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Gyantse Kumbun: sacred art in Tibet

“Gyantse Kumbum,” Tibet’s Sistine Chapel (posted 04-28-12)

One of the most stunning, unspoiled art centers of Tibet is the nine-story Stupa known as Kumbum, in the town of Gyantse, central Tibet. Gyantse was an independent kingdom until recently. The king’s castle (now empty) towers from a hilltop, overlooking a massive 3 story Monastery temple called Pelchor, the Kumbum Stupa, and a medieval village called Gyantse.
Gyantse’s Kumbum is one of the spiritual centers of Tibet. To the east, a seven hour drive over Neji Kangsa Pass and Yamtso Lakes is Lhasa. To the west is Mt Everest, and the road south to Sikkim and Nepal. To the far west, a three-day journey by jeep, lies Mt Kailash, the Kingdom of Guge – with Separang and Tuoling temples, and Ladakh. Kumbum, which means “tens of thousands,” refers to the immense number of Buddhist images painted and sculpted in Gyantse, a genre of 15th century art unique to central Tibet.
By sealing the doors with patriotic slogans, the Pelchor temple and the Kumbum stupa were kept intact from the ravages of the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1420’s the monks have preserved machig-labdron-1 (1)Tibet’s grandest collection of Statues, murals, and sacred Mandala for pilgrims to admire. It is by far the favorite place of the visitors and students, whom I have taken with me to Tibet. From mid May through mid-June is the best time to go, before the monsoons begin, after the below-zero autumn and winter cold ends. The sacred masked dances called CHAM, on Sagadawa, Buddha’s birth celebration, can also be seen during this time. The Kumbum Stupa was completed in 1427, nine decades before Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel ceiling (between 1508 and 1512). There are in fact 27,600+ images and statues on display throughout the nine floors, in 73 chapels, shrines, and sanctuaries.

 

The ground floor of the stupa, not open to the public, contains in fact the basic design of the Kumbum structure, a mandala, or geometric plan of the cosmos as sacred encounter, with “Dorje Chang” (Vajra Dhara), the ultimate Buddha who purifies and enlightens all sentient beings by the use of thunder and lightning, as its focus. Above the First Floor, there are 8 more stories, containing Kumbun’s 27,600 images, as follows:
1st floor, 4 major temples, 16 chapels, using images for purification from the Kria tantra;
2nd floor, 16 chapels, with images for illuminating with the Carya tantra;
3rd floor, 4 temples, 16 chapels with Yoga Tantra images for apophasis, ie, sunya emptying;
4th floor, 12 chapels, with Anuttaraya Yoga images of Tibet’s holy monks and sages;
5th-floor, 4 major temples with images of the 5 “Salvational” Buddhas; (special permission is requird to go above the 5th floor);
6th floor, the “lower Harmika dome” with images of “father” tantras;kumbun-ozer
7th floor, the “upper Harmika dome” with images of “mother” tantras;
8th floor, the Campana, with the image of Vajra Dhara, Thunder-lightning Buddha;
9th floor, a copula, coming out of the inner dark corridors to the open sky

The great Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci wrote a 3 Volume description of the Gyantse temples, which can still be bought in Hong Kong bookshops (Rome: 1941; New Delhi, 1989). F. Ricca and E. Lobue published a beautiful single volume of color prints, called “The Great Stupa of Gyantse” (London: 1993), which can be found in Swindon’s bookshop in Kowloon.
Five images taken on site are posted below:
1. Pelchor temple and Gyantse Kumbum, with Michael Saso and Kunga-la

2. Machig Lobdron, Tibet’s great Woman Mystic, 4th floor “Chod” chapel

3. Milarepa, Tibet’s great mystic poet, 4th floor Guru Chapel

4. Ozer, or Marici, Light goddess, (also in Daoism and Japanese Buddhism) 1st floor chapel

5. Gyantse, Kumbum entrance of Monks into the sacred Cham dance area:kumbum-entrance

 

 

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Zhuangzi explains Daoist contemplation

庚桑楚 – Geng-sang Chu chapter of Zhuangzi:

