Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

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Palzang Jangchub
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Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by Palzang Jangchub » Wed Jan 18, 2017 6:37 pm

What is the role of Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩) and/or Benzaiten (辯才天, 弁財天, 弁才天女) in Tendai Taimitsu (esotericism)? Are there any lineages or practices in which either features more prominently?

Especially interested to hear about bright/royal blue forms with two arms (not as light as sky blue, nor as dark as black-blue).
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"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྩ་བའི་བླ་མ་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་མགར་ཆེན་ཁྲི་སྤྲུལ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཁྱེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ།།
རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ། ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོཿ

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by Palzang Jangchub » Wed Jan 18, 2017 6:45 pm

DGA wrote:
Karma Jinpa wrote:All I really know about Tianti/Tendai is that Chan/Zen developed in part as a reaction to their scholasticism, couching the school in anti-intellectualist terms. And that was taught to me by a professor who is also a lay Chan teacher in the Dharma Drum Mountain lineage of Master Sheng Yen, so there may have been some bias there.
It's more complicated than that. But I'd rather not clog up the Shingon forum with Tendai stuff.
It's always more complicated than that, which is why I made note of the potential bias and used the phrase "in part" when referring to the development as reactionary.

Feel free to explain here in the Tendai forum. I'm genuinely interested in learning more about the Japanese schools.
Image

"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྩ་བའི་བླ་མ་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་མགར་ཆེན་ཁྲི་སྤྲུལ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཁྱེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ།།
རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ། ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོཿ

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by DGA » Wed Jan 18, 2017 9:46 pm

Karma Jinpa wrote:What is the role of Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩) and/or Benzaiten (辯才天, 弁財天, 弁才天女) in Tendai Taimitsu (esotericism)? Are there any lineages or practices in which either features more prominently?

Especially interested to hear about bright/royal blue forms with two arms (not as light as sky blue, nor as dark as black-blue).
I don't know about Tara Bosatsu.

I can say that Benten is called upon with some frequency. Some laypersons believe her to be a granter of wealth and prosperity.

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by DGA » Wed Jan 18, 2017 9:49 pm

Karma Jinpa wrote:
DGA wrote:
Karma Jinpa wrote:All I really know about Tianti/Tendai is that Chan/Zen developed in part as a reaction to their scholasticism, couching the school in anti-intellectualist terms. And that was taught to me by a professor who is also a lay Chan teacher in the Dharma Drum Mountain lineage of Master Sheng Yen, so there may have been some bias there.
It's more complicated than that. But I'd rather not clog up the Shingon forum with Tendai stuff.
It's always more complicated than that, which is why I made note of the potential bias and used the phrase "in part" when referring to the development as reactionary.

Feel free to explain here in the Tendai forum. I'm genuinely interested in learning more about the Japanese schools.
Ch'an was practiced on Mount TienTai--the "Ox Head" school. Tientai discourse had a significant impact on how Ch'an articulated itself. And there's no mistaking the way in which Tendai thought and practice impacted Japanese Zen schools. Dogen, for example, had been a Tendai priest.

Basically: Tendai is a big umbrella of a school in which a number of different practices are pursued. These include esoteric practice (some refer to it as "Japanese Vajrayana," but I'm not so confident in that label), pure land practices, seated meditation, and distinctive practices such as kaihogyo (google that one).

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by jake » Wed Jan 18, 2017 10:16 pm

DGA wrote:
Karma Jinpa wrote:
DGA wrote: It's more complicated than that. But I'd rather not clog up the Shingon forum with Tendai stuff.
It's always more complicated than that, which is why I made note of the potential bias and used the phrase "in part" when referring to the development as reactionary.

Feel free to explain here in the Tendai forum. I'm genuinely interested in learning more about the Japanese schools.
Ch'an was practiced on Mount TienTai--the "Ox Head" school. Tientai discourse had a significant impact on how Ch'an articulated itself. And there's no mistaking the way in which Tendai thought and practice impacted Japanese Zen schools. Dogen, for example, had been a Tendai priest.

Basically: Tendai is a big umbrella of a school in which a number of different practices are pursued. These include esoteric practice (some refer to it as "Japanese Vajrayana," but I'm not so confident in that label), pure land practices, seated meditation, and distinctive practices such as kaihogyo (google that one).
Most, or at least part, of what I posted in the Shingon forum probably goes towards the answer here regarding appearance and color at least. I don't know what esoteric practices Tendai has outside of the four main rituals.

