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66138924 the Shingon Ajikan

66138924 the Shingon Ajikan

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Religion
(1999)
29
, 215–229Article No. reli.1998.0179, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on
The Shingon
Ajikan
: Diagrammatic Analysis of RitualSyntax
R

K. P

 Ajikan
is a ritualised meditation in which the practitioner visualizes the syllable
A.
Popular in the Japanese esoteric Buddhist tradition of Shingon since mediaeval times,this practice is rooted in classic Indian religious culture. The symbolism of the syllable(originary, universal and eternal) is based on its uses in Sanskrit. This essay examines theritual syntax of the
Ajikan
practice, comparing two ritual manuals, one premodern, theother modern. This analysis seeks not only to understand the structure of this particular ritual but to develop a diagrammatic technique that will allow meaningful comparisonsof rituals from di
ff 
ering religious traditions.
1999 Academic Press
Introduction
Frits Staal has shown convincingly that it is heuristically fruitful to consider the ways inwhich rituals are organised as analogous to the syntactic structures of language.
1
Inaddition to the theoretical and methodological concerns regarding considering rituals tohave a syntactic structure analogous to that of sentences, Staal’s work on ritual hasinitiated a technique of diagramming the structure of rituals.
2
 Just as syntactic studies of language have benefited from the development of the now widely used techniques of diagramming sentences, so also ritual studies can benefit from a consistently useddiagramming technique.Visualising the syllable
A
, known in Japanese as
Ajikan
, is one of the most commonpractices of the Japanese sect of esoteric Buddhism, the Shingon sect (lit. ‘true word’,referring to mantra).
3
In the following, two versions of the Shingon
Ajikan
practice willbe described.
4
One of these is from an early Tokugawa era (1603–1867) manual. Theother is from a modern manual. The syntax of each will then be diagrammed, and thesyntactic structures of the ritual discussed.This essay intends first to present information on the
Ajikan
and the patterns of ritualsyntax which structure it. Second, it intends to further the development of adiagrammatic technique for the syntactic analysis of rituals comparable with that used for the syntactic analysis of sentences. Finally, some theoretical considerations of therelations between cognitive science and ritual studies will be explored.There are two related aspects of ritual syntax that diagramming can assist in analysing.First, the rules by which rituals are organised are themselves ordered. Second, there aremeta-rules. Staal has summarised these two factors, saying ‘ ‘‘Meta-rules’’ ’ are simplyrules about rules. ‘‘Rule order’’ is easiest understood in the ritual context: the rulesabout lighting the fire have to operate before those that describe how oblations are madeinto it’.
5
Rule ordering and meta-rules were both discovered by Vedic ritualists andform part of the analogy Staal makes between ritual and language. In addition, it seemsclear from my own work on Shingon rituals that ritual structuring employs elementsanalogous to phrases.The importance of ritual phrase structure is that it can contribute to an understandingof cognitive structures in the same way that the analysis of linguistic phrase structuresdoes. According to Steven Pinker, it is the phrase structure with its ability to utilize thesame kind of phrase in a variety of locations, that allows for the incredible variety andadaptability of human language: ‘Once a kind of phrase is defined by a rule and given
1999 Academic Press0048–721X/99/030215+15
r
30.00/0
 
