Shingon Buddhism

Samantabhadra, one of the Thirteen Buddhas of Shingon Buddhism.
The center image of the Mandala of the Womb Realm, featuring the central figure of Mahāvairocana, the five Dhyani Buddhas, and attendant bodhisattvas.
Painting of Kūkai from a set of scrolls depicting the first eight patriarchs of the Shingon school. Japan, Kamakura period (13th-14th centuries).
The main building of Shinsenen, a Shingon temple in Kyoto founded by Kūkai in 824
Garbhadhātu maṇḍala. Vairocana is located at the center
The siddhaṃ letter a.
A typical Shingon shrine set up for priests, with Vairocana at the center of the shrine, and the Womb Realm (Taizokai) and Diamond Realm (Kongokai) mandalas.
A priest from the Chuin-ryu lineage at Shigisan Chosonshi Temple (朝護孫子寺)
A goma ritual performed at Chushinkoji Temple in Japan
Acalanatha, the wrathful manifestation of Mahavairocana, and the principal deity invoked during the goma ritual.
The Five Wisdom Kings is the most important grouping of Wisdom Kings in Esoteric Buddhism.
Located in Kyoto, Japan, Daigo-ji is the head temple of the Daigo-ha branch of Shingon Buddhism.
Chishaku-in is the head temple of Shingon-shū Chizan-ha
Hasedera in Sakurai, Nara is the head temple of Shingon-shū Buzan-ha

One of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia, originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra.

- Shingon Buddhism

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Vajrayāna (वज्रयान, "thunderbolt vehicle", "diamond vehicle", or "indestructible vehicle" ) along with Mantrayāna, Guhyamantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Tantric Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism are names referring to Buddhist traditions associated with Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in the medieval Indian subcontinent and spread to Tibet, East Asia, Mongolia and other Himalayan states.

A vajra and bell (ghanta), which are classic ritual symbols of Vajrayāna
Mahasiddhas, Palpung monastery. Note the figure of the great adept Putalipa at center, seated in a cave and gazing at an image of the meditational deity Samvara and the figure at the bottom left holding a skull-staff (khaṭvāṅga) and a flaying knife (kartika)
Diamond Realm mandala, based on the tantric Vajrasekhara Sutra, and symbolizing the final realization of Vairocana Buddha in Shingon.
Naked tantrikas dancing and eating from skull cups (kapalas), closeup of a Chakrasamvara mandala
Vajrayana adopted deities such as Bhairava, known as Yamantaka in Tibetan Buddhism.
The central deity of the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, which according to scholars like David B. Gray and Alexis Sanderson, appropriated numerous elements from nondual Shaiva Tantra
The 9th-century Agusan image, a holy Vajrayana Buddhist relic from the Philippines.
Tangut Auspicious Tantra of All-Reaching Union.
Manjushri, the bodhisattva associated with prajñā.
Monks attending the 2003 Kalachakra empowerment in Bodhgaya, India. Some empowerment ceremonies can include large numbers of initiates.
Tibetan Chakrasamvara statue in Yab-Yum union with his consort Vajravārāhī
Mani stones, stones inscribed with the "om mani padme hum" mantra
A Japanese Handscroll depicting various mudras, 11th–12th century.
An 18th century Mongolian miniature which depicts a monk generating a tantric visualization.
A Japanese depiction of the Amida Triad in Seed Syllable form (Siddham Script). Visualizing deities in the form of seed syllables is a common Vajrayana meditation. In Shingon, one of the most common practices is Ajikan (阿字觀), meditating on the syllable A.
A Tibetan depiction of the perfection stage practices of tummo (Skt. candali, inner heat) and phowa (transference of consciousness).
A Newari Buddhist mandala used for Guru Puja, Nepal, 19th century, gilt copper inlaid with semiprecious stones.
Dagchen Rinpoche's hand holds a vajra drawing lines that close the Hevajra Mandala, after the empowerment, Tharlam Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Bronze vajras and bell from Itsukushima, Japan
Chöd ritual, note the use of Damaru drum and hand-bell, as well as the Kangling (thighbone trumpet).
Three leaves from a manuscript of the Vajrāvalī, a ritual compendium compiled by Abhayakaragupta, abbot of the Vikramashila monastery around 1100 CE.
Map showing the dominant Buddhist tradition throughout Asia, Vajrayana (in the form of Tibetan Buddhism) dominates the Himalayan regions and in the Mongolian regions.
The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī engraved on a stele. Temple Fo Ding Shan Chao Sheng in Sanyi Township, Taiwan. Erected in June 2005.
Portrait of Kobo Daishi (Kukai) holding a vajra and a mala, 14th century, Art Institute of Chicago.
Yamabushi priests at Gose, Nara.
A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916–1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur during its heyday

There are several Buddhist tantric traditions that are currently practiced, including Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism and Newar Buddhism.


Sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words in Sanskrit, Pali and other languages believed by practitioners to have religious, magical or spiritual powers.

The Om syllable is considered a mantra in its own right in the Vedanta school of Hinduism.
Om Mani Padme Hum, a Buddhist Mantra written in Tibetan Script with Mandala Style
Mantras written on a rock near Namche Bazaar Nepal
Mantra of the Hare Krishna bhakti school of Hinduism
Om mani padme hum on the Gangpori (photo 1938–1939 German expedition to Tibet.
Hare Krishna devotees in Amsterdam carrying a poster with the Hare Krishna Mantra
A personification of the Gayatri Mantra
Japanese Mandala of the Mantra of Light, an important mantra of the Shingon and Kegon sects
A Japanese depiction of the Amida Triad as Seed Syllables (in Siddham Script). Visualizing deities in the form of seed mantras is a common Vajrayana meditation. In Shingon, one of the most common practices is Ajikan (阿字觀), meditating on the mantric syllable A.
The mantra of Padmasambhava (Om Āḥ Hūṁ Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hūṁ), in Lanydza (Ranjana) and Tibetan script.

The Chinese translation is, the Japanese on'yomi reading of the Chinese being shingon (which is also used as the proper name for the Shingon sect).


Portrait of Amoghavajra. Japan, Kamakura Period (14th century)
The Vajradhātu maṇḍala used in Amoghavajra's teachings from the.

Amoghavajra (अमोघवज्र ;, 705–774) was a prolific translator who became one of the most politically powerful Buddhist monks in Chinese history and is acknowledged as one of the Eight Patriarchs of the Doctrine in Shingon Buddhism.

Chinese Esoteric Buddhism

Chinese Esoteric Buddhism refers to traditions of Tantra and Esoteric Buddhism that have flourished among the Chinese people.

Portrait of Amoghavajra, fourteenth century, Tokyo National Museum.
Buddhist temples at Mount Wutai.
Mongolian Sita Mahakala (Gonggor), Erdene Zuu Monastery
A section of the Manchu edition of the Kangyur canon
Xumi Fushou Temple, Chengde.
Nenghai Lama (能海喇嘛, 1886–1967)
The Jing'an Temple in Shanghai, China, has adopted the Zhenyan tradition in modern times.
The Womb Realm maṇḍala used in Śubhakarasiṃha's teachings from the Mahavairocana Tantra. Vairocana is located in the center.
Vairocana at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown, Singapore.

The Zhenyan tradition was transported to Japan as Shingon Buddhism by Kūkai as well as influencing Korean Buddhism.


Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition (with significant esoteric elements) officially established in Japan in 806 by the Japanese monk Saichō (posthumously known as Dengyō Daishi).

Enryaku-ji, the head temple of Tendai at Mount Hiei
Painting of Saichō, founder of the Tendai sect in Japan
Mount Hiei in Spring from Umahashi over the Takano river.
A statue of Ennin, an important disciple of Saicho
Chishō Daishi Enchin (814-891)
Statue of Konryū Daishi Sōō (831-918), the creator of the practice of circumambulating Mt. Hiei, called kaihōgyō (回峰行) ("circling the mountain").
Śramaṇa Zhìyǐ (沙門智顗; Chih-i), the foundational philosopher in Tendai thought.
The goma ritual is an important esoteric practice in Tendai
Genshin's Ōjōyōshū (往生要集, "Essentials of Birth in the Pure Land") had a considerable influence on later Pure Land teachers such as Honen and Shinran.
A 14th century Tendai figure of Kongodoji Myoo, one of several "wisdom kings", fierce manifestations, in this case of the Buddha Amitabha.
A Tendai priest. Japanese Tendai priests take the bodhisattva precepts and do not use the traditional Vinaya pratimoksha vows.
Hie Taisha, a Sannō Shintō shrine on Mount Hiei
Shunzei reciting a poem.
Ryōgen is known generally by the names of Gansan Daishi (left) or Tsuno Daishi ("Horned Great Master", right). Tsuno Daishi is said to be a portrait of him subjugating yūrei.

