Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy introduction:
"Kūkai (774–835CE) is one of the intellectual giants of Japan, who ought not to be ignored in any account of the history of Japanese thought. Among the traditional Buddhist thinkers of Japan, and perhaps even of the whole of East Asia, he is one of the most systematic and philosophical. He is most famous for being the founder of Shingon esoteric Buddhism in Japan. But he is also remembered not only for his contributions as a teacher and scholar of religion, but for his accomplishments and innovations in social welfare, public education, lexicography, language, literature and poetry, literary theory, calligraphy, art, painting, wood-carving, sculpture, music, civil engineering, architecture, etc. during a period when Japan was undergoing rapid change."
There's a lot there. Nakazawa Shin’ichi, "reads Kūkai’s works on Shingon as involving a hydrodynamic mode of thinking that in its flexibility deals with the non-Euclidean currents of nature with its forces of reality, undulating in ripples and forming vortexes." (op cit)
Imagine a time when you could make amazing contributions is such a wide variety of areas.
I'm fixated on the fact that he's almost at the midpoint halfway historically between the death of the Buddha and this current year. If the Buddha died 483 BCE and it's 2023, it's been 2,506 years since he left this mortal coil. Half of that is 1,253. 1,253-483=770. Kukai was born in 774. OK, so he has to get to 15 before he starts to study systems of thought, but maybe he's chanting a mantra before that, maybe later. Anyway, that's the closest to the midpoint in time, along with Saicho, of major Buddhists, that's the closest that I know to the midpoint between now and the parinirvana of the Buddha.
Anyway, the end could be wrong. Maybe there are other prominent Buddhists in other places, I need to find other timelines and find out more about other countries at that time. Kukia's teacher Hui-kuo (Wikipedia, seen below), in modern day Xi'an passed his lineage down to another guy but I can't find information on him. That I can't find information on him on the internet in 2023 isn't that big of a deal. There's plenty of information not on the internet in English, that isn't exactly exhaustive. Maybe his teacher was at the midpoint.
Hui-kuo was the first Chinese lineage holder of a vajrayana tradition. It took half the history of Buddhism for Vajrayana to spread to China.
There's nothing special about a midpoint, to be sure, it changes every second like everything else, except the mathematical novelty of it. There is a kind of mythology of numbers and mathematical ideas in various sects of Buddhism. I'm not sure if these ideas have any actual power beyond what you give them, but it's OK to give ideas power and kind of scaffold your way along. I see Buddhism more of a psychology in support of the path, than an actually theory you work to verify or disprove. Grinding on the path in meditation, fellowship, devotion, ethics and study is the thing. I can't look online for long at all the logic puzzles people think they have discovered, I wonder if they're meditating, or if they're just playing logic games, and it's quite superficial. With deep friendship in the spiritual life a logic puzzle could occupy a minute or two at most. People go online and foil Buddhism by pointing out that desiring to be enlightened is a desire. I don't agree with their assumptions, and the answer as to why that's not a problem involves terms I can't memorize. Letting the things that stick in my mind or not is perhaps not the best measure of general usefulness in Buddhism, but it's become my guide.
Kukai had a motto about attaining enlightenment in this very body (p.78 Hakeda). Someone on retreat once told me he though my skepticism about rebirth, my consciousness moving after death, meant that I had to do it in this lifetime. Like rebirth takes some of the pressure of the difficulty of the path. Is that one of it's functions, a pressure valve?
Kukai's favorite deity was Vairocana, the primordial Buiddha, who embodies sunyata. It's a fun journey to travel around thinking about the various Buddha's and seeing which one supports your practice the most. When you do a sadhana you are attempting to merge with it, become it. Kukai is a manifestation of Vairocana.
Poem (p. 80):
All beings as individuals are appearances only, like illusions:
They are composites of forever changing constituents.
Our blind desires, which are neither within nor without,
With their ensuing actions, delude us more and more.
The world is at once the creating and the created;
It is the Lotus Realm, the infinite continuum of Reality.
Neither empty nor non-empty, nor the oneness of the two,
It is void, temporal, and yet real, beyond name and form.
Flowers in spring, though transient, are bright to our eyes;
The autumnal moon reflected in serene water delights us.
Swift summer clouds appear and disappear in deep dales.
Heavy snow in wind-dancing maidens seems light to the streams.
Inflamed is the world when we are greedy and deranged;
The sublime Universe emerges if we with insight are egoless.
Alas! Wretched are those who in delusion refuse to meditate.
Let us transcend and reintegrate ourselves in the Realm Eternal--A.
