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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,

    "I will return to the mountain forever."

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, and future.

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 the saying,

    "We emerged from the letter "A" and to it we will return."

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