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Ch’an Buddhism is the core of Buddhism. Once, after a sermon, Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) held up a flower before the assembly and the only person who understood the profound meaning of this gesture was Mahakasypa; he responded with a smile. Subsequently, the Buddha said “Here the Tathagata’s Dharma-Eye, profound Nirvanic Mind, formless Reality, profound and mystical Dharma, the wordless Doctrine, Special Transmission outside the Scriptures, now I transmit to Mahakasypa to be my successor.” Thus Mahakasypa became the First Patriarch of Ch’an in India.
The founder of Ch’an in China is Bodhidharma who came to that country from India during the reign of the Emperor of Liang Wu-ti in the sixth century A.D. Since then down to the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng, Ch’an had a large number of followers. At that time, the general practice of Ch’an was to point directly at one’s mind with just a few understanding words and one became enlightened instantly. From this it can be seen that the Ch’an practice depends on no words and emphasizes no setting up of words and letters.
Realizing the True Mind
Fundamentally, inexplicable by words, Ch’an is the mind-to-mind transmission in a simple, direct manner and to the point.
Our mind is always illusory in its creation and cessation, and the conceptual thought in our mind is basically false. A mind of inequality and discrimination is the source of affliction. If we can refrain from thinking of anything and keep our mind blank and free from conceptual thought, we will see the spontaneous manifestation of essence of the self-mind by itself at that instant.
In reality, a blank and empty mind is nothing unusual in everyday life, but because it comes in a flash, we are unaware of it and so let it slip by unknowingly, thus missing the opportunity of self-experiencing when we would probably say “Oh! there you are.” as a mark of recognition. However, as thoughts come and go in succession, there is bound to be an interval in which the preceding thought has gone while the succeeding thought is still unborn, so we cannot help asking this question. “What sort of phenomenon is this?” If we look into the mind pointedly and vigilantly, we will realize our understanding of its reality spontaneously and instantaneously. (Please note that all this is said in the above is only verbal communication and nothing of concrete value, but the moment you experience self-realization, Truth is right before you).
Ch’an Hua Tou
Now we may see that the Ch’an practice is to realize the true nature of the mind, to point directly to it and to be aware of what it is here and now, and from this standpoint, fundamentally the so-called Ch’an Hua Tou and raising a doubt methods of cultivation should have been out of place in the Ch’an practice. However, in view of the fact that at later period practitioners, generally of inferior root and dull mentality and being unable to see the mind directly, used to indulge themselves in the verbal Ch’an practice (they merely talked about Ch’an) to outwit each other, the Patriarchs and Ch’an Masters had to rectify them by adopting the expedient means of Ch’an Hua Tou.
The practice of Ch’an Hua Tou is to halt the mind, usually distracted by the external influence of the environment, and to turn it to look inward and to concentrate with the utmost attention on that thought provoking sentence known as Hua Tou. (If one cannot evoke one’s attention in the practice, this simply shows one’s lack of sincerity). Hence, the greater doubt, the greater understanding and inversely speaking, the less doubt, the less understanding. Because of its power of illuminating wisdom and intensifying concentration, the practice of Ch’an Hua Tou is really a profound Dharma to discipline the mind. Some of the popular thought provoking sentences for practicing Ch’an Hua Tou are as follows:
“All things return to the One, but where does the One return?”
“Before I was born, where is that Fundamental Face?”
“Who is reciting Buddha?”, etc. etc.
“Who” is the most important word among those Hua Tou, for as soon as it is said, instantly it raises the point of doubt.
A Probe in Cultivation
How is it that the Ch’an practice can lead one to probe into Truth? Master Hsu Yun says: “Regarding the question Who is reciting Buddha?, everyone knows that ‘Who’ refers to the reciter himself. But is recitation done by the mouth or by the mind? If he does it by the mouth, why can’t he do it after death? And if it is done by the mind, who knows that the mind does it since the mind is unattainable? So the practitioner should concentrate his attention on the question word ‘Who’, the key word of the Hua Tou, and also should recite softly and not harshly; the softer, the better; he should look into that question-word with awareness of the time. As long as the point of doubt remains, concentrate your awareness of it but if the doubt is not present, try to recall it gently”. The practice of Ch’an Hua Tou does not call for vigorous and persistent repetition as the Name-reciting method does, also it is different from the way of solving a riddle for it defies all subjective thinking and conceptualization for dialectical purpose; in the view of Ch’an Masters, even the thought to attain wisdom and enlightenment is itself a hindrance to the practice of Ch’an Hau Tou, and all worldly views and saintly interpretations should be done away with totally!
In short, every practitioner should look inward and give full attention and intense concentration on the point of doubt so as to be aware of it continuously without break. At the beginning of the practice, most likely wandering thoughts would come about only too frequently, but if the practitioner may just ignore them and concentrate on the enquiry, he should be able to keep up his awareness. The longer the practice, the better he will develop and enhance his awareness, and when the moment of perfect practice arrives, all thoughts and even the point of doubt would drop out automatically, then by self-experiencing, the fundamental still and illuminating Self-Nature would be spontaneously realized. Now that we can realize the substance of the mind, we should extend its functions to all activities of daily life, and so much we may wipe out our passions, so much we may enhance the power of concentration and wisdom and so much we would liberate ourselves from the environmental influence and enjoy true freedom, this may be said to be the crowning achievement of cultivating Buddhism.
Cheng Yen sect advocates the direct attainment of Buddhahood with the present life.
Attainment of Buddhahood by the wholly noumenal and intrinsic nature [理具成佛]– For all living beings, the body in motion is classified as the first five elements, and belongs to the ‘law’ of the Garbhadhatu, while the mind in thinking is belonged to the wisdom and virtues of Vajradhatu. Apart from the body and mind, there is no other substance with fundamental enlightenment. Therefore, the law and wisdom of the Buddha are also intrinsically possessed, in perfection and completeness, within individual sentient being.
Attainment of Buddhahood by conferment and upholding [加持成佛]– As all sentient beings possess the intrinsic nature of enlightenment in Buddhahood, they can further confer and uphold the Three Mysteries, so that they can turn their ordinary body to be the same as the appearance of the Buddha.
Attainment of Buddhahood by revelation [顯得成佛]– Through the practice of conferring and upholding, the practitioner can ultimately reach the state of Buddhahood, so that all merits and virtues of Dharma nature can be manifested and revealed.
Ten Abodes of Mind
The Ten Abodes of Mind [十住心] can be also regarded as the classification of teaching in Cheng Yen sect, according to the chapter on ‘The Ten Minds’ in the Vairocana Sutra.
Mind as an animal like ram [異生羝羊心]– Ram is inferior by nature, and is interested in nothing except the desire of eating and sex. It is an analogy to those who are ignorant and always commit to evil deeds and in physical and mental conduct.
Mind as a naive baby [愚童持齋心]– who upholds rules in morality – It refers to those kind people who cultivate the worldly virtues and merits, and thus enjoy the respective worldly blessing.