Kukai's version of the Vairocana mantra was different than the standard version (source):
Saturday, September 23, 2023
"...how can a man remain bad always? When favorable conditions are provided, even a fool aspires to the great Way." (p. 69 Yoshito Hakeda Kukai (1972))
Reading about the 10 stages of development in the 68 page essay in English, Precious keys to the secret treasury by Kukai has an interesting sense of development in 8/9 century Japan.
Kukai (774-835) was a revolutionary and legendary figure in Japan. Perhaps 1257 years after the Buddha. We’re at 2,503 in 2023. That is almost a midpoint (770) between now and the Buddha parinirvana.
Kukai seems to have anticipated many connections we see today, including the connection to the body.
Poem (p. 71-2)The sea of Mind is forever tranquil
Without even a single ripple;
Stirred by the storm of discriminations,
Billows rage to and fro.
Men in the street are deluded;
They are fascinated by phantomlike men and women.
Heretics are crazed;
They adhere to the grand tower of mirage.
They do not know
That heaven and hell are fabricated by their own minds.
Do they come to realize
That "mind-only" will free them from their tragedies?
Be that as it may,
By practicing the Six Paramitas for three aeons,
By practicing the fifty-two stages of enlightenment,
They will uncover One Mind.
When they become purehearted,
Cutting off their emotional and mental obstacles,
They will find their own Treasury-
Enlightenment, or Nirvana.
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
I like lists of Buddhist movies.
I don't think Groundhog Day is Buddhist because every religion claims it as about their spiritual ideals.
I couldn't find Zen (2009), but I did find Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East (1989) on YouTube.
It's actually shorter than Into Great Silence (2007), which is a Christian non-narrative documentary which shows footage of Christian monks throughout their day. I mean there's a narrative, but it's not a drama, it's just seeing these three guys, the young guy playing, the old guy doing stuff, and the middle aged guy working to get wood and whatnot.
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
I have an iPhone so this relates to that.
I renounce Insight Timer because for the second time they've broken it, in an attempt to get me to rebuy something I've already bought.
I like it that I can hear a friend chant a mantra, and there's a lot of good teaching on the app, but breaking it once, I can forgive, breaking it a second time in an attempt to squeeze more money out of me, no thank you. I've got a streak of meditation going there, that is gone now. It already deleted my data once, and I kept using it, so that's on me. I liked seeing other people meditating, but honestly, it's not a real connection. I'm not going to delete the app. I'm just not going to use it any more to time my meditations. My experience is they broke it twice in an attempt to get more money, and lost my data once.
I tried Meditation Time 2.0 today. On my home screen it says Meditation. I was pleasantly surprised to find my stats. We'll see how that evolves. The only downside is that it doesn't connect to health app.
Simple Meditation Timer was another one I tried. On my home screen it says Simple Timer. It's simple, goes by minutes, not interval bells. I guess it's better than the free one on my phone because that one has seconds that fly past fast and that's distracting. This one connects to the health app.
I'm always complicating things, I want to know the depth, breadth and width. But there's some virtue to the stripped down and smooth narrative. It seems I'm unable to do that, so this is just another narrative of Kukai's life, which might be easier to read that my previous posts. Maybe the first 4 posts were rough drafts, source material. I decided to write it all over again. For some reason I go into detail about different things I've just learned.
Kukai was born into an aristocratic family in Zentsuji. Zentsūji is located in northwestern Kagawa Prefecture. It is the only city in Kagawa Prefecture that does not face the sea. It's a small town in the middle of nowhere, but he has an uncle in Nara who begins to teach him at 15 and he goes to college. He begins to try and chant a mantra a million times as suggested in a sutra he reads. Whether he really becomes disillusioned with worldly life at that time, well, he says he does.
The uncle's influence is on the wane because the family is accused an assassination, they are out of favor. In college Kukai realizes he's not going to get a job as a bureaucrat and/or he finds Buddhism. He chants mantra of Kokuzo, associated with the space element, and meditates. At some point he begins to wander as a mendicant. At 24 he writes a small tract that begins his literary output called Indications of the goal of the three teachings.“Now I have a nephew who is depraved and indulges in hunting, wine, and women, and whose usual way of life consists of gambling and dissipation. It is obvious that an unfavorable environment has caused him to lead this kind of life. What has induced me to write this story are the opposition of my relatives to my becoming a Buddhist and the behavior of this nephew.” (p. 103 Hakeda)
Monday, September 18, 2023
This is my final post on the life of Kukai based on Hakeda and Wikipedia.
