View Full Version : kyoto as mandala

3rd September 2003, 01:35
Just got back from a month in Kyoto. Due to geography and the positioning of certain temples and shrines, I was wondering if over time, the city wasn't seen as a sort of mandala. (I know that the Kii area, south of Nara, stomping grounds of Ueshiba, is considered a mandala, as is the Kibi region west of Okayama.) For example, Enryakuji was built atop Mt. Hiei to protect against evil, traditionally thought to come from the NE. Perhaps someone with familiarity with Tendai could best answer this.

Daniel Lee
3rd September 2003, 01:47
Fusui (Fengshui) as propagated by Onmyodo (which shares connections with Mikkyo) does appear to have influenced the placement and layout of some of major cities such as Kyoto, as well as the architecture of castles and palaces.

3rd September 2003, 04:40
Short Answer: no.

Long answer: Sorta.

When the capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto at the beginning of the Haien all forms of Buddhism were banned from the city limits. Buddhism developed while Nara was the capital was considered corrupt and not spiritually correct. Partially correct. Buddhism in Nara had been used as means to unify Japan as a form of state religion. You can see how this would have gotten out of control thus banning Buddhism from the city limits of Kyoto.

The original city plan of Kyoto is based on Chinese structure - like almost everything else Japanese before that. It is a system of buildings based on governmental power - that would explain the rigid layout.

You can't kill a good religion though. At the beginning of the Haien, two forms of Buddhism were introduced from China: Esoteric and Tendai. The two were so wide spread and popuarl that the government assimliated over time causing the same cycle seen in Nara. (Adopted by the masses, adopted by the government, rejected by the masses because the government used it as a power tool. Something new is introduced.)

Esoteric, which is the mandala-centered Buddhism, went as far as building one of the temples on the city wall. The Toji is amazing. (Esoteric Buddhism is my all time favorite) The diamond and womb-world mandalas (the two main mandalas found at the Toji) are revered by art historians today. Enlightenment in Esoteric Buddhism is gained by becoming one with the mandala; mentally, spiritually and physically. The journey begins by throwing a lotus flower onto the mandala to determine your starting point. From there you learn certain speech, meditation and movement to become one with the teaching. Once you complete the mandala, englightement is attained.

Tendai Buddhism was the study of the Lotus Sutra, also from Japan. From China too, the pieces created in Japan are among the most stunning pieces out of Japanese History, IMO. What is revolutionary about Tendai is it accounts for the personal salvation of women- the first form of Buddhism to do so. Enlightenment is attained by the memorization and and internalization of the texts.

I cannot comment on anything past the early Feudal periods. I know Esoteric Buddhism went the way of every other early form in Japan - replaced by something else that seemed less corrupt by the government and new. It is my opinion that it is unlikely that any major influence in Kyoto past the Haien were Esoteric.

You can PM me for my sources.

Joel Simmons
4th September 2003, 10:13

Kyoto was definitely constructed based upon Chinese feng shui principles. Heian period Japan was highly influenced by the aesthetics of T'ang China. The layout of the main avenue with two temples to either side of the main entrance, with the governmental buildings at the extreme northend, bordered by a mountain to the north, bodies of water in particular places, etc. etc. However, I wouldn't say that Buddhism was banned from Kyoto, perhaps the earlier forms centered in Nara were banned, but Esoteric Buddhism certainly had an influence in Kyoto.

Also, Esoteric Buddhism isn't necessarily "mandala centered." Mandalas certainly are a part of Esoteric Buddhism, but not the end-all-be-all. Esoteric Buddhism focuses on a complete sensory experience to bring about enlightenment. Colorful imagery, rythmic beats, exciting fire rituals, etc.

Regarding the salvation of women within Tendai...there is some dispute with that. Many Buddhist scholars will argue back-and-forth about whether women truly are given salvation, or if they must first be spiritually transformed into men. Yes, they are women in this world, but can they be in the next? Nichiren, Jodo-shu and Jodo-shinshu are the ones who truly brought about the acceptance of all persons into salvation via Amida.

4th September 2003, 19:31
Originally posted by hawaiianvw67

Regarding the salvation of women within Tendai...there is some dispute with that. Many Buddhist scholars will argue back-and-forth about whether women truly are given salvation, or if they must first be spiritually transformed into men. Yes, they are women in this world, but can they be in the next? Nichiren, Jodo-shu and Jodo-shinshu are the ones who truly brought about the acceptance of all persons into salvation via Amida.

With all due respect....

Whatever the historical view publically taken by a number of individuals generally associated with exoteric Tendai (and any number of other traditions), it has also been for some time a matter of public record that one of the additional vows taken by tantric/esoteric buddhist practitioners (whether Shingon or Tendai in Japan, Kagyupa, Sakyapa or Gelugpa in Tibet, etc., etc.) is "non- denigration of women."

