Healing Rituals in Esoteric Buddhism

The following article on Healing Rituals in Esoteric Buddhism is the introduction to the doctoral thesis of Dr. Mark Hosak. The thesis is published in German language. Click here to order.

Siddhaṃ are the characters from the Indian Brahmi scripts. This is the font of Sanskrit. Single Siddhaṃ in Japan is called seed syllables shuji 種子 or Indian characters bonji 梵字. The transliteration into Japanese of the Sanskrit word Siddhaṃ is shittan 悉曇.
Esoteric Buddhism developed in India in the middle of the 7th century and was soon handed down to China. Its teachings focus on the application of the Siddhaṃ in rituals as magical seed or ban syllables when invoking the salvific forms of the esoteric pantheon. The Indian monks residing in China engaged in propagating the esoteric teachings with translations of sutra.
Between 630 and 894, delegates from Japan were sent to China to study culture. Among them were monks who studied Buddhism in the monasteries and brought scriptures, ritual objects, paintings and sculptures to Japan on their return. In this way and by traveling Chinese and Indian monks to Japan, the Siddhaṃ were handed down.
Since the official introduction of Esoteric Buddhism to Japan, when the monks Kûkai 空 海 (774-835) and Saichô 最澄 (767-822) 805 and 806 returned from their studies in China, the Siddhaṃ teaching became established in rituals and meditations. In the following decades, other monks brought from their travels to China numerous documents about the Siddhaṃ to Japan, which were then extensively studied and copied since the beginning of the 10th century. Starting from the 11th century an influence of the Siddhaṃ on Japanese art beyond the written material becomes apparent.
In the present work, the developmental history of Siddhaṃ in Japanese art will be discussed in rituals of healing. First and foremost, this is Siddhaṃ A , which, in the context of the contemplative meditation of Siddhaṃ A called Ajikan 阿 字 觀, is the basic practice in Esoteric Buddhism for attaining Buddhahood in the body of the present incarnation. If the A is replaced by other siddhaṃ in the contemplative meditation, there are variations of the Ajikan used in meditations and in rituals.
It should be examined whether and to what extent the Siddhaṃ A and other Siddhaṃ occur in the arts and have a function in rituals of healing. The basis for this is the translation of the Japanese text Ajikan by the monk Kakuban 覚 鑁 (1095-1143), in which the contemplative meditation with Siddhaṃ A is extensively discussed in theory and practice. In the text, the topic of healing is in fact addressed, which raises the question of what is meant by healing, since today’s definition of healing may differ from that of the past.Therefore, it can not be determined exactly whether the view of what healing meant at that time can be interpreted by today’s standards. Conventional medicine describes healing the process of, for example, a physical or mental illness or an injury by the disappearance of the symptoms without permanent damage to the restoration of health and the original condition. In the text Ajikan, the healing of physical illnesses is mentioned only marginally as a possibility of application variation of Ajikan meditation. The term healing is used in the text Ajikan as taiji 対 治. It stands for the healing and purification of the illusions in the heart such as tribulation. In the text Ajikan taiji is related to the benefits of healing the three poisons sandoku taiji no kôyô G 毒 対 ノ 功用 of greed, hatred and delusion in one’s own heart. Without repeating the concept of healing taiji, the text is about the cleansing and healing of the heart – not the organic heart, but the heart in the spiritual sense, with the help of the Ajikan practice. Therefore, it could be suspected that it could either be a forerunner of psychotherapy or mental healing. However, this is unlikely because one person treats another person, while in the practice of Ajikan one can only speak of a form of self-treatment in a contemplative meditation.
The text Ajikan describes various approaches of the Ajikan in esoteric buddhism and the meaning and function of Siddhaṃ A before the philosophical background for the healing of the heart. In this respect, neither the type of treatment nor the definition of cure seems to be about medical criteria.The only parallel seems to be that when healing for development, it goes from a distressing state to a non-afflicted state. However, healing in the esoteric Buddhism of the Shingon school describes the steady development of the heart of enlightenment. This, unlike the cure of a diagnosed disease, is a lifelong process of development, assuming that the imperishable (spiritual) heart is primarily healed while the physical body is transient.
