Showing posts with label Shingon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shingon. Show all posts

10 September 2007

Kukai Bibliography

If you are interested in Kukai (空 海) and only know English then your choice of reading material can seem quite limited, especially if you only look at what is in print right now. There are of course a number of websites but these largely parrot what is found in Hakeda and Yamasaki. I wrote the current Wikipedia article on Kukai a couple of years back using pretty much those same sources, with additional notes from Abe. (Note there are moves afoot to abridge my text, so it may already look different).

So where to go to get more depth on The Daishi when there are all too few Shingon teachers outside of Japan? This is my working bibliography of English language sources on Kukai, with some annotations. All of this stuff is available through interlibrary-loan in the UK, and probably Europe and the US; and some of it is available on the web. If you don't know about interlibrary-loan ask your local library to explain it.

Abé, Ryūichi.
  • 'Scholasticism, exegesis and ritual practice : on renovation in the history of Buddhist writing in the early Heian Period. in Adolphson, M, et a. (eds) Heian Japan : centers and peripheries. Honolulu : University of Hawai'i Press, 2007
  • The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York : Columbia University Press, 1999.[Something of a mixed blessing this book. Unrivalled for detail in places, and with very helpful part translations of some of the major works and many minor works. An excellent companion to Hakeda's Major Works but not a place to start. However it is frequently drowned in the jargon of semiotics and thereby made obscure. I also have a sneaking suspicion that Abe has misunderstood the Buddhist attitude to vijnana in making it a source of meaning rather than a source of delusion, or confusion. Not for the faint hearted.]
  • Saichō and Kūkai : a conflict of interpretation. Japanese journal of religious studies. 1995 22(1-2) p.103-137.[A revisionist look at the relationship between these two pivotal figures in Japanese history suggesting that personal feelings had less to do with their split than political aspirations]

Arai, Yūsei [Abbot]. Shingon Esoteric Buddhism : a handbook for followers. (Kōyasan, Japan : Kōyasan Shingon Mission, 1997).[A good glimpse into modern day lay Shingon. Note that Shingon nowadays incorporates a strong Pure Land theme, and the focus for lay people is not "Awakening in this very existence", Kukai's catch cry, but praying to Odaishisama for rebirth in Sukhavati. The process of this change is brought out in Statler and others.]

Benn, C. China’s golden age : everyday life in the Tang dynasty. Oxford University Press, 2002.[Benn offers us a detailed glimpse of the Changan that Kukai would have visited - fantastically wealthy, ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan, and more densely populated that Manhattan Island!]

Borgen, R. The Japanese Mission to China 801-806. Monumenta Nipponica, Vol 37(1), 1982, p.1-28.[The full story of Kukai's journey to China with many details not included in other accounts, part translations of the Ambassador's report to the Emperor, and Kukai's letter to the Governor of Fukien. Borgen's account of the journey is essential reading for this very important aspect of Kukai's biography.]

Deal, W. E. 'Hagiography and history : the image of Prince Shōtoku' in Tanabe, G.J. (ed.) Religions of Japan in practice. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press : 1999. [In terms of background to Kukai it is important to understand Prince Shōtoku and his legacy.]

de Bary Theodore Wm. [Ed]. Sources of Japanese Tradition. [vol 1.]. New York : Columbia University Press, 1958, 1964.[Valuable history and part translations of some of Kukai's better known works.]

Gardiner, D. L.
  • 'Japan's first Shingon ceremony' in Tanabe, G.J. (ed.) Religions of Japan in practice. (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press : 1999)
  • Transmission problems : the reproduction of scripture and Kūkai’s “opening” of an esoteric tradition. Japanese Religions, 28(1) 2003, p.5-68.
  • Metaphor and Mandala in Shingon Buddhist Theology. Sophia: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysical Theology and Ethics, 47/1: 43-55, April 2008.
  • Transcendence and Immanence in Kûkai's Thought. Esoteric Buddhist Studies: Identity in Diversity, Proceedings of the International Conference on Esoteric Buddhist Studies. Koyasan University, Japan, Septermber, 2006), March 2008, Koyasan University
see also Gardiner's publications page at Colorado College website.

