Writings of Nichiren Shōnin Doctrine 2, pp. 34, 36-37, 44, 46, 50-51, 67, 75-81, 84-85, 88-89, 102, 108, 112, 114

Kaimoku-shō or Liberation from Blindness, pp. 13, 16-17, 27, 29, 36-37, 60, 70, 72-77, 83-85, 89-91, 109, 119, 123, 126

 The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin I, pp. 224, 225-226, 232, 233, 237-238, 250, 256-261, 263-264, 267-268, 277, 283, 286-287

Throughout the Kaimoku-shō Nichiren refers to the True Word (J. Shingon, C. Chen-yen) school of Buddhism. He accuses those who brought True Word Buddhism to China from India of misappropriating the teachings of the T’ien-t’ai school, and throughout makes critical comments about this form of Buddhism. He does not, however, write a sustained critique of the True Word School in Kaimoku-shō, as he will in later works such as Senji-shō (Selection the Right Time) or Hōon-jō (Essay on Gratitude). This does not mean that he considered True Word Buddhism less of a problem then Zen or Pure Land Buddhism. On the contrary, he seemed to have considered True Word Buddhism to be the underlying cause for the displacement of the Lotus Sūtra in Japanese Buddhism, but he also saw it as a much more difficult school of Buddhism to critique. For one, it was much more strongly entrenched than either the Pure Land or Zen movements. Secondly, Nichiren himself used many of its methods and shared many of its concepts. Finally, True Word Buddhism had become intertwined with the Tendai School, and Nichiren for a long time held out hope that the Tendai School would listen to his call for reform and he probably did not want to alienate potential allies unless it was necessary. In Soya Nyūdō-dono Gosho (A Letter to Lords Toki and Soya), Nichiren states that his criticisms of the Zen and Pure Land schools were just a warm up for his criticism of True Word Buddhism.

The false teachings of Buddhism refer to the false opinions regarding the comparative superiority between the Shingon and Lotus Schools. The reason for my criticism of the Zen and Pure Land Schools is for the purpose of clarifying this point. (Hori 2004, p. 195)

 So what is True Word Buddhism? “Chen-yen” or “True Word” is a translation of the Sanskrit word “mantra” as True Word Buddhism is the practice of the “mantra path.” What then is a mantra? According to Adrian Snodgrass the word mantra means “the thought (man) that liberates (tra)” or as “a receptacle, a container (tra) of thought (man)” (Snodgrass 1988, p. 45) As an example, the Heart Sūtra ends with the mantra “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.” Related to a mantra is a dhāranī. The word dhāranī is synonymous with mantra, though it often refers to a longer formula. Snodgrass says that that dhāranī “means a ‘support, that which sustains’: it is a support for meditation.” (Ibid, p. 44) In the Lotus Sūtra, dhāranī are found in both chapters 26 and 28. The word vidyā is also synonymous with dhāranī, and it means “knowledge” or “spell,” the latter in the sense of mystic knowledge. True Word Buddhism is the path of using these special incantations (almost always in Sanskrit or transliterations of Sanskrit) as a form of meditative practice and a primary focus of ritual whereby one can attain buddhahood and even worldly goals or “success” (S. siddhi).

Mantranaya, the “Mantra Path” or Mantrayāna, the “Mantra Vehicle” is what this early ritualistic and magical form of Buddhism in India was called, and how it came to be known in East Asian Buddhism. It was also given the name “esoteric” or “secret teaching” (J. mikkyō). Esoteric Buddhism presents itself as a quicker and more efficient path to buddhahood than the slower path of the six perfections, which is said to take three innumerable eons to complete. Originally the ritual texts of Esoteric Buddhism were called sūtras, but in time they came to be called tantras, and they were contrasted with the sūtras containing doctrine.

