Shingon (眞言; 真言?) is an esoteric Japanese Buddhist school, founded in the ninth century by the monk Kūkai (空海), who was given the posthumous title of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), the great disseminator of the Law.

The word Shingon means "word of truth"; it is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word mantra, which refers to incantation in India. This school is, with the Tendai school, one of the two schools practicing Tantric Buddhism in Japan.

Its ideal is summarized in the phrase "Nyojitsu Chijishin", which means "Truth is knowing one's own mind as it really is".

With about 12 million followers, it is one of the major currents of Japanese Buddhism and one of the oldest lineages of Tantric Buddhism, the Vajrayana.


Introduction to Japan

The doctrine and teachings of Shingon Buddhism found their definitive expression during the Heian period (794-1185) when, in 804, the Buddhist monk Kūkai went to China, to the city of Xi'an (西安) (then called Chang-an), to the Qinglong Temple (青龙寺, Blue Dragon Temple) to study esoteric Buddhism under Master Huiguo, the favorite student of the legendary Amoghavajra.

Upon his death, the legendary Amoghavajra made him his successor in the Dharma and the holder of the lineage that would later flourish in Japan. The Japanese commonly refer to Kukai by his honorary name Kōbō Daishi (or O Daishi Sama; The Great Master), posthumous names that will be given to him by Emperor Daigo.

Before going to China, Kūkai was an independent Buddhist monk. He was well versed in classical Chinese prose, Chinese calligraphy and Buddhist sutras. At that time esoteric Buddhism was not considered a separate school. Huiguo, the holder of the two main lineages of Chinese Tantric Buddhism, was the first to bring them together in a coherent system.

A Japanese monk named Gonsō (勤操) had brought the esoteric Akasagarbha mantra and an asceticism ritual known as Kokūzō-gumonjihō (虚空蔵求聞持法) back from China to Japan, which had been translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Śubhakarasiṃha (善無畏三蔵 Zenmui-Sanzō).

At the age of 22 Kūkai received the initiation and withdrew for a period of 7 years to the forests of Shikoku (四 国) to perfect the practice. He persevered in this asceticism until he mastered it perfectly.

According to tradition, this practice brought him the siddhi (power) of superhuman memory and understanding. Kūkai would later praise the power and effectiveness of this practice, attributing to it his ability to recall and fully integrate all of Huiguo's teachings in the space of only three months.

His respect for the Bodhisattva Ākaśagarbha was so great that he would regard him as his Honzon (本尊) or chief deity throughout his life. It was also during this period of intense mantra practice that he dreamed of a man intimating that he should seek the Mahavairocana Tantra.

The Mahavairocana Tantra had recently been introduced in Japan. He was able to obtain a copy in Chinese, but much of it was written in Siddham, a Sanskrit-like syllabary whose characters he did not know, and the Chinese parts were too obscure to understand. He made the decision to travel to China to receive the initiation and explanations necessary to understand it.

Kūkai met Huiguo in May 805, but Huiguo, then sixty years old, was very ill. Huiguo is said to have said to Kūkai, "I knew you would come. I had waited so long. What a pleasure to see you! But alas my life is ending and I don't know if I will have time to pass on my teaching to you."

In the short space of three months, Huiguo initiated and taught all he knew about the doctrines and practices of the mandala of the two kingdoms.

Huiguo appointed Kūkai as his final disciple and proclaimed him his successor in the Dharma, giving him the name Henjō-Kongō (遍照金剛, Jingang biànzhào), "the vajra that illuminates everything." After this period of intensive transmission, the Master died at the end of the year. Kūkai was his last disciple and one of those who had received the most complete teachings. It was probably for this reason that he was appointed to write his epitaph.

In December of the same year, Huiguo died and was buried next to his master Amoghavajra. More than a thousand of his disciples gathered for his funeral. The honor of writing his funeral inscription on their behalf was given to Kukai. After Huiguo's death, Kukai returned to Japan.