This Zhuangzi passage explains the two functions of “DAO”, as WU 無and YOU有. WU is the Transcendent, invisible Dao, which CHU 出 “brings forth” the visible You cosmos, which is done by WU’s “ben本,” ie, basic nature; in this passage, we are told to RU 入 enter DAO through Transcendent WU’s “Qiao”, 竅an opening or gateway.”
YOU is the immanent Dao- visible because “WU” is there in it; you is lasting,長 “zhang” real, because WU 剽 (piao), causes cyclical change by beating/chiseling at it, again by its very “ben” basic nature
出無本,入無竅。to send out the visible world is Wu’s basic nature; the entry to Wu is through a (mysterious, hidden) gateway竅 .
有實而無乎處,有長而無乎本剽,
You is real because Wu is there; permanently evolving because Wu basically “beats” it (chisels away at it);
有所出而無竅者有實。“You“ because it comes out from Wu’s gateway, is real/visible.
有實而無乎處者,宇也;
有長而無本剽者,宙也。(Yuzhou 宇宙 is the word for the cosmos, in Chinese; here Zhuangzi states that the Yu or heavenly part of the cosmos is real or visible, because it “chu” 處dwells in the Transcendent WU Dao.
zhou 宙the visible, earthly part of the cosmos is zhang 長 (lasting, “old”), because it is formed, beaten with a rock by Wu transcendent Dao).
有乎生,有乎死,
有乎出,有乎入,
“you” includes life, death, coming forth (from Wu) and returning (to Wu).
入出而無見其形 entering, coming forth, Wu sees (note that the word jian 見 is used, not “kan” 看。Ie, jian means to walk in and see by experiencing, while kan means to look on from a distance, with hand shading the eyes). Wu watches over by its presence the formation of xing 形,
是謂天門。This (the source of wu and you) is called “Heaven’s Gate.” (Note that tianmen 天門 or heaven’s gate means the trigram Qian 三, ie the northwest direction, in the I-ching/Yijing’s “posterior Heavens” arrangement of the 8 trigrams. The 8 trigrams are the basis of Daoist meditation, I-ching, and ritual. The Gate of hell or demon in the northeast is closed, and the gate of heaven in the northwest is opened, during all Daoist meditation, ritual, and nature’s process; this quote is from the wai-juan, 8th to 13th chapters of Zhuangzi; ie, it was written after the development of YY5 Element cosmology; only the 1st 7 chapters are authentically from Zhuangzi, the 8th chapter on are quotes recorded from his disciples.
天門者,無有也, The Gate of Heaven is Wu and You
萬物出乎無有。 The myriad creatures are born from Wu You.
有不能以有為有, You (by itself) cannot use You to make You   (nb, “you” is pronounced “yoe!”)
必出乎無有, It must come forth from Wu-you. (transcendent and immanent Dao working together).
而無有一無有。 Wu you is one WuYou (transcendent and Immanent Dao are one).
聖人藏乎是。 The shengren contemplative person holds this as a treasure.
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Exorcising heart and mind 心齋坐忘

The Daoist solution to worry and bad thoughts, is “fasting in the heart” and “sitting in forgetfulness” 心齋坐忘,literally keeping all desires for anything or any goal out of the heart, and all images of any sort out of the mind. Though this is “easier said than done” in the western healing tradition, it is very much a part of the Daoist centering form of practice, and has deeply changed/influenced the coming of Zen and Samatta-vipassyana to China and the rest of Asia. All 3 methods are basically the same, ie, focusing all of the body and mind’s attention on the belly, or rather, the body’s actual (ie physical) center of gravity. That is why Zen, Tantric, and Daoist meditation all fold left hand (under) and right hand (over) each other, then press the 2 thumbs against the navel. The centering position is from 3 to five inches in, (depending on one’s weight) halfway between the 5th lumber vertebrae and the lower folded part of the hands. Athletes, artists, and Taiji/Bagua experts do this automatically; the rest of us learn it by watching the breathing process, ie, seeing air breathed into the lungs, circulated around the body, then exhaled, carrying with it any thoughts and desires we may have stored inside us. Or, put the thoughts and images into a rocket ship, and see them blasted off into outer space. Or, tie the mind like a “monkey” to the shore, and sail away in a boat. Then bring the mind and heart down into the belly, as if on an elevator; once in the belly, burn away all images, until nothing is left. I taught this over a 2 year period to people in the mental ward of Tripler Hospital, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, with good results; the nurses invited me back 2x – 3x a week. Another way to do this is to offer an “Agni-Hottra” fire ritual, write down all our good and bad deeds, good and bad images, on a piece of paper, and burn them. This can be done in reality by a real bonfire, and in our imagination after that.

