Kukai and Esoteric Buddhism
Dates: 710-794 (Nara Period), 794-1185 (Heian Period)
Kami worship governs everything on Earth; kami rituals are our attempt to try to control
• State has used Buddhism within their government for decision making
• Buddhism did not replace Shintoism; it is mere an upgrade from Shintoism within art and
In the Nara Period, Buddhism has traveled all over the world and it has picked up many
traditions from other nations.
• Everything (cultural, ritual) has been brought to Japan all at once.
• Chanters are to repeat rituals and sutras to heal the sick. Scholars are used to find the
best sutras and rituals to cure a certain disease, mainly research.
Kukai is born near the end of the Nara Period in dies within the Heian Period (where the capital
shifts to Kyoto)
• Aristocrat, extremely gifted student, was planned to work in the government to study
• Kukai finds a Buddhist text that can increase memory capacity, but he becomes
obsessed with Buddhism and drops out of school.
• He becomes a wandering saint around Shikoku, trying to find teachers to learn about
Buddhism. He arrives at a cave, and he has an enlightenment breakthrough.
• The sky and the sea becomes one, and he becomes a great teacher.
Esoteric Buddhism (secret teachings)
• Shingon Buddhism is a sect of esoteric Buddhism founded by Kukai.
• Early Buddhism (before the Common Era) is referred to as Theravada Buddhism.
Enlightenment is a goal, but it is impossible to reach it. Monks leave everything to reach
enlightenment, but they become Buddhist priests instead. Hinayana (one) refers to self-
• Mahayana (great) Buddhism has an idea of enlightenment for all people. They promise
instant enlightenment, and it is possible within one lifetime. There are many universes
with their own respective Buddhas.
• Vajrayana (esoteric) Buddhism means “thunderbolt”. Everything in the universe are
manifestations of enlightenment interconnected to the Dharma (the great truth).
• Buddhism went from forsaking the world (attachmen