Shingon Esoteric Buddhism – Founded in Kōyasan 1200 Years Ago, Now One Of The Most Popular Sects of Japanese Buddhism

Shingon Esoteric Buddhism is a form of Tantric (Vajrayāna or Esoteric) Buddhism that was brought to Japan, via China, from India. It is related to Tibetan Buddhism, both being derived from similar Indian sources and the two share many similarities. Today, it is one of the most prominent schools of Japanese buddhism and is the only living form of Vajrayāna outside of Tibetan Buddhism.

Kōyasan is known as the birthplace of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism in Japan, however there are now over 3,800 Shingon temples across Japan and other countries including the United States, Thailand, Brazil and Canada.

The Japanese translation of the Indian word mantra is shingon, indicating the importance of mantra in Shingon BuddhismThe word esoteric is used to indicate two teachings. The first is that Buddhas preach by adjusting their teachings according to the ability of their audiences, and so reserve some of the teachings until their listener is ready. The second is that by refusing to recognise the truth of inherent awakening it is believed that one conceals the truth from oneself. The second meaning is the more prominent in this branch of Buddhism, emphasising the need to train oneself to realise what was there all along but hidden by one’s own ignorance.

The core teaching of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism is that the awakening of Buddha is inherently present in all beings but is covered by delusions and unwholesome thoughts. However, through proper training one is able to uncover that inherent awakening and so attain Buddhahood during this life. Awakening is the profound realisation that the Buddha, oneself, and all beings are essentially and fundamentally equal. It is realised through the practice of compassion and the ultimate goal is to become fully able to engage in compassionate activities to aid and liberate other beings.

Shingon Esoteric Buddhism makes use of what is referred to as ‘The Three Mysteries’ or ‘The Three Secrets’: the secret of the body; the secret of speech; and the secret of the mind. The ‘secrets’ are practiced by forming mudras (symbolic hand gestures) with one’s hands, reciting mantras with one’s mouth and dwelling in meditation with one’s mind. These three things are practiced together in order to realise that one is fundamentally a Budda oneself.

Kōbō Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan, famously said “the principle is nothing but the wisdom while the wisdom is nothing but the principle”.


  • Koyasan and Kumano Access Bus
  • UNESCO World Heritage Koyasan Leaflet in English
  • Koyasan Reihokan Museum Leaflet in English
  • Dai Garan Kongobuki Koyasan leaflet
  • Kongobuji Temple Leaflet
  • Guide to Koyasan
  • Kōyasan – the 1200th Anniversary Since The Foundation
  • Information provided by guide during night cemetery tour
  • The Encyclopaedia of Monasticism

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Shingon Esoteric Buddhism – Founded in Kōyasan 1200 Years Ago, Now One Of The Most Popular Sects of Japanese Buddhism

by Uncover Travel time to read: 2 min
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