The Sanskrit word tantra, meaning “warp,” was used to refer to texts dealing primarily with ritual practice. In contrast, the sūtras were the woof, setting forth basic religious principles. Because of its emphasis on tantras, later esoteric Buddhism (and sometime esoteric Buddhism in general) is often termed Tantric Buddhism. (Yamasaki 1988, pp. 10-11)

By the eighth century, Esoteric Buddhism in India was called Vajrayāna, the Vajra Vehicle. “Vajra” is a Sanskrit term for “diamond” or “thunderbolt” or even “adamantine.” (See Williams and Tribe 2000, pp. 196-197) The vajra is the weapon of the Vedic thunder god Indra, and also the weapon of a spirit named Vajrapāni who acts as a protector of the Buddha is the Pāli Canon.

The use of mantras in Indian religion goes back to the time of the Vedas and the rituals and sacrifices of Brahmanism. Even the Pāli Canon contains parittas or “protective verses” that are still used today in Theravada Buddhism. By the second or third century mantras and dhāranī were already beginning to appear in Mahāyāna sūtras such as the aforementioned Heart Sūtra and the Lotus Sūtra. By the fourth century, Mahāyāna Buddhism began to borrow from popular religious practices and from Brahmanism to create a variety of rituals aimed at averting disaster, attracting prosperity, and even subduing enemies. Keishō Tsukamoto explains some of the reason for this:

King Aśoka strictly suppressed religious rituals using incantations and magical practices (Rock Edict 9). After the collapse of the Mauryan dynasty, however, Brahmanism was revived under Pushyamitra, and its magical incantatory tendencies increased apace. In the process of forming Hinduism, native beliefs were subsumed into Brahmanic religious ritual, influencing Mahāyāna Buddhism to no small degree. In Mahāyāna scriptures we find a strong, ritualistic, magical, and mystical element. When the western Roman Empire fell in 475, trade with western India stopped, causing the ruin of the Indian monetary economy and bringing about the downfall of the commercial society that patronized Buddhism. This aided the growth of Hinduism, with its base in rural villages; to hold out against Hinduism, Buddhism took on a stronger mystical and ritualistic hue, providing benefits to believers in this life. (Tsukamoto 2007, pp. 389-390)

Taikō Yamasaki, a True Word priest and professor of esoteric studies, provides the following description of how early esoteric Buddhism evolved within the Mahāyāna in his book Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism:

Shingon, setting these developments within the framework of Mikkyō history, tends to see Mahāyāna thought as representing an increasingly philosophical, academic superstructure of Buddhism. In contrast, the evolving esoteric sub-stream of Buddhism is understood as representing the concerns of the common people.

Even the sūtras coming out of the priestly academies, however, all dealt with some type of incantation. On the popular level, esoteric texts were increasingly concerned with devotional ritual and magical practices for worldly benefit. Techniques to cause and stop rain, for example, had become an important part of Buddhist ritual by the fourth or fifth centuries. When these two currents of Buddhism, the philosophical and the magical (whose separation is somewhat overstated here), were systematically combined in the seventh century, esoteric Buddhism came into its flowering.

About 320 C.E., King Chandragupta I founded the Gupta dynasty, which would unite northern and southern India. Under this dynasty, Brahmin culture again came to dominate India, beginning the so-called Hindu period. During this period Sanskrit became the common language of Buddhism, which incorporated much Brahmin terminology. The Gupta dynasty supported Hinduism, but did not suppress Buddhism, whose main patrons were merchants and members of the court. Although the Mahāyāna schools continued to develop during this period, they seem to have been active mostly within the confines of their temple compounds.

Esoteric Buddhism seems to have maintained its strong appeal among the populace, and Buddhist ritual continued to be elaborated during the Gupta dynasty. One sūtra of this period, for example, describes worship rituals to be performed for various Hindu deities in order to fulfill a petitioner’s particular wish. It records detailed techniques for establishing a sacred space in which the practitioner invited the deity to manifest himself and receive the offering, methods for constructing altars, techniques for making entreaties to the deities, and rituals for offering incense, flowers, and light to different deities.