Gibson, M and Murakami, H. Tantric poetry of Kukai (Kobodaishi) : Japan's Buddhist saint. New York, White Pine Press : 1987.[Not as interesting or useful as I had hoped. The work of two enthusiastic scholars of literature with a relatively shallow understanding of Kukai and Shingon. However there is so little of Kukai's poetry available in English that it is worth having. See also Green. Hakeda translates a fair amount of poetry in Major Works as well.]

Giebel, R. W. (trans.) Shingon texts. [BDK English Tripitaka 98 I-VII]. Berkeley, Ca. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2004.[Giebel's translations appear to stick close to the text, but this does not make for good readable English. It leads him for instance to employ neologisms such as 'inexponibility', 'differentiatingly', and 'intercorrespondent' in order to find a single English word for each one in Chinese. Some seem gratuitous such as esoteric sutras being 'veridical' rather than truthful. Key technical terms are sometimes translated with no footnotes, so that the translations are unreadable unless you either know already what the text says, or are deeply versed in Buddhist jargon and can guess the underlying term. What, for instance, are the discourses of the Dharma-Buddha? Another example is the terms used in the more sophisticated esoteric version of the 'Trikaya doctrine'. Frustratingly text names are translated into idiosyncratic English with only a reference to the Taisho edition of the Chinese Canon. Thus the well known Dasabhumika Sutra, becomes the Treatise on the [Ten] Stages (T26.133c-134a). It is not at all clear who the intended audience is. This makes Giebel valuable only as a check on other more felicitous translations. Read Hakeda instead, and then Abe. The one good point is that he translates all of the quotes in the Benkenmitsu nikyō ron : The difference Between Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism, which Hakeda does not]

Grapard, Allan G. 'Precepts for an emperor' in White, David Gordon. Tantra in practice. University of Princeton Press, 2000, p.147-164.A translation of the text Kukai wrote for the abhisheka ceremony of Heizei, the sometime rebellious former emperor turned bhikshu. Useful as comparison with Abe's commentary on this text as it relates to the Benkenmitsu nikyō ron.]

Green, Ronny. The Mysterious Mirror of Writing: Kūkai’s Poetry and Literary Theory. Unpublished manuscript. Available:[Probably the only critical work on Kukai's poetry in English. See also on Ronny's website excerpts from unpublished book length biographies of Kūkai and Gyoki ]

Hakeda, Y.S.
  • Kūkai : major works : translated and with an account of his life and a study of his thought. (New York : Columbia University Press, 1972).[The one book that no one interested in Kukai can do without. Continues to stay in print fortunately. Probably the best biography to date, and of course Hakeda's excellent translations of Kukai's writing. This is the bible as far as I'm concerned. That said you may need to do some background reading (Such as Snodgrass for instance, and Yamasaki) and interpretation to understand Kukai. In his translation Hakeda does not get in the way as is the case for Giebel and Abe. ]
  • The religious novel of Kūkai. Monumenta Nipponica, Vol 20(3/4), 1965, p.283-297.[Discusses the Sango Shiiki as a literary text, ie a novel. Many of the insights in this paper are incorporated into Major Works]
  • (trans.) Awakening of Faith. (New York : Columbia University Press, 199?).[This is a text which was very influential on Kukai's thinking - for instance you can see the influence in the structure of the Sokushin jōbutsu gi : Attaining Enlightenment in this Very Existence]

Hare, Thomas Blenman. Reading writing and cooking : Kūkai’s interpretive strategies. The Journal of Asian Studies. 49(2) May 1990, p.253-273.[Problems of language and meaning; includes the best description of the Kokūzō gumonji no hō practice which Kūkai undertook when he left university.]

Haresaku, Masahide. Encounter with an empathic, personal god : a seminar on Shingon Mikkyō. [Trans. Paul L. Swanson]. Bulletin (Nanzan Institute for Religion & Culture). No.5, 1987, p.2635.

Henshall, K.G. A history of Japan : from stone age to superpower. (2nd ed.) (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

Hinonishi Shinjō. "The Hōgō (Treasure Name) of Kōbō Daishi and the development of beliefs of associated with it," Japanese Religions. 2002, v. 27 (1), pg 5-18. (Translated by William Londo)[Fascinating little article which traces the history of the Kūkai Mantra: namu daishi henjō kongō.]