The last, and perhaps best method to eliminate all unpleasant, demonic, and evil thoughts from our consciousness, is to place a sacred image between us and the evil image, person, or threat. For Tibetan Buddhists, Mahakali (Palden Lhamo) is the most powerful. For Daoists, Marishiten or Doumu (Mother of the Pole Star, who gives birth to thunder and lightning) is used. Best of all, however, for Christians as well as all people who have her image, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady of Guadalupe is most effective, because the rays of the sun emanate from her, while she is pregnant with Baby Jesus.

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The Yijing (I-ching) and Daoist Keyi ritual 易經和道教科儀

Master Zhuang’s teachings on the YIjing will soon be published innew book entitled “MYSTIC, SHAMAN, ORACLE, PRIEST” (SAIA): 2012
The Dao of Change: the I-ching 易經 (Yijing)
The Yijing is an ancient book written to help early Zhou dynasty kings keep their people in harmony with nature.The word for “King” (Wang) pictures a person who connects the three worlds, ( 三 ), by drawing a line connecting heaven, earth, and underworld ( 王 ). In ancient times, the king was the person who ruled by connecting humans to the three lines, called “trigrams,” in the Yijing, (易经) Book of Changes. The original three-line “trigram” messages, found in the I-ching (Yijing) , date from the early Zhou dynasty, 1050-760 BCE.

Nature’s changes take place in eight steps, called Ba Gua (八卦 8 trigrams), as Dao moves from pure yang to pure yin, and back again. The 8 Trigrams of change rule the inner body, as well as outer nature. Inside the body (三) the top line of the trigram is for head-heaven, the middle line for heart-earth, and the lower line for belly-water. Daoist Meditation harmonizes us with these eight changes, from Pure Yang to Pure Yin and back. (See appendix 1, “Ho-tu and Luo-shu” Ba Gua 八卦 illustrations).

The 8 Trigrams teach harmony with Dao when nature is changing (you-wei有为), and when it is at rest (wu-wei无为). The 8 trigrams are arranged in two sets, to explain this. The first set, the Trigrams of the invisible, Primordial Heavens 先天八卦 are pictured as a circle (the Neolithic 璧 bi jade). The Prior Heaven Trigrams unite us with Wu wei Dao, when the mind and heart are free of judgment and images. The moving Dao,
Yu-wei有为 之道 is square (the Neolithic 琮 cong jade) . It represents change in the visible world. It later was given the name Trigrams of the Later Heavens 后天八卦 and teaches oneness with Dao’s moving cycle of change, in the body, and in nature (See diagram #3, in the appendix, for these two arrangements of trigrams).

To help us find a more precise harmony with the Dao, the Yijing (I-ching) author multiplied the trigrams, 8 x 8, into 64 “hexagrams” (two trigrams written over each other). The 64 hexagrams, as used by Daoists, are spiritual as well as practical guides to Dao’s cyclical changes. The key to using the Yijing (I-ching) is simple. Nature always changes in four steps: spring, summer, autumn, winter; — birth, puberty, maturity, old age/death; – dawn, noon, sunset, midnight, always in a cycle of four.

To teach us how keep in harmony with nature’s four stages, the ancient Yijing (I-ching) scientists used four mantic (i.e., “coded”) seed words, which appear at the beginning of each hexagram. They explain how to respond spiritually to the 64 possible changes inside our hearts, as well as the world around us. The four “mantic” code words, explained below, are contemplative guides to Daoist prayer.

The Four stages of Daoist meditation

The Yijing’s 4 coded meditation words are: yuan 元,for nature’s rebirth in spring, when Dao ploughs and purifies us, implanting new Qi 炁 energy in the inner and outer Cosmos; heng 亨 for summer, when Dao sits like a hen on this Qi energy, to nourish and ripen it; li 利 for autumn (qiu 秋) when Dao cuts or harvests, by emptying our minds of words and our hearts of desires; and zhen 贞 for winter, when Dao writes on our bones and heart (贝), with a fiery brand (卜), as we meditate on Dao’s inner presence (贞). Note that the Yijing uses the 64 simple statements, written at the beginning of each hexagram, as a coded way to respond to external change, and keep our hearts in harmony with nature.

