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The Evolution of a Representative Japanese Pilgrimage

as a Complex Self-Organizing System


Hiroshi Tanaka Shimazaki




The popular pilgrimage to the 88 temples on Shikoku Island, Japan, associated with Kobo Daishi (774-835 A.D.), the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, is a large scale representative circular pilgrimage covering some 1400 kilometre s (960 miles). The changing nature of how pilgrimages to the Shikoku 88 sacred places are made, how rituals are conducted at each sacred site and how sacred places are maintained reflects Japanese cultural preference. Behind the dynamic process is the s elf-organizing “mechanism” to resolve conflict through compromise. While modern modes of transportation have increased the speed with which the pilgrimage can be completed, the traditional walking pilgrimage is still considered to yield the greatest reli gious merit. Conflict between the attainment of religious merit and finite, externally imposed time restraints symbolize the larger set of incongruities associated with the increased physical pace of life in secularized societies and the yeaning for th e security of some sacred absolute. The resolution of the conflict between religious merit and convenience has been sought in a variety of areas including the way in which the pilgrimage can be made (order of temple visits, segmentation of the total pilg rimage system, establishment of miniature pilgrimages, acceptance of modern modes of transportation), how the rituals are performed at each sacred site and the way in which temple priests manage the sacred places. Exploration of conflict resolution throu gh the examination of the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers reveals the underlying strength of the ongoing popularity of this Buddhist pilgrimage and the complex nature of the self-organizing s ystem that has evolved over the last three centuries.








1 Formative Stage

1.1 Kobo Daishi: Spiritual Founder

1.2 Origin of the Pilgrimage

1.3 Following in the Footsteps of Kobo Daishi

1.4 Emergence of the Eighty-Eight Sites

2 Elaboration of the Pilgrimage System


2.1 Formal Pilgrimage System

2.2 Temple Grouping and Symbolic Representation

2.3 Support Systems

2.4 Landscape and Rituals

3 Transformation

3.1 Sub-Pilgrimages and Miniature Pilgrimages

3.2 Contemporary Adjustments

3.3 Ritual Variations

3.4 Management of Sacred Places




Notes and References



Buddhism shares with other great religions the practice of pilgrimage to sacred places both for spiritual benefit and to render homage, although it was not advocated by Gautama Buddha himself. It was not until after the death of Buddha in the sixth century BC that the practice emerged, as his followers began visiting those places associated with his life, i.e., places to which Buddha’s ashes were believed to have been distributed, and/or at which memorial stupas had been erected. What ever its origin, the practice of pilgrimage has been widespread in Buddhism over many centuries in both of its main branches; the Hinayana in southeast Asia and Mahayana in east Asia.

The earliest known reference to junrei, the Japanese word for pilgrimage, appears in Nitto Guho Junrei-goki, which was written by Priest Ennin after he travelled to China in 838 AD to study the teaching of Buddhism. It is commonly thought that the practice of pilgrimage was introduced to Japan in the middle of the Heian period (794-1192) by Buddhist priests who, during periods of study in China, made pilgrimages to various sacred places and, on their return, were ins trumental in establishing the practice in Japan. Today, pilgrimages to Buddhist sites are but one of several types. Others are made to sacred mountains, to sites of historic events, and to scenic wonders, some of which have strong connections with Shint o.

The Shikoku pilgrimage, discussed in this paper, encompasses eighty-eight temples and its circular route extends over 1,385 kilometres (960 miles), making it the largest pilgrimage in Japan (Figure 1 and Table I). Associated with Kobo Daishi (774-835 A.D.), this pilgrimage has been popular since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century and today attracts about 80,000 people annually from all over Japan and from foreign countries.

The changing nature of how pilgrimages to the Shikoku eighty-eight sacred places are made, how rituals are conducted at each sacred site and how pilgrim places are maintained reflects Japanese cultural preference. Behind the dynam ic process is the self-organizing “mechanism” to resolve conflict between religious merit and convenience through compromise. “Religious merit” here refers to the culturally recognized benefits to be gained through participating in the pilgrimage. The term “convenience” refers to the way in which the journey may be made most efficiently with the least disruption to the routine activities of the individuals involved. Conflict between the attainment of religious merit and finite, externally imposed time restraints symbolize the larger set of incongruities associated with the increased physical pace of life in secularized societies and the yearning for the security of some sacred absolute.

This paper identifies the resolution of the conflict in a variety of areas and examines the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers. The data on which this paper is based were first collected during seventy-eight days in the fall of 1972 when I participated in the pilgrimage on foot, walking some 1,400 kilometres around the periphery of Shikoku Island. Since then I have returned to Shikoku numerous times, most recently in 19 98, and have had the opportunity to augment and update the data. In the preparation of this paper, I have drawn on information contained in my earlier publications on various facets of the pilgrimage with regard to is traditional aspects.




1 Formative Stage



1.1 Kobo Daishi: Spiritual Founder


It is believed that the Shikoku pilgrimage was established by Kobo Daishi (Figure 2). The association of Kobo Daishi with the pilgrimage is clearly evident in the landscape. Pilgrims, whether they walk or use some mode of transportatio n, carry staves that symbolize Kobo Daishi. Written on them are the words dogyo ninin, meaning ” together with Kobo Daishi”. The belief of the pilgrims in the presence of Kobo Daishi is acknowledged through their behaviour at each of the eighty- eight sacred places. Daishido, the building dedicated to Kobo Daishi, are found at all eighty-eight temples and statues of Kobo Daishi, kuyoto erected in his honour, and trees and stones with which legend has associated him are also frequently fou nd within the compounds. The significance of the association of the pilgrim places with Kobo Daishi manifest in geographic features, together with the acknowledgement of this association by pilgrims through their behaviour, is one important element in th e distinctiveness of the pilgrimage.

Kobo Daishi was born in 774, the son of the prosperous Saeki Zentsu, in what is now Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku. At this time, the literature and philosophy of Japan were only beginning to assume a distinct character and her relig ion a firm structure. Buddhism, introduced to Japan via Korea in the mid-sixth century, had immediately provoked a conflict with the existing religious tradition. At the approximately this same time Japan has been subjected to a flood of Chinese culture , Confucianism, and religious Taoism and, while neither Confucianism nor religious Taoism constituted a separate religion in Japanese history, both traditions had an impact on the existing religious tradition.

Unsettled conditions still prevailed towards the end of eighth century and it was at a time of political unrest that Kobo Daishi began to study Confucianism . During the Nara Period (710-794) Buddhism became the state religion. The prevailing image of Nara Buddhism suggests a religion of the aristocracy and monks, largely confined to the court and monasteries. If Nara Buddhism became famous for its profound philosophy and glorious temples, it became infamous for its increasing decadence and corruption.

As a brilliant student, Kobo Daishi could not escape the turmoil. In his effort to reach a decision as to whether Confucianism or Buddhism should be his chosen way of life, he withdrew from the university on Honshu, visited variou s parts of the country including Shikoku, his birth place, and subjected himself to severe physical and spiritual training. He wrote that in the deep snow of severe winter, he clothed himself scantily, in the burning heat of scorching summer, he ate and drank meagrely, and searched for the truth.

After reading a portion of Dainichikyo (great Sun Sutra, Mahavairocana) Kobo Daishi became interested in the Mikkyo(Buddhism) doctrine; but his biography between the ages of twenty-four (797) and thirty-one (804) is not clear. In 804, in order to gain a better understanding of the Mikkyo doctrine, he travelled to China where he studied under Hui Kuo (746-805) of the Ch’ing Lung temple, the highest authority on Shingon Mikkyo, in Ch’ang An, the T’ang capital, presently Hsi an. From Hui Kuo, Kobo Daishi learned of the doctrine of Kan Chieh (kongokai) and T’ai Ts’ang Chieh (Taizokai), doctrines which together constitute the core of Shingon Mikkyo.5 After the death of his master, Kobo Daishi returned to Japan i n 806 and received permission from Emperor Saga to spread the teaching of Shingon. He served as head priest at several temples, visited various parts of the country, and enthusiastically spread Shingon Mikkyo until his death in 835.

As well, he introduced new elements into Japanese society. Kobo Daishi developed the first dictionary to be used in Japan and in so doing enabled the Japanese to study Chinese writing. It is believed that he created the basic Ja panese phonetic syllables which are used today.6 In 825, Kobo Daishi established a school, Shugeishuchi-in, near To-ji in Kyoto and in so doing offered the common people the opportunity of education. Hasuo suggests the Kobo Daishi may also hav e been responsible for the introduction of several new materials and processes to Japan, namely, sumi, oil, tea, coal, brush writing, textile dyeing and the custom of bathing in hot springs.7

Shikoku being the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, it is reasonable that it was here that the pilgrimage to the various places associated with Kobo Daishi developed. Moreover, all the eighty-eight temples were established before 835, the year of his death. Yet, at least fifty of them also existed before 774, the year of his birth, and of the remaining thirty-seven for which information is available, eight were established before he went to China in 804. Only twenty-nine were establi shed between 806, the year he returned from China, and 835.

An examination of the honzon, the principal deity with which each temple is associated, reveals that at least 49 temples enshrine statues of deities sculptured by Kobo Daishi, thus suggesting a strong link between him and th e sacred places. Of the fifty temples established before his birth, eighteen today have honzon sculptured by him, as compared with all but four of the thirty-five temples established during his lifetime. Table II summarizes the preceding informat ion and shows which temples claim to have been established by Kobo Daishi and which claim to have been consecrated by him. Based on this data it may be argued that the historical records at least partially support the association of Kobo Daishi with t he eighty-eight sacred places.

These eighty-eight temples, however, were not the only temples on Shikoku during Kobo Daishi’s lifetime. There were at least 165 temples in all, of which 130 claim a strong association with Kobo Daishi,8 citing him as founder, consecrator, or sculptor of their honzon, or claiming association with his activities. By the beginning of the ninth century, there were many candidate sites for incorporation into the pilgrimage.



1.2 Origin of the Pilgrimage


In any discussion of the origin of the Shikoku pilgrimage, the initial difficulty lies in the determination of those criteria by which origin should be defined; that is, shall we consider that the pilgrimage originated when the first B uddhist priests travel to Shikoku for spiritual and physical training, or when the common people in considerable numbers began to visit the temples on Shikoku, or when the eighty-eight sacred places were specified as the places of the pilgrimage, or at so me other point in time altogether?


Even when the occurrence which is to be considered as the origin of the pilgrimage has been decided upon, it has so far remained impossible to determine the process through which the pilgrimage came into being. Its origin appears to have been the outcome of an accumulation of complex factors many of which require clarification not readily available through the existing historical records.

Priest Ezen, in Shikoku Henro Nikki written in 1653, suggested that Kobo Daishi visited the eighty-eight sacred places and in this way originated the pilgrimage. In the existing records left by Kobo Daishi, however, there appears to be no reference to a pilgrimage to the eighty-eight places although in Sango Shiiki written in 796, he does mention three places on Shikoku, Tairyu-san, Ishizuchi-san and Muroto-saki, where he went to train himself. In Konjaku Monog atari, edited by Minamoto in 1106-08, there is a reference to Kobo Daishi visiting Manno and reconstructing the irrigation pond there so it would seem that Kobo Daishi did visit certain places on Shikoku though not necessarily all those with which he has come to be associated.



1.3 Following in the Footsteps of Kobo Daishi


That it would have been possible to make a pilgrimage on Shikoku as early as the ninth

century is apparent from the earliest known map of Japan drawn by Priest Gyoki in 805 (Figure 3). This map shows that Shikoku, literally four provinces, was divided into four prefectures and that there was a road leading from Kyoto, th e capital of Japan at that time, across Awaji Island to Shikoku and around most of the island.