Fearless mind as a baby [嬰童無畏心]– A baby is well cared and protected by his mother, so he is at ease and fearless. It refers to those who seek the rebirth in heaven without bothering the heavenly joy is temporary or not.
Mind of mere Skandhas and no-self [唯蘊無我心]– It refers to the Sound Hearers in Hinayana, which believes in the emptiness of self (i.e. no-self), but accepts the Law of Five Skandhas as the permanent existence.
Mind in ridding Karma, Cause and Seed [拔業因種心]– It refers to Those Enlightened by Conditions or Enlightened Ones in Solitude. They can get rid of the Karmic activities (Karma), the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination (Cause) and the Fundamental Ignorance (Seed), and dwell in Nirvana.
Mahayana Mind independent of conditions [他緣大乘心]– Mahayana Bodhisattva understands there is no Dharma beyond the Mind, and the Three Realms is just merely created by the conscious mind, thus they do not attach any phenomenal conditions when they save the sentient beings. It is equivalent to the teaching of Fa Hsiang Sect.
Mind without production of enlightened mind [覺心不生心]– Mahayana Bodhisattva understands that the nature of the enlightened mind is neither produced nor extinguished. As it is ordinarily empty and still, there has no ignorance and enlightenment. The mind should respond to the true reality of all Dharmas. It is equivalent to the teaching of San Lun Sect.
Unconditioned Mind of One Way [一道無為心]– The Law is ordinarily pure and undifferentiated. It is not dual nor multiple, so it is called One Way. Mahayana Bodhisattva realizes that the One Way is unconditioned and pure matching the reality of True Suchness. They also understand the harmony and perfection of the Triple Truths which converge to One Way. It is equivalent to the teaching of Tien Tai Sect.
Self-nature Mind with no Eternity [極無自性心]– The Law is the ultimate, so it is called eternity. Mahayana Bodhisattva realizes that all Dharmas are originated from True Suchness, and they are the manifestations of True Suchness, so they have no self-nature, but mutually inter-penetrating without obstruction to each other. It is equivalent to the teaching of Hua Yen Sect.
Adorned Mind in Secret [秘密莊嚴心]– the status of the Buddha is esoteric and adorned, which can be recognized and visualized by all other beings. The dwelling mind of the Buddha can only be ultimately known by the Buddhas themselves.
Six Kinds of Fearlessness
Fearlessness to be kind [善無畏]
Fearlessness with respect to physical body [身無畏]
Fearlessness to no-self [無我無畏]
Fearless to no-Dharma [法無畏]
Fearlessness to no-self of Dharma [法無我無畏]
Fearlessness to absolute equality [平等無畏]
There are six kinds of practice in Cheng Yen sect, so that all the beings are free from afflictions without any fear.
Kindness — In Buddhism, good people who uphold the Five Precepts and Ten Wholesome Deeds must be relaxed in mind, and far from evil and fear. It is equivalent in Cheng Yen sect for those people who practice the Three Mysteries and make offerings to Satyadevata [本尊]. They are said to be fearless in case of danger and trouble.
Body — In Buddhism, the practitioners of Two Vehicles (Sound Hearer and Solitary Enlightened Ones) who practice the contemplations of impurities can be free from any tie with respect to their bodies. It is equivalent in Cheng Yen sect, for those who contemplate the Satyadevata in Mandala, and see the radiant light, which can strengthen the fearless spirit and vanish all kinds of suffering.
No-self — In Buddhism, the practitioners of Two Vehicles realize that all Dharmas have no self, thus they have no attachment to self, and they are fearless. In Cheng Yen sect, the practitioners understand that all forms of deities are of dependent origination, and do not give rise to any attachment, including the body.
Dharma — In Buddhism, the practitioners of Two Vehicles enter the stage of no-further learning and certify the truth of emptiness. They understand that the Five Skandhas are also of dependent origination, and are empty in nature, so they are fearless. In Cheng Yen sect, they visualize the various forms of Stayadevata in Samadhi, and understand that they are just like the moon in water, the image in mirror, and unreal though adorned in appearance.
No-self Dharma — In Buddhism, Mahayana Bodhisattvas certify the True Suchness and the emptiness of Dharmas, and realize all Dharmas are mere consciousness. As they see that there is no self in all Dharmas, they are free and relaxed in their mind. It means the fearlessness of no-self Dharma. In Cheng Yen sect, the practitioners also know that all phenomena are the manifestations of the virtues and merits of their own mind/consciousness, so they can freely ‘enjoy’ all Dharmas for their own use.
Equality — Equality means the self-nature of all Dharmas are equal. The Buddha knows all Dharmas are equal, certifies the nature of Dharma, and realizes that there is no differentiation between the beginning and the end, the subjective/active and the objective/passive. It is known as the fearlessness of equality. In Cheng Yen sect, when the practitioners reach the supreme state, they have the formless body of wisdom and the form body of blessing and virtues, so they can also freely ‘enjoy’ all Dharmas for their own use. It is a state of Buddhahood.
If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity, for it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being in the country of Japan, and it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering. Its benefit surpasses that of Dengyo and T’ien-t’ai, and is superior to that of Nagarjuna and Mahakashyapa. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin-1, 736)
Let the Great River of Kosen-rufu Flow Powerfully throughout the World
Nichiren composed this treatise when he received news of the death of Dozen-bo, under whom he had first studied Buddhism at Seicho-ji temple. He sent the completed work to the priests Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, who had been his seniors among Dozen-bo’s disciples during his early years of practice and who later became his followers. Dozen-bo was a priest of Seicho-ji temple in Awa Province who had been Nichiren’s teacher when he first entered the temple as a boy of twelve. Nichiren wrote this treatise in honour of his teacher’s memory and to repay his debt of gratitude to him. Nichiren attached a message instructing that they should have the text read aloud before Dozen-bo’s grave.
This is a well-known passage in which Nichiren proclaims the widespread propagation of his teachings in the Latter Day of the Law. Based on the principle of “the farther the source, the longer the stream,” Nichiren declares that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will lead all people throughout the world to enlightenment into the eternal future of the Latter Day through his own unflagging efforts. Nichiren further explains that the benefit of widely propagating the Mystic Law during the Latter Day of the Law surpasses that of Dengyo, T’ien-t’ai, Nagarjuna, and Mahakashyapa, all of whom embraced and propagated the correct teachings during their time.
This passage also points to Nichiren’s three virtues of parent, teacher, and sovereign. “If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing,” indicates the virtue of the parent. Nichiren established a people-centered Buddhism based on the great compassion to lead all people in the eternal future of the Latter Day to happiness after repeatedly overcoming daunting opposition and persecution. The phrase, “it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being”, indicates the virtue of the teacher. It means that Nichiren wants to break through the “blind eyes”, which refers to the ignorance or darkness in people’s lives, the fundamental cause of delusion and to reveal the life state of Buddhahood. Finally, the phrase, “it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering”, indicates the virtue of the sovereign. The virtue of the sovereign represents the function of protecting others. This is a manifestation of Nichiren’s profound and irrepressible wish not to let even a single person fall into the hell of incessant suffering.