If he had not done so, esoteric Buddhism might not have survived. In China 35 years later, in the year 840, the Tang emperor Wuzong ascended the throne. A fervent Taoist, in 845 he ordered the destruction of 4,600 Buddhist monasteries and 40,000 temples.

About 250,000 Buddhist monks and nuns had to abandon their monastic life. Wuzong decreed that Buddhism was an alien religion and aimed at its suppression. Soon after, he was assassinated by his entourage, but the damage was done.

Esoteric Buddhism never fully recovered from this persecution, but many elements of its practices were diluted into other schools and traditions.

After his return, Kūkai gathered and systematized all that he had learned from Huiguo into a doctrine that was to become the basis of the Shingon school. In 813, Emperor Saga invited the great masters of the eight schools to his palace for a public discussion of the respective merits of their doctrines.

All of them, except Kūkai, said that the Buddha state required many, many lives to be realized. Kūkai gave the bulk of his teaching on this occasion. At the age of thirty-six, he received permission from the emperor, to found the Shingon school.

It is said to be Emperor Junna, who originated the term "Shingon-shu" (真言宗; "the school of true speech or school of mantra") by the imperial decree that instituted the Tōji (東寺) as a purely Shingon temple in which the official rites for the protection of the state would be held.

Kukai had many disciples, whom he guided until his death in 835 at the age of 61. He also initiated the monk Saichō Dengyō Daishi and some of his disciples into the anointing and consecration ceremony called "Kanjō."

After Saichō's death, his direct disciples returned to China to deepen the Mikkyō, and thus gave its final form to the Tendai school, which currently represents semi-esoteric Buddhism in Japan.


During the Kamakura period, a schism divided Shingon into two major schools - the ancient branch, Kogi (古義), and the reformed branch, Shingi (新義).

This division arose from a dispute that was more political than religious between Kakuban (覚鑁), posthumously known as Kōgyō-Daishi (興教大師), and priests of the Denbō-in (伝法院) who were opposed to the leadership of Kongōbu-ji (金剛峰寺), the main temple on Mount Kōya.

After several conflicts, Kakuban and his faction of priests left Mount Kōya for Negoro Mountain (根来山) in the northwest, where they built a new temple complex, now known as Negoroji.

The eight great patriarchs

Shingon Buddhism starts the lineage at Mahavairocana Buddha, the first human to receive it being Vajrasattva "the diamond being" The tradition recognizes two groups of eight great patriarchs - one group of lineage holders and one group of great exegetes of the doctrine.

The lineage of the eight great patriarchs (Fuhō-Hasso 付法八祖)

Bouddha Mahāvairocana (Dainichi-Nyorai 大日如来)
Vajrasattva (Kongō-Satta 金剛薩埵)
Nāgārjuna (Ryūju-Bosatsu 龍樹菩薩) - reçut la transmission du Mahavairocana Tantra de Vajrasattva à l'intérieur du stupa de fer dans le sud de l'inde.
Nāgabodhi (Ryūchi-Bosatsu 龍智菩薩)

Vajrabodhi (Kongōchi-Sanzō 金剛智三蔵) (671-741)
Amoghavajra (Fukūkongō-Sanzō 不空金剛三蔵) (705-774)
Huiguo (Keika-Ajari 恵果阿闍梨) (746-805)
Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師) (774-835)
Les huit grands exégètes de la doctrine (Denji-Hasso 伝持八祖).

Nāgārjuna (Ryūju-Bosatsu 龍樹菩薩)
Nāgabodhi (Ryūchi-Bosatsu 龍智菩薩)
Vajrabodhi (Kongōchi-Sanzō 金剛智三蔵) (671-741)
Amoghavajra (Fukūkongō-Sanzō 不空金剛三蔵) (705-774)

Śubhakarasiṃha (Zenmui-Sanzō 善無畏三蔵) (637-735)
Yi Xing (Ichigyō-Zenji 一行禅師) (683-727)
Huiguo (Keika-Ajari 恵果阿闍梨) (746-805)
Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師) (774-835)


The teaching of Shingon refers mainly to two sacred texts, the Kongōchō-kyō (Sanskrit: Vajraśekhara Sūtra) and the Dainichi-kyō (Sanskrit: Mahā-Vairocana Sūtra), written around the first century in the monastery of Nalanda in northern India. This Buddhist school of the yoga of the three mysteries, the "traïguya-yoga", explains that it is possible to become Buddha in this life.

