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10 With This Very Body
Or What Kiikai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy
In ninth-century Japan, a rigorously trained Buddhist monk performs a
complex and elaborate Shingon ritual atop Mount Koya. Through highly
formalized actions of body, speech, and mind, the monk resonates with
Dainichi, the Dharmakaya or Cosmic Buddha. The heavy silence of stones
and trees sings the teachings of the Buddha; from the depths of mist-
shrouded forests, the mountain itself preaches the Dharma. In perfect har-
mony, the power of the Buddha flows into the monk, and his power flows
into the Buddha in stylized ritual movements of empowerment and grace.
Over a thousand years and half a world away, a group of Witches
meets in a wooded clearing at a small farm in Ohio to initiate a new priest
into their coven. Elders in their tradition, the High Priestesses begin the rit-
ual process that will perform this magical act of transformation. The moon
is waxing full, the sky a sable canopy sprinkled with stars, as the Priest-
esses begin the movements that create the magic Circle.
The Witches raise
their voices in chants to call the Gods, while one High Priestess assumes
the deeply ingrained ritual postures that bring the Goddess into manifesta-
tion within her.
These two rituals are time and worlds apart. Although they belong to
different religious traditions and are performed by people from very dif-
ferent cultures and historical contexts, I claim that there is a way of think-
ing about both rituals that enables us to understand intellectually what is
going on in each of them a little better: the use of ritual as pedagogy, a way
in which to learn what and who we truly are.
To more fully understand the first ritual example, we might reasonably
turn to Kukai (774-835), the Eighth Patriarch of Esoteric or Shingon Bud-
dhism, founder of the tradition in Japan, and creator of the ritual practices
(mikkyo) the monk performs. Known posthumously by the honorific title
Kobo Daishi, "the greatest teacher who promulgated the Dharma," Kukai
was the first great philosopher in Japanese history and a figure of legend-
178 Nikki Bado-Fralick
ary imponance and significance in Japanese Buddhism. In fact, it has been
said that Buddhism did not really become japanese until Kiikai developed
his esoteric practices.
But what has Kiikai to do with our second ritual example, the W1tches
in Ohio? I argue that Kiikai's teachings about religious practice, especially
his concept of sokushin jobutsu "attaining enlightenment with this ~ e r y
body," can be used to more fully unpack and appreciate some of the ntual
actions among the Witches as well. Before we take a closer look at w h ~ t
the Witches in Ohio are doing, it might be a good idea to first learn a b1t
more about Kiikai.
Kiikai was born on the island Shikoku during the Nara period (71o-
794), an era of considerable intellectual and religious interaction and cre-
ativity in japan. At that time, three religious traditions vied for cultural and
political prominence: the indigenous or (proto-)Shinto traditions, Confu-
cianism, and Buddhism. Each of them contributed to the philosopher and
priest Kukai would later become.
Growing up in rural Shikoku, Kiikai was undoubtedly deeply influ-
enced by the indigenous Shinto worldview, which held that all of Nature is
alive with the presence of spirits or kami, beings of tremendous, although
not necessarily benevolent, power. Kami could take practically any form:
deities, demons, ghosts, ancestors, waterfalls, stones, trees, mountains, and
even living human beings. By this you can deduce that Shinto did not rec-
ognize a clear distinction between nature and human beings, spirit and
matter, or mind and body; everything was potentially alive with spiritual
Perhaps influenced by these indigenous roots, Kiikai retained an inte-
grated or nondual vision of reality, as you can see from his later writing
about the interdependence of matter and mind: "Differences exist between
matter and mind, but in their essential nature they remain the same. Matter
is no other than mind; mind, no other than matter. Without any obstruc-
tion, they are interrelated. The subject is the object; the object, the subject.
