Saturday, May 18, 2013

Event in San Francisco

This will be an informal telling of the story of Shakyamuni's search for enlightenment, from the time he left home at age 29 to becoming the Buddha at age 35.  All are welcome, no charges.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


This post relates the somewhat complex story of the INZAI PILGRIMAGE, illustrating the interweaving and cooperation of the Tendai and Shingon sects, commonly thought of as implacable rivals.

Although today throughout Japan there are a number of replicas imitative of the famous 'Shikoku 88' pilgrimage, the very first was the Inzai pilrimage, inaugurated for altruistic purposes nearly 300 years ago in a farming region near Tokyo.  It began in 1721 during a time of great poverty and starvation as the crops failed amidst swarms of insects.  The Tendai priest Rinsho desiring to find a way to relieve the suffering, had a dream of Kobo Daishi the great Shingon saint. Following the dream revelation, he set out to undertake Kobo Daishi's pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku.  He collected sand from the grounds of each of the 88 temples and returned to Inzai. Next he asked Enjun the abbot of Senzoji, the chief Tendai temple in the region, for permission to establish a pilgrimage connecting 88 various temples and shrines.

(side note: Senzoji, whose current abbot is Ichishima Shoshin, was originally a Shingon temple in Tokyo, having been founded in 807AD by a disciple of Kobo Daishi. When it became Tendai-affiliated is uncertain, but during the Warring States period of the 16th century a warlord burned it to the ground, whereupon the 47 priests rebuilt it in its present location.)

Next, Rinsho interested two Shingon priests in the project and together they established the route.  His vision was to interweave the two sects in their altruistic venture by putting a Tendai spin on a Shingon tradition.  This he did by incorporating a key Tendai teaching, that of the Middle Way, or the Madhyamika way to enlightenment, summarized in Tendai as KU-KEI-CHU. 'KU' is emptiness, shunyata, the absolute truth, or the true world; 'KEI' is the relative truth of samsara, the temporary and illusory world as perceived by the senses; and 'CHU' is the middle way, seeing the two truths as non-dual.

To tie the pilgrimage to the Middle Way, Rinsho crunched the numbers, a method popular throughout all cultures and ages! His temple on Shikoku was #44, midway between 1&88.  The second priest's temple was #66, midway between 44&88.  The third priest's temple was #33, midway between 1&66. Voila!

Though Rinsho put a Tendai stamp on the pilgrimage, the underlying philosophy is no different from that on Shikoku: the common teaching of the four stages to Enlightenment. The first stage is when a person awakens the Bodhi Mind, the thought of becoming the Buddha. The second is when one practices the Path. The third is when one realizes Nirvana and enters the Pure Land.  The fourth is when one attains Buddhahood in the Pure Land.

During a certain type of meditation, one may bring to mind these four stages, and after contemplating for awhile, overlay it with (that is, make a correspondence with) other Dharmas comprised of four elements: for example, Kamalasila's four stages of meditation; the four Buddhas and four wisdoms of the mandala surrounding Mahavairocana; the four verses of the Gobai ('Later Song'); the four immeasurables of the Brahmavihara; and the four cardinal directions.

At Tamon-in, where the above photo was taken, there is a square post erected nearby the monument, and it has a Sanskrit verse written vertically on each of the four sides, meant to be read in the following order: East; South; West; North.  The verses are
        (East)    Because of confusion, people dwell in the Triple World
        (South)  However in all ten directions there is the satori of emptiness
        (West)   But originally there is neither East nor West
        (North)  So how can there be North or South

The Inzai Pilgrimage takes place April 1-9 each year, thus encompassing Japan's traditional Birth-of-the-Buddha Day of April 8.  As in Shikoku where the first temple (Ryozan-ji) enshrines Shakyamuni Buddha, in Inzai the first temple is Ichishima-sensei's Senzo-ji where the honzon is also Shakyamuni Buddha. Of Sensei's two other temples, the Hikari-Do is #5 and Tamon-in (where I stayed briefly and where the Tendai Priests Joshin Jon Driscoll and Monshin Paul Naamon, among others, did their shugyo) is temple #50 in Inzai. The photo at the top shows the new stone monument at Tamon-in, and the central inscription reads, NAMO DAISHI HENJO KONGO, which is Kobo Daishi's main mantra.  The 18th century founder of this pilgrimage, Rinsho, is now known by his posthumous name of Inzai Daishi.

From this story we can see nearly 300 years of interweaving and cooperation between Tendai and Shingon.  Finally, it should be noted also that the original purpose of relieving the peoples' suffering was successful, thus validating Rinsho's dream revelation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sensei's 'National Treasure' Temple

Called the HIKARI-DO and located about a block away from Ichishima Shoshin's main temple of Senzo-ji, this grass-roofed hermitage was among the first buildings nominated for 'National Treasure' status in Japan.  The abbot is now Sensei's son Genshin and the honzon is Kannon-sama. Coincidentally, the temple's actual name (rather than the nickname above) is HOJU-IN which has exactly the same kanji and meaning as our goma-do, HOSHU-IN, the name granted by Gozen-sama, a translation of the Sanskrit 'cintamani' meaning 'jewel of the mind' or 'wish-fulfilling gem' in English.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Verse called "The World's Highest Peak"

The analogy is sometimes made between the "world's highest peak" and the Buddha, as in the following 792AD rock inscription at the entrance to Java's Abhayagiri monastery, then a thriving center of Mahayana practice.  To paraphrase the translation by the scholar Lokesh Chandra:

"I pay homage to the Perfectly Enlightened One, of vigorous qualities and endowed with the awe-inspiring power of knowledge, ANALOGOUS TO THE WORLD'S HIGHEST PEAK whose deep caves are profound wisdom, whose rocks are lofty tradition, whose realm of shiny metal brilliance is the Good Dharma, whose cascades are Love, whose forests are meditation, whose glens are few desires, and who is not shaken by the violent tempest of the eight ways of the world."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

With Ichishima Shoshin

On the left is Ichishima Shoshin, the great Tendai Scholar/priest, emeritus professor at Taisho University, reader and speaker (along with English) of Tibetan and the Gupta-era Sanskrit script known as Shiddam.  I stayed at his sub-temple Tamon-in alone for two weeks, while he would drive a half-hour from his main temple of Senzo-ji and spend 2-3 hours each day on my proposed English version of the manual  for the fire-offering ceremony called 'goma'.  Behind us in the photo is a very beautiful Amitabha statue which was restored after being severely damaged in the earthquake of 2011.