Kukai and esoteric Buddhism: Secret teachings

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Kukai and esoteric Buddhism help us understand the universe


Kukai’s World: The Arts of Esoteric Buddhism (Tokyo National Museum Heiseikan 2011 July 20th – September 25th)


What's the universe? Come and see it.

WHAT is the universe? Many philosophers and scientists in the world have been trying to find an answer to that throughout the history. Although they seem to come closer to the truth, they have yet to reach there. But Kukai, the founder of Shingon school of Buddhism, and esoteric Buddhism help narrow that distance.


“Kukai’s world and the arts of esoteric Buddhism” was taking place in Heiseikan of Tokyo National Museum at Ueno until September 25th. Probably, it was the best of exhibitions of Kukai and esoteric Buddhism ever held in Japan. About 100 pieces of arts of esoteric Buddhism were brought there for people to see. Most of which are rare: almost all of them are National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets. The gallery consists of four parts, and each of them is well arranged, holding things together.


Kukai had energy and was filled with spirit. When he was young, he quitted studying and went training in mountains himself. And there he got an inspiration. Like world’s greatest people, he was very determined and creative with a good intuition. For example, Shoryoshu Collection of Chinese Writings and Roko shiiki (Teachings for the Deaf and Blind) are beautifully and elegantly written by him. From these, not only can you feel his passion, but you can see that he had a cool head as well.


It is thus small wonder that it took just a few years for him to master esoteric Buddhism in China where he studied. While teaching people about the beliefs of Buddhism is passive, esoteric Buddhism is active; although the latter tells how, it does not the secret teachings of it: you must find them yourself. That is exactly what young Kukai did. It is said that he became an envoy to China on his own. This exhibition would have been more interesting had it showed how he worked hard to earn money.


Mandala caught viewers’ eyes. When it comes to it, what is important is to see and feel. I was overwhelmed by Ryokai (Two Worlds) mandala, but after a while I realised something: “Everything in the universe may be like this”.


Countless numbers of small circles with cores are linked each other to form a large circle. And the large circle is included in a larger circle. In short, every circle is part of a whole circle. This may be the universe: Everything is connected in a single large circle. Mandala may express this holistic view. These invisible connections are already famous in science such as hologram and quantum physics. From this point of view, the Mandala of Sculptures section, which came last in the exhibition, were all the more interesting. I may have found one of the secret teachings of esoteric Buddhism.■

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