Some notes on Buddhism and Buddhist symbols:
Because this story is mainly from Sorata's point of view, there are a lot of Buddhist ideas and symbols in it, so I figured I'd better explain some of them here. Buddhism in general is based on the realization that all beings experience suffering and that the root cause of this suffering is desire--the vicious circle of always wanting more and never being fully satisfied, the longing to obtain and hold onto things that, in this impermanent world, will inevitably pass away or change. Enlightenment is achieved through letting go of this desire and seeking a truth outside the limited self's ever-changing cravings.
(In practice, of course, many Japanese lay Buddhists (ie, non-monks) use their religion just as many Christians use Christianity: to pray to Buddhist "saints" for the things that they want. This grew out of an idea that those who had reached enlightenment could choose to remain in this world and help other, unenlightened beings realize freedom from desire. Eventually this turned into the practice of asking for help in other matters as well. It's mostly among monks, nuns, and other serious practitioners of Buddhism that the real pursuit of enlightenment takes place.)
Shingon Buddhism, the form that Sorata practices, is a branch of Esoteric Buddhism that teaches the attainment of enlightenment within a single lifetime, as opposed to the many lifetimes that are generally considered necessary. Its practitioners use meditation, chanting, visualization, and physical practices to cultivate the three abilities of body, speech, and mind. One element in both visualization and meditation is the "mandala," an intensely symbolic image embodying certain truths about the nature of reality. Such images vary widely but are always symmetrical, are usually laid out as circles and squares within a larger circle, and are organized about a center which is a god or awakened being. By contemplating the mandala, one receives an understanding of reality's unfolding patterns, an understanding that goes deeper than words. (Most mandalas are brilliantly colored paintings; the one to the left is line art. If you'd like to see a larger version, click here.
Shingon is derived from Vajrayana Buddhism, which came to Japan by way of China. "Vajrayana" is the "Diamond Vehicle" of Buddhism--the keen, sharp-edged practice that goes straight to the point. "Vajra" is also the thunderbolt of enlightenment, as well as a symbol of masculine energy, and is frequently used in certain Buddhist texts as a euphemism for the obvious body part. Hence its rather singular appropriateness for Sorata.... (The image to the right is a typical vajra symbol.)
The mantras that Sorata uses in this fic are actual Shingon mantras, and hopefully the practitioners out there will forgive me. "On bouji shitta boda hadayami, on sanmaya satoubon" translates into "Om I aspire to evolve the Awakened Mind, Om I am united in the vow."
In case you're wondering, these are the Ten Precepts. (I'm not sure whether they're general Buddhist precepts or are exclusive to Shingon.)
1. I will not harm life.
2. I will not steal.
3. I will not commit adultery.
4. I will not tell a lie.
5. I will not exaggerate.
6. I will not speak abusively.
7. I will not equivocate.
8. I will not be greedy.
9. I will not be hateful.
10. I will not lose sight of the Truth.
Information for this story came from the Shingon Buddhist International Institute at www.shingon.org. (There was another site that I got the mantras from, but it seems to be down at the moment.) If you have nothing better to do, you can also check out the web site for Sorata's home temple at Kouyasan! (www.koyasan.or.jp) When you look at the animated monk on a motor scooter or the little happy weather faces on their mainframe page, you can definitely see that this is where Sorata came from....
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