Daoists teach that 49 (7 x 7) of the Yijing hexagrams describe the Moving Dao, (you wei zhi Dao有为之道), while 15 (8 + 7) statements relate to the “Wu wei non-moving Dao, “wu-wei zhi dao 无为之道.” Each of the 49 hexagrams of “change,” yu-wei Dao, begin with one, two, three, or four of the sacred mantic code words. They teach us four ways to respond to change in nature. When ancient kings sought counsel of the Yijing, and one or more of these mantic words occurred, the kings behaved in accord with the meaning of the four sacred words, as follows:

. yuan 元 , purify the fields, and the mind, by plowing and planting (spring);
heng 亨 nourish and ripen the heart (summer-kataphasis) by “meditating;”
li 利 harvest, or “cut away” all images and judgments, (autumn-apophasis);
zhen 贞 rest – contemplate; be one with Dao presence in the belly (winter).

When consulting the Yijing, and one of the statements without a code word (16, 20, 23, 35, 43, 44, 48, 54) or negating them (12, 29, 33, 38, 52, 61, 63) occur, then the ancients knew that the Wu-wei, Dao of “apophasis” was present. It was time to do nothing, except, as Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi) recommends, sit in forgetfulness, and perform heart fasting meditation. The Yijing is a manual leading to a four step, contemplative form of prayer and ritual meditation, in accord with the brief readings at the head of each hexagram.5 Images of the Yijing trigrams are found everywhere in Daoist Jiao 醮festival and Zhai 齋 burial liturgy.

How Daoist ritual uses the Yijing (I-ching)

Yijing symbols (not the book itself) are used everywhere in Daoist ritual, as well as in meditation. When performing rites of renewal (Jiao 醮), or burial (Zhai 斋), we ritually “close” the trigram Gen 艮 , (see appendix) the northeast “Gate of Demon” (Guei Men鬼门). We do this to purify all sacred places set aside for meditation and ritual. Then we “open” the Gate of Heaven (Tian Men 开天门 ,乾, 三) , in the northwest, to make Wu-wei 无为之道 Dao present. We do this to heal, bless, and renew, during the entire cycle of life’s change. Daoists must first be “one with Wu Wei Dao,” by inner cultivation. Only then, can we provide Rites of Passage, to renew and heal the communities in which we live. (Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, Los Angeles, 2012, Ch. 5, explains this process more fully).

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Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang

“Let me re-state what I most hope to pass on to you, i.e., the importance of the words of Lao-tzu in the opening lines of the Daode Jing. I.e.., the Dao has two related aspects: “You有” and “Wu无.” The Dao of “You” change, which is written in the oracle bones as a hand holding onto a piece of edible meat, is called by later Daoists the Dao of the “Posterior” or “visible” heavens; it is represented by the Eight Trigrams which cause change in the “Posterior Heavens” (Hou-tian zhi Dao, 後天之道 ). It is the “later” or visible, i.e., named, able-to-be-conceptualized and put-into-words Dao. This is the Dao of You-wei 有为 (n.b., author’s note: Daoist “kataphasis;” pronounce “Yoe-wei!”). It is continually working in the farthest reaches of the cosmos.

The apophatic, transcendent, or non-changing aspect of the Dao, is called “Wu-wei 无为 (apophasis).” It is to be found interiorly. It is rooted in the belly, the “lower cultivation field.” Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) taught us that only when we practice “heart fasting” and “sitting in forgetfulness,” can we focus on Dao as Wu-wei presence, without word, motion, or action, in fact, transcending knowledge. This is called “The Dao of the Prior Heavens,” (Xian tian zhi Dao 先天之道), which means in practice, awareness of Dao as present, from the lower cultivation field (xia dan tian 下丹天), the womb of meditation, the source of inner cultivation. When we say, “keep the One,” (shou-yi守一) we mean to always “return to” Wu-wei Dao present in the belly, by stopping all of the mind’s judgments, and the heart’s desires.
Qingwei Thunder and lightning registers are used to purify heart and mind, so we can always remain aware of Dao presence in our belly, the center of the microcosm.”清微五雷法用為心齋坐忘能於道合一。