Beyond the text of Ajikan, the term ‚healing‘ in esoteric buddhism is used in the descriptions of siddhaṃ on artifacts in exhibition catalogs and in the theoretical literature on meditations and rituals of healing. The healing term taiji 対 治 from the text Ajikan is described and defined in different ways in rituals, depending on their effect.These include in particular the terms of healing and disease prevention sokusai 息 災, the exorcism chôbuku 調伏 and several types of incantations and health kaji 加 持, which in the relevant chapters on healing in Buddhism and on the Siddhaṃ in the Japanese art and about the meditations and rituals of healing with the Siddhaṃ will be discussed, including further translation variants. The interface between religion and medicine, as described in Sūtra Dainichi-kyô, is discussed in the chapter on the historical anthropology of healing in Buddhism.
In addition to the theme of healing, it appears that Kakuban addresses certain groups of people of his time in order to convey a message to them about the connection between Ajikan’s heart of enlightenment and rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida.
One of the basic approaches of Esoteric Buddhism is, among other things, that the embryo for the attainment of Buddhahood is inherent in the heart and merely needs to be awakened. This is an orientation on the here side, which initially contradicts the Amida faith with the focus on the hereafter. Kakuban combines these two approaches through a syncretism of both teachings. Kakuban took over the practice of Nenbutsu 念佛 of Amida Buddhism and the teachings of the Tendai School in the Shingon School. He also campaigned for the revival of the forgotten Shingon rituals shingon gihô 真言 儀 法 of the early Heian period (794-1185).
The simple idea of ​​attaining the heart of enlightenment is often overlooked by complex rituals of esoteric Buddhism. The basic practice for attaining Buddhahood in the body of this incarnation, since Kûkai 空 海 (774-835), has been the contemplative meditation of Siddhaṃ A Ajikan.
The connections described above are intended to explain his motivations for this content, on the one hand, through the analysis and interpretation of the text Ajikan and over Kakuban’s biography.
In this context, and as a transition to the Siddhaṃ in the history of Japanese art in rituals of healing, the history of religio-political background should be illuminated in order to contribute to a better understanding. It is about the history of the Siddhaṃ and their tradition to Japan. From then on, the history of the Siddhaṃ in the Shingon School, in the Tendai School and in Amida Buddhism is explained individually, and then finally to work out the differences and parallels of the schools.
From this understanding follows the chapter on the Siddhaṃ in the history of Japanese art. The genres of art history, in particular architecture, sculpture and painting are examined to what extent the Siddhaṃ play a role in rituals of healing or whether they are bearers of other ritual or decorative functions. It should also be clarified when a ritual can be called a ritual of healing. If there are different types of objects with Siddhaṃ used for rituals of healing, see if they are the same or different Siddhaṃ and if the object type has something to do with the ritual. If the Siddhaṃ repeat, it may be an indication of specific rituals with this very Siddhaṃ. If these only appear on one type, it would be to find out if the type is an indispensable part of the ritual. Thus, in the study of rituals in the genres and types of art, several approaches and questions are used. First of all, the function of the type of a genre is looked at. With which function, at which place and within which frame is the respective type used? In the event that the corresponding use in rituals should be practicable only with Siddhaṃ, this would mean that the function of the type and the Siddhaṃ are relevant to the effect of the ritual. Any other case could mean a variation or a gradation.
From the point of view of art history, it should be considered whether the rituals and types are in context with the religious, historical or political situation of an epoch and what reasons might exist for some ritual and object types to emerge at a certain time.
In the architectural forms, the Siddhaṃ probably most frequently encountered in Japanese art, is the Hriḥ 1 of Amida 阿 弥陀 on pagodas and stelae, which was mostly used for death rituals. In contrast to the attainment of Buddhahood in the present incarnation, the focus of the death rituals is on the hereafter. If other Siddhaṃ appear on the same type of object, there is the possibility for ritual purposes related to this world. This could then mean that the object, as the bearer of the Siddhaṃ, is not necessarily a ritual performer.
In the genre of sculpture, the siddhaṃ are depicted either on the mandorla or in sculptures as gifts or painted on the inner wall. The siddhaṃ on paintings and architectural forms are painted individually, in configurations and in mandalas. All other types are mixed genre such as in sutras, tabernacles and rituals. A special feature is the function of Siddhaṃ depicted on swords. In each genre, there are a number of functions with some similar and partly different rituals. An interconnection of the art-historical types into the division into several phases of development with clarification of their connections concluded in the chapter on Siddhaṃ in the history of art.
