Questions regarding Practices

Questions regarding Practices

Postby dearreader » Thu Jul 10, 2014 2:24 pm

There was an interesting post in this forum regarding how Shingon practitioners would respond to a quote from the Nikayas. That thread was locked so I refer to it here and also broaden the discussion a bit.

This is for Esoteric Buddhists, those of you who follow Vajrayana, be it Tibetan or Shingon or other sects. In your school there are secret Dharma teachings that only the initiated can receive from a Guru. My question is, how does your tradition interpret these passages from the Nikayas:

Three things shine openly, not in secret. What three? The orb of the moon, the orb of the sun and the Dhamma and discipline taught by the Tathàgata (Anguttara Nikaya I. 283).

I have proclaimed the Dhamma without any idea of a hidden and open teaching. I do not have the closed fist of the teacher who holds anything back (Digha Nikaya II. 100).


There is a lot in this question that could be addressed but I will only focus on the explicit question and then I would like to ask you to comment on a follow-up question.

There are no secret teachings in Shingon. Teachings are all available to non-ordained people. An increasing amount of work has been published in English and is readily available to anyone wishing to read and study the Sutras and teachings. Your question, like many of the questions in this forum confuse two very different things. Teachings and Practice. Yes, there are practices which can only be taught to ordained pracitioners just like there are classes in a University that can only be taught to admitted students who’ve met certain prerequisites. I don’t understand the issue with that.

So, in summary, your question is ill-addressed. The Buddha mentions hidden teachings, not advanced practices available to those who have studied and performed the required prerequisites.

My question, Why so many questions about Shingon practice and not one single question on Shingon teachings? No comments or inquiries on Kukai’s Secret Key to the Heart Sutra? Or his work on The Meanings of Sound, Word and Reality? I find it puzzling.
"Inscribed with the brush of Mt. Sumeru and the ink of the seas,
Heaven-and-earth itself is the sutra book.
All phenomena are encompassed in even a single point therein,
And the six sense objects are all included within its covers."
-Kukai, translated in Kukai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi and Dreitlein
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 10, 2014 3:16 pm

dearreader wrote:There was an interesting post in this forum regarding how Shingon practitioners would respond to a quote from the Nikayas. That thread was locked so I refer to it here and also broaden the discussion a bit.


Please find the relevant thread here (not locked):

viewtopic.php?f=40&t=17011&view=unread#p245607

My question, Why so many questions about Shingon practice and not one single question on Shingon teachings? No comments or inquiries on Kukai’s Secret Key to the Heart Sutra? Or his work on The Meanings of Sound, Word and Reality? I find it puzzling.


This is an excellent question. I have some speculations on it, but I'd rather keep them to myself and wait for people who know better than me to speak up.
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby DrLang » Sun Jul 13, 2014 1:05 am

dearreader wrote:My question, Why so many questions about Shingon practice and not one single question on Shingon teachings? No comments or inquiries on Kukai’s Secret Key to the Heart Sutra? Or his work on The Meanings of Sound, Word and Reality? I find it puzzling.


I certainly don't know better than Jikan, but I can certainly provide my own speculation largely based on my own self-assessment.

Ritual in Shingon is as in your face as zazen is in Zen for the outside observer. For those of us with limited or no exposure, it is difficult to get to the point of asking these questions until the curiosity regarding ritual has been sufficiently satisfied. You might as well expect a lay person to ask about Dogen's commentaries before they have been introduced to zazen. Even at that point, for the person with no interaction with an Acarya, there is a base of education that needs to be built up before independent questioning begins. So you are left with a fairly limited population of people who are able find their curiosity in ritual sufficiently satisfied and then continue further study.
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby dearreader » Sun Jul 20, 2014 5:22 pm

DrLang wrote:Ritual in Shingon is as in your face as zazen is in Zen for the outside observer. For those of us with limited or no exposure, it is difficult to get to the point of asking these questions until the curiosity regarding ritual has been sufficiently satisfied. You might as well expect a lay person to ask about Dogen's commentaries before they have been introduced to zazen. Even at that point, for the person with no interaction with an Acarya, there is a base of education that needs to be built up before independent questioning begins. So you are left with a fairly limited population of people who are able find their curiosity in ritual sufficiently satisfied and then continue further study.