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contemplating the lower cinnabar field

All three Daoist “cinnabar fields,” mind, heart, and belly, are connected. The best way to understand their roles in human consciousness is to see the mind and its judgments, as diminishing “Qi” (nourished by no image, no judgement), at which time the upper cinnabar field, ie Pineal gland, gestates healing purple ( 炁 Qi). The will, and the power to love/hate is lodged in the heart (center cinnabar field), the location of “shen” 神 spirit; when freed from desire, the heart becomes a bright gold aura. Zhuangzi in Ch. 4 confirms that by turning off heart and mind 心齋坐忘 (done by putting Qi and Shen into the lower cinnabar field, and refining or emptying them therein), one is able to awaken the intuitive powers, or “jing”精, a bright white light, aka primordial awareness of Dao Presence 於道合一,於道合真。These three meditations are performed by Daoists who are Grade 5 (wupin五品)and above, during Jiao 醮 ritual meditations of renewal. Qingwei thunder vision 清微雷法is used to purify Qi, shen, and Jing during this contemplative process.

 

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Daoist Thunder & Lightning Meditation 清微五雷法

I hope to return to Hsinchu, Taiwan soon, to meet and talk with young Daoists on a spiritual path. The 道教源流 manual of the 正一詞壇 lists five “pai” 五派 Daoist spiritual practices, with nine grades 九品 in each: Yujing, Tianshu, Beidou, Yufu, Shenxiao 玉景,天樞,北斗,玉府,神霄。The Yufu 玉府九品 grades include a knowledge of dramatic Shenxiao ritual, whereas Beidou, Tianshu, and Yujing rituals (based on inner contemplation) do not allow Daoist masters to use Shenxiao or Lüshan 閭山 “exorcism without inner cultivation” rituals. This is especially true when using leifa 雷法, ie, Yufu and Shenxiao Daoists use Shenxiao style Leifa神霄雷法, whereas all of the Zhengyi Citan Daoists who are grade five and above 五品以上 use only the Qingwei wuleifa 清微五雷法。It is essential for us to explain this in such a way that scholars, foreign and Chinese alike, can understand the profound difference. I will try to come to Hsinchu soon, to meet and discuss this where it is still practiced! It is my strong conviction that Tantric Buddhists in Japan and in Tibet learned wuleifa from Daoists at the end of the Tang dynasty. The zhou咒 and shouyin 手印 are the same for Zhengyi Citan Daoists, and for Tibetan Buddhists. The images and concepts are from East, not South Asia.

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Preliminary vows to receive Daoist “Lu” 籙 ordination

Rainbow apeared while writing and posting this Lu document

Jie 戒 Rules for receiving Daoist Lu 籙 registers and meditation lessons

The First Ten Rules or “vows” given to the novice, before receiving the Daoist Master’s instructions (Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, Ch.5):

1. Banish all hatred, anger, and sadness from the heart; otherwise the powers of the “Yin” Underworld (“3 worms”) will devour the internal organs;
2. Be benevolent and merciful to all living beings;
3. Do good; avoid anything that harms others;
4. Purity includes mind as well as body; banish all impure thoughts;
5. Never speak or think badly of others;
6. Breathing must be calm and regulated, during ritual as well as meditation;
7. Do not put oneself above others, always yield and take the last place;
8. Do not argue or dispute, realize that we are always in “Dao” presence
9. Life breath (Qi 炁) is diminished by seeking good as well as bad things;
10. Keep Zhuangzi’s rule, “fast in the heart, sit with empty mind” 心齋坐忘

Ten vows taken before receiving Daoist Lu Registers from a master: 收錄十戒

1. Do not kill; respect all living things;
2. Do not lust, after another’s wife, or any other person;
3. Do not steal; do not take recompense for teaching Daoism;
4. Do not use force or deceit to achieve one’s way;
5. Do not drink to excess; alcohol is forbidden during Daoist keyi ritual;
6. Treat all men and women as one’s own family;
7. See the good points of everyone; help everyone be joyful;
8. If a person is sad, fill them with good thoughts and blessings;
9. Treat all other as if their needs were your own; never seek revenge;
10. Work that all attain the Dao

The Lu 籙 registers for Daoist “Jiao” 醮 life ritual and “Zhai” 齋 post life/burial ritual, include the meditations of Inner Alchemy. (See next post).