The last part of the work deals with meditations, rituals and healing with the Siddhaṃ, which do not necessarily have to be related to art historical genres and types. This is particularly due to the fact that the Siddhaṃ need to be visualized in the context of rituals and not need to be visual. There certainly seems to be some rituals with the A and other Siddhaṃ involving contemplative meditations that go beyond Kakuban’s text Ajikan. It can be seen to what extent the practice of rituals has influenced art and it can be furthered to functions of Siddhaṃ assigned in art.
When working on the topic, it initially appeared that there are relatively few research findings on the Siddhaṃ in Japanese art, because they are usually only incidentally mentioned in exhibition catalogs. Through the study of the text Ajikan, the importance of the individual Siddhaṃ, their function and application in rituals, some results soon became apparent in the research history of the Siddhaṃ.
This work is particularly based on the statements of Kitao, Veere, Zysk, Wayman, Tajima and Kodama on the Siddhaṃ and the monk Kakuban. First and foremost, mention should be made of Kitao, who focuses his research mainly on Siddhaṃ A in Ajikan. His focus is not on the connections of the Siddhaṃ in art, but on meditations of Esoteric Buddhism with analyzes of the texts about the Ajikan from Kakuban.During research in the library of Chizan-ha 智 山 派, a branch of Shingi shingon-shû 新 義 真言 宗 of Kakuban, Kitao had discovered the present text Ajikan, which is not listed in the collected works on Kakuban in Kôgyô daishi zenshû 興 行 大師 全集, Comparisons with copies written in the temples of Jimyô-in 持 明 院 and Kanjuji 勧 修 寺 and kept in the library of the University of Kôya are intended to prove the authenticity of this text.
Veere is one of the first to study Kakuban’s teachings, life, and lyrics in a Western language. His work includes Kakuban’s biography and a discussion of Kakuban’s teachings in his texts Gorin kuji myô himitsu shaku die 輪 明 釈 釈 about the secret explanations of the five elements (Cakras) and nine signs and Amida hishaku 釈 弥陀 釈 about the secret explanations of Amida. In doing so, Veere found that Kakuban’s aim was to explain the syncretism of the Shingon school and Amida Buddhism in practice from the point of view of the Shingon doctrine in the light of the Siddhaṃ. In the above texts, as with the Ajikan, the meaning and function of the Siddhaṃ in rituals is to attain the heart of enlightenment and rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida. Gorin kuji myô himitsu shaku also presents rituals of healing of organs similar in structure to the five-element pagodas gorintô 五 輪 塔.
Zysk thematizes the concept of healing in Buddhism. He pursues several approaches by exploring the historical anthropology of the magical-religious and medical contexts from India to China through sūtras, practices and the mutual influence of Indian and Chinese teachings in medicine and healing.
Wayman and Tajima, in their study of Sūtras Dainichi-kyô, argue that the anonymous author was most likely a Brahmin converted to Buddhism, who propagated the Buddhist form of the fire ritual Goma-hô 護 摩 which, based on the tradition of Buddhism and Siddhaṃ the rituals of healing exercised a lasting influence.
Kodama has collected in his Bonji hikkei 梵字 必 携 several detailed information about the history of Siddhaṃ in Japan, which describe the Siddhaṃ, rituals of healing and art. The study of Siddhaṃ since the introduction of Buddhism into Japan began instead of equating the introduction of Siddhaṃ with the introduction of Esoteric Buddhism by Kûkai and Saichô, as usual. These contents and the resulting possibilities of comparisons to art historical objects with Siddhaṃ are of great importance for the present work.
In addition, in the research history of the Siddhaṃ there are some basic encyclopaedias to the Siddhaṃ, which in each case the history of the Siddhaṃ is included, the documents traditional to Japan and every single Siddhaṃ is illustrated by its meaning and function. Even if the construction is similar, they complement and differ in regards to the content.