These teachings affirm that the original nature of the human mind is pure, it is the heart of compassion, the "bodhi", whose essence is identical to that of the Universe. What differentiates the different schools of Shingon is precisely the means of apprehending this ultimate reality.

Generally speaking: if we suffer, it is because we are attached to what is impermanent in this world of form and desire, which each of us conceives according to what we are internally. The passions, grouped under the term triple poison (concupiscence, anger and blindness) correspond to vital forces necessary for the survival and development of any animal organism.

Desire and aversion structure the self and force it to perfect itself in order to better achieve its material ends. These "alchemical means" for using these "poisons" into energies of spiritual realization are explained in the sixteen chapters of the Adhyardhaśatikā Prajñaparamita Sutra (Rishu-kyo 理趣経), the basic texts of the mikkyō Shingon tradition.

If, from a relative point of view, it remains true that passions are a source of misguidance and suffering, in the vajrayāna, passions are considered in absolute truth of the same nature as awakening (soku bodaishin); for the same vital force that animates beings towards worldly desires will be transformed, sublimated by internal alchemy into spiritual energy of compassion-wisdom, whose essence is the ultimate nature of the universe and all beings.

The one who realizes that the bottom of his heart, "bodhi," is the same as that of all beings, becomes one with the whole, dissolving his self into the universe as a drop of water dissolves into the ocean.


In Japanese esoteric Buddhism, Mahāvairocana (jp. Dainichi Nyorai 大日如来) the primordial Buddha from whom all phenomena emanate, he is the universe itself. In esoteric Buddhism, all the Buddhas and forms within the mandalas, as well as all living beings (including humans) are therefore emanations of this primordial Buddha Mahāvairocana.

The mandalas of the Two Realms

The mandala of the diamond plane

The Diamond Plane (sk. Vajradhatu, jp. Kongōkai 金剛界) represents the supreme wisdom of the Dainichi Buddha, the diamond being a metaphor for it because like that wisdom it is unalterable.

This mandala consists of nine concurrent sections called "assemblies," each with Dainichi Buddha at its center, with the exception of the Assembly of the Guiding Principle where Vajrasattva is placed at its center (jp. Kongōsatta 金剛薩埵).

In shingon monasteries it is placed to the west of the altar, and on the mandala itself north is depicted on the right, east on the bottom and so on.

In most sections except the three placed at the top, the same pattern is repeated: in the center, a circle with Dainichi nyorai doing the wisdom mudra, surrounded by four circles in which are to the west (top) Amitābha (jp. Amida 阿弥陀), to the north (right) Amoghasiddhi (jp. Fukūjōju 不空成就), to the east (bottom) Akṣobhya (jp. Ashuku 阿閦), and to the south (left) Ratnasaṃbhava (jp. Hōshō 宝生).

These five circles are actually a representation of the five families of Buddhas, that is, a diagram that represents our mind. Now, since Tantric Buddhism is a proponent of the "nothing but mind" thesis (the idea that the world as we see it is only a projection of our mind shaped by our karma), this diagram of our mind is therefore the diagram explaining the world in its entirety.

The section in the center of the mandala represents the perfect mind of a Buddha. Indeed, each circle represents one of the five wisdoms of a Buddha: in the center is the wisdom of the dharmadhātu, the supreme and all-knowing wisdom of the Buddha from which the other four wisdoms emanate.

These other four wisdoms are in the east (below) the mirror-like wisdom (the wisdom that understands the non-duality of phenomena), in the south the wisdom of equality (all beings in this world are of equal value), in the west the wisdom of discernment (which allows one to see the true nature of phenomena, i.e., that all is emptiness), and finally in the north the all-accomplishing wisdom (the wisdom that allows buddhas to spontaneously know the best way to guide beings to enlightenment).