Michael Saso, Mar 24, 2012, (with rainbow appearing over Honolulu)

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How to identify Daoist “Pai” 派 schools

HOW TO RECOGNIZE DAOIST SCHOOLS & REGISTERS

 

Bai Yun Guan (“White Cloud”) Daoist temple in Beijing published an official list of 84 recognized Daoist Pai 派 or schools in their 1921 Gazeteer (zhi 志), each with an identifying poem;  the manual can be purchased for a nominal fee at the gateway to Baiyun Guan in Beijing 白雲觀志. It was also published in Japan, by Oyanagi Shigeta, where the cost is much higher (due to the fall in the value of the US dollar); but this edition also contains the Gazeteer of the Eastern Peak temple (東獄觀志), as well as other valuable references not found elsewhere. Each of the Pai  派 has an identifying poem; usually 40 characters; one of the characters is assigned to the Daoist’s official title each generation that it is passed on. (E.g., I received the 28th character of the 3 Mtn Alliance school – Mao Shan, Longhu Shan, Gezao Shan — Master Zhuang had the 27th, ie, 27 generations since the end of the Tang- beginning of the Song dynasty, 900-960, when the custom of using a poem to identify each Pai was begun). The Shenxiao and other heterodox orders do not always follow this rule, however, and advance one character each time a register/lu is passed on from master to disciple. When this is the case, the poem usually has 100 characters, vs 20 or 40.

When a Daoist comes to one of the 3 sacred mountains, Mao Shan, Longhu Shan, or Gezao shan for a license/register, an examination is given, to ascertain which (or how many) of the 5 traditional lu 籙 registers (Shangqing, Qingwei, Beidou, Zhengyi, Lingbao (Sanwu Dugong)上清、 清微北斗,正一盟威, 靈寶三五都攻) one knows. Grade One is given for the Shangqing  Datong Jinglu/aka Huangting Jing 上清大同黃庭經; Grade 2-3: qingwei wulei & Beidou lu 清微北斗; Grade 4-5: Zhengyi Mengwei jinglu 正一盟威經籙; grade 6-7: lingbao sanwu dugong lu 靈寶三五都攻籙。All of the registers from Grade 5 and above are given the title xianqing 仙卿;all of the titles from grade 6 and lower are given the titles 仙官 xianguan. A Daoist who practices lewd or immoral forms of “fangzhong” (“sexual hygiene” wrongly called in western book markets “the Dao of Sex”) may never advance above grade six, the ordination manual states. Grades 8 and nine are “incense bearer,” and “procession leader,” in Daoist liturgy. I hope to include below two texts as attachments from this manual; the various Lingbao and Zhengyi registers can be found in Vol. 28 of the recent Shanghai/ Shang Wu 36 volume Daoist Canon, entries 1205-1208, ie Vols 879-880 of the Taiwan/original Shanghai 1920’s edition.

The distinction between the Grade 5 pin and above, and the grade six and lower, depends on several important factors: Grade Five and above perform the Jiao rites of renewal, and inner alchemy meditation, as a way of “union with the Dao” (於道合真)for which see subsequent post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tantric Ritual: The Oral Tradition