This is a continuation of a summary of the life of Kukai derived from Hakeda. This is the end part of his life, the last 11 years.
In 824 Kukai was granted a big temple near the emperor's quarters with 50 monks, and they were all to be trained in the Shingon tradition Kukai created. It's now the head of Kegon or Huayan Buddhism, based on the Flower Garland Sutra. Of the 21 carvings present today, there are 14 from Kukai's time when he chose what the carvings were going to be. 3,500 workers were mobilized to bring wood to the temple. It still wasn't completed in Kukai's lifetime.
Esoteric means likely to only be understood by a few. Exoteric means understood by many. To call Shingon esoteric means it won't likely be understood by many.
Saicho died in 822.
I wonder what it was like to oversee the construction of temples and not see them completed. He got more and more busy, being promoted to junior director to senior director. He declined the positions but the court insisted. He opened a school of arts and sciences. It was the beginning of universal education in Japan. Universal education means everyone can be educated, not just the rich. Providing free meals was a means for including the poor. Teachers and students ate for free. (Here in America there is a weird kind of retreat from that ideal in 2023.) They think Kukai created a children's dictionary during this time.
He continued to articulate his doctrines in writing, in 830 he wrote Treatise on The Ten Stages of the Development of Mind.
He would go back to Mount Koya in 832 in failing health. He was given 3 monks support for his Koya monastery. He refused food at the end of his life. He was suffering from a carbuncle. He was buried on the Eastern Peak, age 62. The legends imagine he did not really die, and there's shrines to him where they continue to feed him. He died in 835.
Last edited 9/19/2023.
Awesome, surrounded by steep peaks and grotesque rocks,
A place that is painful to climb and difficult to descend,
Wherein reside the gods of the mountain and the spirits of trees.
Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
The peach and plum blossoms in the royal garden?
They must be in full bloom, pink and fragrant,
Now opening in the April showers, now falling in the spring gales;
Flying high and low, all over the garden the petals scatter.
Some sprigs may be plucked by the strolling spring maidens,
And the flying petals picked by the flittering spring orioles.
Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
The water gushing up in the divine spring of the garden?
No sooner does it arise than it flows away forever:
Thousands of shining lines flow as they come forth,
Flowing, flowing, flowing into an unfathomable abyss;
Turning, whirling again, they flow on forever,
And no one knows where they will stop.
Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
That billions have lived in China, in Japan,
None have been immortal, from time immemorial:
Ancient sage kings or tyrants, good subjects or bad,
Fair ladies and homely – who could enjoy eternal youth?
Noble men and lowly alike, without exception, die away;
They all have died, reduced to dust and ashes;
The singing halls and dancing stages have become the abodes of foxes.
Transient as dreams, bubbles or lightening, all are perpetual travelers.
Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
This has been man’s fate, how can you alone live forever?
Thinking of this, my heart always feels torn;
You, too, are like the sun going down behind the western mountains,
Or a living corpse whose span of life is nearly over.
Futile would be my stay in the capital;
Away, away, I must go, I must not stay there.
Release me, for I shall be master of the great void;
A child of Shingon must not stay there.
I have never tired of watching the pine trees and the rocks at Mount Koya;
The limpid stream of the mountain is the source of my inexhaustible joy.
Discard pride in earthly gains;
Do not be scorched in the burning house, the triple world!
Discipline in the woods alone lets us soon enter the eternal Realm.
I just read in the introduction to Kukai's (774-835) work that he wrote in Chinese because at the time he wrote, Japanese wasn't advanced enough at that time, to carry the abstract concepts.
This volume, Kukai: Major Works by Toshito S. Hakeda (1924 -1983), the Columbia professor who passed away in 1983, includes a biography section. All page cites are from this book.
An outline of his life
His birth name was Tōtomono. He started studying with his uncle at 15 and got into college, which was reserved for the children of nobles. They studied Confucius. He went off to meditate a lot in the mountains and had some visions, like the sword of Manjushri and Venus entered his mouth. It was an austere existence in the mountains and he became a monk eventually. It's not clear if he quit college right away to become a monk or how long he was in college.
The document he created called "Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings", which is the first text in the book. It's unknown if the publication date was much later than the original composition of the document. With things so far into the past, and through translation this minor point seems like a weird hill to die on but it illustrates the difficulties and issues with studying Kukai. As with many texts, there are layers of edits throughout a lifetime, and various parts of the text seems to have been written in various parts of his life. In 794 the capital of Japan was moved to Kyoto from Nagaoka, 500 km to the south, when Kukai was 20. We have 2 different introductions in his first text, one when he was young, and one when he was much older. Comparing the differences shows his maturity, and change.
