The Intriguing Shingon Sect of Buddhism 

Buddhism eventually reached Japan as it spread from the Indian Subcontinent to China and most of Central Asia via the Silk Road. Buddhism in Japan is thought to have been practiced since sometime near 550 CE or even as early as the Kofun period, 250-538 CE. Today, , the most popular schools of Buddhism in Japan are Pure Land Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, and Zen. Buddhism is an important factor in influencing the development of Japanese society and culture even in the modern times.

Shingon Buddhism is 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.

Painting of Kukai.

Shingon Buddhism is known as the Tangmi (the Esoteric School during the Tang Dynasty of China), the esoteric teachings would later thrive in Japan through the efforts of the Buddhist monk Kūkai (774–835),  who travelled to Tang China to learn and at the same time request to spread the esoteric teachings. This is also the reason why Shingon Buddhism is also called Japanese Esoteric Buddhism or Orthodox Esoteric Buddhism. Shingon is actually the Japanese reading of the Chinese word zhēnyán, a Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit word “mantra”.

Sokushinbutsu is the process of self-mummification that begins while the person is still alive. It was a practice observed by monks who were mostly members of the Shingon sect. It is believed that Kūkai the founder of the Shingon sect, introduced sokushinbutsu to Japan as part of secret tantric practices he learned from China.

Center of a Garbhadhatu (Sanskrit) or Taizo-kai (Japanese) – Mandala.

Sokushinbutsu involves great self-discipline, wherein a monk undergoes the mummification process that can take anywhere from eight to ten years.

Mount Koya in Wakayama, is the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Mount Koya has a long and rich history having had settlers as early as 816. Over the centuries, the complex has grown to over 100 temples almost encompassing the whole town of Koya. Mount Koya has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.