I did want to encourage some discussion on the "vajrayana" label though I realise that's off topic for this thread. Kukai used the term when describing the sutra he brought back from China, writing "over one hundred sutras of the Vajrayana (kongojo)" (From Abe's lovely book, "Weaving of Mantra") but it is unclear to me if he considered it a separate vehicle, or still part of the Mahayana Path/Motivation. Paul Williams refers to Mahayana as a "Family" writing: "It is used as a 'family term' covering a range of not necessarily identical or even compatible practices and teaching."* Also saying that really Mahayana is really just a matter of difference in motivation (from 'Classical' Buddhism).* With this in mind I would describe Shingon and the Esoteric practices of Tendai as Vajrayana but with the caveat that it is still part of Mahayana. Though perhaps the only difference being the level of insight of the practitioner, that is the ability to see the esoteric in the exoteric teachings or as Kukai writes "The Sea of Dharma has but a single taste. It seems shallow or profound depending on our own capacities."** This is my own under-educated perspective anyway...

Sorry for being :offtopic:

jake

* From Paul Williams' text "Buddhist Thought: A complete introduction to the Indian Tradition")
** From Takagi and Dreitlein's "Kukai on the Philosophy of Language"
“The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the red zone."

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by DGA » Thu Jan 19, 2017 2:42 am

thanks for bringing the knowledge, jake!

for the OP:

what I experienced of Tendai esoteric practice corresponds to Kriyatantra and Charyatantra (in one or two instances Yogatantra) in terms of view and approach to practice in Tibetan Buddhism. For example, there's a strong emphasis on ritual purity and getting the materials of the ritual just so. Someone with expertise in the texts at play can tell you exactly how this shakes out comparatively. Not many Tibetan Buddhists practice Kriyatantra, and actually performing these rituals is reserved to persons who have undergone intensive and extensive training and ordination in Tendai, so from the perspective of a layperson, the two are qualitatively different. But if you get to attend a goma ritual, for instance, there will be a familiar flavor in your mouth.

Note that Fudo Myoo is Acala, with whom you will be familiar from your studies in the Kagyu school.

Some Shomyo melodies may give you deja vu.

Keisho Leary once mentioned in an offhand way that he felt esoteric practice was dualistic (you are petitioning the Buddhas--you are not equal to them or generating yourself as one), while the TienTai/Lotus Sutra teachings were ultimately nondual. This gets interesting. I think the closest points of contact between Vajrayana as I have experienced it and Tendai as I have experienced it are here rather than in the protocols of the esoteric rituals. The diction is different, and a different canon of texts is called upon, but I think the view of Tendai Daishi (Zhiyi) and that of, say, Dzogchen Semde have certain uncanny points of contact. I'll leave it at that.

This is an impressionistic way of answering your question. Sorry not to be more precise. But the bottom line for me is that I see no contradiction between Tendai and Nyingma, the two Buddhist schools I am most familiar with, anymore than I see contradictions between Nyingma and Gelug. Yes, the manners are different and different practices are pursued, the clothes are a bit different too, but at the end of the day Dharma is indivisible and sectarianism is a sucker's game. This is my understanding; your mileage may vary. May all 84,000 Dharma gates flourish, may ten thousand flowers blossom.

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by Palzang Jangchub » Thu Jan 19, 2017 6:06 am

Thank you for your replies, both here and in the Shingon forum. I feel like my understanding of Japanese Buddhism has started to become more nuanced.

In truth, this line of inquiry was spurred on by becoming involved with someone who feels a connection to the Buddhadharma, as well as an affinity for Japan. She studied Japanese language for several years while pursuing her B.A. in Linguistics, and has a specific link with Saraswati/Tara. Her propensity for visualization and such leads me to believe she's well-suited to esoteric practice, so I've been trying to see if something within a somewhat familiar framework would be preferable to having to start from scratch regarding Tibetan cultural context.

I have my own particular links to Japan, too. Years ago I attended a special Chan practice for those affected by the tsunamis and the ensuing damage to Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant. That night my understanding of selflessness deepend and I first gave rise to the aspiration to take the Bodhisattva vows.
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"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྩ་བའི་བླ་མ་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་མགར་ཆེན་ཁྲི་སྤྲུལ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཁྱེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ།།
རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ། ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོཿ

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by DGA » Thu Jan 19, 2017 2:13 pm

Karma Jinpa wrote:In truth, this line of inquiry was spurred on by becoming involved with someone who feels a connection to the Buddhadharma, as well as an affinity for Japan. She studied Japanese language for several years while pursuing her B.A. in Linguistics, and has a specific link with Saraswati/Tara. Her propensity for visualization and such leads me to believe she's well-suited to esoteric practice, so I've been trying to see if something within a somewhat familiar framework would be preferable to having to start from scratch regarding Tibetan cultural context.
That's very good. Always regard her as Tara in the flesh and you'll be fine. Maybe she wears blue sometimes?

