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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
39 summer 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly My wife and I had driven up to Sacra- mento from our home in the south San Fran- cisco Bay Area in time for the first service of the New Year. Rev. Taisen Miyata—who recently retired as bishop of the North Amer- ican Shingon Mission in Los Angeles—had in- vited us to come and participate. The temple, dark at this early morning hour, began filling up until there were about a hundred people, and the service began. As Rev. Miyata lit the fire on the al tar of the temple, a taiko drum began a steady rhythm, leading all of us in chanting the Heart Sutra: “Kanji zai bosai gyojin, Hannya Haramita ji...” (“The Great Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, while practicing the perfection of wisdom...”) As my own voice joined with the voices of a hundred others in the predawn darkness, the sounds of the Heart Sutra completely replaced my thinking mind. The ritual of making offerings to deities through the medium of a fire characterizes tantra in all of its forms, both Hindu and Buddhist. With its roots in the practices of Vedic India, the history of the fire ritual extends over perhaps as much as five thou- sand years. This was the practice I wanted to pursue. To do so, however, I would have to RichaRd K. Payne finished his training and received ordination as a Shingon priest in 1982. he currently serves as the dean of the institute of Buddhist Studies, which is affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union and with Ryukoku University in Kyoto. he is the author of Tantric Buddhism in East Asia (Wisdom Publications). (Facing page) Ashura (Jpn., Daiitoku Myoo) Kamakura period (1185–1333), Japan travel to Koyasan in Japan, the main center of the Shingon tradition, and complete a full course of training. I would have to become a Shingon priest. The history of the Shingon tradition be- gins in early medieval India, when tantric Buddhism was first taking shape. Two early sets of practices based on two Buddhist tan- tras (texts that describe a particular deity ritual) and two mandalas (symbolic represen- tations of the world of a particular central deity) were transmitted to China in the eighth century and then to Japan at the beginning of the ninth century. Known in India as the “way of the mantras,” the tradition’s name was rendered into Chinese as zhenyan, mean- ing “true word,” a translation of one of the definitions of mantra. The Japanese pronun- ciation then rendered this as shingon. In China, tantric practices came to per- meate Buddhism, and no separate, distinct lineage was formed. In Japan, however, Shingon received imperial recognition as a distinct form of Buddhism, and it developed as an autonomous tradition within the va- riety of different forms of Buddhist prac- tice. Until the seventeenth century, sectarian identity in Japan was not as exclusive as it is today. Throughout the medieval period, many priests engaged in a variety of different practice traditions, much as today someone might train in mindfulness practice under a Theravada master, then spend some time sit- ting zazen, and finally engage in a Tibetan Dzogchen practice—all the while taking From the first time I saw it, I knew what I wanted. The raw emotional power of the Shingon fire ritual was so moving that it has given definition to my practice and study of Shingon ritual since that New Year’s morning in 1982. BonniePayneSanjuSangendoTemPle