1. Who was Kukai? How did he meet his master? What are the unique characteristic of the Shingon School?
Kukai was a Buddhist leader from the Heian period. He came from one of Japan’s great aristocratic families. When he was young, his Confucian uncle took him to the capital for further education. He later entered into a Confucian college through the aid of his uncle. When his family’s political fortunes had waned, his relatives expected him to restore their position, but Kukai quickly left college and became a wandering mendicant in the forests.
Kukai met his master Huiguo after having been selected for an official diplomatic mission to China. His ship ran into severe weather and drifted far to the south. He wandered further inland to the capital of Changan, where he studied Sanskrit and Esoteric Buddhism with Indian and Chinese masters at the Ximing Temple for two and a half years. He focused on studying Sanskrit with an Indian teacher, Huiguo.
The Shingon School has a few unique characteristics. One being that Esoteric Buddhism is primarily associated with the school. As the eighth – and first Japanese – patriarch, Kukai attempted to get the Heian aristocrats to receive Shingon Buddhism. Kukai asserted that Shingon Buddhism preached that Buddha had form and therefore could be expressed in words and objects, which was aesthetically accessible due to the society valuing literature and art highly.
The special relationship between Kukai and Mahavairocana is symbolic of the central Shingon teaching of the Three Mysteries of the body, mouth, and mind. Through the use of mudras, prescribed gestures formed with the hands, one could communicate with Buddha and be identified with the central figure. With their mouth, mantras can be recited and verbal communication and identity can be established. The mind allows one to meditate and visualize the world the Buddha’s live in. 2. Based on chapter 8, discuss some aspects of the relationship between Buddhism and politics?
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