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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
43 summer 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly myself and others from the United States, I know of priests from Taiwan and Germany. The training to become a priest (Skt., acarya; Jpn., ajari) is called the “training in four stages,” referring to the four rituals one learns to perform in the course of the training, which lasts one hundred days. Prior to beginning the train- ing, however, one must receive a lay initiation, which “estab- lishes a karmic connection” between the individual and the deities of the two main mandalas of the Shingon tradition: the Matrix World mandala and the Vajra World mandala. These mandalas provide the organizing symbolism for Shin- gon practices. The Vajra mandala and the Matrix mandala are associated with wisdom and compassion, respectively. The deities repre- sented in the two mandalas are based on the families detailed in the two main texts of the Shingon tradition: the Great Illuminator Sutra (Skt., Vairocanabhisambodhi Sutra; Jpn., Dainichi kyo) and the Vajra Crown Sutra (Skt., Vajrasekhara Sutra; Jpn., Kongo cho gyo). Blindfolded, the initiate is given a flower to throw onto each of these mandalas, an ancient tantric rite that Kukai experienced during his stay in China. In addition, one needs to enter the Buddhist order and re- ceive a dharma name. I was given the name Chien, meaning something like “fully rounded wisdom.” After that, one is ready to take the three sets of vows required of those enter- ing the tantric path. These are the familiar vows of a monk, the vows of a bodhisattva, and the tantric vows. This is done over a three-day period, with the tantric vows first, then the bodhisattva vows, and finally the monastic vows. This is not so much a progressive accumulation of vows as a process of learning to hold each set of vows within the container of the more encompassing vow; monastic vows are held within the context of the bodhisattva vows, and both of these are held within the context of the tantric vows. Having established a karmic connection, received a dharma name, and taken the vows, I was then ready to be given three practices that are preliminary to entering the hundred days of training: breath-counting meditation, medi- tation on the full moon, and meditation on the syllable A. Breath-counting meditation is found throughout the Bud- dhist tradition. Buddhaghosa, perhaps the most revered me- dieval scholastic of the Theravada tradition, includes breath counting as one of the forty kinds of meditations he discusses in his Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga). Most of these forty meditations are prescribed as a correc- tive for a practitioner’s predominant emo- tional issue—greed, hatred, or delusion (the three poisons)—and, just as with medicine, not every kind of meditation is appropri- ate for everyone. Breath counting, however, is one of the few considered safe for any practitioner to employ. The specific form I was taught on Koyasan was just like what I’d experienced in the introduction to Zen meditation: seated on a cushion, you cross your legs, fold your hands in your lap, sit up straight but relaxed, close your eyes half- way, and begin counting each breath. And, just as in the introduction to Zen practice, you all too quickly discover that your atten- tion has wandered off and gently come back to counting the breath. For the full-moon meditation, the practi- tioner sits before a hanging scroll displaying a simple white moon disc resting on a lotus blossom. By alternately gazing on the moon disc and then closing your eyes, you gradu- ally learn to form a mental image of the vi- sual one. With practice, the mental image becomes increasingly stabilized and indepen- dent of the visual image. This is very similar to the meditation devices also described by Buddhaghosa—circular images of uniform color and substance that one gazes upon, forming a mental image. The forty medita- tion objects presented by Buddhaghosa in- clude ten such devices: earth, water, air, fire, blue, yellow, red, white, enclosed space, and bright light. The meditation on the syllable A employs a similar white moon, but this time it has the syllable A written in the Siddham script of Sanskrit, an ancient script predating the contemporary Devanagari script. The prac- titioner visualizes this expanding to fill the universe, and then contracting back to the image in front. The syllable A has a complex of symbolic significances in Sanskrit. As the SanjuSangendoTemPle