Japan had only been a unified island for 200 years. There were homeless people including the shidoso, who were not ordained Buddhist monks. People were trying to avoid conscription, forced labor and taxation. Emperor Kammu ruled from 781-806. Buddhist temples owned a lot of land, and it's suggested that the move to Kyoto was an effort to start anew in a city that wasn't owned by the Buddhist temples. One of the nobles sent ahead to Kyoto to prepare for the emperor, was murdered. People who opposed the move mysteriously died. The empress died too, his son died too. The mortality rate was pretty high with murder and diseases. People could attribute all sorts of mythologies to these events.
Kukai had no high placed relatives to give him access to the halls of power, the clan falling out of favor being blamed for an assassination, though he did go to college, so he had to have had something in his favor. Grasping at solutions he read that if he chanted a mantra 1 million times, he would be able to understand the Buddhist scriptures, such as they existed at that time. He climbed mountains and meditated. "I despised fame and wealth and longed for life in the midst of nature." (p. 20). His sense of transience led him to this renunciation. He was a wandering monk for a time.
His renunciation came from the beginning of the Heian period and the end of the Nara period, when the government focused on building Buddhist temples. Buddhism had been introduced to Japan 250 years earlier through Korea in 552. Two Buddhist temples were to built in every province, 20 monks to be maintained in one, 10 nuns in the other. Building temples was ordered in 741. Todai-ji temple was constructed in 752 where a great bronze statue of Vairocana, in Nara, nearby Kyoto.
The school at that times was called the Natural Wisdom School and they focused on meditation and reciting the mantra to Ākāśagarbha which is associated with the element of space, and is mentioned in the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra (Wayback Machine has a copy). Kukai practiced this form of Buddhism to begin with.
"As he chanted the mantra, he experienced a vision whereby Ākāśagarbha told him to go to Tang China to seek understanding of the Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Sūtra. Later he would go to China to learn Tangmi from Huiguo, and then go on to found the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism in Heian Japan." (Wikipedia). The cite is from The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse by Ryūichi Abe (1999).
Like all political power, they were co-opting the moral authority of Buddhism to enhance their reputation and power. They had magical beliefs of warding off bad luck and fortune, grief and mourning. As Buddhism gained more power, it became corrupt. It wasn't open source Buddhism, access was granted for favors. Monks would have varying degrees of corruption and sincere devotion. There were many unordained monks called shidoso. Even so, they were trying to reduce the amount of ordained monks draining the coffers of the state.
They don't know where he wandered that provided the space to study and write. It was probably Nara. He alternated retreat and engagement with society throughout his whole life. Mount Koya isn't far from Nara, 70km or 43 miles. Now there is Kongobu-ji temple built in 1593 on Mount Koya, the center of the sect of Shingon which Kukai founded. Indications references 90 books and sutras so he couldn't have just wandered and meditated.
"...a man is capable of improving himself, no matter how wicked and biased he may be..." (p.26).
From 24-31 there is again little information about Kukai, like his first 16 years. At 31 he goes to China. The stated reason is to study with masters who could explain the Mahavairocana Sutra (320 pages). How did he get the state to pay for his trip to China to do this? Hakeda has various speculation.
In some ways we know so much about the surrounding context of his life, and he has evocative tidbits in his life, and we have the texts that have survived to this time. In some ways we know quit little through the mist of time. He goes to China in 804 to Ch'ang-an (Eternal Peace) or Xi'An, where China's first emperor, held his imperial court and constructed his massive mausoleum guarded by the Terracotta Army.
"During its heyday, Chang'an was one of the largest and most populous cities in the world. Around AD 750, Chang'an was called a "million man city" in Chinese records, with modern estimates putting it at around 800,000–1,000,000 within city walls." The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was built in 649 and would have been there when Kukai went and is still there. The Bell tower marks the beginning of the silk road (source).
Saicho was on another ship, there were 4 ships who went. Saicho (767-822) is often a parallel figure to Kukai, he is credited with founding the Tendai school. He was 7 years older than Kukai and at age 19 lived in a hut on the side of a mountain. He was going to Tiantai Mountain in China.
In 804 ship one took a month, ship two took 2 months, ship 3 turned back and tried again next year, and ship 4 only had one survivor. Kukai's ship was told to go to another port, and when they didn't their ship was impounded. They spent 2 months imprisoned in a swamp. Kukai wrote a letter to the governor and the govenor was impressed and let them go. It took them a month and 20 days to get from Fujian province to Chang-an, 6 months after leaving Japan.