its connector symbol, it never has to bedefined again, the phrase can be plugged inanywhere there is a corresponding socket’.
6
Pinker goes on to point out the cognitiveimplications of linguistic phrase structures, maintaining that ‘restriction in the geometryof phrase structure trees . . . is a hypothesisabout how the rules of language are set upin our brains, governing the way we talk’.
7
Analysis of ritual phrase structures should inthe same way contribute to an understanding of how the rules of structured activity are‘set up in our brains’. Although structured activity includes more than ritual—foexample, games and dramatic performances—ritual may be one of the most extensivelyrule bound of such behaviours.For contemporary linguistics, the concept of rule has shifted from a generativenotion—that is, people form sentences according to the (either inherent or learned)rules—to a descriptive one. A ‘child acquires a certain linguistic skill, which linguists candescribe in the form of a rule’.
8
Thus, when it is asserted that ritual is a rule-boundbehaviour, the assertion is not that the rituals were created in accordance with a set of rules which are necessarily consciously known by their authors. Rather, the rule-boundcharacter of rituals is that there are certain consistent patterns which can be generalisedas rules. Based on his anthropological analysis of the strategies of honour in Algeriansociety, Pierre Bourdieu notes that ‘The science of practice has to construct theprinciple which makes it possible to account for all the cases observed, and only those,without forgetting that this construction, and the generative operation of which it is thebasis, are only the theoretical equivalent of the practical scheme which enables everycorrectly trained agent to produce all the practices and judgments of honour called for by the challenges of existence’.
9
However, because the patterns are consistent, the rulesas generalisations must exist in some kind of isomorphic relation with cognitivestructures.While analysis of rule ordering, meta-rules and ritual phrase structures can be donenarratively, making the structures visible in diagrammatic form can show the results of such analyses much more clearly. The application of a diagramming technique is basedon an analogy between language and ritual as rule-bound behaviours. Other analogiescould be made, the exploration of which might prove fruitful. For example, theapproach of performance theory seems to be based on the analogy of ritual to theatre.
The analogy with language made here for analytic purposes is also to be distinguishedfrom the question of what activities provide the model for the ritual in its creation. Asdiscussed further 
infra
, the metaphor of feasting an honoured guest provides thebasicmodel for organising many of the rituals which derive from Vedic origins.
Thisalimentary model is important for understanding the logic, or metaphoric entailments,
of many Shingon rituals. While understanding the founding metaphor is important, it isstill a separate issue. The benefit of the heuristic analogy with language is the possibilityof appropriating the well developed analytic tools of linguistics.This should not be taken, however, as a suggestion that language holds a position of cognitive primacy. Although an extended discussion of the issues involved goes beyondthe scope of this essay, it is my own belief that rule-bound behaviours do form a generalcategory which includes language, games, theatre and ritual. Determining whether thisis the case will require the application of common analytic techniques.
 Ajikan: Visualising the Syllable
A
The Shingon tradition of tantric Buddhism in Japan maintains a large corpus of rituals.The
Ajikan
is a ritualised meditative practice in which the practitioner visualises the
216
R. K. Payne 
 
syllable
A
as written in one of the medieval Sanskrit scripts, Siddham. The history of thispractice goes back to the development of ‘seed syllables’ (Skt.
¯ja mantra
) in medievalIndian tantric traditions, and the practice was carried through China to Japan. Thepractice continues to be propagated by Shingon masters in the present.Symbolically, the syllable
A
represents three related concepts: originary, universal andinexpressible. These symbolic associations follow from three functions of the syllable inSanskrit. It is the first syllable in the Sanskrit syllabary, hence the symbolism of origin.It is the ‘vowel’ component of each of the Sanskrit syllables, hence the symbolism of universality. And, it is used as a negative prefix, hence the symbolism of inexpressibility.By contrast to many other Shingon rituals, the
Ajikan
is relatively simple. Ku¯kai, thefounder of the Shingon tradition in Japan, gives a brief verse summary of the practice inhis ‘Precious Key to the Secret Treasury’:
Visualize: a white lotus flower with eight petals,[above which is a full moon disc] the size of a forearm in diameter,[in which is] a radiant silvery letter A.Unite your 
dhya¯na
[meditation] with
prajn˜a¯ 
[wisdom] in an adamantine binding;Drawthe quiescent
Prajn˜a¯ 
of the Tatha¯gata [i.e., Enlightened One] in [-to your mind].
Following Ku¯kai, several Shingon masters continued to transmit and propagate thepractice. For example, during the Kamakura era both Kakuban and Do¯han wrote severalworks on the
Ajikan
. The process of transmission and propagation meant an ongoingproduction of new manuals describing the practice.During the early years of the Tokugawa era the Priest Zo¯ei
compiled a manualentitled ‘Procedures for Visualising the Syllable
A
, of the Chu¯in Lineage’,
(Jpn.
AjikanSaho¯ Chu¯in-ryu
).
Zoei’s text provides a relatively full description of the ritual. This isin contrast to many of the Shingon ritual manuals, which assume that the reader is aninitiate and express themselves in such abbreviated form and technical terminology as tobe incomprehensible to the unitiated. Zo¯ei’s manual is still in use, and it sets out the
 Ajikan
ritual in eleven steps:1. Prostrations2. Take One’s Seat3. The Syllable HU – M
*
4. Practice [
Sa¯dhana
] for the Protection of the Body5. Five Great Resolutions6. Five Syllable Womb Realm [
Garbhadha¯tu
] Mantra7. Visualise the Chief Deity: The Syllable
A
a) In one’s heartb) In front of one’s eyes and in one’s heartc) Expanding to ll the entire cosmos [
dharmadha¯tu
], contracting andreturning to one’s heart8. Practice [
Sa¯dhana
] for the Protection of the Body9. Return of the Buddha10. Stand Up and Prostrations11. Thought of Great CompassionThese steps in the visualisation can be briefly described as follows:
The Shingon Ajikan: Diagrammatic Analysis of Ritual Syntax
217

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