·The seeing is the seen, and the seen is the seeing. Nothing differentiates
them. Although we speak of the creating and the created, there is in reality
neither the creating nor the created. "3
At the age of fifteen, Kukai was already recognized as a promising
scholar and began to study the Chinese classics. He was admitted to uni-
versity in Japan three years later; Shonly thereafter, he became frustrated
with the Confucian classics and turned to Buddhism for inspiration. But
for him simply studying Buddhist scripture was like drinking "dregs" left
over from .. men of old. "
A few years later, Kiikai dropped out of school to
become a wandering ascetic searching for truth in the mountains. Expos-
ing himself to all sons of weather, he wandered through remote valleys
or ventured onto snowy, precarious mountain cliffs, where he endlessly
recited mantras, practiced meditation, and paid respect to the ltami who
With This Very Body: Or What Kiikai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 179
But it was likely Kiikai's devotion to a practice of Esoteric Buddhism,
the recitation of a mantra to the bodhisatrva Kokiizo, that finally restored
his sense of balance and left him determined to choose Buddhism as his
spiritual path. Thus, his commitment to Buddhism "arose not so much
from book learning as from the actual experience of meditation. "
convinced that studying Buddhism intellectually without the practice of
meditation was essentially a waste of time.
Now a description of the development of Kiikai's complex system of
esoteric religious practices and philosophy is beyond the scope of this essay
and best left to another time. But we have already learned several things
from Kiikai that will help us understand what is going on in our two ritual
examples. Let's frame this discussion in terms of a question: What is real-
ity, and how do human beings figure into it?
For Kiikai, the entire cosmos preaches the Dharma. He called this
hosshin seppo, "the reality-embodiment preaches the Dharma," and it was
one of his central tenets. This principle, quite likely influenced by his expe-
riences with Shinto, was an important development of the triple-embodi-
ment theory of Mahayana Buddhism. The triple-body theory held that the
Buddha manifests in three forms: the historical Shakyamuni; celestial Bud-
dhas such as Amida or Kannon who could be reached through devotion or
meditation; and the cosmos itself, typically understood as an impersonal or
What sets hosshin seppo apart from the ordinary way of understand-
ing the triple-body theory is the idea that the cosmos, Dharmakaya or
Dainichi, is a personal Buddha who is constantly preaching the Dharma.
By "preaching," Kiikai means all acts of communication, including such
things as silence, gesture, color, or form. In fact, all phenomena are the
Dharmakaya's expressions. Dainichi is reality constantly revealing itself
through "all objects of sense and thought. "
This understanding of reality bears directly on Kiikai's conceptualiza-
tion of the human and his teaching of sokushin jobutsu, "attaining enlight-
enment with this very body." For if the whole cosmos is Buddha, and there-
fore already enlightened, then all phenomena including human beings are
somehow also intrinsically already enlightened.
If Kiikai was the first Buddhist thinker in Japan to hold that human
beings are originally enlightened (hongaku)/ he certainly would not be the
last. Kiikai was followed in hosshin seppo by the poet-monk Saigyo (I I I 8-
II9o), who declared that all things have "Buddha-nature," as well as by
Dogen (r2.oo-12.53), the founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, who
asserted that it is inaccurate to say that all beings possess Buddha-nature,
rather all of being is Buddha-nature.
Enlightenment, then, becomes a mat-
ter of knowing yourself as you really are.
But how do we go about obtaining this knowledge? Where and how
do we find our "Buddha-nature"? Kiikai tells us to look within our body-
mind, sokushin jobutsu-attain enlightenment "with this very body."
180 Nikki Bado-Fralick
Here we must proceed very carefully. Penetrating this teaching is a ~ i t
tricky for those of us coming from a Western philosophical framework ~ ~
which the mind and body are typically split and assigned distinctive attn-
butes. Encountering a framework in which the mind and the body are not
dualistic can be difficult, because it is easy to fall into accustomed patterns
of thinking in which we see what we expect to rather than what is there.
And our most accustomed pattern of thinking about the "mind-body prob-
lem" is to try to reduce one to the other.
Yoshito S. Hakeda, translator of Kiikai's works, points out that it is
important to realize that "the word body (shin) does not mean body as
opposed to mind, but existence or body-mind-being."