Hell of Incessant Suffering: (Sanskrit, Avichi) The most terrible of the eight hot hells. It is so called because those who inhabit it are said to suffer without a moment’s respite, hence, the name, “incessant suffering”.
Dengyo and T’ien-ta’i: Dengyo was the founder of the Tendai school in Japan while T’ien-t’ai refers to the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, the founder of the Tendai School of Buddhism in China. Both are teachers of Buddhism in the Middle Day of the Law.
Nagarjuna and Mahakashyapa: Nagarjuna was a Mahayana scholar while Mahakashyapa was one of Shakyamuni’s ten major disciples. Both are teachers of Buddhism who propagated the teachings of Buddhism in India in the Former Day of the Law.
This is a well-known passage in which Nichiren proclaims the widespread propagation of his teachings in the Latter of the Law.
Based on the principle of “the farther the source, the longer the stream,” Nichiren declares that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will lead all people throughout the world to enlightenment into the eternal future of the Latter Day through his own unflagging efforts.
This passage also points to Nichiren’s three virtues of parent, teacher, and sovereign.
“If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing,” indicates the virtue of the parent. Nichiren succeeded in establishing a people-centered Buddhism based on the great compassion to lead all people in the eternal future of the Latter Day to happiness after repeatedly overcoming daunting opposition and persecution.
The phrase, “it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being”, indicates the virtue of the teacher. It means that Nichiren wants to break through the “blind eyes”, which refers to the ignorance or darkness in people’s lives, the fundamental cause delusion and to reveal the life state of Buddhahood.
Finally, the phrase, “it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering”, indicates the virtue of the sovereign. The virtue of the sovereign represents the function of protecting others. This is a manifestation of Nichiren’s profound and irrepressible wish not to let even a single person fall into the hell of incessant suffering.
As said in all Mahayana Scriptures, Prajna is where there is awareness, therefore the practice of looking into the mind is of fundamental importance for disciplining the mind. Because we are not used to revert ourselves to awareness of the mind in daily life, we are hardly aware that illusions and conceptual thoughts, uncontrollable like an unbridled horse, run wild within us all the time. The fundamental way of cutting off those illusory thoughts at the very root is to look a the self-nature of the mind. Thus the Nibbana Sutra says: “To realize the self-nature of the mind is superlative meditation.” According to this method, whenever and wherever possible, first lay down all thoughts, good or bad, right or wrong, and then look into the present moment-to-moment thoughts vigilantly. As these thoughts come and go all suddenly and are fundamentally unreal and illusory, there is no need of rejecting them, but we should neither accept them nor grasp them nor follow them. All we have to do is to look into them dispassionately and objectively, and this is the way we should be aware of them, for as soon as there is awareness, every thought comes to a standstill and soon goes out.
Practicing Meditation on the Mind
At the initial period of training, most likely we may forget maintaining our awareness all the time, but with consistent and regular practice, say, at least a good many times every day, surely we can intensify our awareness in no time. During the practice it may happen that some thought may linger for as long as three or more days, but this only shows that the seeds of some habits are emerging from within and now turning active. But the practitioner not only should pay no attention to this psychic phenomenon and should bear patiently and firmly with it, but also should concentrate on continuing awareness by adopting a neither grasp nor reject attitude. In this way the mind would be cleared more and more of illusions till it turns to be pure and void. In short, according to the principle of Meditation, that which is capable of awareness is Prajna, and every objective phenomenon of awareness is Ignorance: as Ignorance arises because of its correlation with Reality, logically, looking into the deluded mind is virtually the same as looking into the self-nature of the Pure Mind. If we have the wisdom to perceive Ignorance in this way, we can gradually dispel Ignorance, just like a thick ice melt by sunlight, and then the mind would return automatically and spontaneously to the self-nature, as The Perfect Enlightenment Sutra says: “The Enlightened Mind is pure and all-illuminating.” Also, the Mahayana Meditation on the Mind Sutra says that the Dharma of looking into the mind is “the Way leading to the development of Buddhahood and attainment of Sudden Enlightenment.”
Chih-Kuan Practice by Tien Tai
Next, as a method of looking into the mind, the perfect and sudden Chih-Kuan practice of the Tien Tai is most praiseworthy; whole it cultivates Chih by fixing the mind to meditate on the Ten Dharma-realms and cultivate Kuan by looking into underlying reality of all things, no priority of cultivation is given to the one or the other, but both should be cultivated simultaneously; both its principle and practice aim to realize Sudden Enlightenment, and this is the fundamental thing of this Dharma. It may be desirable to present here concisely for preliminary practice, the Three Meditations of the One Mind. Among the Ten Categories of Phenomena enumerated as objects of meditation in the Treaties of Moho Chih Kuan, the Sixth Consciousness, because it is the illusory mind always working actively with the Five Aggregates and emerging in everyday life and because it is also the root cause of the paramount question of life and death, should be the first object of meditation we may choose for cultivation. And among the Ten Vehicles of Meditation, the Vehicle meditating on the Inconceivable Virtue of the Self-Mind is most profound and complete.
22.4 Virtue of Self-Mind
The Virtue of the Self-Mind consists of the Three aspects of the Void, the Unreal and the Mean.
The Self-Mind neither increases nor decreases and is fundamentally still and void, this is the Dogma of the Void.
The Self-Mind can function without limit and is ever present inn all profound and unreal things, this is the Dogma of the Unreal.
The Self-Mind is both void and unreal, and also neither void nor unreal, this is the Dogma of the Mean.
In reality, all the three dogmas are one and one dogma includes all the three; in other words, they are the three interrelated and indivisible aspects of the Self-Mind, because fundamentally the Self-mind embodies the three interrelated and integrated dogmas, it can hold all the phenomena of the mind and all things of this world and other worlds, the causes and effects, and the form, substance and functions of everything. In short, the fundamental nature of the Self-Mind embraces everything of our everyday life in a flash of thought, and it is not that it exists only now, nor that it did not exist before, nor that it exists vertically nor horizontally; inconceivably, however, it does integrate the Void, the Unreal and the Mean, all in all.
First Set of Four-question Arguments
Now to practice the Tien Tai’s Chih-Kuan method, we may begin with meditation on the three aspects of the Void, the Unreal and the Mean of the inconceivable phenomena of the Virtue of the Self-Mind, and we may also use two sets of four-question arguments (with reference to time and space respectively) to deductively reason out how the self-mind can embrace everything. Here are the four-question arguments of the first set;
Is it that ‘the mind covers everything’ is subjective thought?
Is it that ‘the mind covers everything’ is to be caused by external conditions?
