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FEB 27, 2012

The Implications of the Katsuma (3D) Mandala

By Tomoya Nakamura, Photographer Katsuo Sugano

I had a weeklong business trip to Kyoto this winter. During that time I had the opportunity to visit Toji Temple. Toji was built as a national temple back in the Heian Era of Japan, some 1200 years ago, and was registered as a world heritage site. I visited Toji because I was attracted by the lit-up 5-story pagoda that can be seen from the bullet train’s window.

Strong energy and aspiration emanating from the Katsuma Mandala

In the Kodo Hall of Toji, there was the Katsuma Mandala. A three-dimensional mandala, centered around the Mahavairocana are 21 Buddhist statues enshrined in this mandala: the 5 Dhyani (Wisdom) Buddhas, 5 Bodhisattvas, the 5 Great Wisdom Kings, the Four Heavenly Kings, the Brahma-Deva, and the Sakra devanam Indra.

As I stood in front of this Katsuma Mandala, I felt a strong energy and aspiration (Ki) emanating from this mandala. Yes, it was cold in Kyoto. But my body and soul was shaking not because of the weather but by the energy and aspiration that can be felt through this mandala.

Who created this Katsuma Mandala? What were this person’s intentions? Why is this mandala so dramatic in three-dimensional form? What does each figure—the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, the Wisdom Kings, the Four Heavenly Kings, the Brahma-Deva, and the Sakra devanam Indra—represent?

Toji is the Main Temple of the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. Esoteric Buddhism can be characterized by its emphasis towards personal practices whereas Exoteric Buddhism is said to put its emphasis towards Buddhist text books (sutras). The founder of Toji is Kukai or Kobo Daishi, who inherited Esoteric Buddhism while on his envoy to China (Tang Dynasty) in 804. Emperor Saga deigned Kobo Daishi to head Toji in 823.

Finding out Kobo Daishi was the noble person behind this Katsuma Mandala, I collected books on Kobo Daishi and decided to visit Koyasan (Mt. Koya), the headquarters of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism and a world heritage site in Wakayama prefecture. Heading into Koyasan, I walked pass the Great Gate (Daimon). I visited the Kongoubuji (the head temple of Shingon Buddhism) and once again encountered the Katsuma Mandala on the Great Stupa (Daito). I walked to the Okunoin (the most sacred site) and saw many 5-story stupas (grave stones). In the Shingon teachings, the 5-story stupas represent the five elements that were used to create the world—earth, water, fire, wind, and space. In Koya town, many temples including the Kongoubuji and its sub-temples are adorned with original colors and Sanskrit writings that made me wonder if Koyasan is on the Indian sub-continent at the heart of Asia. In Koya, not only Buddhist figures and temples are inherited until this date, but as many Shingon priests carry on their daily austerities, I feel that the spirits and souls from Kobo Daishi are still living and breathing with us today. This makes Koyasan a special sacred place, even amongst the many world heritage sites designated by UNESCO.

In the temple’s lodgings I received shojin ryori, a special vegetarian meal, and participated in the morning ritual ceremony. At this ceremony, I chanted the Heart Sutra with the priest. In my previous profession, I worked at Sun-Life Corporation (listed on JASDAQ: 4656), a service company which provides weddings and funerals. In the meetings at the funeral department, we read out loud the Heart Sutra. This experience enabled me to chant the sutra along with the priest. I felt a strong Ki while we participated in the morning ceremony at the temple.

Esoteric Buddhism says that a person can attain enlightenment during one’s physical lifetime. As for the ascetic training of the Shingon Buddhism, I would like to refer to Dr. Yuukei Matsunaga’s Japanese book Mikkyo(“Esoteric Buddhism,” from Iwanami Publications. Please note that English translation is conducted at GLOBIS.)

