Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

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Shaku Kenshin
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Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Thu Jan 24, 2019 3:55 pm

As far as I know, practices that are open to lay followers of Shingon are mainly reciting sutras, dharani, mantras, and gatha, and practicing meditation like the counting breath meditation, full moon meditation an ajikan meditation. Then there are also some other things like pilgrimages or copying sutras and images of the Buddha.
Sadhana are usually not taught to laity.

One of the concepts that is strongly emphasised in Shingon Buddhism is enlightenment in this very body. From the standpoint of Shingon-shu, is it possible for lay practitioners to reach enlightenment in this body by practicing the above practices?

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Seeker12
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by Seeker12 » Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:02 pm

To be clear, I am not particularly knowledgeable about Shingon, and this is a more general response. FWIW.

But generally speaking, I think every single type of Buddhism acknowledges that 'enlightenment' is possible for a lay follower, although there are sort of differing 'degrees' of enlightenment.

In the Theravada, there are the 4 stages of stream-entry through arahantship, in the Mahayana generally there are the 10 Bhumis to Buddhahood, etc.

In general, all traditions that I know of say that a lay disciple can indeed at least realize the sort of initial to moderate degrees of 'enlightenment' or realization. In the Mahayana generally, I'm not sure that there is really a limit on this. In the Theravada, it's often said that one can reach up to the level of a non-returner as a lay person, but upon realizing arahantship one will either 'go forth' or die, as the householder life is not really a suitable vessel for arahantship. However, I think there is some debate about this point, and in my opinion the proper meaning of this might be a bit more subtle than people think, because 'going forth' is actually a fairly subtle thing.

Anyway, maybe someone else will have a more tradition-specific answer. In my opinion, it seems that once one realizes even the first stage of awakening, the Path is clear, and so concern about 'is the full result possible' kind of dissolves entirely and you simply follow the Path that is in front of your feet with full confidence that it will take you 'all the way' in due course.

:anjali:
Better than if there were thousands of meaningless words is one meaningful word that on hearing brings peace.

Better than if there were thousands of meaningless verses is one meaningful verse that on hearing brings peace.

And better than chanting hundreds of meaningless verses is one Dhamma-saying that on hearing brings peace.

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Bodhiquest
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by Bodhiquest » Sat Jan 26, 2019 1:37 am

I do practice Shingon but I'm not a monk. What I know of this tradition and what I've seen and heard here in Japan leads me to say that the answer is no.
For example, although it can be considered that Ajikan is taught openly, the "actual" Ajikan method (or rather an "actual" method) isn't. A simplified version is - not that it's a bad or weak practice or anything.

In a general sense full Vajrayana practice involves a complete system with an ultimate destination. It's doubtful that this ultimate destination can be reached if, say, half the system is missing. Progress can be made though.

It isn't the case that that the "meat" of the practice (sadhanas etc.) is categorically closed off to the laity; or at least I'm familiar with one case in which it isn't. But in general it appears to me that access to the full practice is needed for attaining the end goal.

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jake
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by jake » Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:50 am

Shaku Kenshin wrote:
Thu Jan 24, 2019 3:55 pm
As far as I know, practices that are open to lay followers of Shingon are mainly reciting sutras, dharani, mantras, and gatha, and practicing meditation like the counting breath meditation, full moon meditation an ajikan meditation. Then there are also some other things like pilgrimages or copying sutras and images of the Buddha.
Sadhana are usually not taught to laity.

One of the concepts that is strongly emphasised in Shingon Buddhism is enlightenment in this very body. From the standpoint of Shingon-shu, is it possible for lay practitioners to reach enlightenment in this body by practicing the above practices?
Dear Shaku Kenshin,

I'd like to explore a bit what is meant by "lay." Many times, today, when this term is used it implies the existence of a monastic order, living celibate lives in secluded monasteries. Technically, according to the vinaya, Shingon-shu has no monks. Nearly every Shingon priest I've met is or was married, many have children, and a fair number work jobs, handle money, etc. Aside from their active religious practice their lives are not that different from yours or mine.

What does set them apart from my boss at work or my neighbors here is that they have received abhisheka (jp. kanjo) from a master (there are other conditions that need to be met). As disciples they can now receive instruction in esoteric practices from authorized masters (there are posts on this in other threads). Kukai conferred abhisheka on a number of his contemporaries, emperors, nobles, etc. I believe there are several other social and organizational/legal factors behind what defines a "priest" today from laity and therefore the way training is structured but that is outside the scope of the question.

There is another facet to this question I think is worth mentioning briefly. Shingon-shu exists as part of and in relation to society and some of the practices you see in Japan or mention above are a reflection of that society's needs and expectations today. They are not necessarily the same as what was taught or advocated by Kukai. As far as I know, Ajikan, as presented to visitors at a temple in Japan or even here in the US was never taught in this way before the last few decades. It is originally, and at is core, exactly as another poster writes. An advanced and deep practice which is only taught in small parts to visitors. The impact of this change or what it means exactly, I don't know.