Thus, in the Bonji taikan 梵字 大 鑑 there is a focus of the Siddhaṃ on meditations, rituals and their appearance on steles, ritual devices and temple bells. As far as the Ajikan is concerned, variations of it with other siddhaṃ and other functions are presented. In the process, it is discussed when and in which order a Siddhaṃ, the Siddhaṃ representing the form of a remedial figure or a symbol in the form of an object should be visualized in a ritual. This means that this is about extensions of contemplation in meditations for rituals. For rituals with several siddhaṃ instructions are given for the order of the siddhaṃ to be visualized. Consequently, these explanations are useful in clarifying the connection between meditation and ritual in possible representations in the arts. The chapter on rituals explains that the Siddhaṃ go far beyond the function of symbolic letters, being referred to as sacred symbols of the salvific forms of, for example, Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Precisely for this reason, they should be of the highest significance for the rituals of all schools of esoteric Buddhism. There is a distinction between two types of rituals with Siddhaṃ: First, rituals for the deceased, in which for the dissolution of karmic entanglements metsuzai 滅罪 and inviting a happy fate tsuifuku 追 福 is prayed. Second, rituals of wish fulfillment, with which is prayed for the cure of illnesses and keeping away from unfortunate situations kaji kitô 加 持 祈祷. These ritual aspects will be considered in the course of the work from several points of view and analyzed for connections with the Siddhaṃ in Japanese art in rituals of healing.
In the Bonji jiten 梵字 事 典 the Siddhaṃ are explained in particular in their rituals in mantras with individual remedial figures and in configurations. Art historical objects play a role there only insofar as they can be incorporated into the developmental history of the Siddhaṃ in Japan.
In summary, in esoteric buddhism the Siddhaṃ research history suggests that the focus of Siddhaṃ’s history in Japan is on written records and traditions, the writings and teachings of the monk Kakuban, and that more is occasionally spoken about the function of Siddhaṃ in rituals. The historical art objects seem to play a minor role.In the present work, firstly the areas of history, teaching, function and use of Siddhaṃ in Japanese art are to be brought together, and secondly, a possible connection to the rituals of healing in Japanese art is to be examined. The focus will be on the time between the 11th and the 14th century. For the sake of completeness, an overview of the development of Siddhaṃ in the history of Japanese art since the introduction of Buddhism up to the 10th century is given. On the one hand, the tradition of Siddhaṃ to Japan has been completed by then, and on the other hand, from the 11th century, the influence of Siddhaṃ on Japanese art seems to have increased. Since from the end of the 14th century until the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868) there are no groundbreaking developments and in order not to blow up the frame, work is to be completed by the end of the 14th century.
The aim of this work is to find out if the Siddhaṃ were used in rituals of healing until the 14th century and what influence that has on Japanese art. In other words, that means first of all, whether there are any sound resources. The first step was to find a meaningful text about philosophy, meditation, action and healing with the Siddhaṃ.The present translation of the text Ajikan is an example of this. The text is difficult and complex because of its interweaving. In return he offers sufficient information about the development, meaning and function of Siddhaṃ A for healing in contemplative meditation, which, as it turned out, forms the basis for any ritual practice with Siddhaṃ. Thus, the contemplation of Siddhaṃ and rituals are close together.
Through the goal-oriented views of the art-historical material possible connections and references between the text Ajikan in esoteric buddhism and the influence on the art are to be found out. In the chapter on the Siddhaṃ in the history of Japanese art, all genres are presented that have Siddhaṃ. Therefore it is not in the interest of the author just to present the objects for rituals of healing with the Siddhaṃ, but to create an overview of the objects with Siddhaṃ and variations of the rituals. From this it can be seen how important the Siddhaṃ have in rituals in general and in rituals of healing.From this it can be seen how important the Siddhaṃ have in rituals in general and in rituals of healing.
Earlier it was described that the Siddhaṃ Hriḥ in esoteric buddhism is often found on pagodas and stelae for death rituals. This may give the impression that the Siddhaṃ has been used extensively for this purpose. This can be refuted by using resource material from other objects and the fact that pagodas and stelae are more imperishable in nature because of their stone material than other objects that are also often hidden in other objects, such as those in a sculpture zônai nônyûhin像 内 納入 品.
In all five major chapters of the work, the question of whether evidence for the Siddhaṃ in rituals of healing and whether such information can be transferred to Japanese art so that one can possibly guess in which area the next step of the Search is possible. This means that all the topics in the chapters are related and that the content builds upon each other.
An example of this is the question of whether the Siddhaṃ have an influence on the Amida beliefs and, if so, what their influence is. Assuming that the Amida belief in Esoteric Buddhism has evolved through the centuries of continuous simplification of its application, it is understandable that the Siddhaṃ Hriḥ 1 of Amida is carved for pagodas and steles for funeral rituals. However, on paintings of Amida inscriptions with the Siddhaṃ A reminiscent of the Ajikan in their kind, so that an influence of Kakuban’s syncretism in Japanese art is apparent. Such questions and how to relate these events to healing should be explained here.

Further reading on the Siddham.

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