The Shingon Buddhist View Of Life
We who have been born as human beings in this world face the great
human questions of how to live, how to die, and what happens after
death. Buddhism teaches the way to enlightenment against the background
of the idea of transience in regard to the problems of birth,
old age, illness, and death.
Young people think that their lives are limitless, and live with
great hopes and dreams. This is to be thought of as a good thing.
However, as people get older, they come to feel day by day the
limits of their own lives.
Odaishisama described his later years in which he secluded himself
in a room, burned incense, made offerings of flowers, chanted
sutras and led his mind through the Three Mysteries of the Buddha.
He passed the days in this manner, and said,
What he expressed was his determination to enter into Eternal
Meditation. There are some differences in the way in which faith
is viewed by Saicho, Dogen, Eisai, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren,
all of whom are founders of Buddhist sects in Japan; but they
all agree on the matter of having to return to the Pure Land where
the Buddha exists. This we are able to know from the letters written
at the end of their lives. At the beginning of "The Precious Key
to the Secret Treasury," Odaishisama wrote,
Born, reborn, and born again,
The beginnings of their births they do not know.
Dying, dying, and dying once again,
The end of their deaths they do not know.
Here he laments the human condition in which people know nothing
about their previous births, and remain in the dark about the
strange world they go to after they die. Odaishisama is indicating
through this passage that our "life and minds" can rely on the
limitless world of the Buddha that lives in the past, present,
Odaishisama's Shingon Esoteric view of life is based on the idea
of the how things originate with the Six Great-Elements of earth,
water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness, which we dealt with
earlier as the Life of the Six Great-Elements. The word "great"
in the phrase "Six Great Elements" is easily understandable by
us if it is explained as the great life of the Buddha, and all
of the Six Great-Elements are expressed in the single sanskrit
letter "A" .
The Shingon view of life lies in the realization that there is
no beginning or end to the world of the Buddha expressed by the
letter "A", or, to put it in other terms, that life is eternal
as is indicated by the idea that the letter "A" originally was
not created. The meditation on the letter "A" and the practice
of the Three Mysteries in which we overcome duality and become
one body with Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) are not merely
seeking to become a buddha that is limited to a corporeal body
but is an enlightenment that permeates both birth and death. If
this were not the case, then the words that we cited earlier from
Odaishisama ends up being dead words.
What Shingon Buddhism explains as the liberation from birth and
death lies in the point at which the aspiration for the realization
of enlightenment in which we seek to be enlightened becomes one
with the world of the letter "A", and is indicated by what Odaishisama
called "the identity of the letter "A" with the aspiration for
the realization of enlightenment."
The essential thing is to hold fast to the belief expressed in
This poem was added to the end of an eloquent poem written when
Chisen, one of Odaishisama?s beloved disciples, died at the young
age of 37. It reads,
"Sorrow of sorrows:
to realize the uncreated,
in the single letter A."
After living a full life in this world, our finite bodies pass
away according to the law that all living things must die, and
our life force and minds are led by Odaishisama to the world of
the letter "A", which can also be spoken of as the Pure Land of
Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) where the seven Buddhas
such as Acala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), Sakyamuni, and Mañjusri (Monju)
Bodhisattva will save each in turn on the seventh day after we
die, the twenty-seventh day, and the thirtieth day. After passing
through forty-nine days, we shall become buddhas.
People who have faith in Shingon Buddhism will be in Dainichi
Nyorai's Pure Land of Mysterious Adornment that spans the past,
present, and future; and will be welcomed in the future after
their deaths in the Tusita heaven, which is the Pure Land of Maitreya
Bodhisattva where they will attain eternal life. Kobo Daishi referred
to this as "ascension to Tusita.
Odaishisama is also living in the Tusita Pure Land of Maitreya
Bodhisattva, and he leads us and saves us in life and death. This
is why we recite the mantra of Maitreya Bodhisattva, "Om maitareiya
sowaka," prior to chanting "Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo" in front
of Kobo Daishi's sanctuary at Koyasan. It is the belief of the
followers of Shingon Buddhism that we live "together with the
Daishi" and go to the Tusita Pure Land, after we die.
©1998,1999 Shingon Buddhist International Institute