I forgot about this old article...but it's topical:
Ninpo-Kuji Connection; Tradition or Tantalizing Topic?
“Is Mikkyo’s kuji-in the same as other martial arts?” While it may be enticing to properly compare the “borrowing” of lineage-based Kuji-in teachings amidst a variety of martial arts, both modern and ancient, my own limitations prevent me from even commenting to a learned degree on the question. So my response below is meant to provide a reference of sorts for the above question from the religious and spiritually-significant tradition of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, or mikkyo. Those more learned in martial traditions may then extrapolate their own understanding in light of orthodox teachings.
Mikkyo by definition is an orally-transmitted lineage body of teachings, practices and interpretations of Japanese Buddhism. As such, it is imperative that a master impart these highly-charged teachings to a certain pupil, disciple or group of disciples. Mikkyo teachings have been printed, distributed and read for an extremely long time in Japanese (and recently, in non-Japanese languages). These interpretations and translations are little more than notes to the essential dictate that the master imparts; the mind-to-mind transmission that is beyond the printed word.
A variety of Japanese esoteric Buddhist schools exists in which classical Mikkyo teachings are said to be transmitted. These include the Shingon school (shingon tomitsu), the Yamabushi-affiliated schools (shugendo mikkyo) and the Tendai school (tendai taimitsu). Other, “newer-age” Japanese Buddhist interpretational schools also purport to transmit esoteric teachings similar to mikkyo, including the popular Agon sect in Japan, of which I have no firsthand experience and can not evaluate. In the traditional schools, certain transmission documents exist to prove the legacy transmission between master and disciple. These documents prove the effective training and reception of mikkyo teachings and only apply to the established lineage of professional priests found today in Japan.
My own experience is limited to this cadre of priests (most specifically from the Tendai denomination) but in private conversations with several of my esoteric instructors, I was informed that certain individuals do indeed receive esoteric transmissions that are not annotated on a particular school’s “boards of transmission receivers” and may in fact be considered private and efficacious transmissions.
No disciple is considered proficient in the method who has not endured the preparatory practices of esoteric Buddhism. It would be comical to the traditional lineages of Japanese Buddhism for an aspirant to “just learn Kuji” because of the very strict emphasis placed upon both purification and empowerment practices. An aspirant would be counseled as to the appropriate measures to undertake, usually for an extended period before initiation within the method was extended.
Without a sanctified initiation (or kanjo) within the specific method to be transmitted, traditional mikkyo theory is that the method, although understood and practiced in good faith, is of shallow efficacy. In other words, without the master’s express consent and “blessing,” even following the prescribed method to a tee from the ritual manual will be of little value. For this reason, the printed editions of various esoteric texts are really not heavily prized, though considered sacred as essential teachings. Firstly, they are most often written at a level which does not explicitly discuss their contents and secondly, translations of their contents serve little more than as reference for academics. To practice a ritual merely from even a well-performed translation is seen as base in the world of actual practitioners.
Once a disciple has completed the preparatory stages, received consecrated initiation and performed the method literally hundreds of times, (s)he is further tested according to the dictates of her/his specific lineage school. Without this polishing, no amount of self-interest is of value. Therefore, no legitimate master would entertain thoughts from their pupil of “I’ve come to this…or that” who had not practiced the method for years.
With this backdrop in place it is appropriate then to briefly pull back the doors to what precisely constitutes the practice of the Kuji-in, Kuji-kiri and Kuji-Goshin-Ho (or kuji-goshin-bo). Volumes have been written in the Japanese language of what the practice of the Kuji-in might be like, what it might allude to, and how it might be implemented. Few of these volumes have been written by recognized clergy and even fewer have described the Kuji-in as a facet of the faith (some might say “faiths?”) from which it stems. Again, thinking one can learn such methods from books is nonsensical.
