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SHINGONSHŪ . The Japanese esoteric Buddhist tradition of Shingon takes its name from the Chinese term zhenyan, which literally means "true word" and is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term mantra, meaning spoken phrases taken to have extraordinary powers. The practice of reciting mantras is taken as characteristic of this tradition and points to the continuity of the tradition's practices from its Indic origins through to its modern Japanese instantiation. The centrality of mantra recitation is evidenced by two early names for the tradition, Mantranaya (path of mantras ), and Mantrayāna (vehicle of mantras ). Shingon is an esoteric tradition, meaning that its practices are only to be transmitted by a qualified teacher (Jpn., ajari; Skt., ācārya ) to a student who has undergone the appropriate initiations. When speaking of the Shingon tradition, it refers primarily to a lineage of ritual practice.

Other key terms that amplify the character of the Shingon tradition include tantra, which originates as a bibliographic category but which is now used as a synonym for the esoteric tradition within Buddhism, and Vajrayāna, which means the thunderbolt vehicle, referring to the speed of attaining full awakening. In some systems of classification, Mantranaya and Pāramitānaya (path of perfections) are paired as two parts of Mahāyāna, while other systems consider Vajrayāna to be a third vehicle superceding Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna. Mikkyō is also often used in association with Shingon and means esoteric teachings. While Shingon is predominantly esoteric in character, an esoteric element is also found in the Tendai tradition. This latter is often referred to as Tendai mikkyō (usually abbreviated as Taimitsu ), and is contrasted with Tōji mikkyō (usually abbreviated as Tōmitsu ), named for one of the earliest Shingon temples, Tōji (Eastern Temple) in Kyoto.

Indian Origins

The Tantric tradition of Buddhism originated in medieval India following the demise of the Gupta empire, around 550 ce. While there are a variety of theories about the origins of esoteric Buddhism and its relations to other Indian religious traditions, it seems clear that there was no one particular origin. Rather, a wide variety of reinterpreted practices and doctrinal developments went into the making of what only later took on an identity as a movement, school, or tradition.

The two main texts for the Shingon tradition are the Mahāvairocana Sūtra (Jpn., Dainichikyō, T.D. no. 848) and the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasamgraha Sūtra (T.D. no. 865, a portion of the Vajraśekhara Sūtra, Jpn., Kongochogyō, by which name it is commonly known in contemporary Shingon), and are thought to have been composed in Northwest India early in the eighth century. Others have suggested, however, that the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasamgraha was composed in Southern India in the late seventh century, while the Mahāvairocana was composed in Western India in the middle of the seventh century.

Chinese Transmission

While Tantric texts and practices were known in China from as early as the third century ce, the Shingon lineage itself traces its origins to the rise in the Tang dynasty (618907) of an esoteric Buddhist school. This school is taken to have originated in the work of three figures: Śubhākarasiha (637735), Vajrabodhi (671741) and Amoghavajra (705774). Also important was Śubhākarasiha's disciple Yixing (683727), who not only assisted Śubhākarasiha in the translation of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, but also wrote an important commentary on it.

There are three Chinese translations of the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasagraha Sūtra. Vajrabodhi's (T.D. no. 866), Amoghavajra's (T.D. no. 865), and Shihu's (T.D. 882). Of these, it is Amoghavajra's that is most widely used in the Shingon tradition. This version, completed circa 754, is based on a text that Amoghavajra brought back to China from Sri Lanka or South India, where he travelled and studied in 744746 ce.

Although these two textsthe Mahāvairocana and Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasagraha are considered to be foundational for Shingon, other texts are also important. The Adhyardhaśatikāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Jpn., Rishukyō, Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in One Hundred Fifty Verses ) is part of the Tantric Prajñāpāramitā literature, and is frequently recited as part of daily services in Shingon temples. The version used is the Chinese translation by Amoghavajra (T.D. no. 243), another of the texts he acquired during his travels in Sri Lanka and South India. The other important works are the Yugikyō (T.D. no. 867, reconstructed Sanskrit title: Vajraśekhara vimāna sarvayogayogi Sūtra, translator indeterminate), and the Sussidhikara-Sūtra (T.D. no. 893, Jpn., Soshitsuji kyō ), translated by Śubhākarasiha in 726 ce.