Yet, by choosing
.. the word body over the normally expected mind," Kukai emphasizes
"direct religious experience through cultivation of one's total being and
not merely through the intellect. "
This is quite in keeping with what we have seen of Kiikai's personal
experiences. Kiikai does not believe that the mystery of the Dharmakaya
is apprehended solely through intellectual means. Rather, enlightenment
must be embodied as well as intellectual, and, in many respects, it is the
body that plays a leading role. Kiikai conceives the person as what we
might call bodymind, "not as mind or body, nor body and mind," and
holds that this bodymind is "grounded in the Body-Mind, the secret and
sacred living Body-Mind of all, the Dharmakaya. "ll As Kukai writes: "This
body is my body, the Buddha body, and the bodies of all sentient beings.
They are all named the 'body.' All of these bodies are interrelated horizon-
tally and vertically without end, like images in mirrors, or like the rays of
lamps. This body is no doubt, that body. That body is, no doubt, this body.
The Buddha body is no doubt the bodies of all sentient beings, and the bod-
ies of all sentient beings are no doubt the Buddha body. They are different,
but yet identical. They are not different but yet different."
ln other words,
the true nature of the person is intimately interrelated with the true nature
of reality; person and world are intimately and somatically interconnected.
The whole and the parts reflect, reciprocate, and play off of one another in
Now the question becomes how do we more truly resonate with the
Dharmakaya Body-Mind? How effectively and quickly can we become
what we already truly are? What methods shall we use to transform unen-
lightened consciousness into consciousness that understands reality for
what it really is? This is the problem of praxis.
For Kiikai, the problem was answered by the grace (kaji) of the three
mysteries or intimacies (sanmitsu), cultivation of the esoteric practices of
thought, word, and deed-or meditation, mantra, and mudra. Medita-
tion-especially on the Womb (Taizokai) and Diamond (Kongokai) Man-
dalas so central to Shingon practice-clears and focuses the mind. Man-
tras enable us to harmonize or resonate (kyo) with the basic vibrations of
the Dharmakaya. And mudras, disciplined body postures and hand ges-
With This Very Body: Or What Kilkai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 181
tures, enable us to "act as if" our intrinsic Buddha-nature were already
With the principle of sokushin jobutsu, Kiikai establishes reli-
gious praxis as pedagogy, a tool for teaching us to become enlightened
"with/through/by and in this very body." Ritual is the pedagogy through
which reality reveals itself. Ritualized actions of thought, word, and deed
immerse us in the actions of Dainichi, and by acting "as if" with our body-
minds, we learn to become who we truly and already are.
Armed with at least this much information, we can more readily appre-
ciate the pedagogical dimension of the ritual practices in the first exam-
ple. The Shingon monk is, of course, following the esoteric teachings of
sokushin jobutsu through disciplined practices of body, speech, and mind.
The ritual actions of mudras, mantras, and meditation establish a reso-
nance with the Dharmakaya, enabling the monk to perceive his bodymind
and the Dharma bodymind flowing into one another in mutual empower-
The second ritual example will need further investigation in order to
appreciate its pedagogical dimensions. For this particular community of
Witches, or Wiccans,
initiation marks a significant moment in a long
and multidimensional learning process that includes training of the body
as well as the mind. They are therefore a promising group to examine
with regard to sokushin jobutsu and the notion of cultivating one's total
being through direct and embodied religious experience. While a complete
description and analysis of this community's rite of initiation is not practi-
cal within the limits of this essay, a few aspects of the rite should suffice to
illustrate my point.
Let us begin with timing and location: the Witches hold the ritual out-
side under the fuJI moon. Why is the moon's phase significant? The per-
son who is about to be initiated has already learned that the Moon is an
important symbol in Wiccan theology that is often identified as female and
Goddess. The Witches' Lunar Goddess is a tripartite deity whose aspects of
Maiden, Mother, and Crone are theologically related to activities, to bio-
logical stages of life, and to the ever-changing cycles of the moon. The new/
waxing moon is the Maiden and marks new beginnings. The full moon is
the Mother, who sustains with her strength and determination. And the
waning/dark moon is the Crone, who brings an end to things so that new
beginnings can take root. More than any other single image, the Moon
functions to mark times of change, so it is particularly fitting that She be
manifestly visible during a critically transformative rite.