Hisao Inagaki. Kūkai's "Principle of Attaining Buddhahood with the Present Body," in Payne, R.k. (ed) Tantric Buddhism in East Asia. Boston, Wisdom : 2006. p.99-118. [Another translation of the classic Sokushin jōbutsu gi]

Hodge, S. (trans.) The mahā-vairocana-abhisambodhi tantra : with Buddhaguhya’s commentary. (London : Routledge Curzon, 2003).
[By far the best English translation of this most important Shingon text. Hodge works from the Tibetan translation which has minor differences, mostly structural, to the Chinese, but includes the seminal commentary and summary by Buddhaguhya. The introduction contains much useful information and I found myself wishing that Hodge had allowed more space for it. It lacks an index which would have been useful. ]

Hori, Ichiro. On the concept of hiriji (holy-man). Numen. 5 (2) 1958, p.128-160.
[Kukai is of course famous as a mountain ascetic (yamabushi) and this paper delves into the Japanese tradition of seeking out lonely peaks for meditation, and discusses Kukai's predecessors as well as both Saicho and Kukai as yamabushi.]

Kasulis, T.P. Reference and Symbol in Plato's Cratylus and Kukai's Shojijissogi. Philosophy East and West, 32 (4), Oct., 1982, p.393-405. Available online:[The problem of how words function as symbols/signs is at the forefront of contemporary philosophy, and this paper compares theories from ancient Greece and medieval Japan.]

Keenan, L. K. En the Ascetic in Tanabe, G.J. (ed.) Religions of Japan in practice. (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press : 1999).[More on of Kukai's main yamabushi predecessors - see also Hori]

Kimbrough, R. Keller. Reading the miraculous power of Japanese poetry : spells, truth acts, and a medieval Buddhist poetics of the supernatural. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 32 (1) 2005, p.1-33.

Kitagawa, J. M. Kūkai as master and saviour in Reynolds, F.E. and Capps, D. (eds) The biographical process : studies in the history and psychology of religion. (Mouton : The Hague, 1976).

Kiyota, Minoru. Shingon Buddhism : theory and practice. (Los Angeles : Buddhist Books international, 1978)

Matsuda, Willaim J. 2003. The founder reinterpreted: Kūkai and Vraisemblant narrative. 
MA Thesis. University of Hawaii.

Orzech, Charles. The legend of the iron stupa in Lopez, Donald S. [ed.] Buddhism in practice. Princeton University Press. 1995.

Rambelli, F.
[Rambelli writes from a hard-core semiotics point of view, which is to say he is concerned with the relationship of 'signs' to the 'things'. Ironically semiotics jargon is frequently and bizarrely obscure and difficult for the lay person. Rambelli is also fond of neologisms: Kukai is 'polyhedrical'; and two words are "synonymical variants" of each other rather than simply synonyms. Not for the faint hearted, and I recommend boning up on semiotics for a few months in advance.]
  • - The semiotic articulation of Hosshin Seppō : an interpretive study of the concepts of mon and monji in Kūkai’s mikkyō in Astley, I. (ed) Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. (Copenhagen : The Seminar for Buddhist Studies, 1994). p.17-36.
  • - True words, silence, and the adamantine dance : on Japanese mikkyō and the formation of the Shingon Discourse. Japanese journal of religious studies. 1994 21(4) p.373-405.[I'm not convinced that Rambelli's approach in this paper - to the extent that I understand it of course - is workable. Is the contemporary semiotic model capable of comprehending the way Kukai understood "meaning"? I think of Foucault's ideas in the Order of Things on how epistemology changed amongst the intellectuals of renaissance Europe away from resemblance as a source of knowledge, toward difference. Both Rambelli, and I think Abe, seem to place too much emphasis on difference in interpreting Kukai: his world view was one in which resemblance was the key to knowledge. Rambelli seems to overlook to implications of all dharmas being marked by shunyata for instance!]

Reader, I. Legends, miracles, and faith in Kōbō Daishi and the Shikoku Pilgramage in Tanabe, G.J. (ed.) Religions of Japan in practice. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press : 1999[Summary of some of the legendary material which constellates around Kukai]

Rouzer, Paul. “Early Buddhist Kanshi : court, country, and Kūkai”. Monumenta Nipponica. 2004, 59(4) : 431-61.

