Notes on Shingon

I’m a secular Buddhist. All of the forms of Buddhism have things that just don’t fit with the modern mindset. Some make better starting points than others– many secular Buddhist like SE Asian Therevada. At the moment, I like Chinese Buddhism (Chan and others) and Japanese Shingon.

Things I like

It’s a grab bag. Everyone has projected their idea of what Buddhism should be, could be for so long that Shingon now has a bit of Shinto, Hinduism, Vedantism, which can be discarded, along with a lot of good innovations. And it’s still “recognizable Buddhism”

Bodhisattvas. These are the hardest to incorporate into a secular practice. They are imaginary role models, they exist–weakly– in the collective mind. They are really cool and give a young boy a reason to give a rats ass about Buddhism.

Enlightenment in this life
I know it is a bit of marketing, but it is also a goal and an assumption with consequences. If you can attain enlightenment, then it is “easy” compared to “hard” enlightenment, which takes Kalpas.

Using desire for good
This is a Tantra idea. Taking the advice about giving up attachments at face value implies a certain sort of pathological depression where you don’t want anything.

It isn’t puritan about sex
I’m not talking about how monks can marry, I’m talking about how they incorporated Tantric ideas about sex– use what ever has psychological power as a means for powering yourself towards enlightenment.

The inclusion of ritual as a practice.
This is also difficult to rehab as a secular practice. It’s kind of like an atheist going to get his morning coffee. Is it meaningless, useless and more importantly contemptible? Or is ritual just how people roll, and maybe we should just give into the urge.  But the traditional rituals should be starting points, people should modify and make up their own as they see fit. Shingon is still copying the “summoning the gods as guests, burning gifts for the gods in return for something in reward” pattern which in turn copied from pre-Buddhist rituals. I would have thought that by now, thoroughly Buddhist rituals would be imagined

Esoteric Methodology
This is a methodology of re-interpretation. Old texts are read and an entirely new meaning is layered over the top, often such a radical new meaning you wonder if anyone really believes that the layered, esoteric meaning was intended by the original author. Like all re-interpretation, results will vary, but the methodology, such promising possibilities for living tradition!

Things I still don’t like
Self mummification is assisted suicide via slow self torture for someone who thinks they are gaining immortality.
Vairocana as a sentient Abrahamic-like god, obsurantism wrapped around an eternal soul– these are the very things that keep us unenligtened. I may not have an enlighted grip on what really is, but I can call wishful thinking-devotionalism when I see it.
The deification and veneration of Kukai as some sort of ultra-nationalist Japanese man-god.
Esoteric meaning secret as in “you are allowed to know, you gotta get permission”. Vajrayana guru veneration,
Fixed, unevolving rituals.
And rituals as frickin’ magic– summoning rain and expecting rain is a waste of time.

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