Conversely, the section to the northeast (bottom right) represents the impure mind of a human, the five wisdoms of the Buddhas become in their impure aspect the five passions of the mind, namely ignorance-stupidity, anger, pride, desire-attachment and jealousy. Each of these five passions corresponds to one of the five wisdoms of the Buddha.

The goal of practitioners of Tantric Buddhism is therefore to move from the impure mind of a human to the pure mind of a Buddha by transmuting these five passions into the five wisdoms, and to achieve this, Shingon Buddhists meditate on this mandala.

The mandala of the Diamond Plane is read in a spiral pattern: either starting from the center and going down to the bottom center section and then moving from section to section in a clockwise direction to end up at the bottom right section, or in the opposite direction, starting from the bottom right section and going to the center in a counter-clockwise direction.

The first direction of reading thus starts from the pure mind of a Buddha, which becomes more and more impure as the sections go by, to end up with our human mind, which illustrates how our mind (and thus the world) appeared, but which also shows that we all have the Buddha nature within us and that we only need to purify our mind to find it.

Precisely, the second direction of reading starts from our human mind which is purified a little at each stage and becomes pure at the end by arriving at the center, thus illustrating the transmutation of a human into Buddha by mastering our five passions.

This shows how we can purify our five passions to transmute them into Buddha wisdoms: ignorance-stupidity becomes the wisdom of Dharmadhātu, anger becomes the mirror-like wisdom, pride becomes the wisdom of equality, desire-attachment becomes the wisdom of discernment, and finally jealousy becomes the all-accomplishing wisdom.

The mandala of the matrix plane

The matrix plane (sk. Garbhadhātu, jp. Taizōkai 胎蔵界) represents the innate principle of Dainichi Buddha. It illustrates that all phenomena in the world, including humans, are manifestations of this primordial Buddha.

In shingon monasteries, it is placed on the east side of the altar, opposite the mandala of the diamond plane, and on the mandala itself the north is represented on the left, the east on the top, and so on, i.e., the opposite of the diamond plane.

It is divided into twelve quarters in which there are four hundred and eight and some deities. In the center is the Central Quarter of the Eight-Petaled Lotus (jp. Chūdai hachiyō-in 中台八葉院) in which the Dainichi Buddha stands at its center. He is surrounded by four Buddhas and four Bodhisattvas, all of whom are emanations of Dainichi.

The four Buddhas are Ratnaketu (jp. Hōdō-nyorai 宝幢如来) to the east, Saṃkusumitarāja (jp. Kaifukeō-nyorai 開敷華王如来) to the south, Amitābha (jp. Amida-nyorai 阿弥陀如来) to the west and Dundubhinirghoṣa (jp. Tenkuraion-nyorai 天鼓雷音如来) to the north.

As in the Diamond Plane Mandala these five Buddhas are dhyani Buddhas, which means that each of them personifies a wisdom of the Buddha. The four bodhisattvas are Samantabhadra (jp. Fugen-bosatsu 普賢菩薩) in the southeast, Mañjuśrī (jp. Monju-bosatsu 文殊菩薩) in the southwest, Avalokiteśvara (jp. Kanjizai-bosatsu 観自在菩薩 or Kannon-bosatsu 観音菩薩) in the northwest, and finally Maitreya (jp. Miroku-bosatsu 弥勒菩薩) in the northeast.

At the four corners of this area, in line with the bodhisattvas, are four vases. Each of these vases contains a virtue of Dainichi: the treasure of inexhaustible prayers and practices, the treasure of inexhaustible benefit to beings, the treasure of inexhaustible vision of pure wisdom, and the treasure of inexhaustible means of salvation of great compassion.

In the first compound, above the central district, is the Universal Knowledge district (jp. Henchi-in 遍知院) where the symbol of the Buddhas' universal knowledge sits in the middle: a white triangle surrounded by fire. This is the only deity in the mandala that is not depicted in anthropomorphic features.

