“Each deity is possessed of the Three Mysteries (as innumerable as) the dust motes of (countless) lands, and they mutually empower each other and encompass one another. The three mysteries of sentient beings are also like this. Therefore, it is called empowerment by the three mysteries. If a Mantra practitioner should examine the meaning of this, make seal-pledges (i.e. Mudras) with his hands, recite mantras with his mouth, and dwell in Samadhi with his mind, he will quickly obtain the great siddhi on account of the inter-correspondence and empowerment of the Three Mysteries (of his deity and himself).”
Buddhism is different than many other religions of faith. Buddhism is first and foremost a practice. Faith in Buddhism comes through your practice when you can prove the various teachings are true to yourself through direct experience. So faith comes after, not before as in other religions. In the Zen tradition they say that your practice must begin with the “Great doubt”. So in a sense in order to begin you have to not believe.
In the Esoteric schools the practice is referred to as the Three Mysteries (or secrets).
The Three Mysteries are:
- The Mystery of the Body – Mudra
- The Mystery of Speech – Mantra
- The Mystery of the mind – Visualazation (Meditation)
The Esoteric sects use ritual to both concentrate the mind and to bring all the different teachings to life in the process of performing them. While performing the rituals the practitioner will perform Mudras with his hands, Mantras with his mouth, and Visualization with his mind. All of these actions are symbolic and have profound meanings. By performing the ritual in this way all aspects of the person are engaged in the process. These are also aspects of the Buddhas, the Buddhas voice, The Buddhas body, and the Buddhas mind.
This is the point where Esoteric practice all comes together. The goal of the ritual practice is to not only realize the illusion of the “self” but to realize our connection to all things (the universe) by literally merging and becoming one with the Cosmic Buddha MahaVairocana (The Great Six Elements, Buddha Nature, The Unborn).
The Dharmakaya (The body of the Buddha MahaVairocana) is made up of the Six Great Elements and our bodies are also made up of the same elements, We form our hands in the enlightened Mudra of the Cosmic Buddha.
Mantra is the Enlightened voice of the Cosmic Buddha (MahaVairocana). Since we are reciting the Mantra we are speaking with the voice of the Cosmic Buddha.
Through visualization we merge our “self” with the “Self” of the Cosmic Buddha.
Through the Three Mysteries we become the Buddha and the Buddha becomes us. There is no separation, that is reality.
“By concentrated activity of body, speech and mind, the esoteric practitioner activates the suprapersonal energy of empowerment (Kaji). Mikkyo calls this process nyuga ga’ nyu (literally, “entering-self and self-entering”), in which the power of the Buddha flows in the practitioner, and the practitioners power flows into the Buddha. Esoteric practice thus unites the three human activities (Sango) of body, speech, and mind with the three secrets (sanmitsu) of the universe. Mikkyo often uses these two terms interchangeably. Since this union symbolizes enlightenment, esoteric meditation is called sanmitsu yuga, union of the Three Secrets, and sanmitsu kaji, empowerment of the three secrects.”
Taiki Yamasaki, Shingon Japanese Esoteric Buddhism
“Each of the three mysteries interfuses equally with the others to pervade all the corners of the world. Practitioners must therefore understand that all the objects of their sight are the all–permeating body (of the Dharmakaya). All the sounds they hear are the dharanis, the voices of the (Dharmakaya) Buddha’s preaching of Dharma. Whatever is uttered by the practitioners, too, is the Buddha’s preaching… The practitioners’ mind that understands this principle underlying all the sights and sounds of the world is the reality that is the divinities of the Mandala. The reality is the divinities; the divinities, the practitioners’ own mind.”
So this realization that we are the Buddha and the Buddha is us has some interesting connotations. Since MahaVairocana is seen as the source of all things and we are one with this Buddha we can therefore influence the physical world around us. The consciousness that flows in “us” also flows through all things (the universe). So in the Esoteric schools there are rituals that are set up to affect the physical world. One of the most notable aspects of this are rituals that used to heal sickness in our bodies.
Ultimately though the purpose for Esoteric ritual is to become Enlightened in this very body. Although Enlightenment is very profound it isn’t really a mystical magical thing. Enlightenment is none other than understanding reality. It is understanding our own mind as it truly is. We are not the small “self” disconnected and separate from everything else. We are the universal “Self” and are intricately connected to all things in a web (Indras Net) of conditions, actions, and interdependencies that are the cause for all things to “be”.
It never really made sense to me, when I first started studying Buddhism, that when you become Enlightened you escape the cycle of birth and death. How does having a realization stop this process from happening? But when you think of it in light of Anatta (Not-Self), Anicca (Impermanence), and Shunyata (Emptiness) then maybe it does make sense. Enlightenment is the realization of what the mind and the “self” really are. These three teachings prove to “us” that the “self” is just and illusion, an idea that we create. If you consider the meaning of rebirth where everything that “we” are existed before we were born and continues to exist after we die. Could it be that our “self” is just that, an idea? Could it be that once you realize the truth of what that “self” really is “you” are not reborn because the idea of what you thought you were is now gone? You no longer think of “you” as being separate from everything and now you are one with everything so the “self” just disappears?
“O, Lord of Secrecy (Vajrasatta), the Enlightened mind is the cause, compassion is the foundation, and expediate means is the goal. Lord of Secrecy, what is Enlightenment? That is none other than realizing one’s own mind as it truly is. As for realizing this unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment, there is not even a hairs breadth of anything that the practitioner has to acquire anew. That is because Enlightenment has no form except for the form of empty space. It has no one who can analyze it, it has nothing that has to be unfolded. That is because Enlightenment is free of form. Likewise, Lord of Secrecy, all things are without form, for they are equal to the form of empty space.”
“The Dharma is forever free from discrimination, from all sorts of delusions. As practitioners purify their delusions, thoughts, and actions, they will realize unsurpassed enlightenment, pristine as empty space. Yet ignorant of this, ordinary beings attach themselves to the wicked and the illusory by seeking blindly objects in time, direction, form, and appearance. As an expedient means of saving these beings, by condescending to their proclivities, I have expounded this teaching (of the Mandala). And yet in truth there is no time, no direction, no action, and no creator in this teaching (of the Mandala), for all things having form simply abide in their true form of emptiness.”
As I mentioned before this is not meant to be a detailed explanation of Esoteric Buddhism. The hope is by thinking about some of these concepts that it will help you to understand the more conventional Buddhist teachings. Good luck with your Buddhist journey.