From around the time of Chandragupta I, too, esoteric Buddhist ritual texts (giki) were written prescribing the rules and forms of ritual. Modeled after similar texts in Brahmanism, these were related to specific sūtras, whose doctrinal import they expand on in terms of actual practice. Already by the fourth century, therefore, Buddhism had a wealth of magical rituals. As well as the above worship and meditation practices, techniques existed for summoning the powers of particular deities to achieve such purposes as making and stopping rain, healing, and so on.

The fire ritual (Skt., homa; Jap., goma) is another example of Brahmanistic ritual taken into esoteric Buddhism. This practice, adopted whole, appears as a Buddhist form of offering around the third century. Later sūtras describe three types of fire ritual (for averting misfortune, increasing good fortune, and subduing baneful influences), illustrating how it had become established as an important esoteric Buddhist practice. Although the fire ritual’s Brahmanistic format remained more or less intact, the practice was given Buddhist symbolic significance. (Yamasaki 1988, pp. 9-10)

The rituals and magical practices of this early period were not very systematic and their goals were, for the most part, worldly benefits. Starting in the 17th century these came to be known in Japan as the “miscellaneous” (J. zobu) form of esotericism. The later forms of esotericism that developed in India were more refined and had the swift attainment of buddhahood as their goal (though worldly benefits were not lost sight of). These were distinguished from the former type as pure (J. shojun) esotericism. A more precise five-fold division of Tantric Buddhism was used in India that was carried over into Tibet in a modified form. The five-fold classification divides Tantric Buddhism into Kriyā, Caryā, Yoga, Mahāyoga (or Yogottara), and Yogini (or Yoganiruttara) tantras. In a four-fold Tibetan classification that is more widely known today, Mahāyoga and Yogini are considered the Father Tantra and Mother Tantra subdivisions of a single category called Anuttarayoga. (See Williams and Tribe 2000, pp. 203-204)

In the five-fold classification the early form of esotericism that appeared from as early as the 2nd to as late as the 6th century is called Kriyā, which means “Action.” A Kriyā text that came to be highly esteemed in Japanese Tendai Buddhism was the Acts of Perfection Sūtra (S. Susiddhikāra-sūtra) that was translated into Chinese by Śubhākarasimha (C. Shan-wu-wei, 637-735) in 726. In this sūtra, many of the elements of Esoteric Buddhism are already in place. The sūtra not only features the use of mantras, but also mudrās (hand signs) and mandalas (circular platforms that later become painted diagrams). It also describes and explains the Buddhist version of the Vedic fire ritual (J. goma), the invocation of deities, initiations or empowerments, and the three purposes of esoteric rites (averting disaster, attracting prosperity, and subduing enemies). The sūtra also states the importance of the ācārya, the teacher of esoteric rites who is to be regarded on the same level as the Three Treasures or as a veritable buddha by his disciples. A disciple of an ācārya is sworn to secrecy and must never discuss any faults of the ācārya. Here we see the roots of what would later become guru-yoga in Tibetan Buddhism, wherein the guru represents the Buddha himself for the disciple. As far as the practice of mantra goes, the sūtra points out that ultimately “recitation is entirely dependent upon the mind.” (Giebal 2001, p. 194)