Below the central area is the area of the science kings. In the center is the bodhisattva Prajñāpāramitā (jp. Hannya Haramita Bosatsu 般若波羅蜜多菩薩), and around him are four Kings of Science (jp. Myōō 明王) including the famous Acala (jp. Fudō Myōō 不動明王) but also Trailokyavijaya (jp. Gōsanze-myōō 降三世明王), Yamāntaka (jp. Daiitoku-myōō 大威徳明王) and Trailokyavijaya in another form (jp. Shōzanse-myōō 勝三世明王).

On the left is the Lotus district, also called the "Avalokiteśvara district." As the name suggests, there are several forms of this bodhisattva as well as other deities, and he symbolizes great compassion. Opposite him is the Vajrapāṇi quarter, which symbolizes innate wisdom.

In the second enclosure, there is first the neighborhood of Śākyamuni, then the neighborhood of Mañjuśrī, that of Sarvanivarana-Vishkambhin, Kṣitigarbha, Ākāśagarbha, and finally that of Susiddhi.

The third enclosure is the area outside the vajras. It is so called because the deities present there are not awakened. They are actually devas, deities from Hinduism.

Examples include Indra (jp. Taishakuten 帝釈天), Brahmā (jp. Bonten 梵天), Vaiśravaṇa (jp. Bishamon-ten 毘沙門天),Yama (jp. Enmaten 閻魔天), Gaṇesh (jp. Kangiten 歓喜天); the deities of the four elements that are Agni (jp. Katen 火天), Varuṇa (jp. Suiten 水天), Vāyu (jp. Fūten 風天), and Pṛthivī (jp. Jiten 地天); the nine astral deities (sk. Navagraha, jp. kuyō 九曜); or the 28 lunar lodges of Chinese astrology.

The presence of these deities in this mandala is due to the fact that although unawakened, these deities have considerable influence on the destiny of the world, and they are thus the object of several magical rituals aimed at taming their powers.

The mandala on the plane of the matrix represents the great compassion of Dainichi Buddha, and for this reason it is sometimes called the "Mandala of Great Compassion ".

Representations of the mandalas

The two mandalas can be represented in four different ways:

The Mahābhūta-maṇḍala (jp. dai-mandara 大曼荼羅), a graphic anthropomorphic representation.

The Dharma-maṇḍala (jp. hō-mandara 法曼荼羅), representation of deities by their germ syllable. A characteristic feature of Japanese esotericism is indeed the graphic use for visualizations of germ letters (sk. bījākṣara, jp. shuji 種字), written in siddham (jp. Shittan 悉曇 or Bonji 梵字), an ancient Indian script.

The Samaya-maṇḍala (jp. sanmaya-mandara 三昧耶曼荼羅), a representation of the wishes of deities in the form of the attributes they hold or their mudra).
The Karma-maṇḍala (jp. katsuma-mandara 羯磨曼荼羅) representing the activities of the deities in three-dimensional form (statues).

Symbols from the visible world to explain the spiritual world

Shingon uses nature as a symbol to explain the invisible spiritual world considering that the life of beings and nature is the expression of the Buddha conceived in his Dharmakaya aspect, the life force of the universe.

However, Shingon is not a pantheism, it is not "reduced" to the worship of the forces of nature as in Shintoism. When we speak, for example, of the five elements or the sun, we are talking about states of consciousness which are described in this way.

In Shingon, the ultimate Buddha symbolizing the universe is called Mahā Vairocana (jp. Dainichi-nyorai 大日如来), the Great Sun Buddha, because sunlight best symbolizes the state of purified consciousness that perceives emptiness.

White light is the synthesis and source of all other colors. This is why there is an ultimate Buddha who gathers all the qualities of the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which are the expression of his different aspects.

It is therefore a matter of merging one's mind with Danichi-nyorai through the practice of the three mysteries, which are the mystery of body, speech, and thought, i.e., simultaneously performing a symbolic gesture with the hands, a mudrā, repeating a mantra, and visualizing before oneself the form of the related Buddhist deity.