An assertion that women may not achieve enlightenment, or must be transformed into men in order to achieve enlightenment would not seem to be in keeping with such a vow, thus, it seems reasonable to infer that anyone making such a statement has not taken tantric vows and is in no position to speak with any measure of authority concerning what is or is not part of esoteric buddhist theory and practice. That, or maybe they need to talk with the person from whom they received their vows, which is, by definition, a matter between preceptor and disciple.

WRT the initial question of mandala form and Kyoto, the basic 9-square plot layout has analogues in ancient Chinese agricultural village organization, some forms of Yantra both "Hindu" and "Buddhist," a number of standard Buddhist mandala used in a variety of practices throughout East Asia, the ancient global diversion of tic-tac-toe, the Chinese character for "well," etc. etc. to such an extent that asserting any singular reason or cause to the organizational pattern of the city excludes a number of other equally plausible reasons or causes.

I would suggest that insofar as the great "wisdom of the east" is to find mutual accomodations between various traditions (whether Taoism/Buddhism/Confucianism in China or Shinto/Buddhism/Confucianism in Japan) it is less useful to say that the organizational pattern of Kyoto IS or IS NOT this or that than it is to observe that it is CONSONANT with a number of distinct but related traditions to such an extent that it is mutually acceptable to adherents of all of these traditions, who see their own beliefs manifested in the physical form of the city, without regard to what anyone else may see when looking at the same pattern.

Thus, if you meet Descartes on the road, kill him.

Fred Little

5th September 2003, 00:40
Plenty to think about. However I have to take issue with the speculation that Kyoto banned Nara Buddhist sects. Kiyomizudera, dating back to 805, preceeds not only the later sects which went on to dominate Kyoto history (Tendai, Jodo, Zen, etc.) but preceeds Kyoto itself. The sect that it originated from, Hosso, is long extinct, leaving a few temples in the Nara area. Kiyomizu itself has become almost a neutral temple.

Joel Simmons
5th September 2003, 01:31

There are vows taken within Shingon Buddhism (the sect of Buddhism to which most of my knowledge is limited) that advocate the proper treatment and salvation of all beings, male or female. However, the only sutra that explicity tells us that all beings are capable of enlightenment is the Lotus sutra, hence its immense popularity throughout East Asia.

Nichiren is the sect that places immense importance upon the Lotus sutra, regarding the sutra itself and the chanting of the sutra as holy. Since Nichiren was established during the 13th century and we know that the Lotus sutra has been in Japan since the times of Prince Shotoku, it would be allowable to infer that this egalitarian teaching would be influencing other schools of thought. Yet, many of the other sects focus more upon other texts and use the Lotus sutra as a sort of appendix to their own teachings. Shingon Buddhism is rooted in the Heart sutra, yet utilizes the Lotus sutra for justifying progressive social practices.

Even though this is true, there was still a large disagreement between many sects as to whether women could become Buddhas in the same manner as however you believe males could become Buddhas (in this life, in the Pure Land, etc.). Just because the teachings of a particular religion advocate a certain doctrine, does not mean it is always accepted by the individual culture into which it has been introduced. It hardly needs to be mentioned that almost all societies in East Asia have been patriarchal. This fact will influence the way women are treated in all aspects of life, religious, social, economic, governmental, etc. The way this manifested itself in the Buddhist religious sense within heavily Confucian socieities was in the question of whether or not women could truly become Buddhas. They could be Bodhisattvas...but Buddhas? Prior to the infuence of the Lotus sutra, and even after the influence of the Lotus sutra, many sects adhered to the belief that yes women could become Buddhas, however, they could only do so through a transmutation into a male form in their next life (whether that next life be on Earth or in a Pure Land isn't really specified).

So, yes I agree that there are vows taken by various Buddhist sects that advocate the equal treatment of women. Yet, it must be recognized that this belief is only doctrinal and not dogma. Buddhism is not alone in this quandry as almost all religious traditions have discrepancies between dogma and doctrinal beliefs.

This particular discussion took up a great deal of time in my "Buddhism in Japan" class at Univ. of Hawaii.

-De Bary, Keene, Tanabe, & Varley (ed). "Sources of Japanese Traditions." 2nd ed. vol. 1. Columbia University Press: New York.

-Arai, Yusei. "Shingon Esoteric Buddhism: A Handbook for Followers." Koyasan Shingon Mission Press: Koyasan, Ito-gun, Wakayama.

These are a few of the texts we used in that class to discuss this topic.

Anyway, sorry for hijacking this thread. It is an interesting subject but perhaps it could be moved to its own thread.

7th September 2003, 17:19
Thanks for clearing up the fuzzy details. My training is in Japanese ART History - a backwards look a history itself.

Jake McKee
9th September 2003, 07:10
Alex Kerr wrote a chapter on this topic in his "Dogs & Demons" book. Great reading for those interested in some deeper topics such as this. Sorry, I don't have the book with me at the moment so I can't check which city he wrote about as being a mandala...


Jake McKee