Traditional Lineage of Patriarchs

The Shingon tradition traces its teachings back to the Buddha Mahāvairocana (Jpn., Dainichi), who is considered to be the Dharmakāya Buddha. In Mahāyāna thought there developed a theory of three Buddha bodies. These are the nirmāakāya (form, or manifestation body), sabhogakāya (reward, or celestial body), and dharmakāya (dharma, or actual body). In contrast with most of the Buddhist tradition, Shingon holds that the Dharmakāya actively teaches.

According to an early lineage of patriarchs given by Kūkai, Mahāvairocana transmitted the teachings to Vajrasattva, who was then succeeded by Nāgārjuna, Nāgabodhi, Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra, Huiguo, and finally by Kūkai himself. There are, however, several variations in the lineages recorded by different masters. These variations result from differing interpretations of who had received which of the main two ritual transmissions, the Vajradhātu and Garbhakośadhātu. For example, the lineage recorded by Shūkaku (11501202) only has seven patriarchs. He removes Vajrabodhi, asserting instead that Amoghavajra had received transmission directly from Nāgabodhi when Amoghavajra travelled to India. Other lineage records also add and delete various figures, including Samantahadra, Mañjuśrī, Vajrapāi, Dharmagupta, Śubhākarasiha (637735), and Xuanchao.

KŪkai, the Founder

Kūkai (774835, posthumously titled Kōbō Daishi, commonly referred to in honorific form as O Daishi sama) is considered to be the founder of Japanese Shingon. He was born on the island of Shikoku, into an aristocratic family, the Saeki, a branch of the Ōtomo clan. At fifteen, in 788, he went to the capital, Nara, where he began to study the Confucian classics under the guidance of a maternal uncle. Three years later, he entered the Confucian College (Jpn., daigaku ) that served to recruit and train court officials. Within the next few years, however, he showed increasing interest in Buddhism, and at some point left the college.

He is known to have engaged in various ascetic practices during this period. For example, on Mt. Kinbu he practiced the Kokūzō Gumonji hō, a ritual dedicated to Kokūzō bosatsu (Skt., Ākāśagarbha bodhisattva), intended to improve the practitioner's memory. This practice involves reciting the mantra of Ākāśagarbha one million times over a period of one hundred days. This indicates an early contact with esoteric Buddhism, as the Gumonji hō practice is based on the Kokuzōgumonjinohō (T.D. no. 1145) translated by Śubhākarasiha. It appears that this work was brought to Japan by Dōji (d. 744 ce) of the Nara temple Daianji, and that Kūkai received transmission of the practice from Gonzō (758827), a leading cleric of the times.

Although it is unclear who recommended him, Kūkai was chosen as a state-sponsored student to accompany the envoy Fujiwara Kadonomaro to China in the years 804 to 805. After some difficulties, Kūkai eventually reached the Green Dragon Monastery (Qing-long si) in the Chinese capital of Chang'an. He reports having been initiated into the dual lineage of ritual practice by his master Huiguo (746805, Jpn., Keika). Kūkai portrays this very dramatically, explaining that Huiguo was only clinging to life in order to transmit the teachings to a worthy disciple. Shortly after Kūkai's initiation, Huiguo encourages Kūkai to return to Japan, and then dies.