Priest Jakuhon, in Shikoku Henro Kudoku-ki, suggests that Shinzei, a follower of Kobo Daishi, may have been the first person to make the pilgrimage,9 visiting those places with which Kobo Daishi was believed to b e associated immediately after Kobo Daishi’s death in 835.

The validity of this suggestion is questioned by Maeda, though, as there is no reference in Shinzei’s biography to such a journey to Shikoku.10 Maeda also draws attention to Hasuo’s statement that the possible visit to Shikoku by Shinzei would have been of a personal nature and that of greater public significance and more likely to have been imitated would have been the probable journey to Shikoku by Shinnyo Shinno, a member of the Royal family, in 861. That Shinnyo Shinno did visit Shikoku is supported by the fact that his grave, constructed prior to his death, lies within the compound of Kiyotaki-ji (temple 35). Whether Shinnyo Shinno actually made a pilgrimage on Shikoku and visited the other sacred places beside s Kiyotaki-ji , however, is not definitely known.

Other theories concerning the origin of the pilgrimage suggest beginnings that have no association with Kobo Daishi. Konjaku Monogatari contains an account of three Buddhist priests who travelled along the difficult terrai n on the fringe of Shikoku11 but it does not relate this journey in any way with Kobo Daishi. A similar reference to priests travelling around the coast of Shikoku is found in Ryojin Hisho12 edited by tonsured Emperor Goshi rakawa (d.1158).

Other accounts suggest that one of the reasons that frequent pilgrimages were made to the south coast of Shikoku was that this area was considered to be close to Fudaraku Jodo or the “Pure Land” which was believed to lie to the south beyond the sea.


The Japanese term now used to refer to both the Shikoku pilgrimage and the Shikoku pilgrims is Shikoku Henro . It should be noted that the term henro is not used in connection with any other pilg rimage. Hen is usually interpreted as “to go around” and ro as “road”. Within the existing records, for example in the above mentioned Konjaku Monogatari and Ryojin Hisho, there is repeated reference to journe ying to the henchi , or hendo of Shikoku.13 Although the pronunciation is the same, the Chinese character for hen used in henchi and hendo is different from that presently used for hen in h enro and is interpreted as “fringe”. Chi and do both refer to place or area. Based on these early references to henchi and hendo and the present use of the term henro it is felt by many that there is a direc t relationship between the present pilgrimage and the early practice of travelling around the fringe of the island. Like pilgrimages elsewhere, the Shikoku pilgrimage has a “peripheral” character. .


1.4 Emergence of the Eighty-Eight Sites


When and how did the pilgrimage come to encompass the present eighty-eight places ? These questions were raised as early as the late seventeenth century by Priest Jakuhom in Shikoku Reijoki. The answers were not known then, nor are they now, although there has been considerable speculation. Priest Jakuhon provided descriptions of, ninety-two temples, without reference to assigned numbers.

The point at which the pilgrimage begins and at which pilgrims prepare themselves, mentally and physically, is of particular significance. In the seventeenth century, the pilgrimage began at Zentsu-ji, today temple 75. The majori ty of early pilgrims were probably Shingon Mikkyo Buddhist priests and, since Zentsu-ji is the birthplace of Kobo Daishi and therefore of great significance, it is reasonable to think that it would have been the initial starting point in the circuit.

Jakuhon does not associate numbers with the temple names.. These appeared some time after the end of the seventeenth century, probably when the pilgrimage gained popularity among people living on the main island. People of all c lasses of society — beggars, actors, royalty, priests, political figures, great teachers, and peasants — have always been present among the pilgrims. The pilgrimage attracted worshippers from all parts of Japan14 and from all sects of Budd hism.

Today the pilgrimage starts at Ryozen-ji, number one on the circuit and the first temple to be reached by pilgrims coming from central Japan via Awaji Island. As well, historical records suggest that pilgrims, primarily priests, m ay have started the pilgrimage by visiting Koya-san, the headquarters of the Shingon Mikkyo sect established by Kobo Daishi and the place where he died. The direct route from Koya- san, on Honshu, to Shikoku brings the pilgrims to a point close to Ryozen -ji. So it seems that the convenience of beginning the pilgrimage at Ryozen-ji, supported by the proximity of this temple to Koya-san and thus Kobo Daishi, gradually overruled the desirability of beginning at Kobo Daishi’s birthplace. Over the years, re peated practice of the pilgrimage starting at Ryozen-ji and continuing in a clockwise direction, reinforced by constant reference to this order in the pilgrim guide books and maps, may have consecrated the sequence.

Thus it could be said that from the early stage of its development, the Shikoku pilgrimage assumed a convenient circuit for the pilgrims. By the early eighteenth century, the total number of temples had become fixed at eighty-eight and each temple had been assigned a number in a clockwise order beginning with Ryozen-ji.



2 Elaboration of the Pilgrimage System


2.1 Formal Pilgrimage System


The exact process through which the eighty-eight temples were selected for inclusion in the pilgrimage is, at best, uncertain. What is known is that the number eighty-eight is richly endowed with meaning within the Buddhist tradition. Four and its multiples, especially eight, have long been considered important within Japanese Buddhist thought. Four ideas predominate regarding this significance.

The first relates to mandala, the Hindu term for circle. A mandala is a ritual geometric diagram, sometimes claiming to represent a specific divine attribute or some form of enchantment. As early as 1763 Hosoda suggested, on the first published pilgrim map, that the distribution of the eighty-eight sacred places over the four prefectures of Shikoku symbolized a fourfold mandala situated among ten worlds on each of the eight petals of the lotus altar and shining incessantly ove r the Buddhist world.15 The mandala was therefore surrounded by 80 temples. This leaves eight unaccounted for. But the suggestion was that to make the pilgrimage was to delve into the world of mandala.

Earlier still, in 1689, Jakuhon stated that the eighty-eight sacred places should be conceptualized as corresponding to the eighty-eight kenwaku, or illusions of the mind that distort the truth taught by Kobo Daishi.16 Visiting the temples eliminates the illusions one by one.

The third idea relates to the death of Buddha. It is believed that immediately after his death Buddha’s ashes were distributed among eight “countries” in India and eight memorial stupas were erected. It may be from this divisi on of the ashes that the number eight, and combinations of eight, came to have particular significance. Eighty-eight is not only a multiple of four and therefore sacred but also it is two eights together making a significant unit. Ashes from one or all of the eight Indian stupas are believed to be buried within the compound of each of the eighty-eight sacred places.17

As well, the eighty-eight sacred places may be thought to represent the sum of the thirty-five hotoke, or Buddha, who live in the present world and the fifty-three hotoke who live in the past world. To visit eig hty-eight sacred places is to pay homage to these eighty-eight Buddha and to receive their charity.18

Any or all of these ideas, together with the Buddhist belief that four and its multiples are sacred, may have rendered the number eighty-eight significant. In turn, the practice of maintaining the number of sacred places at eighty -eight has itself contributed to the significance and sacred character of this number. Its persistence over the years has given a strong collective identity to the eighty-eight temples, while reinforcing their special religious significance. Acting as a consistent binding force, it has contributed much to the integration of the Shikoku pilgrimage as a spatial and symbolic system.



2.2 Temple Grouping and Symbolic Representation


The distribution of the eighty-eight sacred places over Shikoku’s four prefectures has contributed to the concept of Shikoku as a Buddhist dojo or holy place of learning and practising The Way (Figure 4). Within this larger dojo, there are four smaller dojo, each serving a specific purpose reflected in its name (Table III). These four dojo correspond to Shikoku’s four “countries”, as they were traditionally called, or present day prefectures.

Within each dojo, one sacred place functions symbolically as a sekisho or, in this context, the spiritual checkpoint which sinners cannot pass. Their locations do not follow any particular rule with respect to their spatial relationship to other sacred places within the dojo, but, with the exception of the sekisho in the first dojo, the sekisho is one of the most difficult sacred places to reach within each dojo.

In addition to the four prefectural sekisho, there is the ura-sekisho, a fifth sekisho for the four dojo together. Located approximately halfway along the circular route from Ryozen-ji (temple 1), i t is the first sacred place pilgrims visit after crossing into the third dojo.

The traditional integrated spatial and symbolic organization of the eighty-eight sacred places is summarized schematically in Figure 4. Each temple occupies a prescribed position along the established circular pilgrim path. The s patial organization into four dojo is shown in the inner circle. Shown in the centre of the figure are Kobo Daishi and the 12 honzon with which the eighty-eight places are associated.

The process through which the concept of Shikoku as a Buddhist dojo emerged is obscure. More likely it was developed by Buddhist priests/scholars who wished to offer deeper and additional meaning to the pilgrimage.



2.3 Support System


As the pilgrimage increased in popularity the custom of settai developed. Local residents

along the pilgrim route endow pilgrims with gifts of food, money, accommodation and, sometimes, transportation. It is believed that such actions will not only help the pilgrims but will also bring merit to the offerers. This custom is still practised today and has expanded with the development of settai-ko. Settai-ko are voluntary groups of people who band together to provide settai on a large scale. They often come from outside Shikoku and may spend an ent ire pilgrimage season in a temple ministering to pilgrims, handing out food, towels, and sometimes money. Some settai-ko construct a separate building within the temple compound from which they can carry out their activities.

Though different in nature from settai, legends also support the Shikoku pilgrimage system. There are many legends associated with Kobo Daishi. For example, the legend that has grown up around Uemon Saburo has caused many to consider him to be the originator of the pilgrimage. It is recorded in the temple history of Ishide-ji(temple 51) that Uemon Saburo visited the eighty-eight sacred places twenty-one times as penance for his refusal to assist Kobo Daishi and the result ing death of his eight sons. In 831, on his twenty-second time around the island, Uemon Saburo died near Shosan-ji(temple 12) and his grave may still be seen there today. The graves of Uemon Saburo’s children, on the other hand, are located near Ishide- ji in Matsuyama city at the opposite end of the island from Shosan-ji. Thus the legend functions as a bond between these three sites to further strengthen their spatial interaction within the pilgrimage.




2.4 Landscape and Rituals


Through the examination of historical records and field investigation, it became evident that the positions of sacred places are not necessarily absolutely fixed. As far as can be determined, there are fourteen sacred places, the exact locations of which have changed since the mid-sixteenth century, the earliest time for which records exist. It may be argued, therefore, that the geographic setting of the sacred place is characterized not solely by the site as it exists unaltered by ma n, but rather primarily by the assemblage of landscape markers that have been invested with special meaning.

Each sacred place is a geographic complex encompassing a multiplicity of concrete “physical features”, both artificial and natural, each of which possesses a unique character, although when the eighty-eight sacred places are viewed collectively, their shared characteristics permit a categorization of the features into several representative types. Through the repeated observation of the sacred places it was possible to ascertain from among the numerous concrete physical features t hose which might best serve as the “observation units” in the conceptualization of the physical setting of the pilgrimage places. Thirty-six types of discrete features found within the precincts of the eighty-eight places today are shown in the order of t heir frequency of occurrence in Table IV.

Records of the earliest temple landscapes are sparse. The first surviving comprehensive description of the eighty-eight pilgrimage sites is contained in Jakuhon’s aforementioned Shikoku Henro Reijoki published in 16 89. Here Jakuhon’s written description of each sacred place is supported by detailed sketches showing the landscape features of each site. From Jakuhon’s data it has been possible to reconstruct the seventeenth century landscape. The reconstructed seven teenth century landscape model is shown in Figure 5.