It gradually eclipsed the powerful Hossō school and competed with the rival Shingon school to become the most influential sect at the Imperial court.


Painting of Kūkai from the Shingon Hassozō, a set of scrolls depicting the first eight patriarchs of the Shingon school. Japan, Kamakura period (13th-14th centuries).
Painting of Kūkai as a boy, posthumously known by the title Chigo Daishi ("The Child Grand Master"). It depicts the young Kūkai flying to heaven on a lotus, where he converses with various Buddhas. Muromachi Period, 15th century.
Wood statue of Kūkai.
Kūkai's calligraphy, from a segment of his work Cui Ziyu's Beliefs (崔子玉座右銘)
Letter written by Kūkai to Saichō, stored in Tō-ji
Monks bringing food to Kōbō Daishi on Mount Kōya, as they believe he is not dead but rather meditating. At his mausoleum in Oku-no-in, food offerings are presented daily to Kōbō Daishi in the early morning and before noon.
Statue of Kūkai meeting Emon Saburō in Kamiyama, Tokushima
Kūkai wards off a demon with the tantra. Painting by Hokusai (1760–1849).
Statue at Shitennō-ji temple
Statue at Jizō-ji temple
Statue at Kajū-ji temple
Statue in Nobeoka, Miyazaki
Altar at Daisho-in temple, on the island of Miyajima
Memorial Hall of Kūkai in Xiapu, Fujian, China
Altar at Tien-Ho Temple in Taipei, Taiwan
The Siddhaṃ alphabet in Kūkai's handwriting. 1837 reproduction by the monk Sōgen.

Kūkai (空海; 27 July 774 – 22 April 835 ), also known posthumously as Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), was a Japanese Buddhist monk, calligrapher, and poet who founded the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism.

Mount Kōya

Large temple settlement in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan to the south of Osaka.

Danjogaran, the central point of Mount Kōya
Entrance to Kōya-san with two pillars showing the temple name Kongōbu-ji (Kongōbu Temple) and its mountain name Kōya-san
Main Hall (Kondō) of Kongōbu Temple (Danjōgaran)
Saitō, West Pagoda (Danjōgaran)
Tōtō, East Pagoda(Danjōgaran)
Fudōdo, the hall dedicated to Fudō Myōō (National Treasure)
Sanō-in, Hall of the "Mountain King", the local Shintō deity (Danjōgaran)
Banryūtei, a rock garden in Kongōbu-Temple
Pagoda of Kongōsanmai-Temple (Kongōsanmai-in), the second oldest "treasure pagoda" in Japan (National Treasure)
Shingon Buddhist monks, Mount Kōya, 2004
Shimazu clan graves
Okunoin Cemetery
Graves in Okunoin Cemetery
Okunoin Cemetery
A statue of a deceased pilgrim at his grave site in Okunoin Cemetery
A Kannon-statue in Okunoin Cemetery
Two Kṣitigarbha-statues (Jizō bosatsu), Okunoin Cemetery
Okunoin Cemetery
A Path in Okunoin Cemetery
Tokugawa Mausoleum

In the strictest sense, Mount Kōya is the mountain name (sangō) of Kongōbu-ji Temple, the ecclesiastical headquarters of the Kōyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism.

Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism has been practiced in Japan since about the 6th century CE.

