Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kûkai, Kobo Daishi 弘法大师


[A few years later at the age of 24, he completed the final version of his first treatise, the Sangô shîki (Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings) that covers and compares the teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Herein one can discern Kûkai's reasons for turning from Confucianism to Buddhism. In the text, Kûkai relates how as a student he met a Buddhist priest who taught him an esoteric meditative practice called the Kokûzôgumonji no ho (“Âkâśagarbha's method for seeking hearing and retaining”), which involved the recitation of a mantra a million times and was supposed to endow the practitioner with miraculous powers of memory and understanding.

What Kûkai found in Buddhism was a concrete path towards enlightenment (and liberation from suffering) that involves bodily practice and direct experience rather than mere theoretical speculation. Kûkai however did not involve himself in the official schools of the Nara Buddhist orthodoxy for they emphasized the exegetical study of the scriptures without providing any theoretical grounding for ritual practice. Instead he remained in the remote mountain regions of his native Shikoku as an unofficial and privately ordained mendicant. It appears that between the ages of 24 and 31, he wandered through its various mountains and sacred sites, practicing asceticism. Noticing the many different branches and sûtras(scriptures) of Buddhism, he hoped to find its unifying essence that would also bridge the gap between ritual and experience on the one hand and doctrine and theory on the other hand. It was during this search that he came across the mid-seventh century esoteric Buddhist text of the Dainichi-kyô (Skrt: Mahâvairocana Sûtra; Chn: Ta-ji Ching; “Great Sun scripture”). Intuiting that this text, with its dual emphasis upon esoteric practice and doctrine, would provide the kind of knowledge that he was seeking, Kûkai decided to travel to China to study it. ]

[It was during his period at Takaosan-ji that he wrote some of his major treatises of philosophical interest to us, such as Benkenmitsu nikkyôron (Treatise on the Differences Between Esoteric and Exoteric Teachings) around 814, and the so-called Sanbu-shô (“Three Writings”) of Sokushinjôbutsugi (On the Meaning of “Attaining Buddhahood in this Very Embodied Existence”), Shôjijissôgi (On the Meanings of “Sound, Sign, and Reality”), andUnjigi (On the Meaning of the Syllable Hûm) in the 820s. And towards the end of his life he completed in 830 what has been considered to be his magnum opus, the Himitsu mandara jûjûshinron (Treatise on the Ten States of the Mind as a Secret Mandala) in ten volumes, and soon afterward, completed its summary version, the Hizô hôyaku (The Precious Key to the Secret Treasury) in three volumes.

In 816 Kûkai began building a monastic center in Mt. Kôya, and there he died in 835 at the age of 61. In 921, he posthumously received from Emperor Daigo and his court, the honorific title, Kôbô Daishi (“Great Teacher Who Spread the Dharma”). ]

[n traditional Mahâyâna Buddhist theory, the Buddha is conceived in terms of three modes or forms of embodiments (trikâya): dharmakâya (Jpn: hosshin), nirmanakâya, andsambhogakâya. While originally the term buddha, meaning “enlightened one,” was reserved for Śakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism, it eventually came to designate the ideal for humanity. This ideal became equated with the “truth” (Skrt: Dharma; Jpn: ), taught by the Buddha, of the nature of being. To be a “buddha” is then to be enlightened to that truth, which came to also mean the realization of one's non-duality with the Dharma. It is in this significance that one way of understanding the Buddha is in terms of the universal “embodiment of the Dharma” (Skrt: dharmakâya; Jpn: hosshin). For traditional Mahâyâna, this hosshin is an abstract principle and hence impersonal and non-preaching. However as implied in the foregoing section, for Kûkai the hosshin is identified with the Buddha Dainichi. That is, in one aspect the hosshin may be understood to be a personal being who preaches the Dharma by concretizing it in the cosmos as his own body. (Of course though to avoid anthropomorphism, the hosshin cannot be reduced to this aspect.) In the traditional three-body doctrine, however, it is the other two forms of embodiment that preach. The Buddha, when regarded as embodying the Dharma in an historical earthly being, such as Śakyamuni, who preaches the Dharma to humans, is called the nirmanakâya (“embodiment of transformation”). And the Buddha as enjoying his fruits of enlightenment by residing in a celestial buddha-realm, while unfolding further truths for advanced bodhisattva beings and acting as a savior to the earthly, is called the sambhogakâya (“embodiment of bliss”). An example of would be Amida residing in his “Pure Land.”
What distinguishes Kûkai's understanding of the Buddha is that he takes the notion of the “embodiment of the Dharma” literally and radically. Hosshin in Shingon thought is not an abstract truth transcending the mundane world. Rather all phenomena and thing-events of this cosmos, in their very transience, are each themselves embodiments of truth and the cosmos as a whole comprised of these impermanent and interdependent beings is eternally an embodiment of truth, the hosshin. Moreover this concrete cosmic identification between Buddha, truth, and the cosmos of thing-events, was “personal.” That is, hosshin was equated with the Buddha Dainichi. The cosmos as the manifestation of truth, the Dharma, was itself hence equated with the body of the personal Buddha Dainichi. And in turn, Dainichi with his cosmic body is then the embodied personification of the universal Buddha-nature inherent in all beings and the Dharma that is manifest everywhere. Prior to Hui-kuo, this identification of Dainichi with the hosshin in Mantrayâna Buddhism was ambiguous and not thorough. In theDainichi-kyô, a sun metaphor is used to name its central Buddha, “Dainichi” (Mahâvairocana, transliterated as Makabirushana), meaning “Great Sun,” as the being whose light illuminates and enlightens all beings in a way akin to the sun's life-giving light. All other deities are seen as manifestations of this light. Dainichi's identification with thehosshin nevertheless remains ambiguous. While he probably influenced Kûkai in regards to this equation, Hui-kuo himself however left no written explications. Kûkai thus has been regarded as the first to provide a complete and systematic exposition of the nature of the Buddha Dainichi as the hosshin. The sun metaphor of illumination — as the source of both being and of knowledge (enlightenment) — befits the universality of the hosshin perfectly. The illumination of the “Great Sun” (Dainichi) becomes accordingly understood to mean the omnipresencing of the Dharma throughout the cosmos, an omnipresencing in turn equated with the Buddha's preaching. This “proof” that the hosshin does in fact preach helped Kûkai in distinguishing his esoteric doctrines from those of exoteric Buddhism.]
Please go read up more on Kobo Daishi. :)

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