Is it that ‘the mind covers everything’ is to be caused jointly by the mind and external conditions?
Is it that ‘the mind covers everything’ comes about spontaneously without any cause at all?
Referring to the first question, “Is the mind covers everything a subjective thought?”, should the arising of that thought depend on external conditions and in that event, since the mind itself is unattainable, how can it hold everything?
As to the second argument, “if the mind covers everything is due to external conditions”, since fundamentally one has nothing to do with all external conditions, how can the mind hold everything before its integration with the external conditions, how can it do so after the integration?
To say that the mind covers everything is without cause, is pointless, for what is devoid of cause is same as void, and if the mind is void, how can it hold everything?
From this set of four-question arguments, it is obviously clear that so far as the mind itself is unattainable, how can there be everything in the mind? Thus the Madhyamika Shastra says: “Everything does not exist by itself, nor by other causes, nor jointly with the causes, nor without cause. Thus it is known to be non-existent (void)”.
Second Set Four-question Arguments
If we find that the mind would correspond with any of the four-question arguments, we may put aside the others, for then the Sixth Consciousness, empty of illusions, would be in the void, but if the Sixth Consciousness is not free of illusions and therefore not in the void, we would try the other questions, one by one, and also the second set of questions in the following:
Is it that everything is created and annihilated by thought?
Is it that everything is not created and annihilated by thought?
Is it that everything both is and is not, created and annihilated by thought?
Is it that everything neither is nor is not, created and annihilated by thought?
And we may also extend four-question arguments in some other way, e.g.
Is thought horizontal?
Is thought vertical?
Is thought both horizontal and vertical?
Is thought neither horizontal nor vertical?
and so on, until the mind is completely free of illusions and returns of the Void.
Meditation of the Three Dogmas
If the mind is pure, still and void, it will be free and completely detached, and then every thought will also be pure and void, and this is called Meditation of the Inconceivable Void on the Phenomena of the Void, where one is void, all is void. While it is still and void, the Self-Mind, fundamentally immanent in all things, is by no means static like a stone or wood, but is totally and completely aware of everything because of the infinitely of its profound function, this is called Meditation of the Inconceivable Unreal on the Phenomena of the Unreal, where one is unreal, all is unreal. As long as things are perceived as they are, the mind, while illuminating yet still, is completely void and, while still, yet illuminating, is immanent of everything; thus on the one hand, it is neither void nor unreal, and on the other hand, it is both void and unreal; this is call Meditation of the Inconceivable Mean on the Phenomena of the Mean, where one is mean, all is mean. From the fore-going, we may think that the self-mind embodying the Three Dogmas is to be cultivated in the order of the three Meditations, but in realty, none of the dogmas and meditations should precede the others since what they teach us is to intensify awareness to get rid of illusions; if we cultivate our mind in this manner, the three integrated and interrelated Meditations would be all realized at one. If the mind corresponds with the phenomena, the Three Delusions (false perceptions and subjective thinking, subtle and coarse illusions, and Ignorance), will be all eliminated, the Three Wisdom (Sravaka and Praetyka-Buddha Knowledge, Bodhisattva-Knowledge and Buddha-Knowledge) will be all realized and the Triple Virtues (Prajna, Deliverance and Dharmakaya) all accomplished. By that time all the Three Profound Truths of the substance, phenomenon and function of the Self-Mind will be simultaneously manifested. Whereas phenomena are the (Profound) Unreal and meditation is the (Profound) Void, to be detached from both phenomena and meditation is the (Profound) Mean. However, as fundamentally neither meditation nor non-meditation precedes the other, the mind that integrates both of them is nowhere traceable. This is called the Inconceivable Profound Meditation.
A Remark on Meditation
Though the two aforementioned methods of looking into the mind differ in practice, they are fundamentally identical in principle, and readers may choose for intensive practice either one that is agreeable to their own inclination. However, as Chih Kuan is broad, extensive, elaborate and meticulous, it may be too difficult for busy people and beginners to practice, the first method of cultivating the mind (i.e. Section 22.2) much simple and feasible, is all the more preferable.
Master Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, is an amazingly respectable Buddhist master by virtue of his balanced intelligence in both arts and sciences, his interpersonal mastery and dignity that gained him trust and respect in the Imperial courts, his leadership to manage the Sangha and various public engineering works, as well as his accomplishments in esoteric Shingon Buddhism and samadhi meditation.
Very few Dharma masters to date have attained such phenomenal achievements as that of Master Kukai. Here are 10 fascinating facts about Master Kukai:
#1 – Founder of Shingon Buddhism
Master Kukai (空海) (774-835) is the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Posthumously given by the emperor the name of Kobo-Daishi (“The Great Master of the Propagation of the Buddhadharma” or his Dharma name of Henjō-Kongō (遍照金剛) by his followers.
#2 – Born a Blue Blood
With the given name of Saeki no Mao, Kukai was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in an aristocratic Saeki family in Shikoku. Although he began his study in the Confucian classics in the university and on his way to becoming a government official, he was awakened that Buddhism was the path to true and lasting happiness for people. Thus, he dropped out of university, took the name Kukai, and became a wandering ascetic in the mountains of Japan.
#3 – Skilled in Calligraphy
Known as the ‘Father of Japanese Culture,’ Kukai invented the kana, the syllabary that is used in combination with Chinese characters (kanji) to form the basis of Japanese written language today.
#4 – An Accomplished Civil Engineer
Kukai was an accomplished civil engineer with strong leadership to manage and complete civil engineering tasks successfully. In 821, he completed the legendary restoration of Manno Reservoir, which is still the largest irrigation reservoir in Japan.
Moreover, he was tasked and given free rein by Emperor Saga to complete the construction of To-ji (Eastern Temple) – which was not completed after nearly thirty years – resulting in To-ji becoming the first and oldest Esoteric Buddhist temple in Kyoto. This five-story pagoda continues to be a symbol of Kyoto.
#5 – A Divine Dream to Pursue Esoteric Buddhism
At aged 22, Kukai was introduced the chanting of the mantra of Bodhisattva Akasagarbha (Kokuzo). Then one day, he dreamt of a man revealing to him the name of the Buddhist scripture – Mahavairocana Tantra. While he managed to obtained a copy of this sutra, he faced tremendous challenges in understanding the part of the sutra with Sanskrit words written in the Siddham script. Even the translated portions were incredibly cryptic. Eventually, he decided to go to China to study the text with a master there.
#6 – Master Huiguo was His Teacher
Although Kukai was a private and independent monk in his early thirties, he somehow managed to gain government sponsorship to study Buddhism in China. He met the famous Master Huiguo, who was the master of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, at the Quinlong monastery in the capital of Chang’an (now Xi’an).
