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Kukai (774–835)

  • The power of the three mysteries

    After fourteen months of study in China, Kukai brought the foundations of the esoteric teaching of the “True Word school” (Shingon-shu) back home to Japan in 806. One of Kukai's main works is the treatise “On the meaning of attaining Buddhahood in this very bodily existence”.

    The goal of the Shingon adept is to reconcile his “three forms of [bodily] activity” with the “three mysteries”: the mystical-magical primordial sound, the image produced by meditative contemplation, and the imagination of a divinity triggered by a hand gesture. In esoteric Buddhism these form the precondition “for attaining Buddhahood in this very bodily existence”.

    Kukai repeatedly emphasises the enlightening role of visual art. He writes that esoteric teaching is so profound that it cannot be interpreted through language. Only in visual art can the commentaries and mysteries of these teachings be represented. The different bodily postures and hand gestures of Buddha on sacred devotional images demonstrate this. They all have their origin in the love of the Buddha and in them are displayed all the basic truths of the esoteric teachings. With them before us, we can attain Buddhahood: “It is art which reveals to us the stage of absolute perfection”.

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