The stories of Kumano - Kanshin Jukkai Mandala

Kanshin Jukkai Mandala

With this mandala the Bikuni (missionary nuns of Kumano) taught about the various levels of consciousness which people create for themselves. The mandala describes ten main 'worlds', or states of being, which human beings find themselves in. The mandala also teaches that from any of these states of being the means of Self-Realization is always close at hand. The only requirement is to have a change of heart. These states were considered to exist both here and now and in the afterlife.

These Kumano Bikuni nuns travelled all over Japan to spread the faith of Kumano and also took a role similar to a tour conductor of modern times. Jukkai means ten worlds which include the six paths of Jigoku (hell), Gaki, Chikusho, Shura, Hito (human world), Ten (heaven), and the four paths of Shomon, Engaku, Bosatsu, and Hotoke (Buddha). Kanshin means that all those ten worlds reside within our own mind. This picture shows that the fragility and instability of the human mind, as well as its salvation, are dependent upon the state of our human consciousness.
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The Stairway of Life
Life is drawn here as a half circle. The stages from birth to old age and death are symbolized in the trees accompanying each stage. When we are born we are like the willow, flexible and soft. In later life we progress through stages symbolized by the cherry, pine, cedar, and red maple trees, leading finally to death as symbolized by the dead tree.

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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala- Jigoku (Hell)
In the lower part of this picture one of the Buddhist versions of hell is depicted. This scene is the hell of suffering by fire. Those residing in hell are those suffering from almost complete ignorance and lack of will, do not know who they are, where they are, where they are going, and do not question why they are in a state of suffering.

This part of the mandala shows that the more one struggles with the pains of life the more one falls into the hell of suffering; one becomes lost in a world of suffering that can only be transcended by a kind of surrender, or letting go of one's attachments. Hell does not only exist after leaving the physical plane but is also a projection of our own mind when consciousness of our true self is lost and we fall into the abyss of hatred and envy and so on. 'The sin we create becomes a demon and the sword of the heart tortures ourselves' (Bikuni Jigoku no Etoki' by Chikamatsu Monzaemon)

In the center of this picture a man is suffering as a result of his infidelity. In the lower left hand corner a man is seen trying in vain to climb a mountain of needles because he is attracted to the woman smiling at him. If you have a close look at the picture, you can find some descriptions which admonish against doing bad deeds in this world. The pictures in the middle and the left below both show evil intentions suffered by males. The man constricted by a two-headed snake is receiving punishment for being adulterous. The man on the mountain of swords is lost in the spell of a flirtatious smile of a woman. The mountain of swords is called 'the forest of swords' where the man who climbs up is cut into shreds, only to find that the woman is down below. And when he climbs down he finds the woman is again on top of the mountain again depicting a never-ending torture. There must have been quite a few men who felt a embarrassed when they heard the Bikuni nun's interpretation of this mandala.
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-Gaki-Do
In Buddhism it is believed that only human beings whose consciousness remains on the lower six worlds of the ten worlds of human existence must reincarnate. The lowest of these six worlds is considered hell. The next level is called Gaki-do and is the world depicted here in this part of the mandala. This level of consciousness can be said to be one of constant desire and a sense of lack even when one has more than enough. In modern times it can be seen in the constant desire for more things and more stimulation. People consume out of a sense of lack, not out of true need. We are reminded of the compulsive consumer who needs to constantly shop and consume in order to feel alive. These people can never be satisfied for in their mind is the constant sense of lack, of emptiness.
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-Chikushodo and Shurado
The next higher level after Gaki-do is Chikusho-do (lower right). Here a person is simply a slave of the appetites for food, drink, sex, and so on. The animal instincts and desires govern all one's thoughts and actions. The next higher level is Shura-do (center). Here people live in constant fear of being killed or harmed in some way. The world is hostile in their minds and their life is one of struggle, war, and death. They are always in the mindset of attacking before being attacked.
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-Ningen Do
Ningen-do (The human world) is the next level of being and is the state of being in which most modern people live. Compared to the other four lower levels it is a rather comfortable stage in human evolution. This is not, however, meant to convey reason for complacency since, from the human level of being, it is still quite easy to fall into the lower four worlds described above. This is because we still have the seeds of ignorance, instinct, and fear in our self.
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-Tenjo Do
Tenjo-do is the next level above Ningen-do. This is the highest level into which we are said to reincarnate. At this level of being we are living a life of ease fully satisfied in a life of wealth, power, and comfort. This is a most precarious stage for it is where we are tested. Here the old expression 'the higher you rise the farther you fall' sums up the dangers inherent in this level of being. Here our tendencies toward all the vices of the lower levels of being are tried and tested. Attachment to our wealth, greed, snobbishness, pride, and the selfish wielding of one's power all lead us rapidly back into the lower states of being, either in this life or the next.
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-Shomon
In this picture we see described the stage called Shomon. It is the stage where we are called to follow the path of our higher self. Shomon literally means 'hearing the voice'. We sometimes face a major crisis in our life which causes us to reflect on the eternal questions: Who am I? What is the meaning of life and death? Where am I going? In these periods of life great opportunities exist for letting go of one's ego and self-consciousness to arrive at a truer state of conscious being. At this turning point in our lives we can become open to hearing the sound of our true self; we can begin to follow our 'calling', our vocation so to speak. This is the stage of Shomon. We are then released from the wheel of rebirth and need not reincarnate for more earthly lessons. We have reached the stage Engaku (sublime awareness; enlightenment; Satori).
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Kanshin Jukkai Mandala-From Engaku to the Heart of Being
In the center of this Mandala is the Chinese character for 'heart' or 'mind'. Engaku is therefore the stage where one is now able to reach into the heart of Eternal Being. 'En' means enlightenment and 'gaku' means to feel. It is the stage of Self-Realization or Enlightenment. The next stage after this is to enter into Buddhic consciousness where one experiences the true meaning of cause and effect. By showing these various stages of human existence as depicted in the Kumano Jukkai Mandala, the Kumano Bikuni attempted to instill in the minds of all the people they met the fact of the essential divinity of all beings. They taught that everyone had the potential for realizing enlightenment in this life regardless of their present station or life situation. By a simple shift in perspective one could attain the highest levels of existence. And conversely, by a simple shift in perspective one could also descend into the miseries of hell in this life and in the next. By rising above the realms of lower desire, worldly illusion and glamour, and by coming to focus one's conscious awareness on 'That Which Is, always Has Been, and always Will Be', the Kumano Bikuni taught that one could find true peace in spiritual awakening. They also taught that Kumano was a special place which had the power to serve as a catalyst for such an awakening.
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