What teachings are being imparted to the new initiate by having him
wait for the right time-the right cycle of the moon-in order to perform
the ritual? Perhaps even more important than chronological stages of life,
the student learns that the triple aspects of Maiden, Mother, and Crone
represent cycles or stages in the progress of projects and events. He learns
firsthand that timing rituals to the cycles of the moon can be a significant
factor in their successful performance.
182 Nikki Bado-Fralick
In other wor.ds, the Moon as deity is not merely a metaphor, a to
think about things, but a time to do things. The Lunar Goddess tmpor-
tant not only on a theological or symbolic level, but on a pracucal level
as well. These symbolic dimensions have immediate implications on
practical level, and this is the first of many ritual occasions when that wtll
become evident to the new initiate.
The location of the rite-outdoors in nature-reveals a critical ped-
agogical dimension. Since they understand their practice as a "nature reli-
gion," it makes perfect sense for the Witches to hold their ceremonies out-
doors. Not only can the natural environment be used to set the stage for the
performance of the rite, but holding the ritual outside foregrounds Nature
as a living p1esence, a member of the spiritual community whose atten-
dance at the rite is made apparent and engaged by the worshippers through
outdoor ritual praxis.
In other words, performing the ritual outdoors foregrounds Nature
as an active participant-a person with whom the Witches interact in an
intimate manner. Nature-as-person communicates through the chill of the
night air, the wind in the trees, the full moon peeking through branches,
or the rumbling of thunder and threatening clouds. This is not mere meta-
phor, but a realized perception of Nature as alive and present in some spe-
cial way to the participants of the ritual.
Perhaps a more expected wording in the above might be "Nature is
personified," but I feel this inadequately captures the level of intimate and
somatic interaction between Witch and Nature. In fact, developing an
increasing sensitivity to and awareness of Nature-as-person is one of the
key facets of the learning process for an initiate within this community, and
holding rituals outdoors emphasizes this important theological and prax-
Spatiality and movement through the landscape also play prominent
pedagogical roles in cultivating awareness of Nature-as-person. The first
spatial action in the rite is the placement of the candidate for initiation
near a smaU pond that lies between the farmhouse, or "mundane space,"
and the area in the woods that will become the site of the ritual Circle, or
For the person being initiated-sitting quietly on the moist, cool
ground-every breeze, every star, every firefly, each chirp of a cricket or
throaty croak from a bullfrog reinforces the sense of communion between
person and Nature, made present in and through the senses of the body,
resonating in harmony with the presence of Nature. This is one of the crit·
lessons of the entire learning process of becoming a Witch. And it is
v1tal that the initiate learn this lesson-not just intellectually or emotion-
ally, but somatically, with and through his body.
Sitting in meditation at the pond, the candidate waits for the initiation
that will fully incorporate him into the Wiccan religious community. But
from the perspective of where he is placed-in Nature-a different inter·
With This Very Body: Or What Kiikai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 183
pretation of this moment is possible. From the perspective of Nature-as-
person, he is already "in community," although he may not realize it fully.
In this sense, initiation will not bring him into community or harmony with
Nature so much as it will awaken him through the experiences of what I
call his. body-in-practice to the community that is already there.
The body-in-practice is not a passive receptacle for spirit but is an active
agent through which the spirit is transformed. It is a subject, not an object.
It is active rather than static. The body-in-practice is an achieved state, not
a natural one. In other words, the body-in-practice is the body and mind
working together to achieve the whole person. Such embodied practice is
the process-the magic-through which the Witch transforms herself into
her most perfect form. As philosopher Thomas Kasulis observes, a spiritual
practice that engages both body and mind actuates a "process by which we
can gradually change what we existentially are" (italics mine)Y
During the initiation ritual, the body becomes highlighted not only as
the site or location of change, but as an active participant-even a cata-
lyst-in that change. Initiation is the means by which the natural or ordi-
nary body is ritually transformed into the body-in-practice. Essentially, the
initiation ceremony effects this transformation by ritually unmaking the
natural body and then remaking it as the body-in-practice. This is accom-
plished in large part through the initiate's symbolic death, his journey
around the perimeter of the Circle, and his encounters with the Guardians
of the elemental forces of Nature: earth, air, fire, and water, and also spir-
it-the five points of the Witch's sacred pentagram.