By 806 Kūkai had returned to Kyushu, the southern island of Japan, but he had to wait an additional three years until he was given permission to proceed to the capital, Heian (today's Kyoto), by the new emperor, Saga. He was directed to reside at Takaosanji, a temple in the suburbs of the capital. This would be the center of his activities until 823, when he was given authority over Tōji, one of the two temples built to flank the entrance to the city. In 816 he was granted permission to establish a training center specifically for Shingon Mikkyō on Kōyasan (High, Wild Mountain), where he eventually retired due to illness in 831. Still active in the promotion of Shingon within the court, he received permission to establish the Shingon chapel (Jpn., Shingonin) on the grounds of the palace, providing a base for Shingon to play a part in services for the court, such as the Buddha Relics Offering. Early in 835 he died while residing on Kōyasan. Tradition has it, however, that he did not die, but rather passed into an unbroken meditation (Skt., samādhi ).

In contemporary Shingon the difference between the Tantric texts and practices already extant in Japan during the Nara period (known as Nara Mikkyō) and the dual system introduced by Kūkai is taken for granted. The tradition itself describes Nara Mikkyō as incomplete, unsystematic, and impure, categorizing it as zōmitsu (mixed or heterogenous esotericism). Kūkai's form is said to be mature, systematic, and pure, and it is categorized as junmitsu (pure esotericism). The zōmitsu/junmitsu distinction, however, appears to be relatively late, dating perhaps only from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Like all such scholastic categories it simultaneously serves both organizing and polemic ends.

Relation between KŪkai and SaichŌ

The other major figure of Heian Japan is Kūkai's elder contemporary Saichō (767822). Saichō also travelled to China in the same ambassadorial entourage as Kūkai. Saicho's main interest was Tiantai (Jpn., Tendai), but after his studies on Mt. Tiantai, he did receive initiation into an esoteric Buddhist lineage. This was shortly before his return to Japan, however, so he did not have any opportunity to pursue this further. Following Saichō's return to Japan, in 806 he was directed by Emperor Kanmu, Saga's predecessor, to establish the Tendai tradition at Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, still the main center of Japanese Tendai today. The imperial edict establishing the Saichō's new school specified the two dimensions of training. One portion of the curriculum was centered on the Mo-ho chih-kuan, the foundational Tendai work by the Tiantai patriarch Chih-i (538597), and is known as shikangō (from the Japanese pronunciation of chih-kuan as shikan ). The second portion of the curriculum was to be esoteric in character, focusing on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. This track was known as shanagō (shana being an abbreviated form of Birushana, the Japanese pronunciation of Vairocana ).

Initially relations between Saichō and Kūkai went smoothly. While Saichō worked to establish a Mikkyō element within his Lotus Sūtra based Tendai, he needed Kūkai's assistance, having himself only received the most rudimentary introduction to esoteric Buddhism while in China. Saichō regularly borrowed texts from Kūkai, until finally in 816 a breach occurred between the two. The schism resulted from a fundamental difference in the way the two understood the place of mikkyō. Saichō wanted to integrate Mikkyō into his Tendai Lotus school. Saichō saw Tendai as foundational to, and therefore encompassing of all forms of, East Asian Buddhism, including Shingon. Kūkai, on the other hand, understood Shingon to embody the highest, most effective teachings of Buddhism, and therefore to supercede all other forms, including Tendai.

Shingon Developments in the Medieval Period

Kakuban (Kōgyō Daishi, 10951144) played a key role in the medieval development of Shingonshū, being involved both in a revivalist movement, known as "shingi shingonshū," and in articulating Shingon conceptions with Amidist ones. Devotion to the Buddha Amida (Skt., Amitābha) became increasingly popular during the medieval period of Japanese Buddhist history. While Amida played an important role in the Tantric Buddhism transmitted from India through China to Japan, this new popularity stimulated Shingon practitioners to draw on those resources, giving greater prominence to Amida and his Pure Land of Bliss (Skt., Sukhāvatī; Jpn., Gokuraku Jōdo), described in the Larger Sukhāvatīvyuha Sūtra (Skt Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra; Jpn., Daimuryōju kyō, T.D. nos. 360364). Kakuban also gave great emphasis to the buddha realm of Mahāvairocana Buddha, the Pure Land of Esoteric Grandeur (Jpn., Mitsugon Jōdo), described in the Mahāyāna Sūtra of Mystic Grandeur (Skt., Ghanavyūha Sūtra; Jpn., Daijō mitsugongyō; T.D. nos. 681, 682). Mahāvairocana's Pure Land of Esoteric Grandeur became identified not only with Amida's Pure Land of Bliss, but also with Vairocana Buddha's Lotus Womb World (Jpn., Kezōkai, also Garland World, Jpn., Kegon sekai), described in the Garland Sūtra (Skt., Avatasaka Sūtra, Jpn., Kegon gyō, T.D. nos. 278, 279, 293).