Dr. Lang, a very interesting analysis and I think I do agree in part with your hypothesis, that those who are exposed to Shingon in person are exposed through seeing ritual in temples they visit, etc. Though, like Zen, isn't it understood to be but a part of a broader tradition? What do you think constitutes the "base of education" ?

There is also a fairly large population that attempts to approach Shingon because of things they've heard in the martial arts world and they are often exclusively only interested in practice (e.g. wanting to know mudra and mantra). I doubt those asking are familiar with the broader teaching of Kukai or Kakuban and if experience here is an indication most certainly don't appear to be interested in the substance underlying the practices, I wonder why don't they turn to study? Finding good resources is not really so difficult anymore. So still,a focus on doing instead of being/study.

Jikan, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts as it doesn't look like many others are going to reply. I recognise you study/practice Tibetan and Tendai and not Shingon but would enjoy your input.
"Inscribed with the brush of Mt. Sumeru and the ink of the seas,
Heaven-and-earth itself is the sutra book.
All phenomena are encompassed in even a single point therein,
And the six sense objects are all included within its covers."
-Kukai, translated in Kukai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi and Dreitlein
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby DrLang » Mon Jul 21, 2014 2:27 pm

dearreader wrote:Dr. Lang, a very interesting analysis and I think I do agree in part with your hypothesis, that those who are exposed to Shingon in person are exposed through seeing ritual in temples they visit, etc. Though, like Zen, isn't it understood to be but a part of a broader tradition? What do you think constitutes the "base of education" ?

There is also a fairly large population that attempts to approach Shingon because of things they've heard in the martial arts world and they are often exclusively only interested in practice (e.g. wanting to know mudra and mantra). I doubt those asking are familiar with the broader teaching of Kukai or Kakuban and if experience here is an indication most certainly don't appear to be interested in the substance underlying the practices, I wonder why don't they turn to study? Finding good resources is not really so difficult anymore. So still,a focus on doing instead of being/study.


Yes, zazen is understood to be part of a more broad tradition. However, if someone is approaching Zen for the first time, I would expect it to take quite some time of practice before they knew enough to explore beyond. The challenge with Shingon is access.

I am not yet capable of identifying what base of education is needed to really dive into the teachings of Shingon. I have personally started with Rev. Eijo's list posted on this forum. Study is difficult. It takes time, patience, and money. While good resources have become much more available, there is a major cost problem for younger people. I would not have been able to do the studying I have done in the last three years when I was still in college. The other issue is knowing what to read. Had I not found Rev. Eijo's list on this forum, I would probably still be floundering.

I can't speak for anyone who approached Shingon because of things they've heard in martial arts circles. The things they've heard are probably just silly.
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby Jikan » Mon Jul 21, 2014 3:58 pm

Jikan wrote:
My question, Why so many questions about Shingon practice and not one single question on Shingon teachings? No comments or inquiries on Kukai’s Secret Key to the Heart Sutra? Or his work on The Meanings of Sound, Word and Reality? I find it puzzling.


This is an excellent question. I have some speculations on it, but I'd rather keep them to myself and wait for people who know better than me to speak up.


I think this has more to do with the state of Buddhism today outside Asia than to do with Shingon as such, although some Shingon-specific issues are also relevant. For starters, there's less material available in European languages on Shingon-shu than there is on other Dharma traditions. Generally, there's a distaste or even contempt for Buddhist doctrine in some circles, just as there is for ritual (think of the various transitions and transformations of Shinzen Young for an example). There's a small critical mass of people (a minority!) interested in discussing Tibetan Buddhist doctrine online, and a smaller one interested in Ch'an/Zen, out of the many thousands of people who might have an interest in some form of practice. Such a critical mass doesn't yet exist for Shingon discussions in English, nor for Tendai. That's what I think is going on.
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby DrLang » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:06 am

Jikan wrote:I think this has more to do with the state of Buddhism today outside Asia than to do with Shingon as such, although some Shingon-specific issues are also relevant. For starters, there's less material available in European languages on Shingon-shu than there is on other Dharma traditions. Generally, there's a distaste or even contempt for Buddhist doctrine in some circles, just as there is for ritual (think of the various transitions and transformations of Shinzen Young for an example). There's a small critical mass of people (a minority!) interested in discussing Tibetan Buddhist doctrine online, and a smaller one interested in Ch'an/Zen, out of the many thousands of people who might have an interest in some form of practice. Such a critical mass doesn't yet exist for Shingon discussions in English, nor for Tendai. That's what I think is going on.