Since the universe is so vast, we have to develop various qualities of consciousness to integrate ourselves harmoniously into it: these are the steps that lead to spiritual awakening, samadhi. This process of awakening has been structured in the form of a mystical diagram called a mandala, with different quarters and many Buddhas.

A mandala is a map of the spiritual anatomy of man. Meditation on its form by repeating mantras and performing mudrās allows one to connect with the heart of the Buddhas and the master who initiated the practitioner.

The two great mandalas of the Shingon, the Kongôkaï (world of thought) and the Taïzôkaï (world of phenomena), group together numerous Buddhist divinities symbolizing different levels of consciousness.

Arranged in several quarters, they express compassion, gentleness, others intelligence, discernment, others energy, strength to overcome all the negative aspects of the subconscious.

In order to understand what he perceives of the world, man must analyze it and develop concepts with discernment. This is why the vajra, the diamond that cuts, symbolizes the male principle of wisdom.

However, in order to truly understand something, one must also perceive it in its totality beyond the details, otherwise the theory invented to explain it may be reductive and false.

It is therefore necessary to increase the sensitivity and the volume of perceptions, disregarding one's preconceptions or previous theories, that is to say, to develop an inner openness towards the other, towards life, which is only possible if the heart is humble, gentle, without prejudice, compassionate, it is the heart of bodhi.

The greater the compassion, the more refined, direct and immediate the perceptions become, because we perceive the other through the global fusion of the heart.

It is not by reasoning that knowledge is obtained, but by intuition, which is why it is identified with the feminine world of the matrix, the Taïzôkaï, which describes the diversity of life and corresponds to the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. The world of Kongokai is the 6th element, consciousness.

To develop and unite in oneself these two worlds, two polarities latent in each of us, feminine and masculine, intuitive and reflective, active and meditative, is to find inner balance. To reach awakening, we must merge these two principles within ourselves.

It is during anointing ceremonies called "kanjô" that the acariya master consecrates the water to directly transmit the essence of knowledge and compassion of Kongôkaï and Taïzôkaï. This transmission is done from heart to heart.

Literary works

In this work, which is one of the earliest essays on comparative philosophy, he compares the respective merits of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. The essence of Confucianism is to give a philosophical foundation to everyday morality and politics.

Taoism, because it rises to the metaphysical principle (Tao), is superior to it. But Buddhism, through the doctrine of karma and reincarnation, embraces the three times and opens to the eternal truth, thus surpassing Taoism.

Benkenmitsunikyo-ron "Comparison of esoteric and exoteric Buddhism". He demonstrates the superiority of esotericism over exotericism. This superiority comes from the experience which it provides and on which the dogmas are based, whereas exotericism explains the dogmas without reaching the experience.

Himitsu Mandala Jugu Shinron, "The Ten Stages of Awareness of the Secret Mandala,". In this mature masterpiece, Kukai expands his understanding of other schools and religions. He believes that all the spiritual philosophies of Asia (from Confucianism to Hinduism) are expressions of a level of awareness of reality.

This revelation is explained through the presentation of the ten stages of the mind.

1°) The spirit of the goat. The goat symbolizes the sexual appetite. At this stage, man is ignorant of eternal truth. He lives under the dominating influence of his bestial instinct, he only undergoes the law of karma, like an animal.

2°) The spirit of the ignorant child. The child symbolizes the seed of the spirit that must develop. The spirit awakens to consciousness and strives to lead a moral life still devoid of religious purpose. It is represented by Confucianism.

3 °) The spirit of the fearless child. It is symbolized by a child looking for his mother. Man recognizes the existence of religion and seeks heaven to find inner peace and bliss. He is represented by Taoism.

4 °) The spirit recognizes the existence of aggregates. This mind is symbolized by the state of arhat, the Buddhist monk. Hinayana Buddhism corresponds to it.

5 °) The mind freed from the seed of the cause of karma. This mind is symbolized by the Patryeka-Buddha. There are no more traces of karmic ignorance, but there is still a root of self-centeredness, a lack of altruism.