One of the significant aspects of the places of pilgrimage is that they are the focal points of various ritual activities performed by countless pilgrims. Such pilgrim ritual is rooted in Buddhist teaching and has been tempered by Japanese cultural tradition. The nature of the pilgrim rituals repeatedly linked to specific physical features is summarized in Table V. In this table the ritual units, that is discrete sets of pilgrim activities associated with the dominant physical f eatures, are listed in the order in which they ideally occur. From repeated observations of the pilgrim ritual, discussions with pilgrim leaders and priests, and the examination of published pilgrim guide books, various aspects of pilgrim behaviour could be selected, fused, and simplified to facilitate a construction of this traditional ideal order.



3 Transformation


3.1 Sub-pilgrimages and Miniature Pilgrimages


To make the pilgrimage to the eighty-eight sacred places in the traditional manner, on foot, required about sixty days, or longer for the sick and crippled who visited the sacred places hoping to be cured of their afflictions. A pilgri mage of two months’ duration after possibly travelling to Shikoku from other parts of Japan was, for many, a difficult task. Personal considerations of finances and time were barriers to participation in the pilgrimage, as were political constraints duri ng the Edo period when free movement from one prefecture to another was hindered. Perhaps it was in response to these difficulties that sub-pilgrimages to parts of the eighty-eight sacred places and miniature pilgrimages elsewhere copied after the Shik oku pilgrimage were developed.

A division of Shikoku’s eighty-eight sacred places into distinct sub-groups gradually evolved. At least twelve such groups of temples are clearly indicated by special names that have been assigned to them. Eight of these , includ ing anywhere from five to seventeen temples each, may be regarded as foci of ” local” pilgrimages, since they primarily attract Shikoku residents. Each of the remaining four groups encompasses all of the temples in one of Shikoku’s four prefect ures. It is common for pilgrims to call at all of the temples in just one prefecture, returning to Shikoku several times until all four prefectures have been visited. Thus, through the division of the eighty-eight sacred places into smaller groups, pilg rims have been permitted to make the pilgrimage in convenient segments. With the completion of each segment, certain religious merit is believed to have been attained, and when all segments of the pilgrimage have been completed the religious merit is alm ost equal to that gained when the pilgrimage is made all at once. The relationships between the Shikoku pilgrimage and sub-pilgrimages are shown in Figure 6.

The emergence, elsewhere in Japan, of miniature pilgrimages patterned on the Shikoku model provided another means of facilitating pilgrimage participation. Of at least forty-one such miniature pilgrimages19 establis hed outside Shikoku, many are still undertaken today (Figure 7). A more detailed comparison between Shikoku and three of the imitative pilgrimages, Shodo, Chita, and Sasaguri, is provided in Table VI. All contain eighty-eight sacred places and all share the belief that soil from each of the original places was brought to and embedded in its counterpart in the miniature pilgrimage. They also tend to cover a shorter distance, although there is considerable variation in circuit length; some, if made on fo ot, take two weeks to complete, while others can be made in one day.

Each of the imitative pilgrimages had an enthusiastic local initiator who travelled to Shikoku and the regions in which they occur are each believed to have been visited by Kobo Daishi. Like the original pilgrimage sites, the mini ature pilgrimage places are circular in arrangement, although the assigned temple numbers do not always conform to the sequential-spatial order of the sites. While the eighty-eight places of Shikoku are each marked by a temple complex which consists of a variety of structures, the miniature pilgrimage sites are marked by smaller structures with limited variety, or, in some cases, by natural features, such as caves or waterfalls. Each pilgrimage site, whether original or imitative, has an association wit h Kobo Daishi and one or more Buddhist deities. In the miniature pilgrimages, however, the association with Buddhist deities differs from the Shikoku model with regard to the range and frequency of occurrence of images enshrined. In the Shodo pilgrimage, for example. variations among the deities are particularly great, with a number of Shinto deities included. When a new miniature pilgrimage is inaugurated it is with considerable ceremony.

In addition to these twenty miniature pilgrimages, the sacred places of which are primarily marked by temples, there are throughout Japan, including Shikoku, numerous miniature pilgrimages of a much smaller scale. In these, the eighty-eight sacred places are represented by a set of stone markers each of which has carved on it the name of one temple and the figure of the chief deity of that temple. Very often these stone markers stand side by side in a row, although sometimes t hey are spread over a more extensive area. Often these markers stand within a temple compound and can be visited in a matter of minutes. They particularly attract the local residents of the area. These miniature pilgrimages have been instigated by the he ad priest of the temple in which the markers are found, either at his initiative or in response to congregational demand.

Miniature pilgrimages and sub-pilgrimages have been established for the convenience of those who wish to make the pilgrimage but find it difficult to visit all of the eighty-eight Shikoku places.. The opportunity provided for symbolic and/or partial participation in the Shikoku pilgrimage affords the participants at least some religious merit. Such pilgrimages also possibly stimulate the desire to make the so-called Hon-Shikoku, or “Real Shikoku”, pilgrimage at a la ter date so as to attain further religious merit. Thus, miniature pilgrimages and sub-pilgrimages are integral parts of the spatial and symbolic Shikoku pilgrimage



3.2 Contemporary Adjustment


The circular arrangement of the temples makes it possible for the pilgrimage to be initiated at any desired point. The emerging contemporary trend is for pilgrims to begin their journeys at the most readily accessible temple. Two of the three recently planned bridges linking Shikoku to Honshu have been completed. The first, opened in 1987, was the Naruto automobile bridge connecting Sumoto on Awaji Island and Naruto in Shikoku. Its completion had little impact on the pattern of pil grim circulation, as pilgrims using it continued to arrive on Shikoku at a point close to temple number one. The second, the Seto Bridge, opened 1988, is an automobile and railway bridge connecting Kojima on the mainland and Sakaide on Shikoku. It bring s pilgrims close to Zentsu-ji(temple 75), the birth place of Kobo Daishi. The third bridge is scheduled for completion in the late nineties and will link Onomichi on the mainland with Imabari on Shikoku, bringing pilgrims close to Nanko-bo (temple 53) on arrival on the island. This bridge, like the Seto Bridge, is expected to bring about a change in the origination point for many pilgrims.

Modern modes of transportation have affected pilgrimages everywhere by continually expanding their catchment areas and by making participation easier. Although the Shikoku pilgrimage is traditionally made on foot, it has been af fected by modern modes of transport. In the 1920s, some pilgrims began to use horse-drawn wagons, and in the 1940s it became common to make the pilgrimage using local rail facilities. Today, the most common form of transport is a chartered bus. Chartere d bus companies offer pilgrims all-inclusive packages with transportation, accommodation and meals included in the price. Under the direction of a pilgrim leader, the pilgrimage is usually completed within two weeks Pilgrims also travel by taxi, privat e car, bicycle, and motorcycle, with the result that the required time to complete the pilgrimage has been reduced from two months to about two weeks. With that has also come a reduction in the overall cost of accommodation until, today, to make the pilg rimage on foot is likely the most extensive way. Furthermore, the savings in time and cost have increased the frequency with which the pilgrimage may be made by any one participant, thus increasing the opportunity for the pilgrim to accumulate religious merit. Yet most pilgrims still seem to consider that the traditional practice of journeying on foot to the sacred places yields the greatest religious merit.

Until 1973, one temple in each prefecture was accessible only by foot. Since then paved roads, and in one instance a cable car, have been built into these temples. But, if time permits, many pilgrims travelling by chartered bus re quest that the bus park at some distance from the temple so that they may approach it on foot and thus participate at least symbolically in the walking pilgrimage.

Visiting the eighty-eight sacred places in sequence in a clockwise direction, following the route believed to have been designated by Kobo Daishi, gave rise to the term junrei- literally, “sequentially ordered visit”. Ma ny pilgrims believe that Kobo Daishi made the pilgrimage in a clockwise direction, and that they are following in his footsteps. But visiting the eighty-eight places in sequence in a counter-clockwise direction is not prohibited, and is done occasionally often by pilgrims who believe that, by travelling in the opposite direction, they will meet Kobo Daishi coming towards them. As more and more pilgrims use some form of transportation, fewer and fewer follow the prescribed sequence exactly. Because it was originally designed for the walking pilgrimage, it is not always well suited to vehicular travel, and access to some temples from the preceding temple in the sequence does not always make good sense ‘economically”. These changes are relatively minor though, occurring only within small groups of temples in each prefecture. Prefectural boundaries are never crossed out of sequence, no matter how the order of sacred places is altered, and the overall clockwise direction of the pilgrimage remains. Despite the minor changes, the established spatial symbolic organization of the eighty-eight sacred places is still essentially intact.



3.3 Ritual Variations


Today pilgrims have only a short time to spend at each temple if the pilgrimage is to be completed in the time available. In order to complete the ritual activity at each temple as quickly as possible, contemporary pilgrims often abbre viate the rituals, even the most important ones.

Chanting in front of the hondo and daishido is considered to be central to the ritual. The chant begins with the Hannya-haramita-shingyo commonly known as Hannya-shingyo. This is a compendium of Buddhi st teachings in 262 characters. To chant the 262 characters is to chant the Buddhist scripture. This is followed by Honzon no Shingon or the true words of the honzon. Shingon proclaims the greatness of the Buddha, and as this great ness cannot be expressed through

human language, shingon is actually a set of sounds, not words. The particular shingon chanted at each temple depends upon thee type of honzon enshrined therein.. The final part of the chant is “Namudaishi-henjo-kongo“, words dedicated to Kobo Daishi. These words, like the shingon, are repeated three times. In order to minimize the time spent chanting, pilgrims mumble the words at top speed, sometimes omitting entire se ctions. In the most extreme case s pilgrims merely glance at the hondo and/or daishido, bow in its general direction, and hurry to receive the temple stamp, omitting most other ritual activity.

The hoin or temple seal was given originally in exchange for handwritten okyo (Buddhist scripture), but now pilgrims pay a prescribed sum and get the seal which signifies that the pilgrim has visited the temple. This is very impo rtant to most of the pilgrims and not a step to be missed. As pilgrims enter the temple compound, they often observe the nokyosho (place where the temple stamp is given), and if it is not crowded, will go there immediately. Busloads of pilgrims e ntrust their stamp books to the drivers and/or someone employed especially for the purpose who will take them to the nokyosho and wait while they are stamped. Some of these individuals even take part in administering the stamp. In the meantime th e pilgrims proceed with other ritual activities. In the height of the pilgrim season in spring and fall the nokyosho is very crowded and stamping is seldom completed in the time it takes pilgrims to complete the rituals. At these times it is not uncommon for the stamp books to be driven around the island in a separate vehicle and the stamps to be collected independently of the pilgrims’ visits. Such activities as these have brought about considerable variation for the traditional, ideal pilgrim age ritual process.



3.4 Management of Sacred Places


Pilgrim places, like any other places, do not just “happen” and/or “exist”. They are centres of meaning and the focus of human endeavour to foster their special significance. Just how are sacred places maintained ? The temple land scape is an expression of the priests’ intentions, managerial abilities, and the accommodation of pilgrims’ needs. Tasks involved in the management of the pilgrim places became apparent through repeated visits to the sacred places and conversation with priests (Table VII).

Proper maintenance of the temple landscape today, as in the past, is an important issue facing priest managers concerned with the continuing existence of pilgrimage. The tasks and nature of decision making with regard to site m aintenance are diverse and complex. Although priorities among the tasks may vary from temple to temple and from year to year, some of the tasks require particular effort on the part of the priests.