Shiba, Ryotaro.
Kūkai the universal : scenes from his life. New York, ICG Muse Inc. 2003.[Appalling novel based very loosely on the life of Kukai in which Kukai becomes a carousing and boozing wideboy freely indulges in pleasures of the flesh! The translation doesn't help with several infelicitous coinings such as baptism for abhisheka. Although Shiba is a celebrated author of historical novels in Japan, this is more novel than historical. Don't bother.]

Snodgrass, A. The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon Buddhism. India, Aditya Prakashan : 1997.[Important book. A very good introduction to Shingon doctrine, and a very detailed survey of the two mandalas. One idiosyncrasy is that uses dhāraṇī as the general term rather than mantra. This is in line with some of Kukai's thinking, but not a general practice. In print in India]

Statler, O. Japanese pilgrimage. London : Picador, 1984.[One of the best sources of legendary material about Kukai - an aspect of him that is badly neglected by English speaking academics. Out of print, but 2nd hand copies do pop up from time to time.]

Takasaki Jikidō. “Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai) and Tathāgatagarbha Thought”. Acta Asiatica. 1985. 47 : 109-129

Tanabe, G.J.
  • 'The founding of Mount Kōya and Kūkai's eternal meditation' in Tanabe, G.J. (ed.) Religions of Japan in practice. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press : 1999
  • Kōbō Daishi and the art of esoteric Buddhism. Monumenta Nipponica. 1983, 38 (4), p.409-12.

Toby, Ronald, P. “Why Leave Nara? Kammu and the transfer of the Capital. Monumenta Nipponica. 1985. 40(3) : 331-347.

Tōno, Haruyuki.
Japanese Embassies to T'ang Cina and their ships. Acta Asiatica. 1995 69: p39-62

Totman, C.
A history of Japan. (Blackwell, 2005).

Wayman, A and Tajima, R. The enlightenment of Vairocana. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.[I don't get Wayman, don't follow his arguments, don't see why he highlights the things he does. I haven't found his contribution very helpful. Tajima is more accessible but wildly and uncritically sectarian. Overall you could probably give this a miss. Hodge's introduction and translation is far more comprehensible]

Yamasaki, T. Shingon : Japanese esoteric Buddhism. Fresno, C.A. : Shingon Buddhist International Institute, 1988.[A very good introduction to Kukai and Shingon. Slightly frustrating in that Japanese terminology is used throughout with no links to Sanskrit, which makes it difficult to link it with the wider Buddhist tradition. Expensive on Amazon etc, but still in print and available at a reasonable price from the publisher - they may be slow to respond however.]

Yamamoto, Chikyo. Mahāvairocana-Sūtra : translated into english from Ta-p’I-lu-che-na ch’eng-fo shen-pien chia-ch’ih ching, the Chinese version of Subhākarasimha and I-hsing AD 725. New Delhi : International Academy of Indian Culture, 1990.[A disappointing translation from the Chinese version. The English text is often impenetrable at times when Hodge is perfectly clear. A potential high point is the inclusion of the Siddham script calligraphy of all mantras, by a respected calligrapher. However the calligraphy appears to be quite poor, is not well reproduced, and is frequently not in accordance with the roman transliteration (I didn't have enough patience to work out which was incorrect). If you are not sentimental about the Chinese vs Tibet version issue, and want a single translation of this important text, then go for Hodge.]
(Updated 17-7-2009)

29 January 2006

Kukai : Buddhist hero of Japan

Image of KukaiIn this post I want to draw attention to and celebrate a Buddhist hero. Kukai is a figure so multi-sided, so multifaceted, that summing him up in a short essay is almost impossible. He is known by three main names, Kukai, Kobodaishi, and Odaishisama (or just Daishisama), and I will try to say a little something about each.

Kukai was the Buddhist monk who brought the Vajrayana teachings to Japan in 804. Not only was a dedicated and deeply realised spiritual practitioner, he was a gifted poet and calligrapher, a competent civil engineer, and a consummate political operator. At a time when heterodox people of any kind could sink without trace, he managed to radically alter not only the face of Japanese Buddhism, but the whole Japanese culture. His Shingon Buddhism was to dominate Japanese society for several centuries, and it is said that with Shingon came the Siddham script which in turn helped to give birth to the Japanese Kana. This in turn enabled an indigenous, vernacular literature to develop, since before this writing was all in Chinese and education in Chinese was denied to women and non-aristocrats. Shingon reinvigorated Japanese Buddhism which had become rather scholastic. Kukai's insistence that Awakening was possible in this very life was apparently novel, and was at first questioned. Without this basic premise however, Buddhist practice is just going through the motions.

