Why am I in Japan? I mentioned in the first blog that I’m in Japan to work on translations of esoteric texts assisting Ichishima Shoshin. A little background might help in understanding why this is important.
Tendai Buddhism is composed of both exoteric (Jpn. kengyo) and esoteric (Jpn. Mikkyo) practices and philosophy. The exoteric is derived from sutra and other texts. The esoteric are ‘hidden’ teachings that involve mudra (lit. sign – hand gestures), mantra (chants, incantations and prayers) and visualization practices. These comprise rituals and ceremonies such as the goma (Fire Absolution), and segaki (hungry ghosts). Other practices such as meditation, scholarship, Nembutsu, etc. are aspects of the esoteric and exoteric.
The esoteric texts and practices are of more than scholarly interest. Every certified Tendai priest must master these as part of his or her spiritual development. The material and the practices are then conveyed in various ways to the sangha. Anyone who has participated in our meditations, retreats, and other programs have been indirect, and in some cases direct, beneficiaries of these teachings
Rev. Ichishima Shoshin is my Master, Abbot of Senzoji Temple (an important temple in northern Chiba, Japan) professor emeritus of Taisho University, and one of the five Kangaku (Advisors on the Academic Council) of the Tendai school of Buddhism. He also happens to be one of the few Japanese authorities on Tibetan Buddhism.
The texts themselves are not a manual that one can follow as one would use to set up your home entertainment system. The material must be given by direct transmission by an approved master. Anyone who might attempt to use the texts without direct transmission would be mistaken because there is misdirection built into them so that an unauthorized person, who has not received direct transmission from a master, will not in fact have the correct information. An educated Japanese person on the street would not fully understand much of the material.
There have been attempts in the past to translate the primary Tendai mikkyo, Juhachido, Taizokai, Kongokai, and Goma, however, they are highly inaccurate, misleading and have not had authoritative masters verify their legitimacy. The texts are written in a pre-modern version of Japanese with a Japanese transliteration of Sanskrit.
The translation from Japanese to English is often amusing, not infrequently puzzling, until we spend time with it. Sensei has researched, and we use, a Romanized version of the original Sanskrit because we are translating it for international purposes. Ichishima-sensei feels that we should bring it as close to the original manuscript as possible. Ichishima-sensei is one of the few Tendai scholars who is considered acceptable for this assignment. My role, is in taking down the translations, editing, coordinating and facilitating the translation. While I’m here we’ll finish first drafts. When I return to the states I’ll continue to work on the texts, send them back to Ichishima-sensei for approval, etc.
We spend about three to four hours a day working on the translation. I have other things to work on while I’m here. But, I’ve also spent a little bit of time relaxing. There’s a really nice onsen (hot spring) in Chiba Newtown Chuo that I’ve gone to several times. I’ll talk about that in the next blog.
Gassho . . . Monshin