Kakukai (Nanshōbō, 11421223) was the thirty-seventh superintendent of Kongōbuji, the main temple of the Chuin ryū on Mt. Kōya. Like Kakuban, Kakukai also responded to the rising popularity of Amida, arguing that the Pure Land was to be realized in this world rather than after death. This extended the idea of becoming awakened in this incarnation formulated by Kūkai. This immanentist interpretation is seen in the identification of Mt. Kōya with the Pure Land of Bliss. Today, the last train station before entering the mountain is called GokurakubashiBridge to the Land of Bliss.

In medieval Japan, self-identified Shintō lineages began to develop. The Watarai clan, which served the Ise shrine, assimilated many esoteric elements into its interpretation of the Shintō tradition. Drawing Shingon's dual maala (Jpn., ryōbu mandara ), this became known as Ryōbu Shintō. Similarly, Yuiitsu Shintō ("one and only Shintō," also Yoshida Shintō after its founder Yoshida Kanetomo, 14351511) drew on Shingon symbolism, ideology, and practice. The latter includes a Yuiitsu Shintō goma (votive fire) clearly modeled on the Shingon goma. A late medieval Japanese development within Shingon was another reform movement known as Shingon ritsu, which emphasized adherence to the rules of the order (Skt., vinaya, Jpn., ritsu ). This sect was established by Eizon (Shiembō, 12011290), and was centered at the Saidaiji temple in Nara.

Key Doctrines

Shingon teaches that one can achieve complete, full awakening in the present through esoteric practice. Sokushin jōbutsu (being awakened in this body) is a key doctrine of Shingon. Although later interpretations in light of the idea of inherent awakening (Jpn., hongaku ) have tended to conflate the two ideas, the Shingon doctrine predated the idea of inherent awakening in Japan.

The path to awakening in Shingon is based on the idea that the practitioner is already identical with the Buddha. Ritual practice in which the practitioner actively identifies with the Buddha, experiencing the world as a buddha, actualizes the inherent bodhicitta. An exposition of this is found in the Ihon Sokushin jōbutsu-gi attributed to Kūkai, which presents three perspectives on the nature of the relation between the practitioner and the Buddha. In principle (ri) a person is already identical with the Buddha. This is called rigu jōbutsu. Although already inherently awakened, because of obscurations (Skt., kleśa, Jpn., bonnō ), it is necessary to engage in practice to actualize one's awakening. This is called kaji jōbutsu. Buddhahood is actualized in a two-fold pattern of revealing (Jpn., ken ) and acquiring (Jpn., doku ), called kendoku jōbutsu. Thus, the idea of already being inherently awakened as understood in Shingon does not preclude the necessity for practice, as some antinomian interpretations of the inherent awakening doctrine developed in medieval Japan would suggest.

The role of ritual practice is to realise the three-fold identity of the practitioner and the buddha. This identity is between the three mysteries (Skt., triguhya, Jpn., sanmitsu ), referring to the body (Skt., kāya-guhya ), speech (Skt., vāg-guhya ) and mind (Skt., mano-guhya ) of the Buddha, and the three actions (Skt., trikarma ) of ritual practice, the bodily (Skt., kāya-karma ), oral (Skt., vāk-karma ) and mental (Skt., mana-karma ) of the practitioner. The formation of hand gestures (Skr. mudrā ) manifests the unity of the practitioner's body with that of the Buddha. The recitation of dhāraī and mantra manifests the unity of the practitioner's speech with that of the Buddha. And, the visualizations prescribed in ritual texts constitute the unity of the practitioner's mind with that of the Buddha.