6°) The Mahayana mind symbolized by the bodhisattva Maitreya. The yogacara practitioner who reaches this stage recognizes that all phenomena are an illusion of his mind. His compassion develops. This philosophy is expounded by Vasubhandu.

7°) The mind realizes that the mind is not yet born. This stage is symbolized by the bodhisattva Manjusri and explained by the madhyamika philosophy of Nagarjuna. Eightfold negation puts an end to useless speculation. The truth of emptiness is achieved. The mind that reaches this stage is serene and its happiness is indefinable.

8 °) The mind is truly in harmony with the one way. It is symbolized by Avalokiteshvara and explained by the Lotus Sutra and the Tendai philosophy. Man recognizes the unity and primordial purity that is the very nature of his mind. The subject and the object are unified.

9°) The deep Buddhist mind is aware of its unchanging nature. It is symbolized by the smile of Samantabhadra and explained by the Kegon school. The mind realizes that it is not unchanging, but similar to water that the wind makes ripple. The eternal truth, the Dharma itself, is not unchanging. Although it represents the highest stage of exotericism, it should not be dwelt upon.

10°) The glorious mind, the most secret, the most hidden. It is symbolized by the tathagata maha Vairocana and explained by the Shingon school. If exotericism has removed the veil from the mind and cured its various diseases, esoteric teaching now unveils the hidden treasure (see also Ibn Arabi) which becomes manifest.

Kukai calls his ten steps "revelations with wonder step by step".

Together they form a systematic sum of philosophy of religion from the gradualist perspective of esoteric Buddhism and a true phenomenology of religious consciousness. This doctrine is also explained in :

Hizo Hoyaku "The Precious Key to the Secret Treasure",.
Joujoushin-ron " the ten levels of development of the mind ".
Concerning the heart of the Shingon doctrine, Kukai explains it in :

Sanbu sho "The three books", :
Sokushinjō- butsu-gui "teaching to become Buddha in this life with this body".
Shoji Jisso Gi "The meaning of word, sound and reality".
Unji Gi "The esoteric meaning of the syllable (Bija) "HUM"".



In the case of disciples wishing to train to become Shingon monks, after taking the precepts there must be a period of religious and academic study. First of all, a master should be found, and then Tokudo(得度), a ceremony symbolically marking renunciation, commitment to the path, and the first step toward priesthood, should be performed.

To be Ajari (阿闍梨), one must take the vows (jp. jukai 受戒) and undergo a series of four asceticisms (jp. shido Kegyō 四度加行) before receiving the Denpō unction (jp. denpō kanjō 伝法灌頂). The next step Maha-Acharya (Dai-ajari 大阿闍黎) grade that allows the initiations to be passed on requires ten more years.

Besides prayers and sutra readings, there are mantras and meditation techniques that are available to the layman to practice. All require initiation (sk. abhiṣeka, jp. kanjō 灌頂).

Under the supervision of a qualified master, after proper transmission, they can begin to learn and practice on their own. As with all schools of Buddhism, the emphasis is on the oral transmission of teachings from master to student. Until the 1920s (when Shingon arrived outside of Japan), nothing had ever been published about the Shingon or Mikkyo teachings in Japan or elsewhere.

Everything had been transmitted orally for over 1,100 years. Undertaking a Shingon practice without initiation and guidance from a qualified master can be considered a serious violation of the samaya vows, as it can be potentially dangerous to the practitioner if not done in the proper manner.

The Three Mysteries

The goal of shingon is the realization that our nature is identical to Mahāvairocana, a goal that is achieved through initiation, meditation and esoteric rituals. This realization comes through the reception and practice of esoteric doctrine, transmitted orally to initiates by school masters.

When the three Mysteries (jp. sanmitsu 三蜜) of body, speech and mind are associated with that of the Buddha, they allow us to realize our true nature. The body through symbolic gestures that are mudrā (jp. ingei 印契) as well as through the use of ritual instruments, speech through the repetition of sacred formulas that are mantras (jp. shingon 真言), and mind through visualization and meditation on the Buddha (jp. kansō 観想).

