Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism – Kūkai

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

“Kūkai (空海; 27 July 774 – 22 April 835), born Saeki no Mao (佐伯 眞魚), posthumously called Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師, “The Grand Master who Propagated the Dharma”), was a Japanese Buddhist monk, calligrapher, and poet who founded the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism. He travelled to China, where he studied Tangmi (Chinese Vajrayana Buddhism) under the monk Huiguo. Upon returning to Japan, he founded Shingon—the Japanese branch of Vajrayana Buddhism. With the blessing of several Emperors, Kūkai was able to preach Shingon teachings and found Shingon temples. Like other influential monks, Kūkai oversaw public works and constructions. Mount Kōya was chosen by him as a holy site, and he spent his later years there until his death in 835 C.E.

Because of his importance in Japanese Buddhism, Kūkai is associated with many stories and legends. One such legend attribute the invention of the kana syllabary to Kūkai, with which the Japanese language is written to this day (in combination with kanji), as well as the Iroha poem, which helped to standardise and popularise kana.

Shingon followers usually refer to Kūkai by the honorific title of Odaishi-sama (お大師様, “The Grand Master”), and the religious name of Henjō Kongō (遍照金剛, “Vajra Shining in All Directions”).”

This above from Wikipedia

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate

bodhi svāhā

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate

bodhi svāhā

Using Mantra and Sound

In the previous post the mantra below is translated.

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

I think of it as being:

gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond the beyond, hail the great awakening.

It is perhaps the mantra of a Tathāgata.

This from Wikipedia

“Tathāgata is a Pali word; Gautama Buddha uses it when referring to himself or other Buddhas in the Pāli Canon. The term is often thought to mean either “one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata), “one who has thus come” (tathā-āgata), or sometimes “one who has thus not gone” (tathā-agata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathāgata is beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena. There are, however, other interpretations and the precise original meaning of the word is not certain.”

Together with AUM it is one of my favourites. It seems to me the mantra par excellence for shifting awareness a long way from the day to day drama of physical plane life. I have chanted it in my version of Tibetan Deep Voice very many times and it acts as a “key” to change jhana or state of awareness. I always do this with eyes closed.

One of the great things about living here is that one can really let rip with the chanting without fear of upsetting the neighbours. This means I can play with tone and volume. Have a listen to my recording of Gayatri which I made a couple of years after I found I could do this. This will give you a low sound volume idea.

One can roll the chant around one’s mouth and apply torque to the sound “pāra”. As one ramps up the volume and the intent coming out of the diaphragm control one takes conscious / awareness a long way. And then when you stop chanting there is a sense of complete stillness, emptiness and perhaps, a glimpse of śūnyatā.  There is utter silence after the sound.

As with all meditations one needs to take care that one can get back in into the body. The torque is what unscrews the Sahasrāra in the crown, lifts it and enables one to start to exit awareness by stretching the Antahkarana and Sutratma. If I may phrase it thus the quietness outside in deafening. Time and space cease to have their usual meaning and there is / can be a controlled contact with what Toltecs call the void. {I may elaborate on this another day} Because time is not, it can feel that one is “there” for a very long “time”, yet when one comes back to earth time only tens of minutes have passed.

What I am doing in this is high volume chanting whilst visualising the sound twisting the Sahasrāra “manhole cover” open. Then using the sound to elevate the cover so that I can take my awareness the other side of the cover.

I can now do this with out the need to chant.

One “exits” slowly. And when one comes back it must be done at exactly the same pace. If you imagine an elastic band stretched it needs a controlled relaxation otherwise it will “ping” and that is dangerous.

As described here this is a raja yoga visualisation using a Buddhist mantra chanted in something like Tibetan Deep Voice…

From my experience if you trust your intuition, you will find the appropriate notes yourself.

The mantra works on four levels

gate gate   —-   pāragate —- pārasaṃgate —- bodhi svāhā

Each level is further from the mundane and the hurly burly. The repetitive steps take you “out” of day to day mind.

Coming back is done by controlled intention, step wise. Slowly one materialises back in the head.

I always do some purification om ah hum as an act of sanctity, respect and of thanks. Before I open my eyes, I clap my hands three times to feel really grounded back.

I have just clapped….