The next type of esotericism to appear was Caryā, which means, “Practice.” The Mahāvairocana Sūtra that was probably composed in the middle of the seventh century is representative of Cārya tantra. In India, the Mahāvairocana was actually called a tantra. It was translated into Chinese and called a sūtra in 725 by Śubhākarasimha and his Chinese disciple I-hsing (638-727). This sūtra holds the primary place in True Word Buddhism. The Mahāvairocana Sūtra is basically the instruction of Vairocana Buddha to Vajrapāni the Lord of Mysteries in regard to the Mahāyāna path of mantra. In response to Vajrapāni’s question about the cause, root, and culmination of the Buddha’s omniscient knowledge, Vairocana Buddha says, “The mind that aspires to awakening is its cause, contemplation is its root, and skillful means is its culmination. Lord of Mysteries, what is awakening? It means to know one’s mind as it really is.” (Giebel 2005, p. 6 modified). In the rest of the sūtra, Vairocana explains how to fulfill the cause, root, and culmination of awakening in terms of esoteric practices. This includes such practices as the contemplation of the Sanskrit letter “A,” which he states is the essence of all mantras; and deity yoga, wherein the practitioner generates the image of a deity and identifies himself with that deity. The sūtra also sets forth three different types of mandalas: those that use images of the beings composing them, those that use seed-syllables (S. bīja) of the beings, and those that use symbolic objects. These are the different types of Matrix Realm Mandala that depict Vairocana Buddha at the center of an array of buddhas and bodhisattvas and other deities. In the sūtra, Vairochana Buddha states that all these esoteric practices and forms are of a provisional nature.

The Dharma is free from differentiation and all false conceptions. If one eliminates false conceptions and the workings of the mind and thought, the supreme and perfect awakening that I attained is ultimately like empty space, but unknown to ordinary foolish beings, who are wrongly attached to the objective realm. That they hanker after auspicious times, directions, signs, and so on is because they are enveloped by ignorance, and it is in order to liberate them that they are taught in conformity with them as an expedient. (Ibid, p. 23)

On the other hand, Vairocana Buddha also says, “If one dwells in this mantra practice, one will most certainly become a buddha.” (Ibid, p. 82) Not only that, but Vairocana Buddha goes on to say that the skillful method of mantra practice enable its practitioners to attain all the desire, presumably including buddhahood, in a single lifetime.

Lord of Mysteries, the Tathāgatas of the present [age] and so on in all world-systems, worthy of [worship] and perfectly and fully awakened, have mastered the perfection of skillful means, and although these Tathāgatas know that all differentiation is originally empty by nature, by means of the power of the perfection of skillful means they bring to the fore the conditioned in the unconditioned. Responding in turn [to the circumstances of beings], they appear throughout the Dharma realm for the sake of beings, causing them to see the Dharma, dwell in happiness, and generate a joyful mind, or else they obtain long life, enjoy themselves by disporting among the five desires, and make offerings to the world honored buddhas. No worldly people are able to believe the realization of such a state, but because the Tathāgatas perceive its purpose, with a joyful mind they teach these procedural rules for the bodhisattva’s path of mantra practice. Why? [Because] that which cannot be obtained were one to seek it diligently for immeasurable eons, cultivating ascetic practices, those bodhisattvas who practice the path via the gateway of mantras will achieve in this lifetime. (Ibid, p. 92)

There are some disturbing elements in the Mahāvairocana Sūtra that I feel should be pointed out. The Mahāvairocana Sūtra on the whole encourages wholesome action and abiding by the precepts, but in chapter 18. “Receiving the Code of Training with Skillful Means,” the sūtra also advocates the breaking of precepts by bodhisattvas as a form of skillful means. This opens the door to al kinds of rationalizations and antinomian interpretations. For instance, in that chapter there is the following explanation of the precept against taking life:

Then the World-honored One again gazed upon the realm of beings with eyes of great compassion and addressed the bodhisattva Vajrapāni, saying, “Lord of Mysteries, those bodhisattvas keep the precept of not taking life for as long as they live. They should forsake the sword and the rod, be free from murderous intent, and guard the life of another as if it were their own. There is [also] another skillful means: in order to liberate some kinds of beings from retribution for evil deeds in accordance with their deeds, [the taking of life] is [on occasion] carried out, but without thoughts of enmity or animosity. (Ibid, p. 188)

In chapter 31, “Entrustment,” a criteria for determining who these teachings should be given to includes such things as the disciple having been born at an auspicious time and a physical description that probably only applies to certain high caste brahmins. (See Ibid, p. 225). I can’t help but think that the Mahāvairocana Sūtra is an example of Mahāyāna Buddhism not just assimilating elements of Brahmanism but being itself submerged in Brahmin ideas and attitudes that aren’t consistent with the Buddha Dharma.

