Example Shingon Buddhist ServicePosted: October 22, 2009 | Author: Doug | Filed under: Buddhism, Shingon | 7 Comments »
Shingon Buddhism is a topic of some interest among Buddhists in the West, but Shingon temples are quite rare here. There is a nice, small temple here in Seattle, but most westerners haven’t any idea what goes on in a Shingon Buddhist service. I found this video online accidentally and realized that this was a good example of what a Shingon Service looks like:
This is only part of the service, but when I visited the temple in Seattle the service was a very similar format. As Shingon Buddhism is a purely esoteric form of Buddhism, much of the practice revolves on what founder Kūkai1 called the “Three Mysteries”: body, speech and mind. Body was reflected in hand gestures, called mudra, including the simple gassho gesture. Speech was reflected in reciting mantras and mind was cultivated through visualization.
As this is a lay Buddhist service though,2 the service is somewhat more passive and involves a lot of recitation. The central part of the service is to recite the mantras of the 13 Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, that make up the Buddhist pantheon in traditional Japanese culture. The order at the Seattle service was the same as above. In Japanese, this is called the jūsanbutsu shingon (十三仏真言) or “Mantras to the 13 Buddhas (and Bodhisattvas)”. You can see a list of the actual mantras used here.
After this, the Mantra of Light, central to Shingon practice, is also recited. You can hear the On abokya beiroshanō makabodara mani handoma jimbara harabaritaya un repeated a few times at the end. Then a mantra Kūkai himself is recited: Namu Daishi Henjō Kongō.
Not shown in the video is when the congregation recites the Heart Sutra, which is very popular in Shingon services as it encapsulates Mahayana Buddhist thought so well. During the Heart Sutra, Shingon Buddhists often line up, walk up to the altar and offer incense and bow in gratitude.
Hopefully this little explanation will show what goes on at a Shingon service for those who haven’t seen it. If you’ve been to Japan and seen such a service, hopefully this will help shed light on points that may not have been clear at the time.
Namo Daishi Henjo Kongo
P.S. The temple that provided this video is Kōkeji (高家寺), whose homepage is here. (English version coming soon) This is a temple of the Koyasan branch of Shingon Buddhism and is found in Gifu Prefecture.
1 Speaking from experience, usually Shingon Buddhists don’t call him by his monastic name, but instead use the honorific title Odaishisama (お大師様). Point of etiquette to bear in mind when you visit such a temple.
2 If you visit a Shingon temple and like what you see, consider visiting regularly and getting to know the priest there. As he learns your style and temperament, he may start teaching you practices suited for you. That is why it is called “esoteric”: the teachings are gradually revealed. Of course, this requires patience, humility and respect on your part. Don’t just go asking for things without being respectful about it first! Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.