Two strains of ritual practice were introduced to China by Śubhākarasiha and Vajrabodhi, the Garbhakośadhātu based on the Mahāvairocana and the Vajradhātu based on the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasagraha, respectively. The Shingon tradition considers these two to have been unified by Kūkai's teacher, Huiguo. Each of the two sūtras describes a set of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other deities, organized in various assemblies and portrayed in maala. The Diamond World maala (Skt., Vajradhātu maala; Jpn., Kongōkai mandara ) represents the assemblies described in the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasagraha, while the Womb World maala (Skt., Garbhakośadhātu maala, Jpn., Taizōkai mandara ) represents those of the Mahāvairocana (specifically the second chapter). Thus the two strains of ritual practice relate to the different assemblies described in the two sūtras, and portrayed in the two maalas.

Shingon Practices: KŌmyŌ Shingon, Ajikan, and The Training in Four Parts

Kōmyō Shingon, or Clear Light Mantra, is one of the most common contemporary practices, being promoted for lay practitioners and found not only among Shingon adherents but also among adherents of other Japanese Buddhist traditions as well. Recitation of the mantra was promoted particularly by Myōe Kōben (11731232) at the beginning of the thirteenth century, perhaps in response to other simplified practices, such as nembutsu recitation. The mantra is "on abogya beiroshanō makabotara mani handoma jimbara harabaritaya un " (Skt., o amogha vairocana mahāmudrā mai padma jvāla pravarttaya hū, "Praise be to the flawless, all-pervasive illumination of the great mudrā, turn over to me the wish-fulfilling jewel, lotus, and radiant light"). Traditionally, it was believed that recitation of this mantra over pure sand would empower it, so that it spread over an ill person or corpse, and that person would be healed or reborn in Amitābha's Pure Land.

There are three preliminaries to the training sequence to become a Shingon priest. These are Susokukan (breath counting meditation), Gachirin kan (visualization of the full moon), and Ajikan (visualization of the syllable A in the Siddham script). In contemporary Shingon, Ajikan has become an independent practice in itself. It takes the form of a short ritual (Skt., sādhana ), structured like other Shingon rituals. The symbolism of the syllable A is rooted in Indian theories of language. As the first letter of the Sanskrit syllabery, it is creative. At least implicitly present within each syllable of the syllabery, it is omnipresent. And, as the negative prefix, it is destructive.

The training sequence (Jpn., shidō kegyō, "training in four parts") involves performance of four different rituals over a hundred day period. It begins with a relatively simple ritual called the Juhachidō, or Eighteen Paths. Originally this involved the recitation of eighteen mantras with their accompanying mudrās, though the contemporary form is more complicated, involving more mantras and mudrās. This practice establishes a karmic connection between the practitioner and the five central buddhas of the Karma Assembly of the Vajradhātu maala : Mahāvairocana (Jpn., Dainichi, center), Akobhya (Jpn., Ashuku, East), Ratnasambhava (Jpn., Hōshō, South), Amitāyus (Jpn., Amida, West), and Amoghasiddhi (Jpn., Fukūjōju, North).

The second ritual is the Kongōkai, which continues to develop the relation to the Vajradhātu maala, expanding now beyond the five central buddhas to include an additional thirty-two deities. Each of the four buddhas who form Mahāvairocana's retinue have their own retinue of four attendant bodhisattvas, known collectively as the Sixteen Great Bodhisattvas. There are then an additional four groups of four: the Four Pāramitās, the Four Inner Goddesses of Offering, the Four Outer Goddesses of Offering, and the Four Gatekeepers.