Hakeda says there were 64 Buddhist temples for monks and 27 for nuns in Chang'an, 10 Taoist temples for men and 6 for women, and 3 foreign temples (Nestorian Christian, Zoroastrian and an unknown one). He stayed for about 2 years at the pleasure of the T'ang court. He moved to the Hsi-ming temple, built in 658, and one of 4 temples to survive the destruction of Buddhist temples by Emperor Wu-tsung: "destroying 4,600 Buddhist temples and 40,000 shrines, and removing 260,500 monks and nuns from the monasteries." in 845.
That's a bit after Kukai was there. Wu-tsung ruled from 840-846, so that's of side interest to Kukai's story, but is a precedent for the cultural revolution.
Kukai was about 200 years to late to meet Xuanzang, a famous Chinese traveling Buddhist monk who journey to India in 629–645 CE and brought over 657 Indian texts to China: "At age 27, he began his seventeen-year overland journey to India. He defied his nation's ban on travel abroad, making his way through central Asian cities such as Khotan to India. He visited, among other places, the famed Nalanda monastery in modern day Bihar, India where he studied with the monk, Śīlabhadra. He departed from India with numerous Sanskrit texts on a caravan of twenty packhorses. His return was welcomed by Emperor Taizong in China, who encouraged him to write a travelogue."
While Kukai was there, Kukai studied under Hui-kuo (746–805).
Upon seeing Kukai he said, "As soon as he saw me, the abbot [Huiguo] smiled, and said with delight, "Since learning of your arrival, I have waited anxiously. How excellent, how excellent that we have met today at last! My life is ending soon, and yet I have no more disciples to whom to transmit the Dharma. Prepare without delay the offerings of incense and flowers for your entry into the abhiseka mandalas [Womb Realm and Diamond Realm]."
Hui-kuo was a disciple of Amoghavajra (705–774) who was born in Samarkand to a Hindu merchant and a mother of Sogdia origin, the area where the Bukharian Jewish people who live in Queens New York, are from.
Hakeda says Hui-kuo was a discipline of Pu-k'ung.
"In 765, Amoghavajra used his new rendition of the Humane King Sutra in an elaborate ritual to counter the advance of a 200,000-strong army of Tibetan and Uyghurs which was poised to invade Chang'an. Its leader, Pugu Huai'en, dropped dead in camp and his forces dispersed."
Amoghavajra was a disciple of Vajrabodhi (671–741) who studied at Nalanda. He traveled to Sri Lanka and Sumatra. He went to Chang'an.
Back to Kukai. His teachings from Hui-kuo made him the 8th patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism. Hui-kio discipline I-ming would teach in China, who isn't even mentioned in the Wikipedia article, and doesn't have any information on the internet that I can find. Kukai was expected to spread the teachings in Japan, where he would found a school of Buddhism that would live on to today, and has an outlets in the USA.
Kukai left Chang-an and it took him 4 months to get to the coast. They don't know exactly when he got back to Japan, but he writes a list of all the documents he brought for the emperor. He was in China for 30 months, and he's back in Japan at the age of 33. Hakeda says he must have impressed the court. The emperor got back to him 3 years later. He waited in Kyushu that whole time for permission to approach. The emperor who sent him was no longer alive. His successor wasn't as interested in Buddhism, and when he was, he favored Saicho.
Part 2 post on Kukai
Below is a painting by Hokusai (1760 –1849) of Kukai warding off a demon with tantra.
One legend from Wikipedia:
A mendicant visited the house of Emon Saburō, richest man in Shikoku, seeking alms. Emon refused, broke the pilgrim's begging bowl, and chased him away. After his eight sons fell ill and died, Emon realized that Kūkai was the affronted pilgrim and set out to seek his forgiveness. Having travelled round the island twenty times clockwise in vain, he undertook the route in reverse. Finally he collapsed exhausted and on his deathbed Kūkai appeared to grant absolution. Emon requested that he be reborn into a wealthy family in Matsuyama so that he might restore a neglected temple. Dying, he clasped a stone. Shortly afterwards a baby was born with his hand grasped tightly around a stone inscribed "Emon Saburō is reborn." When the baby grew up, he used his wealth to restore the Ishite-ji (石手寺) or "stone-hand temple", in which there is an inscription of 1567 recounting the tale.
Previous post on Kukai
Last updated 9/19/23