Kuden: Tantric ritual taught by an Ajari master –  1st of 3 parts:
Tantric Meditation (i.e., combined mudra-mantra-mandala 身口意 meditation, Jpn. mikkyo 密教), is traditionally taught orally (kuden 口傳), in Tibet, in Japan by Tendai and Shingon Buddhists, and in China by orthodox Daoists. In order to gain access to this highly esoteric tradition, it is necessary to receive initiation, and study for many years with an Ajari Buddhist, or licensed Daoist master 授籙道士. The Rev. Yamada Eitai, Ozasu Head of Tendai Buddhism in Kyoto, Japan, kindly gave Tokudo initiation, and an introduction to study with the Ajari Master Ikuta Koken, over an extended period of eight years, from 1980 until 1988. Some of his teachings are summarized here, showing the kuden (practice with oral teaching) system, used by Tantric Buddhists, and also by Daoists, throughout Asia.
Three tantric schools, deriving from early 9th century Tendai practice, remain active on Mt. Hiei today: the Homan, Sanmai, and Anoo. Each school maintains a group of Ajari masters on Mt. Hiei, who teach the kuden oral tradition of tantric ritual meditation to monks, nuns, and laity, who come to the mountaintop for spiritual training.
Sixty days of austerity on Mt Hiei, called shugyo 修行, which precede the Kancho 灌頂 ordination of Tendai monks and nuns, are, unfortunately, too brief a time to learn the fullness of “body-mouth-mind” 身口意 Tantric meditation. Abstinence, fasting, and harsh physical exercise, combined with brief, intensive ritual training, make it impossible to learn the depth of mikkyo prayer, during the sixty-day training period. Serious postulants spend years of private practice with an Ajari master, to learn the internal meditations.


The time spent practicing and translating the four Tantric rites with the Ajari master Rev. Ikuta Koken , in the beautiful environs of Bishamondo, at the southern foot of Mt. Hiei, remains a precious, indelible memory. This renowned monk, who taught in Mudo-ji temple on Mt. Hiei for forty-three years, and was head Ajari master of the Homan school for the past twenty years, welcomed me to join the young monks in training at the secluded Bishamondo temple, an experience for which I remain eternally grateful.
Ikuta Sensei required each student to perform the Juhachi-do (Eighteen Path meditation) daily, and the Goma Fire rite a total of thirty-six consecutive times, in his presence, until the two liturgies were perfectly mastered. The siddham Sanskrit mantra were chanted in their original pronunciation, as well as in classical Chinese, and Japanese kana transliteration. After mastering these first two Tantric rites, Ikuta Sensei gave a detailed explanation of the Lotus Mandala (Taizo Kai 胎臟界) and Vajra Mandala (Kongo Kai 金剛界) (explained in Part 2; the relevant texts shared or derived from Daoism, are shared in Part 3).

The 18 Path meditation, and the Goma Fire Rite. The first step to learning tantric prayer is the Juhachi- do, 十八道 a text found in Chinese, probably not of Indian origin. The Juhachi-do or Eighteen Path meditation is used as an entrance into, as well as the process to step out of all Tantric ritual. The Taizo-kai Womb World, the Kongo-kai Vajra World, and the Goma Fire rite, all require the 18 Path mandala for entry and exit. The meditative stages are briefly summarized here as follows (see Saso, 1991):


The rite begins by using water, light, and incense to purify the three sources of karmic deeds, while vesting, and “becoming” the Light King Kundali, (Gundari, of the Susiddhi Sutra).
The Go shimbo Purification initiates each tantric rite, inviting the spirits to be present (similar to Taoist ritual in China) after which the vows of the Bodhisattva are pronounced.
-A Samaya meditation interiorizes the entire Buddha, Lotus, and Vajra Worlds. The hands form a chariot mudra, bringing the triple vision inside the meditator.
-while visualizing the “AH” seed word, the meditator creates a sacred Mandala
(Daochang 道場), and summons the vision of Acala and Vairocana, with a vajra bell. –Six offerings (puja), of pure water, powder incense, flowers & leaves, granular incense, rice,
and flame, symbols of the six paramitas- (5 senses and intellect), are made. (In Madhyamika
philosophy, the six material objects and their spiritual aspects, shi and xiang, thus become
“sources of enlightenment,” for Tendai Tantric practice).
– Through the experience of Sam-adhi, the meditator sees the Buddha’s heart-mind, the
meditator, and all others, as united into one (i.e.,sam-a-dhi, means “same as non-dual”) .
After finishing the Lotus, Vajra, and Goma fire rite, the order of mudra and mantra is reversed, in order to step out of the sacred area and re-enter the secular world.
(The 18 Path meditation can be celebrated independently, by devout Tendai monks and
nuns; it is always used to purify the altar before the Goma Fire Rite begins).