The Taizōkai is the third ritual in the training sequence, and it is focused on the eleven assemblies of the Garbhakośadhātu maala. These eleven are the Mind of All Buddhas (or Universal Knowledge, Jpn., henchi ), All Bodhisattvas (or Mantra Holders, Jpn., jimyō ), Avalokiteśvara (Jpn., Kannon), Vajrapai (Jpn., Kongōshu), Acalanātha (Jpn., Fudō), Mañjuśrī (Jpn., Monjushiri), Sarva-nīvaraa-vikambhin (Jpn., Jokaishō), Kitigarbha (Jpn., Jizō), Ākāśagarbha (Jpn., Kokūzō), Śākyamuni (Jpn., Shakamuni), and the External Vajras (Jpn., Gekongōbu). Indicative of the Indian roots of Shingon is the Taizōkai 's evocation of one group of the Exterior Vajras, the Worldly Deities. These are twelve deities known from the Vedic and Brahmanic traditions, ten of whom have directional associations: Īśāna (or Maheśvara; Jpn., Ishanaten, or Daijizaiten, Northeast), Indra (Jpn., Indara, also Taishakuten, East), Āditya (or Sūrya; Jpn., Nitten), Brahmā (Jpn., Bonten, Zenith), Agni (Jpn., Katen, Southeast), Yama (Jpn., Emma, South), Rākasa (or Nirti; Jpn., Rasetsu, or Niritei, Southwest), Varua (Jpn., Suiten, West) Pthivi (Jpn., Jiten, Nadir), Candra (Jpn., Gatten), Vāyu (Jpn., Fū, Northwest) and Vaiśravaa (Jpn., Bishamon, also Tamon, North).

The fourth and final ritual is the Fudō Myōō Sokusai Goma, or Fire Offering to Acalanātha Vidyārāja for Pacification. Although largely structured like the Kongōkai ritual, the goma integrates deities from both maalas in its performance. Within the standard format of the ritual, the goma adds five sets of fire offerings. These are to Agni (Jpn., Katen); the Lord of the Assembly (i.e., Prajñā Bodhisattva); the Chief Deity (Jpn., honzoni.e., Acalanātha Vidyārāja; Jpn., Fudō Myōō); the thirty-seven deities of the Karma Assembly of the Vajradhātu maala (discussed above); and, finally, the Twelve Worldly Deities, the Seven Astral Lights (sun, moon, and five visible planets), and the Twenty-Eight Lunar Mansions (the twenty-eight days of a complete lunar cycle).


The most prominent contemporary center of Shingon in Japan is Mount Kōya (Jpn., Kōyasan), located in a valley between eight mountain peaks, representing an eight-petalled lotus flower expressing the compassionate nature of the Garbhakośadhātu. Originally established as a training center, it also serves today as the administrative center for the most prominent Shingon lineage, the Chūin ryū. The main temple of the lineage is called Kongōbuji.

On Mount Kōya there are two complexes that today attract the most attention. The first of these is known as the Garan, which serves as the main ritual center for the Chuin ryū sect. The Garan includes the Kondō, or Golden Hall; the Western and Eastern (or Great) Pagodas; shrines to the kami of the mountain; and various other halls and temples. The interior decoration of the two pagodas represents the interpenetration of the Vajradhātu and Garbhakośadhātu. The Eastern Pagoda, for example, has Mahāvairocana of the Garbhakośadhātu in the center, surrounded by the four buddhas that form his retinue in the Vajradhātu.

Okunoin is a cemetery where the remains of Kūkai are entombed. According to legend, when the posthumous title of Kōbō Daishi was awarded, an entourage from the court came to the mountain to read the Imperial proclamation at the tomb. The tomb was opened at that time and it was discovered that Kūkai's hair and nails had continued to grow. It was declared that he had not died, but rather had entered into a state of perpetual meditation. The ashes of many of Japan's most important historical figures have been entombed along the pathways leading to the tomb of Kūkai. The form of the majority of these tombs is the five-element stupa (Jpn., gorinhoto ). The five elements are earth (represented by a cube inscribed with the Siddham script syllable A), water (a sphere with the syllable VA), fire (a four-sided pyramid with the syllable RA), wind (a demilune with the syllable HA), and space (represented by a mai-jewel with the syllable KHA). These five elements constitute the world of the known, the objective. A sixth element, consciousness, represents the knower, the subjective, which has the known as its object. The five elements are identified with the Garbhakośadhātu, while consciousness is identified with the Vajradhātu, and the unity of knower and known is identified with the Dharmakāya Buddha, Mahāvairocana.

