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Many accounts place the origins of Tantric Buddhism in Japan in the hands of the two men, Saichō 最澄 (767–822) and Kūkai 空海 (774–835). (This article will use “Tantric” and “esoteric Buddhism” synonymously.) These were the founders, respectively, of the Tendai (天台) and Shingon (真言) schools, both of which contributed substantially to the early development of Japanese forms of Tantric theory and practice. Naturally, no tradition emerges from a vacuum; it always grows from existing roots and trunks to create new branches. Because the contributions of Saichō and Kūkai marked a major transition in the history of Japanese Buddhism, focusing on them is an appropriate way to frame important features of early Tantrism in Japan. Several of the deities central to developed esoteric Buddhism in Japan were present during the Nara period (710–794), as were some of the key texts such as the Scripture of the Great Illuminator大日経 (Skt. Mahāvairocana-sūtra, Jpn. Dainichi-kyō), prior to Saichō and Kūkai’s bringing new materials back from China in 805 and 806, respectively. Significant among the new elements were mandalas, initiation or consecration ceremonies (kanjō灌頂) into ritual practice that employed them, and new texts, in particular of the Scripture of the Tip of the Thunderbolt (金剛頂経) (Skt. Vajraśekhara-sūtra, Jpn. Kongōchō-kyō) corpus, most of which had been translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra 不空 (705–774, Ch. Bukong; J. Fukū). While Saichō returned to Japan more than a year before Kūkai—and established the earliest foundation for the new Tantric tradition by performing Japan’s first kanjō and by making one of the two formal tracks for training Tendai monks a Tantric one (shana-gō遮那業)—Kūkai’s subsequent contributions had a much greater immediate impact on how the tradition unfolded.

Article

Richard K. Payne

The historical spread of Buddhism can best be described as the extension of the nodes and strands of a network. “Globalization” is used here to identify the fact that over the last two centuries those networks have extended across the globe, bringing diverse communities in different countries into closer and more frequent contact than was previously possible. The two main sources of a globalizing tantric Buddhism are the Japanese tradition of Shingon and the lineages of Tibet in exile. From the 19th century Shingon spread to Hawai‘i and the west coast of the United States, and more recently to South America, particularly Brazil. These reflect similar patterns of growth and decline as well as revitalization frequently seen in immigrant churches with histories of over a century. The period from the end of the 19th into the 20th century saw the rise of a tantric movement in China that sought to reclaim the “lost” Tang era tradition. The “Tantric Rebirth Movement” looked either to Japan, as having a lineage continuous with Tang era tantra, or to Tibet, which was seen as having a superior form that could revitalize tantra in China. These two strains continue to mold tantric Buddhism in the present, including in Taiwan and other centers of Chinese expatriate populations. Tibetan Buddhism has also expanded globally, introducing tantric lineages, teachings, and practices to many different countries. The globalization of tantric Buddhism has not gone uncontested, however. Interactions with European and American adherents have created strains within the Tibetan community; the movement of modernizing Theravādin traditions in Nepal has created stresses on the traditional tantric communities there; and evangelical Christians have attempted to stave off what they see as the demonic influences of Tibetan tantric practice from the territories they claim as their own.

Article

Shingon  

Aaron Proffitt

Shingon Buddhism is one of the major schools of Japanese Buddhism. Shingon developed from the eastward flow of the tantras from South Asia into East Asia, flourished at the very pinnacle of Tang-dynasty Buddhist ritual culture, was systematically integrated into the Japanese state monastic bureau through the efforts of Kūkai, and flourished through the efforts of other important figures that followed such as Ennin and Annen. Shingon functioned both as a trans-sectarian area of ritual knowledge key for competition across diverse lineages within and between major state-run temples and emerged as a distinct school focused on the doctrinal thought of Kūkai, as well as the widespread devotion to Kūkai as a bodhisattva-like savior figure on Kōyasan, the mountain monastic complex that included his mausoleum. Shingon practice emphasizes the coordination of mudra, mantra, and mandalic contemplation under the direction of a trained ritual master. Through the unification of body, speech, and mind in the ritual arena, the adept is awakened to their inherent participation in awakened reality. As such, Shingon practitioners are said to be able to realize corporeal Buddhahood and have often been tasked with performing rituals such as rainmaking, aiding emperors to extend their life span, and so on.