This is an interesting point and would explain some of my own perceptions of what is going on. Shingon has an additional challenge in the United States (can't speak for Europe) in that a large portion of people from non-traditionally Buddhist families are drawn to Buddhism partly as a silent protest to Christianity. For these people, Theravada and Zen seem to dominate and I believe is part of the reason Zen has become so wide spread. As for Tibetan Buddhism, I would venture to suggest that they simply have a better PR machine in the west than Shingon does.
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby WuMing » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:02 pm

some brief notes at a late hour: according to Kūkai there are generally two aspects of what is considered "secret" in Shingon (quoting Matsunaga Yūkei here):
1. that which the Buddha "conceals" from unenlightened beings, and
2. that which unenlightened beings conceal from themselves.

No. 1 is because the practitioner is not yet ready for those teachings and no. 2 is our own mental derangement which needs to be cleared away.

Or as Kūkai wrote in his Ben kenmitsu nikyō ron (quoting from Takagi & Dreitlein: Kūkai on the Philosophy of Language)
"Ordinary beings cover over and conceal the true awakening of their fundamental nature through ignorance and delusions. This is called “self-concealed by beings.” The teachings of the nirmāṇakāya are adapted to what is needed, like giving the most appropriate and effective medicine. The parasaṃbhogakāya manifested for the liberation of others conceals his inner realization, and does not directly teach it. It is unseen and unheard of by the bodhisattvas at the stage of awakening equal with the buddhas, and completely beyond the bodhisattvas on the ten stages. This is called “concealed by the tathāgatas.”"

And as Kūkai says in his Hizō hōyaku (Precious Key to the Secret Treasury): "When the medicines of Exoteric Buddhism have cleared away the dust, Shingon opens the Treasury."

Previously there was uncertainty about the "base of education". The statement of Kūkai above makes it clear, I guess. A firm foundation of Mahāyāna is necessary in order to "clear away the dust" or to remove our mental derangement.

Dr. Lang's statement in another post here that "... The challenge with Shingon is access. ... Study is difficult. It takes time, patience, and money." is certainly true.
First, in general Shingon is accessible to everyone, go to Japan, learn the language, find a teacher and I am sure there are no hindrances of getting access to Shingon teachings.
Second, the current situation of studying Shingon in the West (wherever that may be) is a different one. Of course there is a growing amount of reliable material available, but still very little. And there are no Shingon teachers in the West (at least to my knowledge) who are capable and competent enough to teach Shingon and introducing students to Shingon from beginning to end. Study in depth starts only after one has received Dembo kanjo. And I don't know of any place where Dembo Kanjo is given in the West.
One needs to devote a lot of time for studying Shingon doctrine, but I think this is true for any other teaching as well (maybe a little more for Shingon :tongue:)

The current situation is that Japanese Shingon priest are not really interested in going to the West (I don't want to generalize, maybe there are a few I'm not aware of). One reason might be that there is not really much interest in Shingon in the West, compared to the interest in other forms of Buddhadharma (I don't know of any PR machine for Shingon :smile: and I argue that there is no interest in Japan to start such a PR machine. Why should they?).

I wonder too, what one will do with Shingon practices, without having a good foundation in Shingon teachings and thought. Practicing ritual manuals without this knowledge is only mumbo jumbo.

To end for now with a brief side note: Shingon and martial arts have nothing in common. That has been discussed many times before. As Dr. Lang says "The things they've heard are probably just silly." True.
今以佛眼觀之佛與眾生同住解脫之床。無此無彼無二平等。
Now, observing with the eye of the Buddha, both the Buddha and ordinary beings are in the same liberated state. There is neither this nor that: there is only non-duality and identity.
- 空海 Kūkai 弘法大師 in Unjigi 吽字義 The Meaning of the Letter Hūṃ
new translation: Kūkai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi Shingen and Dreitlein Eijō
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Our life is very simple, very direct, very beautiful, very vast and very terrifying, but it is not at all convenient.
- Anzan Hoshin Roshi
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Re: Questions regarding Practices

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 24, 2014 10:29 pm

Thank you for the fine and detailed post, WuMing. That's all.
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