Master Huiguo intuitively knew that in order for the lineage to survive in the long term, he must transmit his teachings to a foreigner. He took Kukai as his personal disciple and within three months, Kukai had received abhiseka (empowerment) and became the eighth patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism with the lineage name Jenjo Kongo, meaning “The Universally Shining Vajra.” Master Huiguo instructed Kukai to return to Japan and spread his teachings.
#7 – Mount Koya is the Headquarter of Shingon Buddhism
In 816, Kukai founded the headquarter of Shingon Buddhism in Mount Koya. Mount Koya is a representation of the Mandala of the Two Realms: the central plateau is the Womb Realm mandala, which is surrounded by the peaks that symbolize the lotus petals. In the middle of this plateau is the Diamond Realm mandala in which a temple named Kongobu-ji, the Diamond Peak Temple – is situated. The principle Buddha of the temple is the statue of Vairocana Buddha.
#8 – Imperial Patronage and Leadership in the Sangha Affairs
Kukai gained the imperial patronage: Emperor Saga approved his request to establish a Shingon temple in Mount Koya and tasked him to complete the construction of To-ji temple; Emperor Junna gave Kukai exclusive use of To-ji for the Shingon School and legitimized Shingon Buddhism through state authorization.
Besides, Kukai also served as the abbot of To-ji temple in Kyoto and Todai-ji temple in Nara. In 827, he was promoted to the Senior Director of the Office of Priestly Affairs, Daisōzu, in which he presided over state rituals, the emperor and the imperial family.
He also founded Zenpuku-ji in Tokyo but this temple was converted to Jodo Shinshu sect when Shinran visited the temple during the Kamakura period.
#9 – Magnum Opus: Treatise on the Ten Stages of the Development of Mind
In 830, Kukai completed his Magnum Opus – Treatise on The Ten Stages of the Development of Mind (Jp. Jūjūshinron, Cn. 十住心論 )
#10 – He is Still Alive in his Mausoleum
In Mar 21 of 835, Kukai entered into eternal meditation. Almost a century later in 921, a monk opened the door to the mausoleum and found Kukai still sitting in eternal samadhi but his hair and bead had grown long. He trimmed Kukai’s hair and beard, changed his holy cloth, and closed the door.
Until this day, Buddhist monks at Okunoin Temple – site of Kukai’s mausoleum – still offer two meals a day to Kukai at 6.00am and 10.30am.
The Fourfold Mandala indicates the efficacious power of the Three Mysteries. The painted or sculptured figures show the mystery of the body of the Buddha; the letters show the mystery of the speech of the Buddha; and the symbol shows the ‘original vow’ or thought of the Buddha.
The Maha-mandala (The Great Circle) [大曼茶羅]– the Mandala of the Buddha and his companions represented by pictures or painted figures, i.e. a plane representation.
The Samaya-mandala (The Symbol Circle) [三味耶曼茶羅]– the Mandala of the same assembly represented by symbols or article possessed by each. Samaya is a Sanskrit word which means ‘ the original vow’ [本願], but here it is represented by an article borne by each.
The Dharma-mandala (The Law Circle) [法曼茶羅]– the Mandala of letters (Bija-aksara in Sanskrit) representing all the sagely beings.
The Karma-mandala (The Art Craft Circle) [羯磨曼茶羅]– the Mandala of the sculptured figures. Karma is a Sanskrit word, which is supposed to mean ‘ work’ or ‘action’, but here means the artistic work of solid representation.
The Twofold Realms
There are twofold realms or called ‘Dhatu’ in Sanskrit in Tantric Buddhism, namely the Vajradhatu [金剛界] and Garbhadhatu [胎藏界]. The former represents the wisdom of Vairocana in its non-destructivity, so it is called ‘Vajra’, a Sanskrit word for ‘diamond’. The latter represents the principle or law or reason stored within Vairocana, so it is called ‘Garbha’ a Sanskrit word for ‘store’ or ‘womb’. In Tantric Buddhism, they are shown in two Mandalas, i.e. groups or circles, representing the ideas arising from the two fundamental concepts in various portrayals. It is important to note that they are not two different realms, but in a unity and are essential one to the other, neither existing apart.
Vajradhatu is interpreted as the realm of wisdom, the spiritual world of complete enlightenment, and the Dharmakaya (i.e. the Dharma Body) of the Buddha (Vairocana in Tantric Buddhism). It is also related to the sixth consciousness, and symbolized by a triangle with the point downwards and by full moon, which means wisdom and enlightenment.
While Garbhadhatu is the cause, Vajradhatu is the effect or fruit. Amongst the Six Great Elements, Vajradhatu belongs to the sixth one, i.e. Element of Consciousness.
There are five divisions of Vajradhatu represented by the Five Dhyani-Buddhas, Aksobhya [阿閟佛] in the east, Ratnasambhava [寶生佛] in the south, Amitabha [阿彌陀佛] in the west, Amoghasiddi [不空佛] in the north, and Vairocana [大日如來] in the center sitting on an elephant, a horse, a peacock, a Garuda and a lion respectively.
Garbhadhatu is interpreted as the matrix or substance underlying Vajradhatu, as described above. It is the womb or the universal source from which all things are produced. It represents the original intellect [本覺], in contrast with the initial intellect [始覺] represented by Vajradhatu. Hence, Garbhadhatu is the cause, while Vajradhatu is the effect. The former is considered as static, while the latter is dynamic.
Amongst the Six Great Elements, Garbhadhatu belongs to the first five Great Elements, namely Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Space. Garbhadhatu is symbolized by a triangle on its base, and an open lotus as representing the sun and Vairocana.
Garbhadhatu is divided into three sections, namely the Buddha, the Vajra and the Lotus, which represents Samadhi, wisdom and compassion respectively. The respective heads of these sections are Vairocana, Vajrapani and Avalokitesvara.
Six Great Elements
The entire universe and all living beings are made of six elements, namely, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space and Consciousness. All solid matters are belonged to Earth; all liquid and wet matters are belonged to Water; all matters related to light and heat energy are belonged to Fire; all gaseous matters are belonged to Air; all distance or interval amongst matters are belonged to Space; all senses and spiritual activities are belonged to Consciousness. The first five elements are classified as Form Dharma, while the sixth one is the Mind Dharma.
The Six Great Elements is the substance of all Dharmas, which can produce all Buddhas, all living beings and the material world. Thus, a doctrine of Conditional Arising of Six Great Elements is expounded in Chen Yen sect. It should be noted that the Six Great Elements are inherent within the ordinary nature of all sentient being. When they are in a static state, it is the substance of true reality; when they are in dynamic state, they are revealed as the ‘source’ of all forms and phenomena.
Buddhism Could Now Be the Second Largest Spiritual Path
(with 1.6 Billion or 22% of the World’s Population According to Some Recent Studies)
Buddhism has never been a “propagation” spirituality. Actively seeking out “converts” is discouraged for the most part. Individual spirituality is emphasized more than group activities. Some people don’t even think of Buddhism as a “religion”—certainly not an organized religion with dogma. So, it is with sense of optimism—without pride or attachment?—that we report the latest estimates of Buddhist population worldwide at over 1.6 billion, now closing in on a quarter of the population.