“The fundamental method in Esoteric Buddhism lies in yoga practices, where three mysteries (the body, speech, and mind) unify to become one with those of the Buddha. The ascetic sits in front of the main Buddha image, and recites the Shingon chants aloud and forms the mudra (symbolic hand gesture used in Buddhism). The ascetic centers his heart and mind and meditates on the image of Buddha, bringing the elements of the Buddha and the ascetic together to melt into one. In this way the ascetic, in the human flesh, has achieved enlightenment in this world, and become a Buddha.

“Three objects used for meditation in Esoteric Buddhism include shuji, sanmayagyou (samadhi), and songyou. Shuji are Sanskrit letters. Sanmayagyou can be a round moon or vajra (mystical weapon in Buddhism) used for reaching the next step in meditation. Songyou includes the figures/drawings of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and the Wise Kings in the Mandala.

“In his meditation, the ascetic first focuses on shuji, then changes to sanmayagyou, and shifts the attention to songyou. The well-practiced ascetic is able to change between these three objects in his meditation. Also, no matter which physical shape the ascetic focuses on, he will be expected to be able to advance his meditative focus from a physical object to a non-physical object.

Interchange between the One and the Many

I believe that the success of Shingon Buddhism to this date not only lies in the books and sutras of the sacred teachings but also in the Esoteric practices used with actual Buddhist statues and mandalas that were created and passed along from teacher to ascetic one by one. This has been the case with Huiguo, Shingon’s 7th patriarch in China, when he taught the practice to Kobo Daishi, its 8th patriarch. This was also the case with the high priests that followed Kobo Daishi in Japan. When the Shingon teachings are explained in such a clear manner, then we can possibly assume an analogy as to the role borne by the mandala.

A mandala is a model (a miniature) that relates the cosmos with nature and the secular world, in order to express Esoteric Buddhist teachings. Contained in this mandala is the Absolute One (the Mahavairocana, which is the cosmos) and the many (from the Five Buddhas, the 5 Dhyani Buddhas, and the five Great Wisdom Kings to the secular world), which can be thought of existing as if in a variety of different-sized revolving circles. Also contained in the mandala is a rhythm (the expression and the inspiration) that could even be thought of as the living breath of the cosmos. By meditating on universal coming and going, which is the interchange between the One and the many, the ascetic is able to finally understand the cosmos. This is why I was able to sense the strong Ki (energy) emanating from the Katsuma Mandala at Toji.

Mr. Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, has left us the following phrase, “I am the universe.” In Aikido as well, one is to position oneself in the universe feeling the gravitation of the earth, and while moving in a circle we are asked to unite and capture the opponent in a martial form. I feel that it can be said that Aikido practices and Esoteric Yoga practices may have things in common.

Following our observations above, what will then be the message today from the Katsuma Mandala of Kobo Daishi? If Kobo Daishi were to speak in front of business people, what would he tell us today?

In the Shoujijissogi, Kobo Daishi tells us the following (referred also from Dr. Yuukei Matsunaga’s Japanese book Mikkyo. English translation is conducted at GLOBIS.):

“If just a little of the inside and the outside of the Ki of the wind blows, it will without fail reverberate and have a name and become a voice. A sound definitely comes from a voice. A voice, in other words, becomes the origin of sound. A voice raised is not empty but will invariably distinguish itself, and become a name and a written character. A name without fail invites a body. This is how names are formed and brought into reality.”

Let us, as business people engaged in management, use our voices to create a bright future from the very bottom of our hearts. Our thoughts and voices (of managers) surely would have an impact to move business and society towards our intentions and eventually would lead to form reality.

If we, the many business people engaged in management, recognize ourselves as an existence that can go beyond time and space, and shift our visions back and forth between the present and the future, as well as between ourselves/our company and others/our society, I am certain that 2010 will be a great year for all.

Let us create a bright 2010 together! To see this wish come true, I write this wish on wood and place it into the flame of homa (the Sanskrit letter meaning “to burn”). The wish is said to come true if we put the wish into the flame of homa.

Best wishes,
January 2010

(This article was originally published on February 8, 2010)