Construction and maintenance of the structures is one of the major concerns. Today many temples are facing major new construction and reconstruction needs. It is up to the priests to identify those features which should be repla ced and/or added to the compound, and to set priorities within the financial limitations of the temple.

The central argument with regard to this particular issue often revolves around the decision concerning building materials. The tradition of temple architecture which has developed over the centuries has given rise to a “prescribe d” correspondence between the function and form of the structures. Ideally, therefore, buildings should be constructed to closely resemble the “original”. However, there are problems in realizing this ideal. Materials traditionally used in temple cons truction such as zelkova wood (keyaki) and Japanese cypress (hinoki) are becoming scarce and expensive ; carpenters skilled in temple craftsmanship have almost disappeared. With regard to this primary area, three courses of action present themselves: construct the structure of wood; build only a wood facade with the remainder of the structure being concrete; construct the structure entirely of concrete.

Priests favouring structures made of wood maintain that the prevailing atmosphere of the temple must be one in which the worshipper can communicate with the sacred beings. Compared to wood which creates a soft, warm and authenti c atmosphere, concrete buildings, some priests feel , are bleak and without comfort, tending to shut off the human mind. On the other hand, those who have used concrete point out virtues of its durability, fire resistance, lower cost, and lower maintena nce. Those priests who favour building with concrete emphasize the economic factor while priests who choose all wooden structures emphasize authenticity. Priests who seek a compromised position do not escape the problems. Here the main concern is the s uccessful integration of the two materials, physically and aesthetically.


Regardless of the building materials chosen, the quality of the structures depends directly upon the priests’ ability to generate funds. The priests’ intentions and managerial abilities will no doubt be reflected in the building v arieties, forms and materials, and will thus affect the total temple landscape.

The financing of building and reconstruction projects is an ongoing concern. There are three primary sources of revenue available. The first is the temple congregation, the size and affluence of which varies. About one third of the eighty-eight temples do not have a local congregation. Pilgrim contributions are another important source of funds. At many temples a pilgrim donating a specified sum receives a tile on which to write his/her name. The tile is then used in the bu ilding project. Third source of revenue is the national and/or prefectural government. This funding is only available, however, to those temples at which particular building have been designated “Important Cultural Assets” or ” National Treasures”. If a particular statuary is so designated, government funding is also available for the upkeep of the building in which it is housed. If, however, the hondo (main building) no longer provides the honzon (principal image) with the protection it requires, government funding is available for the construction of a concrete, climate-and security-controlled storehouse for the statue but not necessarily for the construction of a new hondo , a very expensive undertaking.

Priests must also concern themselves with the security (primarily against fire and theft) of the temple buildings. The majority of these are wooden structures. The presence of koro (insence burners) and rosokutate ( candle stands) essential to pilgrimage ritual, close to the hondo and the daishido greatly increases the possibility of fire. A contemporary countermeasure to this hazard

has been to move the koro and rosokutate away from the buildings and, in the latter, to use only modern metal ones designed to contain the fire.

A watchful observation of the main buildings from the priest’s residence is seldom possible due to the mountain location of most of the temples, reducing the chances of early detection of fire. Some wealthy temples are now equippe d with smoke detectors and infra-red flame sensors which can identify fire from outside the buildings. Early detection of fire is critical, especially in the case of the twenty-four temples whose mountain top locations make the accessibility to fire-figh ting equipment difficult if not impossible. At these temples particularly the effective use of water and/or fire extinguishers is essential.

Theft of offerings occurs occasionally but is minimized by more frequent emptying of the offering depositories. Stealing of temple property is controlled by tighter surveillance. Usually this means increased observation of visit ors by priests and temple employees. But at some temples hidden security cameras and infra-red sensors have been added recently to further reduce the risk of theft.

With the increasing number of pilgrims, problems related to “mundane” aspects of the pilgrimage multiply. Priests must concern themselves with such things as the provision and maintenance of parking, toilet, and garbage facilities , not to mention the daily upkeep of the grounds: raking, sweeping, watering, pruning. Beyond the temple boundaries they must concern themselves with the upkeep of the traditional pilgrim walking path leading to the temple including the maintenance of tr aditional and contemporary route markers. Recently, there has been an effort on the part of the Japanese government to preserve historical pathways throughout Japan. On Shikoku, these pathways are primarily those of the original pilgrimage route. The in flux of government funds for route maintenance has helped to relieve the financial burden of the upkeep of the traditional walking path.

The eighty-eight pilgrim places share many of the same problems. Their priests are members of Shikoku Reijo-kai, an association of Shikoku sacred places. Three or four times a year they meet in their prefectural groups an d once yearly in a single gathering to discuss common problems and concerns. These may include the setting of accommodation and temple stamp fees and the timing of increases, the process of pilgrim leader nomination and recognition, and appropriate templ e landscape changes. In addition, priests and pilgrim leaders meet annually at the birthplace of Kobo Daishi to exchange ideas and information with respect to new regulations, financial concerns and matters related to pilgrim ritual. Regular and special meetings, often including temple congregations, are held as required to discuss matters related to the role and the function of the temples with respect to immediate local issues.

Detailed information about the internal operation of Shikoku Reijo-kai and the various meetings in which the priests participate is not readily available, but I have been able to ascertain from casual conversation with a nu mber of priests over several years that there are diverse opinions on many aspects of pilgrimage system maintenance. Despite this, consensus is often reached and the association and meetings help to guide priests toward effective management of the sacred places.





Pilgrimage is an inherently dynamic entity: pilgrimage sites emerge and decline and the spatial pattern of pilgrimage and ritual activities at specific locations change over time. That some of the world’s age-old pilgrimages have sur vived and are apparently serving an important function is due in part to the fact that they have been able to accommodate those changes, while not divorcing themselves from tradition.

Focussing on a representative multiple site Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan, this paper has identified the changing nature of the Shikoku pilgrimage. The evolution of this complex pilgrimage system was examined in terms of the se lf-organizing “mechanisms” that have developed over the centuries in response to individual and cultural forces. Exploration of compromise in the conflict between religious merit and convenience through the examination of the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers reveals the underlying strength of the ongoing popularity of this pilgrimage and the complex nature of the self-organizing system that has evolved over the last three centuries. The n ature, intensity, and focus of the roles played by those individuals and institutions central to the foundations and practice of the pilgrimage have shaped the direction and texture of the evolution of this open pilgrimage system.

The Shikoku pilgrimage has witnessed dynamic change in spatial setting, temple landscapes and pilgrim ritual and movement. Despite the increasing secularization of Japanese society, the popularity of the Shikoku pilgrimage show s no signs of waning. Changes are ongoing to accommodate the modern pilgrim and his/her fast-paced, affluent lifestyle. The most recent innovation in mode of pilgrim transport, for example, came in 1998 with the advent of charter helicopters for “flyi ng visits” to the sacred sites. This development may play an important role in the future in offering members of Japan’s rapidly aging society yet another alternative in

pilgrimage travel.


Notes and References



1 A.S. Geden, “Pilgrimage (Buddhist),” Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 10 (New York: Scribner, 1918), p.13.

2 See J.M. Kitagawa, “Three types of pilgrimage in Japan,” in E.E. Urbach et al. (Eds.), Studies in Mysticism and Religion (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1967), pp. 155-64.

3 Ninsho Miyazaki, Henro: Sono Kokoro to Rekishi (Tokyo: Shogakkan, 1974), pp. 12-13.

4 Kobo Daishi travelled to China on the Kento-sen, a Japanese ship used expressly for the purpose of sending Japanese literati to Tang’s China to become acquainted with the “higher culture”.

5 For further discussion of the Mikkyo doctrine, see Joseph M. Kitagawa, “Master and Saviour”, Studies of Esoteric Buddhism and Tantrism. In Commemoration of the 1,150 Anniversary of the Founding of Koyasan (Koyasan: Koyasan University, 1965), pp. 100-03.

6 There is a controversy over who, in fact, did develop the Japanese syllabary.

Shotoku Taishi, Dengyo Daishi, Soga no Umako, Sadaijin Fuyutsugu and Tachibana no Hayanari are each believed by some to have been the originator; however, the majority of Japanese credit Kobo Dai shi with its creation.

7 Kanzen Hasuo, Kobo Daishi-den (Koyasan: Kongobu-ji, 1931), pp 575-89.

8 This is indicated in temple records and in Y. Hori (ed). Dai-nihon Jiin Soran (Gazetteer of Buddhist Temples in Japan) (Tokyo: Meicho Kankokai, 1966).

9 Jukuhon, Shikoku Henro Reijo-ki (1690), II, p. 10, reprinted in Shikoku Reijo-ki-shu, ed. by Yoshihiro Kondo ( Tokyo: Benseisha, 1973), p. 436.

10 Taku Maeda, Junrei no Shakaigaku (Kyoto: Mineruba Shobo, 1972), p. 28.

11 Takakuni Minamoto, ed. Konjaku Monogatari (1106-08), section 14, reprinted in Konjaku Monogatari, ed. by Tokichi Nagano (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1956).

12 Goshirakawa Tenno, ed., Ryojin Hisho (1171), Section 33, reprinted in Ryojin Hisho-ko, ed. by Junichi Konishi (Tokyo: Sanseido, 1941).

13 For a discussion of the terms Henchi and henro in relation to the Shikoku pilgrimage see Kondo, Shikoku Henro, pp. 26-42.

14 Those who have made the pilgrimage range from beggars and lepers to Kabuki actors, famous painters and priests, the Prime Minister and members of the Imperial family. At present males and females visit Shikoku in approximately equal numbers and range in age from one year to over 90 although the largest percentage (25%) would appear to be between 60 and 69 judging from an Examination of 879 ofuda (calling cards).

15 S. Hosoda, “Shikoku Henrei Ezu”, Monumenta Cartegraphica Japonica (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1972).

16 Jakuhon, pp. 438-39.

17 Kanzen Hasuo, p.350.

18 Bukkyo Daijii, ed. by Ryukoku University (Tokyo: Fuzando, 1937), p. 1772.

19 Tsunezo Shinjo, Shaji Sankei no Shakai Keizaishi-teki Kenkyu (Tokyo: Hanawa Shobo, 1964), pp. 811-12.



(‘Kobo Daishi Zenshu,’ I, 98 ff.) Kukai (774-835) learned in China and introduced to Japan the Buddhism known as the True Words (Mantrayana in Sanskrit, Shingon in Japanese). In Shingon Buddhism the mysteries are transmitted orally from master to disciple. This Esoteric Buddhism became the most important religion of Heian Japan.The passage printed below is taken from the Memorial Presenting a List of Newly Imported Sutras, which Kukai wrote to the emperor upon his return from studying in China. Kukai wrote reports on the results of his studies and cautiously relates his initiation.

During the sixth moon of 804, I, Kukai, sailed for China aboard the Number One Ship, in the party of Lord Fujiwara ambassador to the T’ang court. We reached the coast of Fukien by the eighth moon, and four months later arrived at Ch’ang-an, the capital, where we were lodged at the official guest residence. The ambassadorial delegation started home for Japan on March 15, 805, but in obedience to an imperial edict, I alone remained behind in the Hsi-ming Temple where the abbot Yung-chung had formerly resided.

One day, in the course of my calls on eminent Buddhist teachers of the capital, I happened by chance to meet the abbot of the East Pagoda Hall of the Green Dragon Temple. This great priest, whose Buddhist name was Hui-kuo, was the chosen disciple of the Indian master Amoghavajra. His virtue aroused the reverence of his age; his teachings were lofty enough to guide emperors. Three sovereigns revered him as their master and were ordained by him. The four classes of believers looked up to him for instruction in the esoteric teachings.