The Great Buddha of Asuka-dera, the oldest Buddha statue in Japan, and an example of the Tori style.
Painting depicting the semi-legendary Prince Shōtoku (574-622), the first major sponsor of Buddhism in Japan. Colors on silk, 14th century or earlier.
The Yumedono Kannon, another example of the Tori style.
A model of Yakushi-ji, a major imperial temple of Nara
Model of the garan of Todaiji seen from the north side
Todaiji's Great Buddha (Daibutsu)
An illustration of Saichō with tea leaves. He is known for having introduced tea to Japan.
Sanjūsangen-dō in Kyoto, a print of a Tendai temple, by Toyoharu, c. 1772–1781
Statue of Kūya by Kōshō, son of Unkei, dating to the first decade of the thirteenth century. The six syllables of the nembutsu, na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu, are represented literally by six small Amida figures streaming from Kūya's mouth.
A scroll depicting the kami Hachiman dressed as a Buddhist monk, an example of Shinbutsu-shūgō ("syncretism of kami and buddhas").
Sutra art from the Heike-Nôkyô, chapter 12.
An illustration of Hōnen preaching
A 20th century depiction of the banishment of Nichiren in 1261.
The main gate of Tōfuku-ji, the oldest sanmon in Japan.
Tenryū-ji's Sōgen Pond, designed by Musō Soseki.
The Hansōbō shrine, a Shinto shrine at the Rinzai temple of Kenchō-ji.
Kinkaku-ji, ("the Temple of the Golden Pavilion'), is a Rinzai Zen temple built in the Muromachi period (c. 1397) and destroyed during the Onin War (it was later rebuilt).
A model of Ishiyama Hongan-ji in Osaka, one of the main fortress-temple complex of the True Pure Land (Jōdo Shinshū) "Devoted League" (Ikko-Ikki).
The Battle of Ishiyama Hongan-ji, by Utagawa Yoshifuji
Portrait of Chinese monk Yinyuan (Ingen), who founded the Ōbaku school
Making Prints, by Hosoki Toshikazu c. 1879
Buddhist temple bells being smelted for bronze during the haibutsu kishaku
Soka Gakkai's Tokyo headquarters
Kōfuku-ji, the national headquarters of the Hossō school.
Tōdai-ji, the head temple of the Kegon school
The Golden Hall (kondō) at Yakushi-ji
Chion-in, the head temple of Jōdo-shū.
A traditional map of Eihei-ji, the main temple of the Sōtō school.
A print of the Nichiren Shū temple Ikegami Honmon-ji by Hiroshige.
Bodhidharma (Chinese: 達磨; Hiragana: だるま; Romanji: Daruma), painted by Miyamoto Musashi, swordsman artist and philosopher close to Takuan Soho monk of the Rinzai school (linked to the samurai caste) founded by the 28th Patriarch.
Vine and grape scrolls from Nara, 7th century.

Also during this period, the Shingon ( Ch.

Heian period

Last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185.

Miniature model of Heian-kyō, the capital during the Heian period
Byōdō-in ("Phoenix Hall"), built in the 11th century (Uji, Kyoto)
Section of a handscroll depicting a scene from the "Bamboo River" chapter of the Tale of Genji, circa 1130
Drawing of Fujiwara no Michinaga, by Kikuchi Yōsai
Illustrated section of the Lotus Sutra, from the Heike Nōkyō collection of texts, 1167
"Genpei Kassen-zu Byo-bu" / Akama Shrine Collection
Danjō-garan on Mount Kōya, a sacred center of Shingon Buddhism
Painting of the bodhisattva Fugen Enmei (Samantabhadra). Ink on silk, 12th century
Statue of Kōmokuten (Virupaksa), the Heavenly King of the West. Wood, 12th century

The Heian period saw the rise of two esoteric Buddhist sects, Tendai and Shingon.

Siddhaṃ script

Medieval Brahmic abugida, derived from the Gupta script and ancestral to the Nāgarī, Assamese, Bengali, Tirhuta, Odia and Nepalese scripts.

Siddhaṃ manuscript of the Heart Sutra. Bibliothèque nationale de France
A reproduction of the palm-leaf manuscript in Siddham script, originally held at Hōryū-ji Temple, Japan; now located in the Tokyo National Museum at the Gallery of Hōryū—ji Treasure. The original copy may be the earliest extant Sanskrit manuscript of the Heart Sutra dated to the 7th–8th century CE. It also contains the Sanskrit text of the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra and the final line shows the Siddhaṃ abugida.
Chinese use of the Siddhaṃ script for the Pratisara mantra, from the Later Tang. 927 CE
Chinese use of the Siddhaṃ script for the Mahāpratyaṅgirā mantra. 971 CE
Siddhaṃ Bijakshara A, Daishō-in, Miyajima
Mirror with bijaksharas, Miyajima
Siddhaṃ alphabet by Kūkai (774–835)
A Buddhist altar in Kawasaki, Japan showing a devotional mantra inscribed in Siddham to Shakyamuni Buddha with Japanese pronunciation guide
Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra written in katakana, Siddhaṃ scripts and kanji. This book was published in 1773 in Japan.

In Japan, the writing of mantras and copying/reading of sutras using the script is still practiced in the esoteric schools of Shingon Buddhism and Tendai as well as in the syncretic sect of Shugendō.