Transformation of person is in fact keyed to the transformation of
space; both processes begin with the use of the sword, a tool representing
the element of fire. In Circle casting, the Witches use the sword to separate
the sacred space from its ordinary location. In initiation, the Witch who
personifies Death wields the sword in a symbolic deathblow that separates
the initiaJe from his ordinary state of consciousness. This separation from
the ordinary marks both space and person as a site of transformation and
deepens the identification of sacred self and sacred space.
Ritual and somatic understanding and mastery of the elements are
essential to creating the ritual space. Witches perceive the properly cast
and consecrated Circle as a place between the ordinary world of human
beings and the world of the Gods. Again, they do not view this metaphor-
ically, but as a real place in which the Gods manifest, and both Gods and
humans meet and interact through ritual praxis. The Circle becomes an
intersubjective field in which the Gods and those persons who have devel-
oped the body-in-practice may actually engage one another in shared sub-
jectivity or "consubjectivity." The place between the worlds is the place
wherein human beings and Gods mutually interact and affect change in
The Witches cultivate through the body-in-practice what anthropolo-
gist Thomas Csordas calls "somatic modes of attention," defined as "cui-
184 Nikki Bado-Fralick
rurally elaborated ways of attending to and with one's body in surroundings
that include the embodied presence of others."
In this case, the "embod-
ied presence of others" encompasses not only the Witches in the Circle, but
also those entities invoked or otherwise called into the Circle-including
the Gods, who are made manifest in and through the bodies-in-practice of
the Priests and Priestesses invoking Them.
In other words, when the Goddess is invoked by the High
She becomes present with and through the Priestess' body-in-practice. It
at once both Priestess and Goddess who signal that the invocation is com-
plete. The new initiate will learn not only to become increasingly aware
of or attentive to the elements, to the spirits and Guardians, to the Gods,
and to Nature-as-person, but he will also learn to sense and engage them
through his body-in-practice. Csordas helps us grasp the significance of
somatic modes of attention:
Because attention implies both sensory engagement and an object, we
must emphasize that our working definition refers both to attending
.. with" and attending "to" the body. To a certain extent it must be
both. To attend to a bodily sensation is not to attend to the body as an
isolated object, but to attend to the body's situation in the world. The
sensation engages something in the world because the body is "always
already in the world." Attention to a bodily sensation can thus become
a mode of attending to the intersubjective milieu that give rise to that
sensation. Thus, one is paying attention with one's body. Attending with
one's eyes is really pan of this same phenomenon, but we less often
conceptualize visual attention as a "turning toward" than as a disem-
bodied, beam-like gaze. We tend to think of it as a cognitive function
rather than as a bodily engagement. A notion of somatic mode of atten-
tion broadens the field in which we can look for phenomena of percep-
tion and attention, and suggests that attending to one's body can tell us
something about the world and others who surround us.
Attending to what is perceived by the body-in-practice tells the new initiate
something about the concrete reality of those who inhabit the intersubjec-
tive field of the consecrated Circle. The somatic modes of attention culti-
vated through embodied practice represent a significant achievement in the
realm of individual practice-one that ideally continues to develop long
after the initiation ceremony is over.
I want to linger for a moment on the phrase "embodied practice"
because it is pivotal to understanding Wiccan religious practice and returns
us to Kiikai's teaching of sokusbin jobutsu. The phrase itself consists of
two words of equal importance: "embodied" immediately foregrounds the
.. practice• suggests training, repetition until you get it right, disci-
pbned and conscious doing, and "cultivation."
Now it can be argued that "cultivation" is a term more often encoun-
tered in Eastern religions and philosophies than in the Western traditions,
With This Very Body: Or What Kiikai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 185
so perhaps it isn't appropriate here. But although Japanese philosopher
Yuasa Yasuo is writing about Eastern bodymind practices, he illuminates
something that is going on in this Western tradition as well. He writes,
"personal cultivation in the East takes on the meaning of a practical proj-
ect aiming at the enhancement of the personality and the training of the
spirit by means of the body" (italics mine).