I called on the abbot in the company of five or six monks from the Hsi-ming Temple. As soon as he saw me he smiled with pleasure, and he joyfully said, ‘I knew that you would come! I have been waiting for such a long time. What pleasure it gives me to look on you today at last! My life is drawing to an end, and until you came there was no one to whom I could transmit the teachings. Go without delay to the ordination altar with incense and a flower.’ I returned to the temple where I had been staying and got the things which were necessary for the ceremony. It was early in the sixth moon, then, that I entered the ordination chamber. I stood in front of the Womb Mandala [Garbha Mandala] and cast my flower in the prescribed manner.1 By chance it fell on the body of the Buddha Vairochana in the centre. The master exclaimed in delight, ‘How amazing! How perfectly amazing!’ He repeated this three or four times in joy and wonder. I was then given the fivefold baptism and received the instruction in the Three Mysteries that bring divine intercession. Next I was taught the Sanskrit formulas for the Womb Mandala, and learned the yoga contemplation on all the Honoured Ones.

Early in the seventh moon I entered the ordination chamber of the Diamond [Vajra] Mandala for a second baptism. When I cast my flower it fell on Vairochana again, and the abbot marvelled as he had before. I also received ordination as an acharya early in the following month. On the day of my ordination I provided a feast for five hundred of the monks. The dignitaries of the Green Dragon Temple all attended the feast, and everyone enjoyed himself.

I later studied the Diamond Crown Yoga and the five divisions of the True Words teachings, and spent some time learning Sanskrit and the Sanskrit hymns. The abbot informed me that the Esoteric scriptures are so abstruse that their meaning cannot be conveyed except through art. For this reason he ordered the court artist Li Chen and about a dozen other painters to execute ten scrolls of the Womb and Diamond Mandalas, and assembled more than twenty scribes to make copies of the Diamond and other important esoteric scriptures. He also ordered the bronzesmith Chao Wu to cast fifteen ritual implements. These orders for the painting of religious images and the copying of the sutras were issued at various times.

One day the abbot told me, ‘Long ago, when I was still young, I met the great master Amoghavajra. From the first moment he saw me he treated me like a son, and on his visit to the court and his return to the temple I was inseparable from him as his shadow. He confided to me. ‘You will be the receptacle of the esoteric teachings. Do your best! Do your best!’ I was then initiated into the teachings of both the Womb and Diamond, and into the secret mudras as well. The rest of his disciples, monks and laity alike, studied just one of the Mandalas or one Honoured One or one ritual, but not all of them as I did. How deeply I am indebted to him I shall never be able to express.

‘Now my existence on earth approaches its term, and I cannot long remain. I urge you, therefore, to take the two Mandalas and the hundred volumes of the Esoteric teachings, together with the ritual implements and these gifts which were left to me by my master. Return to your country and propagate the teachings there.

‘When you first arrived I feared I did not have time enough left to teach you everything, but now my teaching is completed, and the work of copying the sutras and making the images is also finished. Hasten back to your country, offer these things to the court, and spread the teachings throughout your country to increase the happiness of the people. Then the land will know peace and everyone will be content. In that way you will return thanks to Buddha and to your teacher. That is also the way to show your devotion to your country and to your family. My disciple I-ming will carry on the teachings here. Your task is to transmit them to the Eastern Land. Do your best! Do your best !’ These were his final instructions to me, kindly and patient as always. On the night of the last full moon of the year he purified himself with a ritual bath and, lying on his right side and making the mudra of Vairochana, he breathed his last.

That night, while I sat in meditation in the Hall, the abbot appeared to me in his usual form and said, ‘You and I have long been pledged to propagate the esoteric teachings. If I am reborn in Japan, this time I will be your disciple.’

I have not gone into the details of all he said, but the general import of the Master’s instructions I have given. [Dated 5th December 806].

Note1 Mandala is a rather complex design, comprising a circular border and one or more concentric circles enclosing a square divided into four triangles; in the centre of each triangle, and in the centre of the Mandala itself, are other circles containing images of divinities or their emblems. During the initiation, the guru blindfolds the disciple and puts a flower in his hand; the disciple throws it into the Mandala, and the section into which it falls reveals the divinity who will be especially favourable to him. On the Symbolism and the Rituals of the Mandala, cf. M. Eliade, Yoga (New York: Bollingen Series LVI, 1958), pp. 219 ff.; G. Tucci, The Theory and practice of the Mandala (London, 196l).

Translation by Wm. Theodore de Bary, in De Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), PP. 144-6. Introductory comment adapted from De Bary, pp. 137 ff. Note by M. Eliade.

Saichõ and Kukai: A Conflict of Interpretations

                       by Ryuichi A

This article reappraises the interaction between Saichõ (767–822) and Kukai (774–835), founders, respectively, of the Japanese Tendai and Shingon schools of Buddhism. This new appraisal is based on the historical conditions in which these two men sought to introduce new types of Buddhism at the close of the age of Nara Buddhism, rather than on the conventional, idealized characterizations of the two figures as the founding fathers of their respective schools. What emerges is the unbridgeable difference
between Saichõ and Kukai in their interpretive strategies for delineating the role of esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyõ) in establishing a new order in the early Heian Buddhist community, a difference that presented itself as a persistent tension that underlay Saichõ’s alliance with Kukai from the very outset of their relationship.

 Note: This is not the most authoritative translation.(Read Hakeda’s Kukai: Major Works.)

translated by Hisao Inagaki

Chinese esoteric Buddhism entered a new epoch in the eighth century when Shubhakarasimha (善無畏 Zenmui, 637-735) and Vajrabodhi (金剛智 Kongochi, 671-741) produced Chinese translations of the Mahavairocana Sutra and the Diamond Peak Sutra, respectively, thereby promulgating what is called “genuine esotericism” (純密 junmitsu) as distinguished from “mixed esotericism” ( 雑密 zomitsu). Furthermore, Amoghavajra (不空金剛 Fukukongo, 705-74), Vajrabodhi’s disciple, actively engaged in the dissemination of the teaching while translating a large number of esoteric texts which he had brought from India. It was his disciple Hui-kuo (恵果 Keika, 746-805) who transmitted the teaching to Kukai when the latter visited China.

Kukai (774-835), popularly known by the name of Kobo Daishi, after returning to Japan, propagated the esoteric teaching in Kyoto and elsewhere while writing a number of works. Being a faithful follower of the esoteric tradition, he based his system of thought on the teachings of Indian and Chinese masters and attached especially great importance to the sutras of genuine esotericism and two treatises attributed to Nagarjuna, namely, Treatise on Bodhi-Mind (菩提心論 Bodaishinron) and Commentary on the Treatise on Mahayana (釋摩訶衍論 Shakumakaenron). He further developed and systematized the doctrine with his extensive knowledge and religious ingenuity. Thus, the system of the Shingon sect which he founded represents the apex of Buddhist esotericism.

Of all the works of Kukai, the following six considered the most important in the Shingon sect:
(1) Ben-kenmitsu-nikyo-ron (辯顯密二教論), 2 fascicles, T.T.No.2427, a treatise which compares exoteric and esoteric teaching and shows that the latter is superior because it was expounded by the Dharmakaya Buddha.
(2) Sokushin-jobutsu-gi (即身成佛義), 1 fascicle, T.T.No. 2428.
(3) Shoji-jisso-gi (聲字實相義), 1 fascicle, T.T.No. 2429, a treatise which establishes the doctrine that Mahavairocana’s preaching of Dharma is heard through phenomenal existences.
(4) Unji-gi (吽字義), 1 fascicle, T.T.No. 2430, a discourse on the significance of the mystic letter “HUM”, saying that it contains deep and boundless significance of the absolute truth and that one can attain the state of Mahavairocana by contemplating on it.
(5) Hizo-hoyaku (秘蔵寶鑰), 3 fascicles, T.T.No. 2426, a discourse on the ten stages of spiritual progress which correspond to the ten categories of Buddhist and non-Buddhist paths.
(6) Hannyashingyo-hiken (般若心經秘鍵), 1 fascicle, T.T.No. 2203, a commentary on the Prajnaparamita-hridaya Sutra.
These six works in nine fascicles and the Treatise on Bodhi-Mind, 1 fascicle, are put together in a collection of “The Ten-fascicle Books” (十巻章) explaining the fundamentals of the Shingon doctrine. The theory of the ten-stage spiritual progress is more extensively discussed in the Himitsu-mandara-jujushin-ron (秘密曼茶羅十住心論), 10 fascicles, T.T.No. 2425.

In Kukai’s system of thought, attainment of Buddhahood with the present body occupies the most important place. Ordinarily, Buddhahood is to be attained after three “incalculable aeons” (asamkhya-kalpa), during which one gradually accumulates merit, removes evil passions, and cultivates wisdom. All exoteric teachings, Kukai claims, more or less follow this pattern of practice, but esoteric teaching which is the direct and spontaneous revelation of the ultimate truth by the Dharmakaya Buddha presents a mysterious, transcendental means (神通乘 jinzujo) whereby one attains Buddhahood very quickly, even in the present life. This doctrine, however, was not Kukai’s dogmatic elaboration. There is evidence that Amoghavajra and Hui-kuo had the same view. The theory of quick attainment of Buddhahood, it must be added, is not peculiar to esoteric Buddhism. The Tendai and Kegon schools have a similar doctrine, and Zen advocates instant realization of Enlightenment. Kukai’s contemporary and the founder of the Japanese Tendai sect, Saicho (767-822), in fact, promulgated the teaching of quick realization of Buddhahood based on the Lotus Sutra against the Hosso teaching which expounds gradual progress toward Enlightenment over the period of three incalculable aeons. In Kukai’s view, Tendai and Kegon talk only about theoretical possibilities of attaining Buddhahood quickly and lack an actual experience of realization.

It is not known exactly when Kukai wrote the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi. It is presumed that he wrote it during the Tencho period (824-33). It is also suggested that since the theory of the six elements is frequently mentioned in the works written after the first year of Tencho (824), he must have written this work in the late Konin period (c.820-4). There is still another assumption placing the date of compilation between the eighth and the ninth year of Konin (817-18) based on an investigation into the relationship between Kukai and Tokuichi, his contemporary and scholar of the Hosso doctrine.

The treatise consists of three parts: scriptural evidence, verse, and exposition of the verse. In Part I, eight passages are quoted from the Great Sun Sutra, sutras belonging to the Diamond Peak group, and the Treatise on Bodhi-Mind as the scriptural evidence for establishing the principle of attaining Buddhahood with the present body. The verse, consisting of two stanzas in eight lines, is attributed to the “great Acarya of T’ang”, namely Hui-kuo, in a different text of the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi,7 but this ascription is not generally accepted because the text in question is thought to have been composed by some other person. The verse, indeed, forms an integral part of the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi, presenting the essentials of the doctrine of attaining Buddhahood with the present body, and so it can be considered as the most important part of the entire system of Shingon esotericism. The first stanza explains the meaning of “sokushin”, and the second one that of “jobutsu”.

