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The Teaching Of The Six Great-Elements

Through Shingon Buddhism a person knows of the Buddha?s great life force that exists in the entire universe, realizes that in meditation it will be seen to be of the same essence as that of ourselves. And further it has doctrines that teach practices for achieving this realization. Kobo Daishi, in order to explain the Buddha?s life force in a way that would be easy for us to understand, spoke about the expression of the Buddha-Nature through the Six Great Elements (Rokudai).

The formation of the world according to Buddhism is through the process of causal origination. This is the Buddhist view of the world by which everything in the world comes to be and continues to live in this world because of a great life force that is invisible to the eye. This life force takes on many different forms and manifests itself as the individual life of each thing.

The basic doctrine of the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism established by Kobo Daishi is called "The Causal Origination of Things Through the Six Great-Elements." It is a view of both the world, as well as human beings, and it teaches us about the true nature and formation of the world.

The causal origination of the world through the Six Great-Elements asserts that human beings along with everything else come to be because they possess the six characteristics and functions of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness. This is not simply the coming together of physical symbols, but in the sense that each element of earth, fire, water, wind, space, and consciousness has the activity of the great life force, they are expressed as the Six Great-Elements. We can clearly understand this by speaking of the life of the earth, the life of water, the life of fire, the life of the wind, the life of space, and the life of the mind.

In his work, "The Meaning of Becoming a Buddha in This Body," Kobo Daishi says,

    "The Six Great-Elements interpenetrate without obstruction and are in eternal union."

This teaches us that the universal life force, which is comprised of the Six Great-Elements, forms the basis of all things that have life as we do, and that we are in a state of harmony in having the same essence as that of the life of the Buddha.

The great element that is the earth refers to how the Earth is the Mother of life on earth. The great element of water is the water of life that gives moisture to all things and nurtures the power of life. The great element of fire is the energy that is possessed by fire, and is the working of life that gives heat and vitality to living things. The great element of wind is best thought of as the breath of the entire universe, it is constant movement. Each breath we take is life itself. The great element of space is the vast and eternal life of the universe that envelops all things. The great element of consciousness is the life of the spirit that is in all things and is the functioning of wisdom.

©1998,1999 Shingon Buddhist International Institute