Relation with ShugendŌ and the New Religions

The indigenous tradition of Shugendō (also, Yamabushi) involves the practice of austerities in the mountains of Japan. Kūkai is thought to have associated with groups of mountain ascetics, as exemplified by his practice of the Kōkūzo Gumonji ho at Mount Kinbu, one of the main centers of Shugendō. It is also thought that he was already familiar with Mount Kōya from his period before travelling to China, and it was on the basis of this prior familiarity that he chose it for his training center.

Shugendō, with its open syncretism of Buddhist (particularly Tantric) and Shintō elements, was abolished by the Meiji government in 1872 as part of the government's efforts to purify Shintō. Because of the existing connection between Tantric Buddhism and Shugendō, Shugendō sects chose to affiliate themselves with either Shingon or Tendai. With the return of religious freedom under the postwar constitution, the institutional affiliations between Shugendō sects and either Shingon or Tendai have lapsed. This has been accompanied by a decline in the use of Buddhist interpretations for Shugendō practices. In contemporary Japan, Shugendō practitioners often conduct large, outdoor fire rituals (Jpn., saitō goma ). The saitō goma is a Shugendō adaptation of the Tantric fire ritual (Skt., homa; Jpn., goma ). Evidencing perhaps a return to traditional syncretic practices, saitō goma conducted by Shugendō practitioners are performed today not only at specifically Shugendō sites, but also at Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples.

In contemporary times various of the "new religions," such as Agonshū, Shinnyoen, and Gedatsukai, have based their teachings or practice on various aspects of Shingon. Agonshū, for example, on the one hand claims to be a return to the original teachings of the Buddha Śākyamuni as found in the agamas (Jpn., agon ), but draws heavily on esoteric Buddhist symbolism and practice, particularly as mediated by the Shugendō tradition. Agonshū conducts goma performances on the first day of each month (Jpn., tsuitachi goma ) at its center in Tokyo. Agonshū also draws on Shugendō symbolism, for example, sponsoring large-scale saitō goma in celebration of the Hoshi Matsuri (Star Festival) in February of each year.

Shingon in the West

Like other forms of Japanese Buddhism, Shingon was brought to the West by Japanese nationals in search of work during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1909 Reverend Shutai Aoyama came to San Francisco intending to provide religious services to the immigrant Japanese community. Due to illness and lack of funds, his mission did not actually start until 1912, when a temporary temple was established in Los Angeles. In the Hawaiian islands, lay practitioners began as early as 1902 to establish informal temples, particularly devoted to miraculous cures attributed to the power of Kūkai. These came under the scrutiny of Shingon officials in Japan, who then dispatched Reverend Eikaku Seki to establish an official branch of Kongōbuji in Honolulu. In 1940 a new, permanent temple was completed to house the mission in Los Angeles, but within a year war broke out between Japan and the United States. As leaders of the Japanese community, ministers were among the first to be arrested and imprisoned for the duration of the war. The new temple building came to be used as a storehouse for the belongings of the Japanese families interned in the relocation camps scattered throughout the western United States. After the end of the war, the temple community was able to reestablish itself, with the temple building serving as housing for returning families. The Shingon Mission of Hawai'i in Honolulu held its centennial celebration in 2002, and the Kōyasan Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles celebrates its centennial in 2012.

See Also

Buddhism, article on Buddhism in Japan; Buddhism, Schools of, article on Japanese Buddhism; Mahāvairocana; Nirvāa.


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Richard K. Payne (2005)