  It is important to note that in Parts II and III Kukai follows the pattern of discourse adopted in the Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana and the Commentary on the Treatise on Mahayana (釋摩訶衍論 Shakumakaenron), namely, (1) presentation of the essence (體 tai) of all things, (2) phenomenal manifestations of the essence in concrete forms (相 so), and (3) activity and function (用 yu) of the essence. The essential substance of the universe, according to Kukai, is the six elements (六大 rokudai, six mahabhutas), viz., earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness. In ordinary Buddhist teaching, these six are regarded as constituent elements of the phenomenal world (samskrita), and the very essence of things is shown in Mahayana by such terms as “Dharma-nature” (dharmata), “True Suchness” (tathata), and “Voidness” (shunyata). Kukai’s view of the universe is that the six elements are its essence and are identical with the Dharmakaya Buddha Mahavairocana. As in other aspects of his esoteric doctrine, Kukai presents the ultimate essence of things in positive and concrete terms where those familiar with Zen may expect a negative expression. These six elements and all phenomena, including all sentient beings and even Buddhas, are in the relationship of “producing” elements and “produced” things, but in reality it is not a relative relationship, and a popular concept of “creation” does not apply here. Though the first five are treated as material elements and the last one as the mental elements, they are basically of the same nature. They penetrate each other and are mutually unhindered. Hence, what is material is mental, and what is mental is material. This provides the basis for universal, mutual unhinderedness through which the esoteric principle of the unity of man with Buddha is established. Kukai further demonstrates that the first five elements represent the noumenal principle (理 ri) and the last one signifies perfect wisdom (智 chi). This means to say that the whole universe produced from the six elements is the embodiment of Mahavairocana’s noumenal principle and wisdom. In their original state, the six elements are “un-producing” ( 無作 musa) and “un-produced” (不生 fusho). The “original unproducedness” (本不生 honpusho, adyanutpada), indeed, is the keynote of genuine esotericism and is represented by the letter “A”.

As we have seen above, phenomenal manifestations of the six elements can be considered as self-manifestations of Mahavairocana Buddha. The universe as such is, therefore, a pictorial presentation (Mandala) of this original Buddha. In terms of the four kinds of Mandalas, the universe is, first of all, a Maha Mandala (大曼茶羅 dai-mandara) and various phenomenal existences can be considered as deities arising out of the original body, Mahavairocana. Secondly, the universe is interpreted spiritually as a manifestation of his vows and ideas, and so various things in it are considered as swords, jewels, lotus-flowers, etc., held in the hands of the deities which represent their distinct vows and wishes. In this sense, the whole universe is a Samaya Mandala (三昧耶曼茶羅 samaya-mandara). Thirdly, the universe is a self-manifestation of Dharma, and each phenomenal existence is a letter of Dharma containing immeasurable meanings and merits. Also, various letters signifying deities in the Mantras are revealed as phenomenal existences in the universe. Hence, the whole universe is a Dharma Mandala (法曼茶羅 ho-mandara). Lastly, movements of things in the universe represent deities’ actions; hence, the universe is a Karma Mandala (羯磨曼茶羅 katsuma-mandara). The four kinds of Mandalas which are usually shown in pictorial forms, seed-letters (種子 shushi, bija), or act-signs, have thus a cosmic significance. As it is said in the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi, each of the four kinds of Mandalas is as immense as space and they penetrate each other, being mutually unhindered.

The real religious significance of Kukai’s theory of origination from six elements (六大縁起論 rokudai engi) lies in the spontaneous function of Mahavairocana. He manifests himself in various forms of Buddhas and deities, and reveals Dharma to sentient beings. Since it is conceived that the activity of Mahavairocana is displayed with his body, speech, and mind, one who seeks unity with him is required to take a specific physical posture and perform specific oral and mental exertions. Therefore, Kukai attaches great importance to the three kinds of practice, namely, Mudra-sign, incantation of Mantra, and Samadhi-meditation. These three are called “the three mystic practices” (三密 sanmitsu) – “mystic” because they are so profound and subtle that even the Bodhisattvas of the highest rank cannot recognize them. The three mystic practices originally belong to the Buddha, and the practitioner is only required to conform to them as they are transferred to him. It is further conceived ontologically that all sentient beings possess by nature the same mystic forms of action as the Buddha’s – as it is technically called “無相の三密” (muso no sanmitsu) – but they do not realize them until they successfully perform the prescribed method of practice and attain unity with the Buddha.

The spiritual communication and unity between man and Buddha which thus involves physical, oral, and mental correspondence is expressed by the term “加持” (kaji). It is originally a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit “adhisthana” (power, authority, blessing) which refers to the Buddha’s power brought to bear on a Bodhisattva, etc., to assist him in his spiritual progress. The term as it is interpreted by Kukai refers to this power on the part of the Buddha and also response to and reception of it on the part of the practitioner. “加” (ka), literally “adding”, and “持” (ji), “holding”, are given these two distinct meanings. In other words, as Kukai notes, “加” refers to the Buddha’s great compassion, and “持” man’s faith. In his introduction to the Mahavairocana Sutra, Kukai says, “‘加持’ (kaji) is ‘佛所護念’ (butsu shogonen, favored by the Buddha) and ‘加被’ (kabi, adding and endowing) in old translation. But these do not exhaust its implications. ‘加’ (ka) is the term for ‘往來渉入’ (orai-shonyu, communication and penetration), and ‘持’ ( ji) has the meaning of ‘攝而不散’ (sho ni fusan, holding and keeping something from dispersing). This is to say, ‘入我我入’ (nyuga-ganyu, Buddha entering into me and I entering into Buddha) is the significance of the term.”

In explaining the principle of attaining Buddhahood with the present body, three kinds of “sokushin-jobutsu” are distinguished: (1) “理具” (rigu, intrinsic embodiment), (2) “加持” (kaji, empowerment and responding), and (3) “顯得” (kentoku, manifest realization). Firstly, all sentient beings intrinsically and spontaneously possess all the merit of the Vajradhatu and Garbhadhatu Mandalas, with their bodies containing the noumenal qualities of the five elements and with their minds embodying the Enlightenment-wisdom of the consciousness element. Therefore, they are in themselves Dharmakaya Buddhas. Secondly, one attains unity with Mahavairocana Buddha through the three mystic practices of empowerment and responding. In this stage of practice, the practitioner is identical with Mahavairocana as long as he is in the mystic Samadhi of Yoga, but when he leaves it he returns to the state of an ordinary man still bound by evil passions and desires. Thirdly, as the practitioner continues to perform the three mystic practices, he will attain the full realization of Buddhahood, with all his actions always in harmony with the Buddha’s. Since he thus manifestly realizes the intrinsic virtue of Mahavairocana, his body is now the Buddha’s body, and the Buddha’s body his body.

The theory of the three kinds of attainment of Buddhahood should not be attributed to Kukai because it appears in a different text of the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi which was most probably composed by some other person, but it has been widely used in the Shingon sect to explain the deep meaning of this principle. In accordance with the three meanings of the principle, three distinct readings of “即身成佛” (soku-shin-jo-butsu) have been devised. In the case of the intrinsic embodiment of Buddhahood, the phrase is read “sunawachi mi nareru butsu” (in itself one’s body is an actualized Buddha). In the second case of realizing Buddhahood through empowerment and responding, it is read “mi ni sokushite butsu to naru” (with the present body one becomes a Buddha). Lastly, with reference to the manifest realization of Buddhahood, the reading is “sumiyaka ni mi butsu to naru” (quickly one’s body becomes Buddha’s).

As Shingon esotericism is a highly sophisticated religious-philosophical system, it is impossible to discuss all aspects of the system in this article. The above introductory remarks on the principle of attaining Buddhahood with the present body may serve as an introduction to the whole system, which it is the translator’s wish to discuss more fully in the future.

There are number of old and modern commentaries on the Sokushin-jobutsu-gi, of which the translator has chiefly availed himself of those written by Raiyu (1226-1304), Shoshin (1287-1357), Yukai (1345-1416), and Donjaku (1674-1742).




by Kukai


Question: Various sutras and treatises expound attainment of Buddhahood in three (asamkhya) kalpas. What scriptural evidence is there to establish the principle of attaining Buddhahood with the present body? Answer: The Tathagata expounds it in the Esoteric Pitaka.

What is the exposition in the sutras?

(1) The Diamond Peak Sutra says,
“Those who practice this Samadhi
Will realize Buddha’s Bodhi with the present (body).”
“This Samadhi” refers to the Samadhi of One Letter (i.e. BHRUM) representing the Bhagavat Mahavairocana incarnated as a Golden Cakravartin.

(2) Again, it is said,
“If there are beings who encounter this teaching
And practice it diligently, day and night, throughout the four periods of day,
They will attain the stage of Joy in this life
And realize Enlightenment after sixteen lives.”
I explain: “This teaching” refers to the Great King Teaching of Samadhi realized inwardly by the Dharmakaya Buddha. “Stage of Joy” is not the first bhumi mentioned in the exoteric teachings; it is the first stage of our Buddha-vehicle, as fully explained in the section on stages. “Sixteen lives” refers to the lives of t he sixteen great Bodhisattvas; they are fully explained in the section on stages.

(3) Again, it is said,
“If one practices in accordance with this supreme principle,
One will attain the highest Enlightenment in this life.”

(4) Again, it is said,
“You should know that your body
   Becomes the Vajradhatu.
When your body has become Vajra,
It is firm, solid and indestructible.
I have attained the Vajra-body.”

(5) The Mahavairocana Sutra says,
“Without abandoning this body,
One attains supernatural power over the objective world,
Wanders freely in the state of great void,
And, moreover, accomplishes the Bodily Mystery.”

(6) Again, it says,
“If you want to enter Perfection (Shiddhi) in this life,
Comply with (your Buddha’s) empowerment and contemplate on it.
After receiving the Mantra (of your Buddha) personally from your reverend teacher.

Meditate on it until you become united with it. Then you will attain Perfection.”
“Perfection” mentioned in the sutra refers to the Perfection (of five supernatural powers, etc.) by holding the Mantra and the Perfection of the Buddhahood of Dharmakaya. “The state of great void” means that Dharmakaya is unhindered like the great space, contains all the phenomenal forms and is everlasting; hence, “great void”. It is the basis on which all existing things rest; hence, “state”. “Bodily Mystery” means that even (Bodhisattvas of) the Equal Bodhi cannot see the Three Mystic Practices of the Dharmakaya Buddha; and so how can those of the tenth bhumi have a glimpse of them? Hence, it is called “Bodily Mystery”.

(7) Also it is said in the Bodhisattva Nagarjuna’s Treatise on Bodhi-Mind, “In the Mantra teaching alone is found (the theory of) attaining Buddhahood with the present body. Hence, it expounds the method of Samadhi. It is not found or mentioned in the various other teachings.”

“It expounds (the method of) Samadhi” refers to the Samadhi self-realized by the Dharmakaya. “Various other teachings” refer to exoteric teachings expounded by the Enjoyment Body for the Sake of Others.

(8) Again, it says,
“If a man seeking Buddha’s wisdom
Attains Bodhi-Mind,
He will quickly reach the stage of Great Enlightenment
With the body born from his father and mother.”


This principle is established by the above passages of evidence in the scriptures. What are the distinct meanings of the words ( 即身成佛 sokushinjobutsu, “attaining Buddhahood with the present body”) (as expounded) in these sutras and treatise?

A verse says,
“The six elements are mutually unhindered, everlasting and in
harmony (with Reality). [essence]
The four kinds of Mandalas are not separate from each other. [form]
Empowerment and responding in the Three Mystic Practices
quickly reveal (the Three Bodies of Buddha). [function]
Manifold relationships like Indra’s net are shown as “即身” (sokushin, “present or identical body”). [unhinderedness]
One spontaneously possesses All-Wisdom,
With mental functions and mind-kings as numerous as the particles of the universe,
Each embodying the Five Wisdoms and boundless wisdom;
Because it functions like a clean mirror it is called Reality-Enlightenment Wisdom. [enlightenment]

I explain: With these two stanzas in eight lines I price (the significance of) the four characters “即身成佛” (soku-shin-jo-butsu). These four characters contain boundless meaning. None of the Buddha’s teachings goes beyond this one phrase. Hence, I have condensed them into these two stanzas to disclose the boundless virtue.

