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Unformatted text preview: e most important is that of speech, which calls for the recitation of spells or “true words” (mantras in Sanskrit; shingon in Japanese).
The use of words as spells has fascinated man throughout his existence,
and the mantras of esoteric Buddhism derive from an ancient tradition.
Probably the most famous mantra is the Tibetan phrase Om mani padme
hum (“The jewel is in the lotus!”), but there are a great many others also
employed in the religious supplications of esotericism.
The mysteries of the body are based primarily on the hand poses
known as mudras. We have seen the use of mudras for iconographic purposes in sculpture and in pictorial representations of buddhas and bodhisattvas. In Shingon ritual, on the other hand, mudras are struck by the
believer as he addresses himself to these superior beings.
A device used in Shingon as an aid to meditation is the mandala, or
cosmic diagram (fig. 21). Mandalas may simply be sketched on the
ground and expunged after the completion of a rite; or they may be permanently produced as carvings and paintings. In Japan the most common
type of mandala is the hanging scroll, although there are also a number
of mandalas carved in relief and painted on temple walls. These diagrams, which usually depict Dainichi surrounded by the myriad lesser
figures of the Shingon pantheon, are often superior works of art. And indeed in the Heian period the exceptional visual attraction of the mandalas and other Shingon icons greatly helped to endear esotericism to the
Kyoto courtiers, who were finely sensitive to beauty in all its forms.
It was by no means simply the visual delights of Shingon that made it
so popular at the Heian court. Despite efforts during the Taika or Great
Reform era to create a Confucian-type meritocracy under the throne,
Japan’s ruling class had remained preponderantly aristocratic: that is,
birth almost invariably took precedence over ability or achievement. In
the Nara period there was some opportunity for men of modest backgrounds to advance by entering the Buddhist priesthood or by specializing in Chine...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13