Why optimism? Because, it’s remarkable that a spirituality and philosophy with no central authority, no rigid dogma and no mission to proselytize, can never-the-less quietly grow. It’s not a matter of pride, but one of inspiration and hope.
Teachers such as the Dalai Lama (centre) and teachers such as Lama Zopa Rinpoche (right) have helped spread Tibetan Buddhism around the world, one of the fastest growing “religions.” The Dalai Lama’s gentle teachings and appearances, especially, have been enthusiastically received by students in numerous countries.
This may be an optimistic number, given 2010 estimates around 500 million, and I’m the first to doubt this number. I believe the real number is somewhere between the low estimates of 500 million or so (in 2010), and the 1.6 Billion being floated today. Tibetan Buddhism especially has accounted for much of the growth in the west in earlier reports (2010 estimates). But in sheer numbers, China’s sudden official re-embracing of Buddhism makes the higher number is feasible, given their population density.
The Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai.
China Officially Supports Buddhism
Clearly, the return of active spirituality in China accounts for the surge in estimates from 7% or 488 million Buddhists , only a few years ago, to today’s estimates of 1.6 billion or 22% of the world’s people. China, only a few years ago, was attributed a mostly non-spiritual status. Now, with freedoms returning, there are over 28,000 Buddhist monasteries, 16,000 temples and 240,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. 80% of the Chinese population, just over 1 billion, now—according to some estimates—call themselves lay Buddhists. Other estimates are much lower, varying from expert to expert.
If you believe the majority of Chinese are Buddhist — considering Buddhism is now officially supported in China and their active program to rebuild temples — then the 1.6 billion estimate seems at least possible. Previous studies, prior to official support, estimated China’s Buddhist population at only 244,130,000. 
A typical ceremony with Chinese Buddhist monks.
Numbers Just Another Label
So which is it? The conservative estimate indicated in 2010 studies at just about half a billion, or the 1.6 Billion, now estimated by some studies in 2014? It doesn’t really matter, of course. Numbers are just a label of another kind. The number is just a matter of curiosity or interest, nothing more.
Russia Embraces Buddhism?
A Buddhist temple is now being constructed in Moscow, the Russian capital, for the first time, signalling the countries openness to diverse spiritualities. The temple is scheduled to be completed by 2017. The temple will have it’s own library, a cinema, a five meter statue of the Buddha and will have a clinic for Tibetan Buddhist medicine. 
Russia and China’s sudden re-embracing of Buddhism is a hopeful sign of peaceful, organic growth of Buddhism in all its forms worldwide.
Russia will complete construction on an elaborate Buddhist Temple, complete with Tibetan Buddhist Medical clinic, by 2017. This will be the first Buddhist temple in Russia, according to World Religion News.
How do we know?
How do we know this is a reliable estimate? There’s no worldwide census to rely on, but this data is reasonably extrapolated by Dr. Daya Hewapathirane, based on studies published in 2010 and 2013. The shift in numbers (from 6% to 22%) is largely due to the willingness of the Chinese population to now identify with Buddhism. Prior to the mid-1990s , religious affiliations in China may not have been openly declared. Between 1966 and 1976, in particular, religion was discouraged.
Now, China is actually encouraging the promotion of Buddhism, and not just Shaolin monk world tours and tourism. China affirmed its status as the most populous Buddhist nation and “declared its commitment to spearhead and support international initiatives to protect Buddhism and Buddhist culture,” according to Dr. Hewapathirane.
Korea has always been a nation with a large Buddhist population. Today, estimates place the Buddhist population in South Korea at 50%. Pictured: a temple on Jejudo.
Around the World
In addition, Buddhist populations have grown in other countries. Remarkably, over 14 countries have Buddhist populations at more than 50% of citizens. Seven of these countries indicate Buddhism is practiced by 90% of their populations.
The 14 countries with higher than 50% Buddhist populations are:
Hong Kong 90%
China 80% [this is according to note 2 below. It is significantly less in earlier reports note 5 below, at 102 million people and another report at 500 million. However these were both prior to China’s new “promotion” of Buddhism]
 Stats from  above and from “Largest Buddhist Populations” Buddhanet.net.
Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.
Untempered iron quickly melts in a blazing fire, like ice put in hot water. But a sword, even when exposed to great fire, withstands the heat for a while, because it has been well forged. In admonishing you in this way, I am trying to forge your faith. Buddhism is reason. Reason will win over your lord. ( The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin-1, 839)
Forging Our Lives Daily with Tenacity
Nichiren wrote this letter in 1277 from Mount Minobu to Shijo king, who was living in Kamakura. A leading disciple of strong and sincere faith in the community of disciples in Kamakura, Shijo Kingo faced his greatest adversity in life in 1277. In June of that year, a religious debate was held at Kuwagayatsu in Kamakura. Afterward, Ema, the feudal lord whom Kingo served as a samurai retainer, was falsely informed that an armed group led by Kingo had burst in and disrupted the proceedings. This led Ema to order Kingo to write an oath renouncing his faith in the Lotus Sutra—failure to comply would result in his lands being confiscated. Kingo sent Nichiren a letter in which he voiced his resolve never to submit such an oath.
Nichiren wrote a series of letters to encourage and give detailed advice to Kingo, including this Gosho.
This is a passage where Nichiren teaches that as long as one maintains strong faith, one will surely be able to win in all aspects of life and overcome all adversities. When devilish functions appear, we will surely be defeated in both body and mind if we do not have a strong and vibrant life force to counter these negative workings, just like how untempered iron melts in a blazing fire.
On the other hand, even though it is the same iron, when it is well forged, it can withstand the heat for a while even when exposed to a great fire. In the same way, when we forge our lives, we will be able to courageously take on the challenge when devilish functions appear and prevail over them.
To “forge” our lives, it entails our regular practice of morning and evening gongyo and carrying out activities for kosen-rufu. It is through these continued efforts that we exert to polish and forge our lives through our practice of faith that we are able to transform our karma and overcome all difficulties in life without fail. Nichiren also says here, “Buddhism is reason. Reason will win over your lord.”
Buddhism teaches the correct way of life as a human being and therefore, it can be said to embody ultimate reason. “Winning over your lord” means never to be defeated or intimidated by tyrannical secular authorities by basing on the power of the lucid principles of Buddhism and to win in the end. We can create an unerring road map to victory by living our lives wisely with integrity and sincerity based on faith in the Mystic Law. This is the power of reason based on the teachings of Buddhism. When we base our lives on faith and tenaciously conduct ourselves with sincerity and honesty, we will never fail to win the trust of the people around us.
This is a passage where Nichiren teaches that as Iong as one maintains strong faith, one will surely be able to win in all aspects of life and overcome all adversities.