The verse is divided into two parts: the first stanza praises (the significance of) the two characters “即身” (soku-shin), and the next one that of the two characters “成佛” (jo-butsu). The first part is further divided into four: the first line shows essence, the second, form, the third, function, and fourth, unhinderedness. The second stanza presents four things: firstly, attainment to the Buddhahood of Dharmakaya Buddha, secondly, innumerableness, thirdly, perfection, and lastly, reason.


(1) First line
I explain: “The six elements” are the five elements and consciousness. The Great Sun Sutra says,
“I have realized the original unproducedness,
Gone beyond the path of words,
Attained liberation from various faults,
Freed myself from causes and conditions,
And realized that voidness is like space.”

This is the significance (of the six elements). A seed-mantra says, ‘A VI RA HUM KHAM HUM.” The letter “A” signifying to original unproducedness of all dharmas represents the earth element. The letter “VA” signifying transcending verbal expositions represents the water element. Purity and non-defilement are referred to buy the letter “RA”, which represents the fire element. That causal karmas are not to be grasped is implied by the letter “HA” which represents the wind element. “Like space” is implied by the letter “KHA”, which represents the space element. “I have realized” indicates the consciousness element.
The word “識” (shiki, consciousness) is used in the causal state, and “智” (chi, wisdom) in the resultant state. Since “智” (chi) is “覺” (kaku, realization), (“我覺”, gakaku, “I have realized” indicates consciousness element). Sanskrit “buddha” and “bodhi” are derivatives of the same word (budh). “Buddha” is translated as “覺” (kaku), and “bodhi” as “智” (chi). Therefore, “samyaksambodhi” used in various sutras was formerly translated as “遍知” (henchi, universally knowing)and later as “等覺” (togaku, equal enlightenment), for “覺” (kaku) and “知” (chi) have the same meaning. This sutra refers to consciousness as “覺” in accordance with the superior sense of the term. The only difference is whether it refers to the state of cause or that of result, the original or the derivative state. The verse of this sutra makes this statement with reference to the five Buddhas’ Samadhis.

Again, the Diamond Peak Sutra says,
“All dharmas are originally unproduced;
Their substance is beyond verbal descriptions,
Pure and without defilement;
Though there are causes and karmas, they are like space.”

This verse has the same (context) as the one in the Mahavairocana Sutra.
“All dharmas” refer to all mental dharmas. The number of mind-kings and mental functions is immeasurable; hence, “all”. “Mind” and “consciousness” are different words with the same meaning. For this reason, Vasubandhu and others established the principle of Consciousness-Only based on (the theory) that the Three Worlds are merely (manifestations of) Mind. The explanation of the rest (of the verse) is the same as above.

Again, the Mahavairocana Sutra says,
“I am in agreement with the mind-state,
Attaining freedom in reaching anywhere
And permeating universally various
Animate and inanimate beings.
The letter ‘A’ refers to the primordial life.
The letter ‘VA’ refers to water.
The letter ‘RA’ refers to fire.
The letter ‘HUM’ refers to wind.
The letter ‘KHA’ is the same as space.”

In the first line of the passage of this sutra, namely, “I am in agreement with the mind-state,” “mind” refers to consciousness-wisdom. The last five lines refer to the five elements. The middle three lines explain the unrestricted function and the quality of unhinderedness of the six elements. The Prajnaparamita Sutras, the Bracelet Sutra, etc., also expound the principle of the six elements.

These six elements produce the four kinds of Dharmakaya and the three kinds of worlds, such as all Buddhas, all sentient beings and receptacle-worlds. Hence, the Bhagavat Mahavairocana sets forth a verse on the arising of Tathagata and says,

“(The six elements) produce various conformable shapes
Of dharmas and dharma-aspects,
Buddhas, Shravakas,
World-saving Pratyekabuddhas,
Hosts of valiant Bodhisattvas,
And the Most Honored Man as Well.
Sentient beings and receptacle-worlds
Are produced in succession.
Dharmas which arise, dwell, and so on (i.e., change and perish),
Are thus produced perpetually.”

What meaning does this verse reveal? It reveals that the six elements produce the four kinds of Dharmakaya, (four kinds of) Mandalas, and three kinds of worlds. “Dharmas” refer to mental dharmas, and “dharma-aspects” refer to material dharmas. Also, “dharmas” is a general term, whereas “dharma-aspects” refer to distinctive aspects (of dharmas). Hence, the following lines say that Buddhas, Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas, sentient beings and receptacle-worlds are produced in succession. Also, “dharmas” refer to the Dharma Mandala; “dharma-aspects” refer to the Samaya Mandala Bodies; form “Buddhas” to “sentient beings” are the Maha Mandala Bodies; and “receptacle-worlds” refer to the lands on which they rest. “Receptacle-worlds” is a general term for the Samaya Mandala. Also, “Buddhas”, “Bodhisattvas” and (sages of) the Two Vehicles refer to the world of Wisdom-Enlightenment; “sentient beings” refer to the world of sentient beings; and “receptacle-worlds” refer to the world of receptacle. Also, the producing agents are the six elements; “various conformable forms” are the produced dharmas, namely, the four kinds of Dharmakaya and the three kinds of worlds.

Therefore, it says next, “O Lord of Mystery, in laying out a Mandala, there are (proper) positions, seed-letters, and Samaya-signs of the Sacred Ones. You should listen carefully. I will now explain.” Then he sets forth a verse and says,

“The Mantra-practitioner should first
Place a Mandala-platform in his own body.
From the feet to the navel,
Form a great Vajra-layer.
From there to the heart,
Imagine a water-layer.
A fire-layer is above the water-layer;
A wind-layer is above the fire-layer.”

I explain: “Vajra-layer” refers to the letter “A”; the letter “A” represents earth. Water, fire, and wind are to be known from the passage. “Mandala-platform” refers to the space (element). “Mantra-practitioner” implies the mind element. “Sacred One” in the prose is a Maha Mandala Body; “seed-letter” is a Dharma Mandala Body; “Samaya-sign” is a Samaya Mandala Body; each of the three Bodies comprises a Karma Mandala Body. Detailed explanations are given extensively in the sutras. They are to be known from the passages (of the sutras).

Again, it is said, “The Bhagavat Mahavairocana says, ‘O Vajrapani, the minds of various Tathagatas bring forth actions, as in sports and dancing, displaying various forms extensively. They embrace the four elements, dwelling in the mind-king, and are identical with space. They produce great results, both visible and invisible, and produce various ranks of all Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas’.”

What meaning does this passage reveal? It reveals that the six elements produce all things. How do we know? the reason is as follows: “mind-king” refers to the consciousness element; “embrace the four elements” indicates the four elements; “identical with space” refers to the space element. These six elements are producing agents. “Visible and invisible (results)” refer to the Worlds of Desire and Form and the World of Non-form, respectively. The rest are as shown in the passage. They are the produced dharmas.

Thus the passages of the sutras all treat the six elements as the producing agents, and the four kinds of Dharmakaya and the three kinds of worlds as the produced (dharmas). Though the produced dharmas, extending from Dharmakaya to the lower six realms, have the distinctions of fine and gross, great and small, they do not go beyond the six elements. For this reason, the Buddha expounds the six elements to be the essential substance of Dharmadhhatu.

In various exoteric teachings the four elements, etc., are treated as insentient things; whereas, the esoteric teaching expounds that they are the Samaya Bodies of the Tathagata. The four elements, etc., are not separate from the mind element. Though mind and matter are different, their essential nature is the same. Matter is mind, and mind is matter; they are mutually unhindered and unobstructed. Wisdom is identical with object, and object with Wisdom; Wisdom is identical with object, and object with Wisdom, Wisdom is identical with Principle, and Principle with Wisdom; they are unhindered and free. Though there are two kinds of things, producing and produced, they are (in reality) entirely beyond active-passive distinctions. What creation is there in the Principle of Naturalness? Words, such as producing and produced, are all mystic symbols. Don’t cling to the ordinary, superficial meanings and engage in various idle discussions.

The body thus made of the six elements which are the essential substance of Dharmadhatu, is unhindered and unobstructed, (with the elements) mutually penetrating and harmonizing with each other, everlasting and immutable, and equally dwelling in Reality-End (bhutakoti). Therefore, the verse says,
“The six elements are mutually unhindered, everlasting and in
harmony (with Reality).”

“Unhindered” means “freely penetrating”. “Everlasting” means “immovable”, “indestructible”, etc. “Yoga” (in harmony) is translated as “相應” (soo, agreeing, uniting). Mutual agreement and penetration are the meaning of “即” (soku, of “即身” sokushin).

(2) Second line
Concerning the line, “The four kinds of Mandalas are not separate from each other,” the Great Sun Sutra says, “All Tathagatas have (three kinds of) Mystic Bodies, namely, letter, sign, and figure.”

“Letter” refers to the Dharma Mandala. “sign” refers to various ensigns, namely, Samaya Mandala. “Figure” is a body endowed with the marks and characteristics of excellence, namely, Maha Mandala. Each of these three bodies has specific postures and act-signs; this is called Karma Mandala. These are the four kinds of Mandalas.

According to the exposition of the Diamond Peak Sutra, the four kinds of Mandalas are as follows:

Firstly, Maha Mandala: it refers to each Buddha or Bodhisattva’s body endowed with the marks and characteristics of excellence. A painting of his figure is also called Maha Mandala. It also refers to the main Honored One with whom (a practitioner) attains unity through the Five-Aspect (Meditation for Attaining the Buddha’s Body). It is also called Maha Wisdom-Seal.

Secondly, Samaya Mandala: it refers to things held in the hands, such as ensigns, swords, wheels, jewels, vajras, and lotus flowers. It is also a painting of such things It also refers to a Mudra which takes its shape from the “diamond bonds” formed by joining the two palms. It is also called Samaya Wisdom-Seal.

Thirdly, Dharma Mandala: It refers to the seed-Mantra of one’s Honored One; namely, the seed-letter written in the position of each (deity). It also refers to all the Samadhis of Dharmakaya and the words and meanings of all the sutras. It is also called Dharma Wisdom-Seal.

Fourthly, Karma Mandala: it refers to various postures and act-signs of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc., and also cast and clay images. It is also called Karma Wisdom-Seal.

The four kinds of Mandalas and four kinds of Wisdom-Seals are immeasurable. Each of them is as immense as space. That is not separate from this; this is not separate from that; it is just as space and light are mutually unhindered and unobstructed. Hence, it is said, “The four kinds of Mandalas are not separate from each other.” “Not separate” is the meaning of “即” (soku).