The third type of esotericism to appear was Yoga or the tantra of “Union.” The representative text of this class is the Diamond Peak Sūtra (S. Vajraśekhara-sūtra). The Diamond Peak Sūtra was written in South India in the latter half of the seventh century. It is actually a portion of a much larger collection of texts that continued to be written into the eight century. Vajrabodhi (671-741; C. Chin-kang-chih) completed an initial translation into Chinese in 723. His disciple Amoghavajra (705-774; C. Pu-k’ung) translated it again in 746, and that is the version used in the True Word School. The sūtra opens with a description of Vairocana, or Mahāvairocana as he is also called, in terms that equate him with the awakened-mind of all beings. The sūtra then retells the story of Śākyamuni Buddha’s attainment of perfect complete awakening in terms of an esoteric initiation in which he is ultimately transformed into Mahāvairocana residing at the center of the Diamond Realm Mandala. The practice of this sūtra puts less emphasis on ritual and worldly aims then earlier esoteric teachings, though they are by no means absent, and more emphasis on an interior contemplative identification with the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the mandala and on the attainment of buddhahood.

After the Yoga tantras, the Mahāyoga (or Yogottara or Father tantras) developed in the late eighth century. The Yogini (or Yoganiruttara or Anuyoga or Mother tantras) developed in the tenth and eleventh centuries. There is also a third category called Non-dual (or Atiyoga) tantras that combines the Father and Mother tantras. These last three types of tantra in Tibetan Buddhism are considered the three sub-divisions of what is called Anuttarayoga. These tantras shifted the attention from Mahāvairocana Buddha to Akshobhya Buddha, introduced the fierce wrathful forms of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and also used so called “father-mother” (S. yab-yum) images of buddhas in sexual union with female consorts to represent the union of skillful means (represented by the buddha or father) and wisdom (represented by the consort or mother). These later types of tantra were not transmitted into China during the eighth century and so were not transmitted into Japan by Kūkai (744-835) and did not contribute to the teachings or practices of the True Word School in Japan. Later translators tried to introduce these forms of tantra into China but they did not catch on. During the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), the Mongols introduced Tibetan Vajrayana into China. This had a more lasting, though minor, influence on Chinese Buddhism. None of this was of any concern to Nichiren and so will not be dealt with in this commentary.

According to True Word Buddhism, the transmission of True Word Buddhism begins with Mahāvairocana Buddha who gave the teachings to Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva is another name for Vajrapāni, the Lord of Mysteries, in the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. As an emanation of Mahāvairocana Buddha, Vajrasattva personifies the awakening mind (S. bodhichitta) within all beings that aspires to buddhahood. Vajrasattva is sometimes called a bodhisattva, but he is more properly a vajradhara or “Vajra-holder,” which is to say a tantric practitioner as distinct from those who simply cultivate the six perfections. There is a legend that Vajrasattva then hid inside an iron tower in southern India where he resided until Nāgārjuna (c. 150-250) unlocked the tower and received the transmission of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra and the Diamond Peak Sūtra from him. Nāgārjuna then became the third patriarch in the transmission of True Word Buddhism. Nāgārjuna is said to have passed the teachings on to the fourth patriarch Nāgabodhi (n.d.), about whom little is known other than that he had to have been living in the 8th century in order to have been the teacher of Vajrabodhi. So either Nāgārjuna or Nāgabodhi lived hundred of years according to this story. This part of the transmission is obviously allegory not history.