Article

From the early 9th century a new orientation emerged in Japanese Buddhism that emphasized specific Tantric, or Vajrayāna characteristics of both doctrine and practice. While elements of the Vajrayāna (vehicle of the diamond/thunderbolt) Buddhist traditions of mature Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism were present in Japan in the 8th century, it was only in the new Buddhist schools of Tendai and Shingon that related practices recently imported from China were specifically identified as “esoteric” in nature and as different from the other schools of Buddhism that were newly designated as “exoteric” by these schools. The first to promote this distinction was the monk Kūkai, founder of the Shingon school. His contemporary Saichō, who founded the Tendai school, placed himself and several of his disciples under Kūkai’s tutelage to learn what the latter had brought back from an intensive study period in China. Yet Saichō’s approach was to place the esoteric teachings and practices on a par with his Tendai teachings, derived primarily from the Chinese Tiantai school. His difference from Kūkai on this matter drove both an eventual end to their cooperative relationship and, after Saichō’s death, innovations by Tendai school exegetes that aimed to reconcile the differences. The combined force of Tendai esotericism (Taimitsu) and Shingon esotericism (Tōmitsu) impacted greatly the development of subsequent centuries of Japanese Buddhism. The three major schools of Buddhism that dominated during the Nara period (710–794)—Sanron, Hossō, and Kegon—all incorporated esoteric elements into their practice during the Heian period (794–1185). By the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), when the new forms of Zen, pure land, and Nichiren Buddhism emerged, the esoteric paradigm was so ingrained in Japanese Buddhist thought that even though esoteric practice was at times explicitly criticized by the new schools, much of its worldview was implicitly affirmed. Central to Japanese esoteric Buddhism is the understanding that through engaging in the ritual practices of reciting mantra, practicing symbolic hand gestures known as mudra, and imagining one’s self and all beings as being intrinsically awakened (one meaning of the term mandala), one can achieve the enlightened stage of buddhahood within one lifetime. These three are called the “practices of the three mysteries” (sanmitsu gyō三密業), through which a practitioner is able to unite with the enlightened energy of the cosmic buddha’s body, speech, and mind. More than anything else, it was this cosmological framework that influenced the development of many later Buddhist practices. Fundamental to this model was the affirmation that every living being is intrinsically endowed with the latent qualities of buddhahood. This concept of “original enlightenment” (hongaku本覚) framed an immanental, holistic vision that recognized the real presence of nirvāṇa (freedom, liberation) in the midst of one’s experience of saṃsāra (the cyclic world of ignorant suffering). The unfolding of various doctrinal and ritual means of articulating and verifying a practitioner’s intrinsic state of enlightenment spurred novel theological systems, artistic creativity of many forms, as well as sociopolitical opportunities for aristocrats who sought to invoke the buddha’s power for various mundane needs. Tendai and Shingon monks alike contributed to this growth in a myriad of ways.

Article

Geoffrey Goble

Amoghavajra (Bukongjin’gang不空金剛; 704/5-774) was a historically significant Buddhist monk who operated in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). He was a prolific translator and is widely regarded as the founder of an Esoteric or Tantric Buddhist tradition in East Asia. Arriving in China at a young age, Amoghavajra became a monk and practiced under Vajrabodhi (Jin’gangzhi金剛智; 671–741). Following his master’s death, Amoghavajra undertook an ocean voyage to Sri Lanka and southern India. He returned to Tang China in 746/747 with a collection of newly acquired Buddhist texts and training in ritual practices. He was the recipient of patronage and support from members of the ruling elite in Tang China, including a succession of three emperors—Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 713–756), Suzong 肅宗 (r. 756–762), and Daizong 代宗 (r. 762–779). Amoghavajra served the Tang government with his ritual services and was appointed a minister in the central government bureau charged with overseeing official ritual services for the Tang state. With this support and influence, Amoghavajra translated a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures and authored numerous commentaries, ritual manuals, and compendia, and he effectively established a teaching of Buddhism in China that is generally referred to as “Esoteric Buddhism.” This teaching of Buddhism was subsequently transmitted by Kūkai 空海 (774–835) to Japan, where it became established as the Japanese Shingon school. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist histories, Amoghavajra is regarded as a patriarch of Tang dynasty Esoteric Buddhism and Japanese Shingon.