And this is precisely what
occurs through the Witches' disciplined and somatic meditative and rit-
This may startle people who think the body has absolutely nothing to
do with spiritual practice except as something whose temptations must be
overcome. But as Kasulis demonstrates in his article "The Body-Japa-
nese Style," this has far more to do with differences in the ways that East
and West tend to conceptualize the relationship between mind and body.
By assuming that mind and body are distinct entities with fixed (and even
conflicting) attributes, we in the West tend to miss the ways in which mind
and body actually do become increasingly well integrated through train-
ing and practice.
But while we can perhaps more readily perceive mind/body integration
in physical practices-such as athletic prowess, or even driving a car-it
is far more difficult to apprehend cultivation of mind/body integration in
spiritual practices. Religion-as-practice, as something that involves increas-
ing development of the interconnections of mind and body-as something
you can somehow get better at doing-is not as apparent to us as driving-
If the students in my academic courses on world religions are any indi-
cation, religion is typically understood not as a practice but as a system or
set of beliefs. The problem with this concept is in the way the term "belief"
is frequently construed. Belief in our culture is something that goes on in
the head. It involves a strictly mental process resulting in a choice or deci-
sion that is itself markedly removed from bodily practice or engagement.
The idea that religion might be rooted in somatic experiences, that it might
be about practices, about things done with the body as well as the mind,
is often a difficult and apparently troubling concept for my students. For
most of them, religion clearly functions as an identifying label rather than
as a doing. But in everything from simple prayer and acts of kindness to
complicated ceremony and intensive ritual training, people do their reli-
gions every day.
One of the most striking things about this particular tradition of Witch-
craft is the degree to which the Witches use ritualized actions of the body
to train the spirit. It may be instructive to take a quick look at part of this
training to see the method at work in transforming religion-as-disembod-
ied-belief to religion-as-embodied-practice.
The first few classes that students have with the teaching Witch are pri-
marily informative or intellectual in nature: what Witchcraft is and is not,
historical background, structure of the particular group, and so forth. Sub-
186 Nikki Bado-Fralick
sequent classes increasingly focus on more creative, somatic activities, for
example, designing a "ritual tool" for one of the elements. Such activities
provide hands-on familiarity with the element, providing a satisfying cre-
ative and tangible connection between theory and practice.
Small hands-on projects then progress to very limited somatic prac-
tices such as relaxation and breathing techniques. In this particular group,
breath control is the gateway to all other ritual practices. In fact, Witches
concentrate on mastering proper breathing in order to successfully accom-
plish the visualization and concentration needed for all other ritual work,
including invocation, divination, and healing. The first step is simply to
notice the pattern of breathing in order to further accustom the student to
the idea that the Craft is about practices, and ones involving the body.
Depending on how well that goes, the Witch may then decide to intro-
duce trying to control or regulate the pattern of breathing-for example,
by having students breathe in for a count of four, hold the breath in for the
same count, breathe out for a count of four, and hold the breath out for the
same count. Students. learn that controlling the breath is much more diffi-
cult than simply noticing the breath, and they also learn that even begin-
ning Wiccan practices take some work.
These few simple somatic exercises, which are not really simple at all,
are not only the beginnings of the paradigmatic change to practice but are
also often the beginnings of counteracting a lifetime of ignoring knowledge
that is rooted in the body itself. Many of us seem to be shut out of, or alien-
ated from, our own bodies. From the time we are children, we are taught to
ignore or repress their basic needs-for rest and sleep, for sex, for exercise,
for play-and their warning signals of pain and discomfort.
As children, we are taught that bodily timetables and schedules must
conform to the timetables and schedules of schools and, later, of employ-
ers. In fact, employers often reward their employees for overworking their
bodies to the point of exhaustion. When the unnoticed signals and unmet
needs of those bodies erupt into illness, some employers even punish their
employees for falling down on the job or for seeking compensation for
Religion may also teach us to ignore our bodies, considering them
unworthy of attention and respect. Some religions reward denigration and
punishment of the flesh, casting such practices as spiritual. The foreground-
ing of the body in Wiccan religious practice teaches the students that their
bodies deserve respect and are as much a part of the spiritual endeavor as
their minds. Students begin to learn that their bodies are not merely vessels
for spirit, unimportant in themselves, but rather are active participants in
the religious process.