The fifth patriarch was Vajrabodhi. He was a monk from southern India who studied at the famous Buddhist university of Nālandā in central India. He received transmission of the esoteric teachings from Nāgabodhi in 702. Vajrabodhi later sailed to China and arrived in 720 and spent the rest of his life there translating and propagating Esoteric Buddhism with the help of the Chinese monk I-hsing and another Indian monk named Amoghavajra, who would become the sixth patriarch of True Word Buddhism. Amoghavajra was from Sri Lanka and met Vajrabodhi in China when he was still only a novice (S. śrāmanera). He remained with Vajrabodhi until his death in 741. Amoghavajra then returned to Sri Lanka to learn more about Esoteric Buddhism there and in India. According to some version of the story he was able to study with Nāgabodhi. He returned to China in 746 whereupon he translated the Diamond Peak Sūtra. He also transmitted the True Word teachings to a Chinese monk named Hui-kuo (746-805), the seventh patriarch. Hui-kuo in turn transmitted them to the Japanese monk Kūkai (774-835; also known as Kōbō).

An alternate list of True Word patriarchs leaves out Mahāvairocana Buddha and Vajrasattva Bodhisattva and begins with Nāgārjuna as the first so that the second is Nāgabodhi, the third is Vajrabodhi, and the fourth is Amoghavajra. The fifth in this system is Śubhākarasimha, the sixth is his assistant I-hsing, the seventh is again Hui-kuo, and the eighth is again Kūkai. This list of patriarchs is considered to consist of those who propagated the esoteric teachings in the world.

Śubhākarasimha was an Indian prince who had renounced his throne to become a monk. He also studied at Nālandā. He arrived in China in 716 and translated the Mahāvairocana Sūtra with his disciple, the Chinese monk I-hsing (683-727) in 725. They also translated the Act of Perfection Sūtra in 726. There were apparently stories circulating about Śubhākarasimha that portrayed him as a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra. Nichiren refers to two of these in Kaimoku-shō. In one story he discovers a mantra expressing the gist of the Lotus Sūtra in an iron tower in southern India. In another, he falls sick and almost dies but recovers when is able to recite the title of the Lotus Sūtra and then a passage from chapter two. This story is recounted in more detail in Nichiren’s Zemmui-shō (Treatise on Śubhākarasimha).

I-hsing had studied the teachings of Zen, the Precepts, and T’ien-t’ai before being introduced to Esoteric Buddhism by Vajrabodhi. He subsequently helped both Vajarabodhi and Śubhākarasimha with their work of translating and propagating Esoteric Buddhism. He also wrote an important commentary with Śubhākarasimha on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra in which he incorporated many of the teachings he had learned from the T’ien-t’ai school. This was the basis for Nichiren’s complaint that True Word School has misappropriated the teachings of the T’ien-t’ai School to make it appear that the Mahāvairocana Sūtra contained the same teachings as the Lotus Sūtra but was superior in that it provided for the esoteric practice utilizing mudrās, mantras, and mandalas that the Lotus Sūtra did not.

The eight patriarch on both lists is the Japanese monk Kūkai. Kūkai was born into Japanese nobility. At the age of 18 he entered the imperial university to study Confucianism in order to prepare for a career as a government official. However, he soon dropped out and become a self-ordained monk. He retreated into the mountains to practice the Morning Star meditation (J. Kokūzō gumonji no hō) that involved the recitation of the mantra of Space Store Bodhisattva (S. Ākāśagarbha; J. Kokūzō). This was based on an esoteric manual that had been translated in 717 by Śubhākarasimha and had been brought to Japan in 718 by the Japanese monk Dōji (d. 744). This practice was intended to help one memorize and understand the Buddhist sūtras, and was later practiced by Nichiren during his youthful studies at Seichōji. It was this practice that apparently whetted the appetite of the young Kūkai for Esoteric Buddhism. He found, however, that while the Mahāvairocana Sūtra had been brought to Japan, there was no one who could explain how to put its teachings into practice. Kūkai then determined to go to China to find a master who could teach him. Somehow (probably through family connections) he was able to get officially ordained and assigned to travel to China as part of an official delegation in 804. One of the other members of that delegation was Saichō (767-822; also known as Dengyō), the future founder of the Tendai School. In the capital of Ch’an-an he met Hui-kuo and became his disciple. Hui-kuo was apparently very impressed by Kūkai and transmitted to him the practices relating to both the Matrix Realm Mandala and the Diamond Realm Mandala. Though Hui-kuo died in the twlfth month of 805, Kūkai was able to study with other teachers of Esoteric Buddhism in China, such as Prajñā (734-819) and he collected many texts and ritual implements. Kūkai returned to Japan in 806 to begin propagating the teachings and practices of True Word Buddhism. Kūkai received the patronage and friendship of Emperor Saga (r. 809-823). His base of operations was Takaosan Temple in the suburbs of Kyoto where he stayed until 823, but from 810-813 he was appointed the administrative head of the prestigious Tōdaiji in Nara.