This is an example of synthesis…


From the Compass of Zen

By Zen Master Seung Sahn


From Wikipedia

In the {full} sutra, Avalokiteśvara addresses Śariputra, explaining the fundamental emptiness (śūnyatā) of all phenomena, known through and as the five aggregates of human existence (skandhas): form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), volitions (saṅkhāra), perceptions (saṃjñā), and consciousness (vijñāna). Avalokiteśvara famously states, “Form is Emptiness (śūnyatā). Emptiness is Form”, and declares the other skandhas to be equally empty—that is, dependently originated.

Avalokiteśvara then goes through some of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings such as the Four Noble Truths, and explains that in emptiness none of these notions apply. This is interpreted according to the two truths doctrine as saying that teachings, while accurate descriptions of conventional truth, are mere statements about reality—they are not reality itself—and that they are therefore not applicable to the ultimate truth that is by definition beyond mental understanding. Thus the bodhisattva, as the archetypal Mahayana Buddhist, relies on the perfection of wisdom, defined in the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra to be the wisdom that perceives reality directly without conceptual attachment, thereby achieving nirvana.

The sutra concludes with the mantra gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā, meaning “gone, gone, everyone gone to the other shore, awakening, svaha.


Written by

Richard Hayes
Religious Studies
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

The key word is BODHI, a feminine noun in the vocative case, which means awakening. All the other words are also in the vocative feminine and therefore modify BODHI.

GATE means gone.

PARAGATE means gone to the further shore and is a stock Sanskrit expression used by Jains and Buddhists to refer to arahants. (The word PARA means the bank of a river opposite to the one on which one is presently standing.)

PARASAMGATE means completely gone to the further shore. (The prefix SAM is intensive in meaning: completely, thoroughly, altogether.)

SVAHA is an indeclinable particle from Vedic Sanskrit. It is said to be the name of the wife of Agni, the god of fire. It is used at the end of a recitation that accompanies a burnt offering made at a Vedic sacrifice (rather as “amen” is used at the end of a prayer in Christian liturgy). It cannot really be translated, since it is a performative word rather than a word that conveys meaning.

The whole mantra, literally translated, comes out a bit like this: “Oh awakening that has gone, gone, gone to the further shore, gone completely to the further shore. Amen.”

Sahasrāra – pārasaṃgate

Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

In various traditions at death the awareness is extracted via the Sahasrāra, the Antahkarana and Sutratma are withdrawn, and the lower vehicles cease to be animated by the causal reincarnating jiva. The time taken for this varies according to tradition and being. The lower vehicles fade away. The body is burned or buried. Legend has it that what people see as ghosts are not lost Souls rather empty shells, lower vehicles, which have not yet disintegrated. They are largely vital/etheric and astral/emotional forms.

I have been experimenting mixing mantra in deep voice chanting with raja yoga visualisation over the years. In my case one aids the other and in particular the above mantra is brilliant for going beyond and going beyond the beyond. It does what it says on the tin.

A part of the central column meditation starts with om mane padme hum, or the jewel in the centre of the lotus in which one opens the petals of the “heart” chakra enabling direct communication with the causal jiva.

The next stage is to elevate the jewel and then transfer consciousness “above the jewel”. After a while a second fire can be seen rotating atop the jewel in the centre of the lotus. This is the first sign of monadic contact. The colour indicates upon which of the three rays the monad of a being is.

If physical plane death is extraction of the two threads, might one prepare for it so that the process is relaxed and practised?

In theory yes, but one would have to open the Sahasrāra.

This is on the central column directly above the “heart” chakra, on the same axes as the rotating diamond.

Just as the jewel in the centre of the lotus rotates on its axis, there is circular motion in the Sahasrāra. To take awareness beyond Sahasrāra is not for the foolhardy nor the feint of heart. Mess it up and it is curtains.

Using the pārasaṃgate mantra, at correct pitch and with significant intent, it is possible to “unscrew” the Sahasrāra and take awareness beyond. There is a loss of sense of body if one does this and one needs to take care to stretch the threads only a tiny bit each time.  If one or both of the threads snapped, you would be deep in the Sierra. The wife would find a lifeless piece of meat sat in a chair.

It took me several months of effort to even start to budge the Sahasrāra one tiny bit. It is like a cast iron manhole cover. In my inner space it does not resemble any of the drawings which can be found by an image search. What amazes me about the illustrations of these things is that they are generally gaudy and are in no way sufficiently ephemeral.

I suspect that a lot of what is written  and drawn is borrowed, or imagined and not based on personal experience.

What lies above Sahasrāra extends {this is a massive understatement}. If I am not kidding myself, then it is possible to stretch the Antahkarana and Sutratma in an analogous way one does a corporeal yoga stretch.