This immediate (and controlled) exposure to the sensual, tactile dimen-
si.on ~ f Wiccan religious experience begins to counteract the idea that reli-
pon IS only-or even primarily-about belief systems, sets of abstract
conceptS, or texu. It introduces the students .to a theological framework
With This Very Body: Or What Kiikai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 187
within which practice (i.e., practice that centrally includes the physical
body as the doer of spiritual/earning) emerges as equally important to
belief or intellectual knowledge. Here is the beginning of the paradigm shift
to religion as embodied practice.
For those students who go on to initiation, the development of the
body-in-practice intensifies through successful performance of different
forms of meditation and an increasing number and variety of ritual prac-
tices. Now the student and Witch address the practice of the religion itself,
at first in limited and very controlled exercises with the body in meditation
postures or in simple rituals within the Circle. Eventually the student will
engage in more challenging and creative expressions of religious practice,
incorporating complex forms of visualization, concentration, ritual ges-
ture, and other forms of bodymind practice.
At first this somatic portion of the learning process is painfully awk-
ward. In addition to the proper gestures, movements around the Circle,
and so forth, the most important thing that the student must master is that
most difficult and esoteric of all Wiccan ritual practices-how to breathe.
Mastery of breathing in various postures and while performing other activ-
ities is the foundation of ritual practice.
Witches breathe to relax, to prepare themselves or "ground and cen-
ter" at the beginning of each ritual. It is through proper breathing that the
Witch sheds the mundane personality and engages the spiritual presence,
and it will enable her to manifest God or Goddess in the invocation. It is
through the automatic and unconscious mastery of breath that the Witch is
able to focus on divination, magic, healing, and invocation. Mastery of the
breath is the foundational somatic practice through which the Witch devel-
ops her spiritual being-the total integration of mind, body, and spirit that
is the goal of practice.
How can something that is apparently difficult to master become auto-
matic and unconscious? Actually, we do it all the time. Take a fairly mun-
dane example: driving. Remember what it was like to learn how to drive:
the body seems to be "all thumbs," trying to recall rules of the road while
concentrating on moving your feet and hands in coordinated movement
just so, not running off the road, not hitting the rabbit that just ran in front
of you. Every bit of your concentration and effort is focused on driving.
Now, years later, get into the car to go to the store to buy a few things.
If you are anything like me, your mind is re-creating the grocery list you left
on the counter; you see a friend on the sidewalk and wave to her; you're
thinking about the paper that you have to finish for a conference. Where
is the car? Being driven gracefully, automatically, and unconsciously by the
trained and practiced body.
For Kiikai, ritual praxis was the key to understanding the intima-
cies of the Dharmakaya, for understanding reality for what it really is, for
sokushin ;obutsu, "attaining enlightenment with this very body." For these
Witches, ritual praxis is also the key-but for understanding and perceiv-
188 Nikki Bado-Fralick
ing Nature-as-person, for successful union with and manifestation of deity,
and for realization of one's true identity. .
Both sokushin jobutsu and the development of the Witches' body-.m-
practice counter a Western philosophical worldview that mmd
and text over body and practice. Freezing religion as "text" that IS then
read and enacted is to miss the somatic nature of religious praxis and also
ritual as a pedagogy that engages the whole person. Ritual as pedagogy
captures somatic modes of attention that are culturally elaborated ways of
attending to and with one's body that include sensory engagement of the
embodied presence of others.
