Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Japanese Shingon Buddhism

This is a picture of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles.

The Temple serves as the North American regional headquarters of Koyasan Shingon School of Buddhism (Vajrayana Tradition) and its main headquarters is located at Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture in Japan.

The Koyasan temple in Los Angeles was established by Rev. Shutai Aoyama in 1912. Later, the current temple was constructed at the present site in Little Tokyo on First Street. It was elevated to the Koyasan Beikoku Betsuin in 1940.

Periodically I stop by the temple to look at the Jizo and Kannon statues in the front of the temple. I also read the information on a bulletin board they have near the entrance. A notice on the board said that recently the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe visited this Los Angeles Shingon temple. While I was there, a monk handed me a small brochure describing the temple and Shingon buddhism. Below is from the brochure I received.

The Teaching of Shingon Buddhism

Shingon or True Word Buddhism proclaims as its core teaching the vows:

1. May we realize Buddhahood in this very life.

2. May we dedicate ourselvesto the well-being of all people.

3. May we establish the World of Buddha on this Earth.

Appearing in Northern India in the 4th century, the Vajrayana Tradition traveled through China. Kobo Daishi, a Japanese monk, went to China to study with the great Buddhist masters. He returned to Japan in 806 as the inheritor and propagator of esoteric Buddhism known as Shingon.

Shingon teaching advocates that Buddhahood is attainable by everyone in this life. Kobo Daishi proclaimed that one does not have to be a monk or wait countless lifetimes to realize enlightenment. The freedom can be attained here and now through wisdom if one simply makes the decision to be free. In other words, by intending to make every breath, word, and action a realization of the Truth, one can reach the final goal/freedom and accomplish one's mission.

The goal of Shingon Buddhism is the realization that our own mind is the same as the Buddha mind. In other words, it is the way of knowing self-nature directly. All existence is aspects of the creative nature of the universe symbolized by Dainichi Nyorai in Japanese. Since the human mind is an aspect of this Ultimate Truth, we have the Buddha-mind within our mind. There is no need to seek enlightenment outside our self. We simply need to look into our own mind to realize enlightenment while we are living. This teaching is called "Sokushin Jobutsu" in Japanese or becoming a Buddha in this very life.

Kobo Daishi

Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, was born in the town of Zentsuji in Kagawa Prefecture in 774. He became a monk when he was 19 and went to China to study esoteric Buddhism when he was 31. He mastered Esoteric teaching from the Chinese master Hui-kuo, the 7th century patriarch of Esoteric Buddhist tradition. When Kobo Daishi returned to Japan, he established Shingon Buddhism and propagated its teaching throughout his lifetime. The Emperor Saga granted him land at Koyasan (Mt. Koya) as a place to establish a monastic center in 816.

Kobo wrote several influential teachings and commentaries such as, "The Secret Key to the Heart Sutra," "The Difference Between Exoteric and Esoteric Buddism," "Attaining Enlightenment in This Very Existence," and "The Ten Stages of the Development of the Mind." Twelve hundred years later, these texts continue to enlighten seekers throughout the world.

Kobo Daishi visited many temples throughout Japan. Many of these temples are now part of a Kobo Daishi pilgrimage which I posted about here previously.


  1. My wife completed the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. The pilgrimage is completed by visiting the main temple outside of Osaka. I have visited some of the temples of Kobo Daishi. As I learn more about Kobo Daishi, I am impressed by his influence.

  2. That is a very impressive accomplishment. I think I will read more about Kobo Daishi.