Kobodaishi is the title bestowed on Kukai posthumously by the emperor. The title means 'Great Teacher who Spreads the Dharma'. Where Kukai is very much a man in history, Kobodaishi is something more. He is superhuman, and supra-historical. As happens with religious figures in any tradition, the stories about the many grew after his death. Feats and texts where attributed to him that he did not perform or write. This is not necessarily a falsification because myth has to have a vehicle and Kobodaishi happens to be an excellent vehicle for the Japanese mythic imagination. Kobodaishi then is an archetypal figure. He did not really die in 837, but retired to meditate until the advent of Maitreya the next Buddha. This resurrection myth is quite universal in character, Kukai, King Author, Christ, and probably Elvis Presley, will all be appearing again before long. The myth of renewal goes very deep in the human psyche. Shingon practitioners tend to refer to Kukai as Kobodaishi, indicating that 1200 years after his death it is probably the myth rather than the man that informs their practice. Ordinary humans can only inspire us so much. What really moves us are archetypal figures who seem to embody the deepest forces in the world and our psyches.

Odaishi-sama is an almost completely different character. He is one step further removed from Kukai the historical man. In a way we can see the process of myth making quite clearly in this change from Kukai, to Kobodaishi, to Daishi-sama. Daishi-sama is not associated with Kukai's signature form of Buddhism, Shingon, at all. He is the invention of 10th and 11th century wandering shaman-priests who had adopted large dollops of Pure Land Buddhism into their patter. They travelled the countryside practising medicine, soothsaying, and carrying out important rituals. Daishi-sama became a kind of saint to them, and like the Buddha Amitabha, it was said that if you chant his name then you will be reborn in the Western Paradise, Sukhavati, the Happy Land. There is little remaining of the historical character, but he is none the less an important folk figure. Many a person is devoted to the cult of Daishi-sama, chants his name and fervently believes in his saving grace. And why not?

Kukai is the pivot point of a great mythic cycle. From outside space and time Mahavairocana manifested beings to whom he could communicate. He gave Vajrasattva his initiation and asked him to pass it on to other beings. Vajrasattva, an entirely mythic being, then gave the initiation to Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna stands athwart the mythic and human realms. It is thought that he actually lived, and that there were likely to have been two people with that name separated by several hundred years. Or it is believed that he was a wizard who lived for 700 years. His biography is almost entirely made up of mythic elements. Nagarjuna initiated Nagabodhi, another semi-legendary figure, who gave the initiation to Vajrabodhi. Vajrabohi and the succeeding patriarchs of the Shingon lineage are genuine historical personages with relatively straight forward biographies. Skipping a couple of steps we find that Hui-kuo gave the initiation to Kukai making him the 8th Patriarch of the lineage. Then Kukai, after his death, undergoes a series of transitions to become Odaishisama, that is which lead him back into the mythic realm.

Kukai is a key figure in the history of Buddhism. His writings are lucid and fresh even after 1200 years. That many are available in good English translations is a cause for celebration. He is less well studied than he might be because Shingon has not done much proselytising outside of Japan. If you are interested in Japanese Buddhism, in mantra or vajrayana, then Kukai’s works are invaluable. Hakeda's Major works is a reliable translation, but there are also some in the BDK English Tripitaka published by the Numata Centre. Ryuichi Abe's The Weaving of Mantra is a difficult read at times due to the semiotics jargon that he uses, and I don’t entirely agree with his thesis, but it is invaluable as a more indepth study of Kukai. Taiko Yamasaki's Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism is a good introductory and can be published from Shingon Buddhist International. Engaging with Shingon practice is more difficult because teachers are hard to find in the West. However we can be inspired by Kukai's life, and his written works can help us to understand the Dharma more deeply.

For more info on Kukai see the Wikipedia article, which I can recommend because I wrote most of it (well originally it's all been altered now of course!).