This is a rather long way of trying to respond to your question by saying it depends on what you mean by lay. From my own understanding (grain of salt here) the practices can not exist separately from the way they are transmitted or the teachings which they embody. This is why it is so crucial, and absolutely necessary, to have a relationship with a fully ordained and authorized master. The knowledge, and 'technology' if you like, of Shingon praxis, does not have the same nature as many types of knowledge thought of in other spheres, like math. It can not be taught or learned through written means. Instead, in my head, it is like being a young teen on a small, deserted island, with Jules Verne's novel "Mysterious Island" written in the original French. Imagine reading
"La nécessité est, d’ailleurs, de tous les maîtres, celui qu’on écoute le plus et qui enseigne le mieux"
and trying to teach yourself how to speak French. How to roll the R making that weird phlegm noise. It simply isn't possible. (I argue it isn't possible even if you live in France with a French person, but that speaks more toward my own ineptitude).

Anyway, I'm not sure that answers anything. If you haven't already, I highly recommend studying "Kukai on the Philosophy of Language" by Takagi and Dreitlein. It is full of gems, like
Kukai wrote:"The Dharmakaya Buddha in samadhi has always been possessed by the mind,
The two truths of the absolute and provisional are both eternally abiding,
The [sounds of the] birds and animals, and plants and trees all are the sound of the Dharmakaya's preaching,
And Sukhavati and Tusita are originally in one's own mind." (pg 23)
jake

*edited for typos

Shaku Kenshin
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by Shaku Kenshin » Sun Jan 27, 2019 8:45 am

Thank you all very much for your replies. :namaste:
Bodhiquest wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 1:37 am
I do practice Shingon but I'm not a monk. What I know of this tradition and what I've seen and heard here in Japan leads me to say that the answer is no.
For example, although it can be considered that Ajikan is taught openly, the "actual" Ajikan method (or rather an "actual" method) isn't. A simplified version is - not that it's a bad or weak practice or anything.

In a general sense full Vajrayana practice involves a complete system with an ultimate destination. It's doubtful that this ultimate destination can be reached if, say, half the system is missing. Progress can be made though.

It isn't the case that that the "meat" of the practice (sadhanas etc.) is categorically closed off to the laity; or at least I'm familiar with one case in which it isn't. But in general it appears to me that access to the full practice is needed for attaining the end goal.
Thank you very much for this very helpful answer. Might I ask if you as a lay practitioner yourself (if this is what you meant when you said you are not a monk) are planning to get ordained in the future to get access to the complete system or is what is available to you now enough for your own personal practice?

jake wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:50 am
I'd like to explore a bit what is meant by "lay." Many times, today, when this term is used it implies the existence of a monastic order, living celibate lives in secluded monasteries. Technically, according to the vinaya, Shingon-shu has no monks. Nearly every Shingon priest I've met is or was married, many have children, and a fair number work jobs, handle money, etc. Aside from their active religious practice their lives are not that different from yours or mine.
You are of course absolutely right, when you are saying that, according to the vinayana, Japanese monks are nowadays technically not really monks. When I say lay practitioners in the context of Japanese Buddhism, I generally mean people who haven't received tokudo.

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Bodhiquest
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by Bodhiquest » Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:48 am

Shaku Kenshin wrote:
Sun Jan 27, 2019 8:45 am
Thank you very much for this very helpful answer. Might I ask if you as a lay practitioner yourself (if this is what you meant when you said you are not a monk) are planning to get ordained in the future to get access to the complete system or is what is available to you now enough for your own personal practice?
I meant that I'm not ordained, yes.

What would be available to me as a layperson with my teacher isn't something I thought about too much in detail yet. As in, while I know that quite a lot would be available as I progress, I've never asked about the entire extent, focusing on what I have access to now. It's not like I'm advanced enough to be dealing with that stuff any time soon!
However ordination is actually something I've been thinking about lately. This too isn't something I can jump into very soon either, I think, but the idea started being something other than "yeah it'd be cool", basically.

Also, not sure if this would be relevant, but if you're in the US there's at least one place in which the "you must be this ordained to get on board" restriction doesn't exist. Or if you're ever in Tokyo, see the post I made on the Dharma Events/East Asia sub forum.
jake wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:50 am
The impact of this change or what it means exactly, I don't know.
It basically puts Shingon back on the radar of popular practice in Japan. The Saturday morning sessions involving this kind of Ajikan in the Koyasan Branch Temple in Tokyo are pretty popular for example; been there a few times. However, the method lacks... clarity, basically, IMO.
A simple approach to Shingon meditation is a good thing though, considering that nobody has even any idea who Kūkai is but everybody has heard of the Kamakura era masters.

meepits
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Re: Is enlightenment in this body possible for lay followers?

Post by meepits » Fri Feb 01, 2019 4:53 am

I go to a Koyasan Branch temple in Seattle, and the priest there answers yes to your question. Caviat: I’m very new to Mikkyo so there are vaguaries I’m probably missing here, and I’m really not trying to be contentious. He’s just one priest in just one branch. But we were discussing this issue and he said lay meditation and the ordained path are two distinct routes to enlightenment in this lifetime. Possibly just his opinion.

TBH I don’t know how I could possibly hope to achieve realization using only the lay path within Shingon. I definitely need more than that (which is why I have a Tibetan guru as my primary teacher).

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