Something should also be said about the relationship between Saichō and Kūkai during this time. They may have first met when they were traveling to China together in 804, but others say they only met later back in Japan in 809 or 810. For many years Saichō and Kūkai were friends. When he had returned to Japan, Saichō had even performed esoteric initiations at the request of the imperial court in 805 and he was eager to learn more about Esoteric Buddhism. In 809, Kūkai had gone to Mt. Hiei to learn about the T’ien-t’ai teachings from Saichō. In turn, Saichō borrowed texts from Kūkai and even received esoteric initiations (S. abhishekha) into the practices of the Matrix Realm Mandala and Diamond Realm Mandala from him in 812 at the Takaosanji. Unfortunately, their relationship soured in later years, as one of Saichō’s disciples defected to the True Word School and Kūkai refused to lend texts he had requested and insisted that Saichō become his disciple if he wished to study True Word teachings. They also had fundamental disagreements over the relative importance of the Lotus Sūtra and esoteric Buddhism. Not surprisingly, Kūkai compared the Lotus Sūtra and T’ien-t’ai teachings unfavorably with the True Word sūtras, teachings, and practices. By 816, the two monks were no longer corresponding with each other.

The esoteric initiations performed by Kūkai at Takaosanji in 812 for Saichō and almost 200 leading monks and nobles of Nara established Kūkai as the master of Esteroic Buddhism in Japan. In 816, Kūkai requested and was granted permission to establish a training center on Mt. Kōya. Actual construction did not begin until 819 and it would not be completed until after Kūkai’s death. In 823, Kūkai was appointed the head of Tō Temple in the new imperial capital of Kyoto that was still under construction. Up until that time, the temples in the capital did not belong to a single school of Buddhism, but the Tōji became the headquarters of True Word Buddhism during Kūkai’s lifetime. When Emperor Saga retired, Kūkai continued to receive the patronage of the two subsequent emperors. Unlike Saichō, Kūkai also became popular among the monks of the other schools of Nara Buddhism and he rose high in the ranks of the state controlled Buddhist bureaucracy. In 834 he was given permission to establish a chapel in the imperial palace where esoteric rites for the peace and security of the nation were held for a week in the beginning of each year following a week of Shintō rites. In 835 the True Word School was officially recognized as a state sponsored school of Buddhism alongside the six schools of Nara Buddhism and the Tendai School. Two months later, Kūkai passed away on Mt. Kōya, though the True Word School maintains that he has actually entered a state of samādhi and that he lives still on Mt. Kōya.

Esoteric Buddhism was also brought to Japan by Saichō, though he had not focused on it the way Kūkai had. Saichō’s successors at Mt. Hiei traveled to China throughout the 9th century to learn more about Esoteric Buddhism from the successors of Hui-kuo and in time two rival traditions of Estoteric Buddhism were well established in Japan. The first was the Tōmitsu (Tōji Esotericism) of the True Word School, and the second was the Taimitsu (Tendai Esotericism) of the Tendai School. Nichiren does not take up the story of Taimitsu in the Kaimoku-shō, though it becomes a major theme of subsequent writings. Consequently, I will not deal with it here.


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