I recently had the pleasure of receiving some very meaningful and probing questions via email from a practitioner of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. I thought I might share some of the questions and responses here:
In the Tendai services and retreats that I have attended, there is a lot of esoteric practice involving (and dedicated to) Fudo Myo-o. What is the significance of this type of practice? Fudo also appears to have the same general attributes in all images and statues – do you know the source of these attributes or why they were chosen?
You may want to look at the Fudo Myoo page on the fireceremony site. It explains a bit about Ofudosan. Esoteric practice involving Ofudosan is done to unite with Ofudosan’s energy and essence and to embody same. I don’t know the original source of Ofudosan’s attributes but they are related to his work as the wrathful face of Dainichi Nyorai.
I have performed a kyudo sharei where participants in the ceremony write down things that they believe are blocking spiritual progress; these notes are then torn into confetti sized pieces and placed in a small envelope which is then pierced by arrows (the pieces are later burned). The experience is profound for not only the archer but also everyone attending – people watching have described almost the same level of samadhi that the archer experiences
This is another magical way of dispersing obstacles.
What is your experience performing the Goma? Do the observers/participants experience the same? I have never attended a goma, so this may be an unfair question.
Most people who attend the Goma report having very profound experiences. My experience performing the Goma is different everytime and also varies depending on what type of Goma I am doing. I’m not really sure how best to respond to this as I don’t know exactly what each individual experiences. I only know what they report afterwards and it seems to be different in each case. As with all spiritual experience, it is highly personal
The question I have is, I suppose, a question of faith – does Ofudosan act as archetype or actual spiritual entity? If Fudo Myo’o is an archetype, then can any model of person or spiritual being serve in this fashion? What is your experience when conducting an esoteric practice dedicated to Ofudosan?
The answer to your faith question really is “yes.”
Ofudosan is a deity portrayed with certain anthropomorphic characteristics so that we may better understand and relate to him from the human realm. There are other deities around the world with similar energies as Fudo Myoo however he has special significance to our Shingon Tradition because he is a warrior aspect of Mahavairocana. An understanding of the cosmology and workings of the universe in terms of humans, spirits, and deities might prove a bit tough via email though you do seem to have a draw to these practices and I feel like you should continue to explore the connections
What I found interesting is that those people observing or participating in the ritual (meaning those that agreed to be part of the visualization) can describe the symbolism of the bow, arrow, and some of the movements without having been told. Do you find this in your Goma attendees? What do you mean by “magical”?
The actual visualizations which are considered secret so I cannot share them openly with attendees. I have not had anyone share with me experience of the actual practices while observing though people have described some pretty remarkably accurate experiences of seeing the energy move in certain ways that is consistent with the practices within the ritual.
Magical, in this case, refers to working with energy.
Well I like to be involved. I wouldn’t really be happy in a tradition that only allows me to observe, watch, or ask…so esoteric practices allows me to roll up my sleeves (those robe sleeves sometimes can be pretty bulky! and get actively involved with the energies I’m working with. Shingon – hmmm that was really a karmic connection. I was so lucky to meet Sensei when I was 19 and he shared with me very early on some of the karmic connections and significance of Shingon and myself. I continue to practice Shingon because I really enjoy the union of the personal development internal pieces with some of the more external “in the world” magical aspects. I enjoy the balance of the two and also, I think it’s really important to build a base of purification, compassion, spiritual humility, and understanding of the nature of karma and the nature of self and shingon provides a beautiful way to do this. The necessity of spiritual purification is also a core aspect of the Shinto teachings that I practice and this base of purity is so important to any spiritual work.
As Rev. Tanaka often says:
“Everyday you practice, then little by little you get happy life, creative life.”