In the past six months or so, I have become a tiny, baby practitioner of Shingon, the school of Buddhism practiced by the Yashashuu in Mirage, and this context has really transformed by understanding of the story, though it is still a tiny, baby understanding. With huge dual disclaimers that I am an extreme layperson and have only read the summaries of later Mirage, I want to try to write down some thoughts. (It looks like I did take a preliminary swing at this quite a while ago, when first reading some Kuukai, so apologies for any repetition.)
Observations in no particular order:
Bodhisattvas, Compassion, and Service:
Shingon is notable for its emphasis on the importance of service in the world. It focuses a lot on the Bodhisattva path and the vow to become almost enlightened but with just enough attachment left to remain accessible through compassion for others, to be drawn, as it were, to alleviating others’ suffering. Service to others is a huge theme of Mirage: it is the function of the Yashashuu, and it is also the only dimension of their lives in which they (most of them) actually seem capable of quite spiritually advanced practice. They can marshal the powers to fight onryou, but with the possible of exception of Irobe, not one of them is any good at overcoming ego and attachment in their own life—at least till very late in the story. In any case, I can see that call to service as one of the Shingon precepts they practice, including Tachibana Naoe in his own work as a monk.
A corollary to this is that Shingon has a generous place for venturing out into the world in all its messiness, in contrast to some other schools that put more emphasis on retreat and removing oneself from negative inputs. (Kuukai is actually quite hard on people who put too much single-minded emphasis on retreat; I might say he has it in for them a little like Jesus has it in for hypocrites.) This value of being out in the dirt of life seems front and center in Kenshin’s call to the Yashashuu. He’s asks them to spend centuries embroiling themselves in ugly situations in order to help others. It hurts them a lot, but they also clearly see it as part of their duty. While the aim of Shingon is certainly not to get psychologically hurt, I see that call to help others in their commitments. ( Read more… )