When devilish functions appear, we will surely be defeated if we do not have a strong and vibrant life force to counter these negative workings, just like how untempered iron melts in a blazing fire.
On the other hand, even though it is the same iron, when it is well forged, it can withstand the heat for a while even when exposed to a great fire. In the same way, when we forge our lives, we will be able to courageously take on the challenge when devilish functions appear and prevail over them
To “forge” our lives, it entails our regular practice of morning and evening gongyo and carrying out activities for kosen-rufu. It is through these continued efforts that we exert to polish and forge our lives through our practice of faith that we are able to transform our karma and overcome all difficulties in life without fail.
We can create an unerring road map to victory by living our lives wisely with integrity and sincerity based on faith in the Mystic Law. This is the power of reason based on the teachings of Buddhism.
When we base our lives on faith and tenaciously conduct ourselves with sincerity and honesty, we will never fail to win the trust of the people around us.
People vary in their background, interests, levels of understanding, sharpness in mind, and objectives in studying Buddhism. Therefore there is no single school of teaching to satisfy all.
For those who cannot understand the sagely and ultimate Dharma, Buddha dharma provides them with the convenience to avoid their falling into the three lowest realms, i.e. Three Evil Paths.
For those who can understand, but not courageous enough to undertake in practice, Buddha dharma provides guidance to achieve enlightenment progressively.
Buddha dharma facilitates by all means all sentient beings to do all kinds of good things. In Buddhism, no sentient beings cannot be enlightened, as all sentient beings possess the Buddhist characters.
We will not teach people something which they do not understand. The teacher will not answer the student’s question if he knows that the student does not understand. However, a good teacher will give a simplified, but not necessarily exact answer which will lead eventually to the understanding of the real answer.
In Buddhism, there are Five Vehicles. A Vehicle is a transportation means to carry people across the sea of suffering to reach the shore of enlightement. The Five Vehicles are:
Sravaka (Sound Hearer)
Praetyka-Buddha (Those enlightened to conditions)
The first two are sometimes taken as one, i.e. Human and Deva Vehicles. The third and fourth combined is called the Liberated Vehicle. The Liberated Vehicle together with the Bodhisattva Vehicle are known as the Three Vehicles.
The Liberated Vehicle is known as Hinayana, or The Small Vehicle. It means a small vehicle for a person to carry oneself across the sea of suffering and to attain the enlightement. On the other hand, the Bodhisattva Vehicle is known as Mahayana, or The Great Vehicle. i It means a great vehicle for many people to cross over, not just for oneself.
Buddhist Teaching, Theory, Practice and Attainment
#1 – The Human & #2 – Deva Vehicles
To show the inevitability of the cause and effect of good and evil karma, like the shadow following its form, with retribution to the doer himself. With the good or evil karma, there is transmigration among the six states of existence and if one wishes to seek the fruit of happiness, one must accumulate good deeds and shun all evil.
To bind and control one’s behavior. Cease all evil, do all that is good, be filial to one’s parents, respect one’s teachers and elders, receive and observe the Five Precepts, cultivate the Ten Good Deeds, be kind and philanthropic, and broadly cultivate the fields of blessings.
Good karma breeds good fruits, the blessings of humans and devas. Evil karma breeds evil fruits, the degeneration into the three evil paths. In this mortal world, the fruits of retribution are impermanent and after they are exhausted, they again follow their transmigration among the six states.
#3 – The Sravaka & #4 – Praetyka-Buddha Vehicles
They thoroughly understand the impermanence, egolessness, dependent origination nature and nirvana of all dharmas. The continuation of the life and death cycle never ends, due to the clinging to, and attachment of, selfhood.
To practise diligently the Sila (Precepts), Dhyana (Concentration) and Prajna (Wisdom) in order to counteract Desire, Anger and Ignorance. The fear in the sufferings of samsara urgently results in seeking emancipation. But this practice is capable of only self salvation and not others.
Exterminate the troubles arising from views and thoughts of the Three Realms, and attain out-of-worldly emancipation and nirvana. No longer subject to bondage by further life-and-death cycles, but their wisdom is still insignificant. They thought they have attained enough and in order to protect what they have achieved, they dwell in the void, look upon the Three Realms as jail, and all sentient beings as their opponents. They dare not develop bodhicitta to descend on the world to save all beings.
#5 – The Bodhisattva Vehicle
Aware that the Three Realms exist in the mind and that all dharmas are within our consciousness. There is no dharma outside the mind and there is no mind outside the dharma. Form is no different from emptiness and its nature never changes with any circumstance. Emptiness is no different from form, and the unchangeable nature goes along with any circumstance without being affected. Form and emptiness are non-dualistic, hence substance and function are interfused. The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings, all three are one and the same, hence all sentient beings have Buddha nature and can all attain Buddhahood.
They put into effect their great vows of seeking Buddhahood and transforming beings. With transcendental wisdom, they understand that there are no beings to be saved and no Buddhahood to be attained, but owing to their great compassion, they often remain in the stream of life and death to relieve suffering and give happiness to all beings without let-up on any one being.
Permanently rid of the five basic afflictions, served of the two forms of death (physical and mental), the attainment of the Three Enlightenments, the possession of all virtues, the attainment to the very source of the mind and the four virtues of eternity, joy, personality and purity, having transformed consciousness into wisdom and attained the unsurpassed path.
One Buddha Vehicle
It seems that the Human and Deva Vehicles emphasize on existence, such as blessing, longevity, health and wealth, etc., while the Liberation Vehicle emphasizes on non-existence, even no-self.
It may seem that they are contradictory, but in fact, they are not. The Human and Deva Vehicles are the first step in Buddhism. If we can do all kinds of good deed for people at all times, our mind will be pure.
The Liberation Vehicle is controversial. How can a person who renounces all kinds of dependent origination and meditates alone all the times can benefit other people? It can be viewed in three ways:
It is a process of purifying, i.e. to renounce all defilements in our mind.
If we can stop thinking and doing all kinds of evil deed at all times, our mind is pure too!
It is an indirect way to influence others towards kindness, e.g. starving in protest, silence is sometimes better than words!
Lastly, the Bodhisattva Vehicle is nearly perfect and ultimate in terms of Buddhism, as one will be benefited, liberated and realized by benefiting, liberating and realizing others.
Above all, the ultimate, perfect and complete truth of Buddha is One Buddha Vehicle. In Buddhism, the Five Vehicle are established to facilitate the human beings to understand the reality of Buddhahood. As revealed in the Lotus Sutra, the teaching of One Buddha Vehicle is inconceivable and beyond words.
The Buddha’s teachings are classified into three, known as the Three Wheels. The first wheel is Hinayana, which aims at personal liberation. The second is Mahayana, which extends Buddhist liberation to other people with universal compassion. The third wheel is Vajrayana, which offers the effective ways to attain enlightenment. Vajrayana is considered to be the final interpretation of the teachings of the Buddha, according to Tantric Buddhism.
