desires of others. Through the mystical weaving of offerings and mantra, through the physical energy of the fire, and through the assistance of the deities, the wishes are manifested. (Fudosan Kongoji)