Right now, Tendai-shu in the US is where Tibetan Buddhism overall was in, say, 1967. You have a handful of sincere and dedicated practitioners, limited resources, very few reliable translations, strong headwinds, and not as much momentum as one would want. In contrast, Tibetan Vajrayana is flourishing, translations are increasingly plentiful and of high quality, teachers are accessible and willing and able to teach the widest spectrum of practices to laypersons...

If your Japanese language skills are high, and your cultural acumen too; and you have a lot of time to dedicate to retreats and training intensives; and you have some real money set aside for travel, robes, and supplies; then you have an easy decision.

If you want a taste of Tendai practice, do a weekend retreat at Tendai Buddhist Institute in upstate New York. They are wonderfully kind and good people, and authentic practitioners too. I learned A LOT there. Feel like a trip to Hawaii? There is more than one Tendai temple in Hawaii that would be worth your attention.

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by eijo » Sat Feb 04, 2017 9:44 am

DGA wrote: some refer to it as "Japanese Vajrayana," but I'm not so confident in that label

jake wrote: I did want to encourage some discussion on the "vajrayana" label though I realise that's off topic for this thread. Kukai used the term when describing the sutra he brought back from China, writing "over one hundred sutras of the Vajrayana (kongojo)" (From Abe's lovely book, "Weaving of Mantra") but it is unclear to me if he considered it a separate vehicle, or still part of the Mahayana Path/Motivation. Paul Williams refers to Mahayana as a "Family" writing: "It is used as a 'family term' covering a range of not necessarily identical or even compatible practices and teaching."* Also saying that really Mahayana is really just a matter of difference in motivation (from 'Classical' Buddhism).* With this in mind I would describe Shingon and the Esoteric practices of Tendai as Vajrayana but with the caveat that it is still part of Mahayana.
Modern Japanese scholars regard the term vajrayāna as technically referring to the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha and its descendents (which comprise the yoga-tantra and anuttarayoga-tantra). This is in part because the earliest known use of the term vajrayāna appears in the Sanskrit Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha, in the context of the closing lines of most chapters:

subhāṣitam idaṃ sūtraṃ vajrayānam anuttaram /
sarvatāthāgataṃ guhyaṃ mahāyānābhisamgraham //

In the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha vajrayāna is not explained as something separate from Mahāyāna.

The practice of the Mahāvairocanābhisaṃbodhi, Susiddhikara, and other forms of tantric practice besides the Vajraśekhara series use the term mantranaya (mantra-path) to refer to themselves, which is paired with the term pāramitānaya (pāramitā-path) to indicate the two major fields of practice in Mahāyāna (which might be called exoteric Mahāyāna and esoteric Mahāyāna). In the traditional way the Japanese understand Shingon and Taimitsu, esoteric Buddhism is never something separate from Mahāyāna as a whole.

The use of "highest vajrayāna" above (vajrayānam anuttaram) may indicate that the earlier forms of esoteric practice were also being viewed as forms of vajrayāna by the time of the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha.

The teachings and practices of the Susiddhikara, Mahāvairocanābhisaṃbodhi, and Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha are all of course well represented in Japanese Shingon and Taimitsu.

Kūkai uses 金剛乘 (vajrayāna) in a more general way than modern Japanese scholars to mean basically the same as his 密敎 (mikkyō), and which is supported by the texts he imported that do not make that fine a distinction.

Sorry this has gone off topic.

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by DGA » Sat Feb 04, 2017 11:41 pm

Thanks for the helpful clarification, Ven. Eijo.

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Re: Benzaiten and Tara Bosatsu

Post by Palzang Jangchub » Sun Feb 05, 2017 12:58 am

DGA wrote:Thanks for the helpful clarification, Ven. Eijo.
Thank you indeed, Ven. Eijo (what is the Japanese term for "venerable" or monks in general, btw?). No need for apologies. I quite enjoyed the digression, being an amateur philologist dating a linguist :)
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"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྩ་བའི་བླ་མ་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་མགར་ཆེན་ཁྲི་སྤྲུལ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཁྱེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ།།
རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་མཁས་གྲུབ་ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་མཁྱེན་ནོ། ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོཿ

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