Although the particular rituals, meditations, visualizations, postures,
and exercises differ, they have in common the training and cultivation.
the bodymind or the body-in-practice, a finely tuned instrument of spm·
tual awareness. For the Witches, as for Kukai, ritual praxis is the means,
the pedagogy, through which reality reveals itself and we become what we
1. Witches use the term "circle" in a variety of ways: as the actual blessed and
consecrated ritual space, as a rite or ceremony that is being held, or as a reference to
the coven itself. When "Circle" is used in any of these three ways, it will be capital-
ized in this work. The polysemous, but interrelated, use of central religious terms is
a common phenomenon in religious traditions. See, for example, the discussion of
"mantra" in Esoteric Buddhism and "Body of Christ" in Thomas P. Kasulis, "Philos·
ophy as Meta praxis," in Discourse and Praaice, ed. Frank Reynolds and David Tracy
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 19
2.), pp. 169-196. For detailed infor·
marion on the casting of the Circle as ritual space, see Nikki Bado-Fralick, "Mapping
the Wiccan Ritual Landscape: Circles of Transformation," Folklore Forum 33·
z.. Yuasa Yasuo, The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory, ed. Thomas.
P. Kasulis, trans. Nagatomo Shigenori and Thomas P. Kasulis IAlbany: State Univer·
sity of New York Press, 19s
), p. us.
3· Yoshito S. Hakeda, Kiikai: Major Works, trans. Yoshito S. Hakeda, with an
account of his lik and a study of his thought INew York: Columbia University Press,
1972.), pp. 119-2.)0.
4· Ibid., p. 15.
s. Ibid., p. u.
6. Ibid., p. 79·
7. lbld., p. 6.
8. Thomas P. Kasulis, "The Body-Japanese Style," in Self as Body in Asian
Tbeory and Practice, ed. Thomas P. Kasulis, Roger T. Ames, and WUDal Dissanayake
(Albany: State University oENcw York Press, 1993), p. 308.
9· Hakeda, Kflkai, p. 78.
xo. Ibid., p. 78.
u. Ibid., p. 74·
With This Very Body: Or What KOkai Has to Teach Us about Ritual Pedagogy 189
12. From Yuasa, The Body, p. 156. The third line (omitted in Yuasa) is adapted
here from KukiJi, pp. 92.-93, replacing the word "existence" in his version with
"body," in keeping with Yuasa's style. The original is taken from KUlcai's Shokushin-
jobutsugi (Meaning of becoming a Buddha in this very body), published in Kobo dai-
shi chosaku zenshu (The Complete Works of Kobo Daishi), ed. Katsumata Shunkyo
(Tokyo; Sankibo, 1968). Shokushinjobutsugi appears in vol. I, pp. 4I-58.
I3· See Thomas P. Kasulis, "Reality as Embodiment: An Analysis of Kiikai's
Sokushinjobutsu and Hosshin seppo," in Religious Reflections on the Human Body,
ed. jane Marie Law (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. I66-x8s.
Kasulis' development of the term "intimacy" is panicularly useful in understanding
the degree of interconnection between person and world. See his Intimacy or Integ-
rity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, The 1998 Gilben Ryle Lectures (Honolulu:
University of Hawai'i Press, 2.005).
14. Kasulis, "The Body-Japanese Style," p. JII. Readers who wish to learn
more about the principles of Shingon practice may wish to consult Taiko Yamasaki,
Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, translated and adapted by Richard and Cyn-
thia Peterson, ed. Yasuyoshi Morimoto and David Kidd (Boston and London: Sham-
15. Although today there are distinctions made in the Contemporary Pagan com-
munity between Witches/Witchcraft and Wiccans/Wicca, I will make no such distinc-
tion for the purposes of this paper and use the terms interchangeably.
I 6. For a full description and detailed analysis of this community's process and
ritual of initiation, see Nikki Bado-Fralick, Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wic-
can Initiation Ritual (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
17. Kasulis, "Editor's Introduction" in Yuasa, The Body, p. 3·
IS. Thomas Csordas, "Somatic Modes of Attention," Cultural Anthropology 8
(1993): 135-156; 138. Reprinted as chapter 9 of Body/Meaning/Healing (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
19. Csordas, "Somatic Modes," pp. 138-139·
2.0. Yuasa, The Body, p. 8 5. .
2.1. Kasulis, "The Body-Japanese Style," pp. 2.99-319.