By Enkei Joseph Mendyka
There are many people that come to Tendai Buddhism seeking out the “secret teachings”, or mikkyo, of Japanese tantric Buddhism. The term mikkyo literally means secret or hidden teachings and to many people indicates a part of the buddha-dharma that is fantastic and miraculous. Often, people that read about mikkyo and learn about the principle of shoshin jobutsu, or enlightenment in this human body, are convinced that this kind of practice is the “easy path” to enlightenment, bliss and worldly power.
Unfortunately for aspirants of this kind of influence, mikkyo is not separate from the Mahayana path of serving all sentient beings.The simple fact is that these devotees of the Buddha’s teachings have committed themselves to taking on the suffering of samsara as their own. As any Spiderman fan will tell you, with great power, comes great responsibility.
The other motivation I see behind people’s curiosity with mikkyo is the compelling alternative many religions provide to the traditional Cartesian mind-body dualism. Around the Blue Mountain Tendai Sangha, we sometimes joke about the fascination many people have with “dragon magic”. Although we’re prone to exaggeration for our own amusement, (humor being a readily admitted vice in our sangha!) this is a very real phenomenon.
We live in a world that insists upon the absolute disconnect between the plane of consciousness and the plane of matter. Yet, many of us experience a very different reality. We commonly observe how our state of mind impacts the physical reality of our own bodies, those of the beings around us and in our environment. We don’t necessarily understand the connection, but we thoroughly believe in its existence because of these observations of cause and effect.
A tradition like Tendai with its taimitsu practices, or practices that include the secret teachings, acknowledges this connection in a way that many Euro-Americans are not accustomed to. This, in many ways, is the “secret” of the secret teachings. Coming to understand this connection through the practices of body, speech and mind–the three secrets, or san-mitsu–is the work of the mikkyo practitioner. However, learning mikkyo practices is not necessary to cultivating this belief and integrating it into our lives. While some people have the go-en, or positive karmic connections, with the path toward ordination and tantric transmission, other people can more effectively fulfill the bodhisattva vows to serve all beings by being the best family member, co-worker and citizen they can be.
When we work closely with ordained practitioners who have the appropriate mikkyo training and experience, they can provide us guidance as to how to best bring our lives into accord with these integrated mind-body principles. We must allow these teachers to serve as our spiritual guides. For starters, they’ve worked extremely hard to serve in that role. It is part of cultivating the dana–paramita to let them into our lives and support them as they work to promote our growth. But, also, the time and energy they have spent training allows us to focus on how to enact the teachings they provide in the world. This synchronicity of collaboration will yield much greater benefits for ourselves and the world. Working together in this way is the true “secret” of the teachings.