posted on May 3, 2014

Yellow Fudo Myo-o

Yellow Fudo Myo-o in Manshuin Temple

Mikkyo, or Esoteric Buddhism, was born in India, taking in the Indian folk culture and Hindu gods, from around 4 to 5 century as one of the Buddhist sects.

When Mikkyo was born, the popularity of Buddhism was declining because of the expansion of Hinduism and the fall of big cities where intellectuals had been supporting the fundamental teaching of Buddhism, which is “our worldly desires are the causes of our sufferings, and if we try to eliminate these desires by wisdom, we’ll reach enlightenment.”

In Japan, Shingon Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism, both of which were founded in the 9th century, are of a few surviving Esoteric Buddhist lineages that originally spread from India to China.

Mikkyo can be said to be the combination of Buddhist teachings and mythical ideas like magical thinking, and it enlightened people in old days by showing mighty gods with frightening figures, such as Acala in India and Fudo Myo-o in Japan.

Mikkyo literally means “secret teachings.” Its teachings are passed down from Buddhist masters to disciples through Mikkyo practices without using textbooks.


One of the characteristics of Mikkyo is that it emphasizes the importance of rituals when monks are learning and practicing Mikkyo teachings, and another is that many kinds of equipment are used in performing the rituals.

Here are some in detail.

Monks—They are requested to make the specific hand gestures, chant Mikkyo sutras, and pray to Mikkyo gods devotedly enough to be able to reach the same mindset as the gods. In Mikkyo, it is thought that if they practice in this way, they will achieve enlightenment and become Buddha while they are alive. This way of Mikkyo monks practicing is called “Kaji,” and their praying to Mikkyo gods on behalf of ordinary people by practicing “Kaji” is called “Kitou.” When they are doing this “Kaji” and “KItou,” they burn thinly chopped wood and various offerings in a fire. This is called “Goma (Homa) ritual.” It is said that the god of fire goes up to heaven along with the smoke carrying the offerings, and tells people’s wishes to the god of heaven.


Shingon Goma Ritual

Shingon Goma Ritual: photo by Shii


Mandala—In Mikkyo temples, two mandalas called the Mandala of the Two Realms are always hung on both sides of the central altar in the training hall. Mandalas are what visually describes the universe of Dainichi Nyorai (the central Buddha of Mikkyo) in the form of pictures or statues. On the right (east) is the Womb Realm mandala which shows what enlightenment in Mikkyo is, and on the left (west) is the Diamond Realm mandala which shows how to reach enlightenment in Mikkyo.

Diamond Realm Mandala

Diamond Realm Mandala

Womb Realm Mandala

Womb Realm Mandala














Kongo-sho: photo by Jnn

Kongo-sho: photo by Jnn

Ritual equipment—In front of mandalas, various kinds of ritual equipment including a pagoda, incense sticks, flowers, and candles are offered on a table.

Above all, Kongo-sho and Kongo-rei are representative ritual tools in Mikkyo.

Kongo-sho is used to break down the worldly desires of ritual practitioners, and Kongo-rei is used to purify the spirits of the practitioners and to delight various gods.





In addition, some other characteristic of Mikkyo is a huge number of Mikkyo gods with Dainichi Nyorai, or Cosmic Buddha, in the center. In Mikkyo, Dainichi Nyorai is thought to be the king of Buddhas, and wears a coronet and gorgeous jewelry. The other gods have very characteristic figures. Some gods have multiple faces and a large number of hands and legs in order to emphasize their supernatural power. Other gods called Myo-o have furious faces and flames in their back. There are people who refuse to follow the teachings of Dainchi Nyorai and keep doing bad things. Myo-o are ordered by Dainichi Nyorai to lead these people to the right path by awing the people with their frightening figures. Fudo Myo-o with a sword in the right hand and a rope in the left hand and Aizen Myo-o with a red body are the most popular Myo-o in Japan.


Dainichi Nyorai in Enjoji Temple

Dainichi Nyorai in Enjoji Temple

Fugen Bodhdisattva

Fugen Bodhisattva: photo by PHGCOM













Thousand-armed Kannon of Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto (National Treasure): photo by Bamse

Thousand-armed Kannon of Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto (National Treasure): photo by Bamse

Aizen Myo-o

Aizen Myo-o

Aka Fudo Myo-o

Red Fudo Myo-o in Koya-san Myo-o-in Temple















In Japan, the two main sects of Mikkyo, Esoteric Buddhism, are Shingon Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism, both of which were founded in the early 9th century. Shingon Buddhism was founded by Kukai, and Tendai Buddhism was founded by Saicho. Shingon Buddhism was based only on Mikkyo teachings, while Tendai Buddhism was based on mixed teachings from four different Buddhist sects including Mikkyo.

Kukai practiced Mikkyo, provided spiritual support for common people, and spread the teachings in temples in Mt. Koya, Nara and also in To-ji Temple in Kyoto. In the Kodo Hall in To-ji Temple, he created the universe of Mandala by using Buddhist statues, which remain intact today.

Click here to see 3D Mandala on To-ji Temple’s website.

Toji Temple

Kondo Hall (National Treasure) of Toji Temple in Kyoto (World Cultural Heritage)


Saicho built Enryaku-ji Temple in Mt. Hiei in Shiga.  Enryaku-ji Temple website: click here


Konponchudo of Enryakuji Temple

Konpon Chu-do (National Treasure) of Enryaku-ji Temple in Shiga (World Cultural Heritage)



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