(3) Third line
“Empowerment and responding in the Three Mystic Practices quickly reveal (the Three Bodies of Buddha)” is to be explained. “The Three Mystic Practices” are: firstly, Bodily Mystic Practice, secondly, Oral Mystic Practice, and thirdly, Mental Mystic Practice. The Dharmakaya Buddha’s51 Three Mystic Practices are so profound and subtle that even Bodhisattvas of the Equal Bodhi and the tenth bhumi cannot perceive them; hence, “Mystic”. Each Honored One equally possesses the Three Mystic Practices, numerous as the particles of the universe; one gives empowerment to another, and another responds to one. So it is with the Three Mystic Practices of sentient beings. Hence, it is said, “empowerment and responding in the Three Mystic Practices.” If a Mantra-practitioner, after discerning this significance, holds his hands in the Mudra, recites the Mantra with his mouth, and settles his mind on the Samadhi, he will quickly attain the Great Shiddhi through the mutual correspondence and agreement of the Three Mystic Practices.
For this reason, a sutra says,

“These three mystic letters (i.e. OM, BHUM,and KHAM)
Of Mahavairocana Buddha,
Each contains immeasurable (significances).
If a man impresses his heart with (Mahavairocana’s) sea and
mystic letters,
He will realize the (Great, Perfect) Mirror Wisdom
And quickly obtain the Bodhi-Mind
And the Adamantine Body.
If he impresses his forehead with them, it should be known,
He will realize the Wisdom of Equality
And quickly obtain the body of the Stage of Sprinkling (abhisheka),
With a mass of merits adorning his body.
If he impresses his mouth with the mystic words,
He will realize the Wisdom of Excellent Discernment,
Thereby turning the Wheel of Dharma,
And obtain the body of Buddha’s wisdom.
If he impresses his head with the recitation of the mystic letters,
He will realize the Wisdom of Accomplishing Metamorphoses
And produce the Buddha’s transformed bodies,
Thereby taming the beings difficult to tame.
If he impresses his whole body
With the seal and mystic letters,
He will realize the Wisdom of Essential Substance of Dharmadhatu,
The space body of Dharmadhatu
Of Mahavairocana Buddha.”

It is also said, “Entering the meditation of Dharmakaya-Suchness, one realizes the equality, like space, of the perceiving subject and the object perceived. If a man practices it exclusively and without interruption, he will enter the first bhumi in this life and acquire instantly the provision of merit and wisdom to be accumulated during the period of one asamkhya kalpa. Owing to the empowerment of many Tathagatas, he will soon reach the tenth bhumi, the stage of Equal Bodhi and (finally) that of Supreme Bodhi, thus attaining Sarvajna (All-Wisdom), equality of self and others, and the same Dharmakaya as all the Tathagatas’. He will then benefit infinite sentient beings always with the unconditioned great compassion, thereby fulfilling the great task of the Buddha.”

Again it is said, “If (a practitioner) avails himself of the teaching arising out of the inwardly realized wisdom of self-enlightenment expounded by the Self-Enjoyment Body of Mahavairocana Buddha and also avails himself of the wisdom of the Enjoyment Body for Others’ Sake of Vajrasattva in the state of the great Samantabhadra, he will meet a Mandala Acarya and be able to enter the Mandala. That is to say, he will acquire the Karma (for abiding by the precepts) and, as (the Acarya) conjures up Vajrasattva in Samantabhadra Samadhi, Vajrasattva will enter his body. Owing to the divine power of empowerment, he will instantly attain immeasurable Samayas and Dharani-gates. (The Acarya) transforms with the wonderful Dharma his disciple’s seeds of innate self-attachment. The disciple will immediately acquire in his body the merit and wisdom to be accumulated during the period of one great asamkhya kalpa, whereat he will be considered to have been born into the Buddha’s family. He has been born from the mind of all the Tathagatas, from the Buddhas’ mouth, from the Buddhas’ Dharma, and from the teaching of Dharma, and has acquired the treasure of Dharma. The treasure of Dharma refers to the teaching of (awakening) Bodhi-Mind through the Three Mystic Practices.” [This shows the benefit which a practitioner gains from his Acarya’s performance of the method of empowerment and responding when he receives the precept of Bodhi-Mind for the first time.] “By just looking at the Mandala, he produces the pure faith in a moment. As he sees it with joyful mind, the seeds of Vajradhatu are planted in his Alaya-consciousness.” [This passage shows the benefit he gains on seeing various Honored Ones in the Mandala-assembly for the first time.] “He fully receives a Vajra name as he is commissioned with the task (of succeeding to the Buddha’s place) at the ceremony of Sprinkling. After this he obtains the vast, profound, and inconceivable teaching, whereby he transcends (the results of) the Two Vehicles and ten bhumis. If a man fixes his thought on and practices this teaching of the five mystic Yogas of great Vajrasattva uninterruptedly, throughout the four periods of a day, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, then he will remove all attachment to self and things in the realm of visible, audible and perceptible objects, thereby attaining equality (of all things), and he will realize the first bhumi in the present life and advance gradually (in the Bodhisattva’ stages). Owing to the practice of the five mystic (Yogas), he will not be tainted in Samsara or attached to Nirvana. He will widely benefit (beings of) the five states of existence in the boundless Samsara. Displaying tens of billions of incarnate bodies, he will wander freely in various states of existence and bring sentient beings to perfection, enabling them to attain the rank of Vajrasattva.” [This shows the inconceivable benefit of the teaching which one gains when practicing in accordance with the prescribed rite.]

Again, it is said, “With the Three Mystic Adamantine Practices as the contributing condition,” one realizes the resultant stage of Vairocana’s Three Bodies.”
Such sutras as quoted above all expound this teaching of the Samadhi with quick efficacy based on the inconceivable supernatural powers. If a man practices diligently, day and night, in agreement with the prescribed rite, he will obtain with the present body the five supernatural powers. If he practices on and on, he will advance and enter the Buddha’s stage without abandoning the present body. Detailed explanations are given in the sutras.

For this reason, it is said, “Empowerment and responding in the Three Mystic Practices quickly reveal (the Three Bodies of Buddha).” “加持” (kaji, empowerment and responding) indicates the Tathagata’s great compassion and a sentient being’s faith. “加” (ka, empowerment) means that the sun of Buddha is reflected in the mind-water of sentient being. “持” (ji, holding, responding) means that the mind-water of the practitioner perceives the sun of Buddha. If the practitioner meditates on this principle well, he will quickly reveal and realize the original Three Bodies with the present body through the correspondence of the Three Mystic Practices. Hence, it is said “quickly reveal”. The meaning of (“即”soku of) “即身” (sokushin, identical or present body) is the same as that of the secular words “即時” (sokuji, instantly) and “即日” (sokujitsu, on the same day).

(4) Fourth line
“Manifold relationships like Indra’s net are shown as ‘with the present body'” shows with a metaphor that the Three Mystic Practices, numerous as the particles of the universe, of various Honored Ones are perfectly fused and unhindered. “帝網” (taimo, Indra’s net) means Indra’s net of jewels. “身” (shin, body) refers to one’s own body, Buddha’s body, and sentient beings’ bodies; these are called “body”.

Also there are four kinds of bodies; namely, self-nature, enjoyment, transformed, and homogeneous (bodies) are referred to as “body”. Also there are three kinds (of bodies): letter, mudra, and figure. These bodies are in manifold relationships and are like a lamp and its images in the mirrors, penetrating each other. That body is this body; this body is that body. Buddha’s body is sentient beings’ bodies; sentient beings’ bodies are Buddha’s body. They are not-identical and identical, not-distinct and distinct.

Therefore, the Mantra of three equals and unhinderedness reads, “ASAME TRISAME SAMAYE SVAHA”. The first word means “unequal”; the next one means “three equals”; and the following one means “three equalities”. “Three” refers to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Also it refers to body, word, and mind; also mind, Buddha, and sentient beings. These three things are equal with each other, constituting oneness. They are one but innumerable, innumerable but one. And yet they are not in disorder. Hence, it is said, “Manifold relationships like Indra’s net are shown as ‘with the present body’.”

(5) Fifth to eighth lines
Concerning the line, “One spontaneously possesses All-Wisdom”, the Great Sun Sutra says,
“I am the primordial being of all,
Called ‘the Support of the World’;
I expound the Dharma unparalleled;
I am from the beginning tranquil and unsurpassed.”
“I” is the word referring to the Bhagavat Mahavairocana himself. “All” means innumerable (things). “Primordial being” means the original forefather who has realized from the beginning and spontaneously all the dharmas which are thus unrestricted. The Tathagata’s Dharmakaya and the Dharma-nature of sentient beings possess this principle of original tranquillity. But since sentient beings do not realize and know this, Buddha expounds this principle and enlightens them.
Again, it is said, “One who seeks various causes and effects, such a fool does not know the Mantra and the characteristics of the Mantra. For what reason?
Since it is expounded that a cause is not the agent (of the effect ),
The effect is unproduced.
Since the cause is void,
How can there be an effect?
One should know that the effect of the Mantra
Is entirely separated from causes and effects.”
The significance of the spontaneous possession (of All-Wisdom) is equally revealed by the verses quoted above, that is, “I have realized the original unproducedness;… Freed myself from causes and conditions” and “All dharmas are originally unproduced;… Though there are causes and karmas, they are like space.”

Also, the Diamond Peak Sutra says, “The kinsmen produced from the Self-nature, the sixteen great Bodhisattvas such as Vajrapani, and so forth, each brings forth five hundred million kotis of subtle Dharmakayas, Adamant (Bodies).”

Passages such as this have the same import.

“Spontaneously” shows that all dharmas are naturally as they are. “具足” (gusoku, possess) has the meaning of “accomplish” and “without deficiency”. “薩般若” (sappanya, All-Wisdom) is Sanskrit. An older word “薩云” (satsuun) ia a corrupted abridgement. If spelt in full, it is “薩羅婆枳嬢?” (satsurabakijona, sarvajnana),which is translated as “一切智智” (issaichichi, all-knowing wisdom). With regard to “一切智智”, “智” (chi), means “discernment” and “discretion”. Each and every Buddha possesses five wisdoms, thirty-seven wisdoms, and wisdoms as numerous even as the particles of the universe.

The next two lines reveal this significance. In showing the quality of “discernment”, the word “智” (chi, wisdom) is used. In showing (the meaning of) “collectively arising”, it is called “心” (mind). To show (the meaning of) “rule and holding” we have the word “法門” (homon, dharma-gate), No word (of the above three) is separate from personality. such personalities are more numerous than the particles of the universe. Hence, it is called “一切智智” (issaichichi, all-knowing wisdoms). The use of the appellation is different from that of exoteric teachings in which one (all-knowing) wisdom is set against all (objects). “Mind-kings” refer to the wisdom of essential substance of Dharmadhatu, etc. “Mental functions” refer to the many-included-in-one consciousness.

“Each embodying the Five Wisdoms” shows that each mind-king and each mental function has these (five wisdoms). “Boundless wisdom” means exalted, extensive, and innumerable (wisdoms).

“Because it functions like a clean mirror, it is called Reality-Enlightenment Wisdom,” gives the reason. For what reason are all Buddhas called “覺智” (kakuchi, Enlightenment-wisdom)? The answer is: Just as all the forms are reflected in a clean mirror on a high stand, so it is with the Tathagata’s Mind-mirror. The clean mirror of Mind hangs high on the top of Dharmadhatu, being serene and shining of all without perversion of mistake. What Buddha does not possess such a clean mirror? Hence, it is said, “Because it functions like a clean mirror, it is called Reality-Enlightenment Wisdom.”

[Translator’s note] This translation with introduction was first published in the Asia Major, Vol XVII, Part 2, 1972, and reproduced with the original text in Japanese by the Ryukoku Translation Center as Ryukoku Translation Pamphlet Series 4 in 1975. The translation has been presented in this website with minor revisions


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Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations. These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery.

Virtues of Kong-zi (Confucius)

道 tao; path, right way * 仁 ren, benevolent * 徳 de, virtuous * 禮 li, propriety * 義 yi, morality * 忠 zhong, loyalty * 恕 shu, reciprocity * 信 xin, trustworthy * 命 ming, destiny, fate * 天 tien, heaven, above * 理 li, principle *