The Kuji-kiri as transmitted by the Shugendo branch found atop Mount Yoshino outside modern Nara, Japan is possibly the most basic interpretation as found in Japanese Buddhism. Literally the “Rite of Cutting the Nine Characters,” it is performed as a part of the Shugendo Fudo Myo-O Kaji-kito Goma (or Esoteric Fire Ritual and Empowerment Rite upon Aryacalanatha) and involves the expulsion and purification prior to the initial burning of the volatile offerings within the fire of consecration. This preliminary “cutting” of the Kuji grid and the subsequent nine (ten) mantra invocations are preformed as a tantric expulsion and strengthening rite prior to an orally-transmitted “capping procedure.” This capping procedure is not written in the priest’s ritual booklet of procedures but instead transmitted from master to disciple in private. Therefore, the pupil then, as a facet of the complete ritual, performs the Kuji rite, follows this with the capping ritual and continues the ritual.
The Shugendo Kuji-kiri practice outlined above presents a variety of alternative and related practices. A plethora of rites are to be found, to include the Kuji-in, or “Nine Mudra/Seals,” the Kuji-Goshin-Ho, or “Nine-Sealed Bodily Protection Method,” and the Juji-Ho, or “Ten Seal Empowerment Method” amongst others. Each of these methods is of course an orally-transmitted rite, and follows the outline as discussed above.
One might then ask what indeed are the “kuji-related” methods that lineage-based mikkyo traditions implement and master within their cannon of esoteric teachings. In simplest terms, all of the methods alluded to above are entrance gates to the purifying and empowering components of Buddhist awakening. They are succinctly postulated upon the marriage of deep compassion and hardened wisdom. While provisional and very meaningful extrapolations may be drawn from the motifs present in the methods described above, their primary and unwavering alignment is to a method of complete emancipation; in Buddhist parlance, a dramatic and all-encompassing revolution through awakening.
It has been said that methods such as these were “borrowed,” “absorbed,” even “leveraged” by a variety of organizations, both martial and otherwise. I shall leave this to much more knowledgeable authorities to comment upon but it should be remembered, or rather it is fairest to remember, that these methods are firstly concerned with the intrinsic properties of human benevolence and crystal awareness. Without deep prowess, mined from the depths of empowered practice, no amount of “trying it out,” or “making it up” will make up for the overpowering ego which besets the individual not properly learning Kuji-related practices.
It is therefore paramount that during a disciple’s preparatory training that deep humility and an all-embracing empathy arise which will prevent the selfish tendencies within human life from eclipsing the selfless passion to assist all beings in delivering themselves. One such method is the prostration rite. An acolyte might be commanded to perform hundreds, or thousands or prostrations, over and over again, focusing on the sacrifice of self-interest and the birth of supreme compassion and reverence for all life. In other words, the practitioner embraces all suffering as one’s own, holding nothing back, until a stainless and piercing attitude of supreme reverence and understanding arises. Without this, no amount of Kuji chanting, finger-weaving or effect imagining will be of any value or sanctity.
The specific focus that this article has been written to address is that of a supposed Ninpo/Ninjutsu relation to the practice of the Kuji-in and its corresponding practices. Who indeed is to say which ancient ninja schools assimilated which spiritual or quasi-religious practices? Several prominent authorities in the world of Ninjutsu arts (see S. Hayes Warrior Ways of Enlightenment, M. Hatsumi personal discussion April 1992, etc.) have added to the developing discussion, but overall, history may be shrouded in complete mystery over the how’s and why’s. What is paramount to present is that the religious orientation of traditional mikkyo is probably not best preserved in a school of martial lineage. I feel confident that this would be supported by the majority of Ninjutsu authorities; religion in the dojo is a sensitive and oft times dangerous topic.
With this exoteric view of classical mikkyo and Kuji-related practices, it may best be said that few people would be comfortable or capable of enduring the comprehensive dedication and tutelage necessary to truly “practice Kuji.” Most are quite intent upon dissecting the very roots from which practices such as these stem and instead, getting to the “marrow of the method.”
May all discussions be fruitful and lead to higher wisdom,
Rev. Jion Prosser
Tendai Lotus Teachingswww.tendai-lotus.org