According to Chen Yen sect, the body, speech and thought of the Buddha are the Three Mysteries, as ordinary practitioners are unable to see, to hear and to think of them. Thus, it is necessary to have some means of communion from the mystic power (Adhisthana in Sanskrit) of the Buddha, which can be expressed through the three activities of human beings, i.e. our body, speech and thought:
Body – it refers to the Mudra — finger-intertwining
Speech – it refers to the Mantra, or Dharani
Thought – it refers to the Yoga concentration or Dhyana
Through the prescribed ritual, one can realize the perfect communion between the Buddha and the practitioner. As everybody possesses these three functions, all of which harbor secrets that lead to the attainment of Buddhahood.
It is important to note that the rituals connected with the Three Mysteries are transmitted orally from the Guru (teacher) to the disciple or practitioner.
The word ‘Tantra’ has been discussed in the beginning of previous post.
Tantric practice involves three things:
Reciting particular phrases and words, also known as Dharani [ªûÃ¹¥§], which are secret ‘codes’ of the respective Bodhisattvas and the Buddhas
Acting out ritual activities, which have the effect of involving body and emotions in religion
In conjunction with the first two things, the visualization of oneself as one of the Bodhisattvas or Buddha.
There are two keys features of Tantra:
It seeks out the quick way to get insight, compared with years of patient meditation,
It is generally performed only under the instruction of a Guru (teacher).
The word Mantra comes from the Sanskrit roots, ‘manas’ and ‘tra’, which means ‘mind’ and ‘tool’ respectively. Mantras are invocations to Buddhas. Tantric practitioners repeat them in order to forge Karmic connections between themselves and meditative deities and to effect cognitive restructuring through internalizing the divine qualities that the Mantra represents.
The use of Mantra is essential in Tantric practice. According to its practitioners, Mantra repetition is not simply an external activity in which one vocalizes sounds, but an internal awakening of the cognitive potential of the practitioner. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, ‘ Mantras are effective because they help keep your mind quiet and peaceful, automatically integrating it into one-pointedness. They make your mind receptive to very subtle vibrations and thereby heighten your perception. Their recitation eradicates gross negativities and the true nature of things can then be reflected in your mind’s resulting in clarity. By practicing a transcendental Mantra, you can in fact purify all the defiled energy of your body, speech and mind.’
Mantras are tools of the mind. Tibetan Buddhism believes that the nature of the universe is expressed in sound, in Mantra. The Mantra is thus a powerful way to focus and attune mind or consciousness.
‘Om’ is the original Mantra. It is usually the first word of many Mantras in Buddhism. ‘Om’ symbolizes the wholeness of things, the infinite and perfect. Chanting a Mantra is a way to focus attention and direct oneself into union with enlightened consciousness. It is also believed that, by chanting the appropriate sounds and combinations of sounds, the corresponding meaning or experience is evoked. In Tantric theory, the universe is a function of Buddha. It begins with ‘Om’, and ends with ‘Hum’.
Chanting the Mantra is not based on reasoning, since rational concepts and logical thinking deviate from direct perception of the reality. Mantras provide an experience to listen to and develop inner vision, so the practitioner can hear the universe itself with direct awareness.
Mantra is a series of mystic syllables or formulae, which are said to be the epitome of the Sutras representing the ‘signals’ from the designated Buddha or Bodhisattva. It plays a dominant role in the practice of Tantrism, as reciting and upholding the Mantras is said to be the most direct and quickest way to attain enlightenment.
In the Buddhist Sutras, Dharani, and Parimitas are usually included in the texts. The former is short formulae to ‘uphold’ the Dharma, while the latter is short chants to protect’ it. Both of them are taken as Mantras, which are believed to be the ‘mental instruments’ to communicate the respective Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, as a tradition of Hinduism. Some people believe that Mantras can get rid of the effect of evil Karma.
Nevertheless, reciting and upholding the Mantras is said to be the most direct and quickest way to attain enlightenment, as it is an aid of visualizing the particular Buddha or Bodhisattva in the process. Mantra is seen as a ‘tuning fork’, which facilitates the practitioner to tune in his mind to a being he wishes to visualize. It is just a melody that can naturally tend to evoke reactions of sadness and happiness in people. Another analogy to explain the function of a Mantra is the key. It enables the practitioner to have psychic power to visualize and communicate with a being whose Mantra it is. Each Buddha or Bodhisattva has his own Mantra that signifies his essence.
The practitioner are not required to interpret the exact meaning of the Mantra, but just to recite and uphold it. Actually, some Mantras have no meaning at all. Most people believe that the accuracy in pronouncing the Mantra is directly proportional to the effectiveness of its power or response. However, some people think that sincerity is of utmost importance. Nevertheless, Mantras are usually properly trained in designated format in Tantrism.
Mudras are symbolic hand gestures, which are closely associated with Mantras. As Mantras consists of the secrets of sounds, Mudras consists of the secrets of touch. Each Buddha or Bodhisattva has his own Mudra. The practitioner is required to make the respective Mudra with his hands and fingers, so that he can get the ‘signals’ or ‘response’ from the corresponding Buddha or Bodhisattva more easily. There are different rites accompanied by different Mudras too.
The Mudra on a particular Buddha image signifies his characteristics. For instance, Aksobhya has the ‘earth-witness’ gesture, while Amitabha has his hand down to welcome beings to his Pure Land. Holding a fist expresses anger, and holding up an open palm expresses the wish to pacify any dispute. The basic function of a Mudra is to amplify the efficacy of the Mantras in evolving the psychic forces and higher states of consciousness.
Literally, Mandala [°Ò¯ùÃ¹] means ‘circle’, both in the sense of a circular diagram and a surrounding retinue. According to the teaching of Cheng Yen sect, the true meaning of the esoteric teachings cannot be transmitted in words, but only through the diagrammatic Mandala.
There are two meanings of Mandala :
The intrinsically existent Mandala, which is the multi-dimensional array or configuration of the qualities of enlightenment throughout time and space, inaccessible by ordinary beings.
The simple symbolic Mandala , which may be visualized, painted or represented with objects. It serves to demonstrate the structure and the interaction of the various elements of enlightenment as embodied in the form of various Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.
The former represents a sacred realm, often the celestial place of a Buddha, which contains symbols and images that depict aspects of the characters and personalities of the Buddha, and indicate Buddhist themes and concepts. It is also the place where the consecration takes place.
The Dalai Lama explains that the image of the Mandala ‘is said to be extremely profound because meditation on it serves as an antidote, quickly eradicating the obstructions to liberation and the obstructions to omniscience as well as their latent predisposition’.
The latter one is a mystic circle, made of a piece of painted cloth or paper, showing the Buddha or Bodhisattva in their cosmic connection. Its basic function is to outline the Pure Land of a specific Buddha or Bodhisattva with the associated sages.