The basic meditative practice of Shingon is Ajikan 阿字觀, meditation on the letter A symbol of Mahavairocana. Two other important meditative practices are Gachirinkan (月輪觀, or full moon visualization), and Gojigonjingan 五字嚴身觀, the "visualization of the five elements arranged in the body. "

The four main rituals practiced by Shingon monks are the jūhachido or 18 mudras ritual, the taizokai (womb) mandala ritual, the kongakai (vajra) ritual, and the fire rituals (goma)


The goma 護摩 (sk. homa) or consecrated fire ritual is specific to esoteric Buddhism to such an extent that the Japanese essentially identify Shingon Buddhism through this ceremony. It is considered the most mystical and powerful ritual. It is derived from the Vedic Agnihotra ritual and is performed by trained priests to help individuals, the state or all beings in general.

The fire is supposed to have a purifying power spiritually and psychologically. The central deity who is prayed to is usually Acala (Fudo Myōō 不動明王). The ritual is performed with the purpose of destroying negative energies, harmful thoughts and desires, obstacles in general or to obtain wish fulfillment (kudoku).

In most Shingon temples this ritual is performed twice a day in the morning and afternoon. Large ceremonies often include the rolling of taiko drums while the community chants the mantra of Acala. The flames can sometimes reach a few meters high making it a strenuous ceremony for the officiant.

Shingon Lineages

École des anciens (Kogi)
Kōyasan (Takanoyama Shingyan Buddhism)
Chuin-Ryu Lineage (Chuin Ryu)
Tōji (Tōji Shingyon Buddhism)
Zentsūji-ha (Zentsūji school of Shingon Buddhism)

Daigo-ha (Daigo School of Shingon Buddhism)
Omuro-ha (Shingon sect Mikuro)
Shingon-Ritsu (Shingon Ritsu sect)
Daikakuji-ha (Daikakuji school of Shingon Buddhism)
Sennyūji-ha (Shingon sect Izumoji)

Yamashina-ha (Yamagata school of Shingon Buddhism)
Shigisan (Shingozan Shingon sect)
Nakayamadera-ha (Nakayama-ji school of Shingon Buddhism)
Sanbōshū (True Word Sanbōshū)
Sumadera-ha (Suma-ji school of Shingon Buddhism)

Tōji-ha (Tōji school of Shingon Buddhism)
Shingon réformé (Shingi)
Chizan-ha (Chizan school of Shingon)
Buzan-ha (Toyama School of Shingon Buddhism)
Inunaki-ha (Shingon réformé (Shingi))


Gokuraku-ji (Jiraku-ji?) , fondé en 1259 à Kamakura (Kamakura city, Kamakura-shi?), dans la préfecture de Kanagawa.
Tō-ji (Tōji)
Kongōbu-ji (金剛峰寺),
Ninna-ji (Renwaji Temple)
Daikaku-ji (Daisho-ji),
Daigo-ji (Daigo-ji Temple)

Shingon Buddhism outside Japan

In China and countries with large Chinese populations such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia or Singapore, esoteric Buddhism is commonly referred to as Tángmì (唐 密) "the Secret Buddhism of the Tang Dynasty" or Hànchuánmìzōng (汉传密宗) "the Secret Buddhism of the Han Transmission" (Hanmi 汉密 for short) or Dōngmì (东密) "the Secret Buddhism of the East" to differentiate it from its Tibetan counterpart.

These schools share more or less the same doctrines as Shingon. In most cases, Chinese monks traveled to Japan to train and receive esoteric transmission at Mount Koya. The Chinese term mìzōng (密宗) "The vehicle of secrets" is the most commonly used term for any form of esoteric Buddhism, whether Tibetan, Nepalese, Chinese, or Japanese.

In Europe, Shingon Buddhism is practiced at the Komyo-In temple in Burgundy as well as in Holland and Croatia. In the United States, Shingon Buddhism is practiced in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno, as well as in the states of Hawaii, Michigan and Washington. There are also temples of the Buzan Ha lineage in Hong Kong and Vietnam.