The Goma fire rite consists of visualizing and burning away six sacred visions, as follows (Homan manual, 1931):
1. Envisioning and burning away Acala, Fudo Myo-o.
2. Envisioning and burning away Agni, identified with Buddha Locana,
and the seven sources of Northern Light (Ursa Major).
3. Envisioning and burning away the female image “Ichijikinrin”.
4. The triple envisioning and burning away of Acala and Vairocana – as
seed word, samaya symbol, and sacred image.
5. Envisioning and burning away the entire Dharma, Lotus, and Vajra worlds.
6. Envisioning and burning away the entire realm of Vedic, Shinto, Taoist,
and folk-religion deities.
7. After finishing the six stages, the meditator throws all the remaining offerings, good and bad deeds, and even the highest spiritual desires, into the fire. Everything must be burned away, leaving no attachment, not even ashes behind.

It was abundantly clear, from the beginning of the eight year long study, until finishing of the Lotus and Vajra World meditations in the spring of 1988, that the Masters oral teaching was essential at every stage of the meditation path. Three examples are given here to show the deeper understanding given by the Ajari during oral teaching.
The first example is taken from the 4th stage of the Goma Fire rite.
In the center of the fire envision two lotus blossoms. In the center of the first blossom is the seed word AH, which transforms into Vairocana. In the center of the second lotus is the seed word KAM, which changes into the image of Acala.
(Oral commentary):
“the meditator burns away all karmic deeds by an interior fire, more powerful than the external flames of the Goma. The Goma fire burn away the wood and the seed offerings, leaving only ashes. But the interior flames of the Bodhi-enlightened heart-mind are like a devouring fire that leaves behind no ashes. The seed word KAM becomes first a samaya-symbol, a sword, and then a flame, and lastly turns into Acala. The seed word purifies the mind; the sword purifies the heart; the image of Acala fills the entire body, cleansing the “mind-mouth-body” three sources of karmic action. Separated by flames from the world of words and images, the meditator enters the realm of no-birth:”
“Meditating at the gateway of AH, all the seeds of desires are prevented. Entering into this cutting wisdom, a great light diffuses in all directions. Suddenly becoming a great burning flame the image of Acala arises, holding a sword in the right hand, and a rope in the left. The swirling flames devour karmic deeds, mental images, and the altar vessels, laden with avidya ignorance, so that nothing remains, not even ashes.”

(2nd commentary, the items used in the Goma fire offerings)
“As the flames are fed with offerings, a pure, compassionate water is seen to wash the body, flowing through every pore like sweet, white dew. A lotus flower of enlightenment opens in front of the meditator, and from the center issues five seed words, namely AH, BAM, RAM, KAM, and KEN. The words change into a samaya-symbol, seen as a stupa. The stupa changes into Vairocana. The meditator offers the four items to the right of the Goma altar, i.e., oil, red beans, white beans, and coarse rice, to Vairocana, by throwing these items into the flames. These coarse offerings represent all of the ego’s evil karmic deeds. Next the six pure offerings, representing my good deeds, equally useless for enlightenment, are thrown into the flames: Soma oil, powder incense, granular incense, poppy seed, sesame seeds, and the flame from a candle (symbolizing the five senses and intellect, i.e., the six paramitas. Finally the items to the left of the Goma altar, leaves (desires of perfection), and twelve-inch long sticks of wood representing the twelve causes (nidhanas) are burned away in the flames.”

3rd commentary: (for the 7th stage) “The ultimate goal of the Goma is apophatic emptiness, of mind and senses. Only when the flames go out, and no self-glory or merit remain, can samadhi (non-duality) be truly experienced. The meditations of Tendai tantric Buddhism are therefore a threefold process wherein the vision of a seed word to purify the mind (Nirmana-kaya), changes into a symbol to purify the heart, (Sambhoda-kaya) and finally into an eidetic or moving image, unifying the meditator with the Dharma-kaya body of the Buddha.”
Whether the image is of Acala, Amida, Vairocana, or some other form of the enlightened Buddha, is not important. The meditator must not become attached to the vision, in fact must burn all images away in the interior fires of thunder and lightning, as well as the real fire of the Goma. This process is preeminently a part of the Tendai oral hermeneutic. (The Goma Fire rite as performed by Ozasu Yamada Eitai, can be seen on YouTube).

Next, the Lotus and Vara Mandala will next be explained briefly, after which a comparison will be made of Daoist Master’s oral teachings.