Kukai – The Ten Stages of the Development of Mind

In 830, i.e., five years before his death, Kukai wrote the Jujushinron or The Ten Stages of the Development of Mind, consisting of 75,000 Chinese characters, which he promptly condensed to one-fifth of its former length, dropping most of the quotations, under the title of The Precious Key to the Secret Treasury. Hakeda describes it as “perhaps the most comprehensive religious work that has come down to us in Japan.” It was written in response to an order by the emperor Jun’na (r. 823-33) who had asked each of the six sects of Buddhism to present a treatise on the essentials of its teaching.” Both the long and the short version mention that they were written by imperial order.

In Kukai’s words, “These are the stages of development of mind through which the dark goatish mind advances higher, leaving darkness behind and seeking after light.”I will be using The Precious Key to the Secret Treasury, text included in Hakeda’s Kukai – Major Works. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes are from Kukai.

First Stage: The Mind of Lowly Man, Goatish in its Desires
“What is meant by this mind? It is the name given to lowly man who, in his madness, does not distinguish between good and evil, and who, ignorant like a stupid child, does not believe in the law of cause and effect … he receives ten thousand different forms of life in the process of transmigration. His ignorance, therefore, can be compared to that of a goat.”

Second Stage: The Mind That Is Ignorant and Childlike, Yet Abstemious
“The withered trees of winter are not always to be leafless; once spring arrives, they bloom and flourish … When favorable conditions are provided, even a fool aspires to the great way … A goatish man has no immutable nature; an ignorant child likewise does not remain ignorant. When his intrinsically enlightened nature begins to permeate him within and when the light of the Buddha shines upon him from without, there suddenly emerges in him an instantaneous thought that he should moderate his intake of food and practice acts of charity … He will study the Five Cardinal Virtues and earnestly the Ten Good Deeds.” Kukai also refers to the proper relationships between prince and minister, between father and son: he is obviously thinking of Confucianism. Note, however, that Kukai credits our “intrinsically enlightened nature” with initiating the process of awakening in tandem with the “Buddha’s light shining from without” – that is, the preaching of the phenomenal world embodied in the Cosmic Mahavairocana Buddha. Only after this first emergence of the wish for awakening, does learning take place. Confucius, instead, relied solely on social rules and rites to “reform” “goatish” people.

Third Stage: The Mind That Is Infantlike and Fearless
“This is the mind of non-Buddhists who loathe the human world and ordinary men who aspire to be born in heaven. Even if they are born in the highest heaven … they are as inferior and as ignorant as infants when compared to the great Enlightened One.” Referring to popular Taoism and Hinduism, Kukai says that when “they perform the Six Practices and the Four Mental Concentrations, they increase their dislike for the world below and their longing for the world above and make progress toward gaining pleasure in heaven.” Shaped by pre-Shinto and Shinto’s deep reverence and love for all things natural, the Japanese psyche has never truly understood Indian Buddhism’s negative views about incarnated life.

Fourth Stage: The Mind That Recognizes the Existence of Psychophysical Constituents [Skandhas] Only, Not That of a Permanent Ego
“A sword of lead cannot cut, and a dragon of clay cannot fly … Both Vaisesika and Samkhya use the term “truth (tai)” and some use the name “Buddha” for Brahma and Narayana … however, none of them know the cause of attaining Nirvana and they strive in vain to seek after the wisdom of deliverance.” In other words, using the words “truth” and “Buddha” does not make their views true or Brahma a Buddha. “The Great Buddha, the World Honored One, therefore preached the Goat Vehicle in order to save the people from extreme suffering.” Kukai here refers to the parable of the Burning House in the Lotus Sutra, where carts drawn by goats, deer, and oxen are compared to the Vehicles of the sravakas, the pratyekabuddhas and the bodhisattvas respectively. So, the fourth stage is that of the sravakas (those who follow the teachings of the historical Buddha). It is, for Kukai, where Buddhism came into being, but his first assessment was “beware of words,” and do not confuse the provisional teachings of the Buddha, who had to adjust his method to the rather low capacities of most of his followers, with an expression of absolute truth, that which the Lotus Sutra presents in its last fourteen chapters.

Fifth Stage: The Mind Freed from the Seed of the Cause of Karma
“This is the mind to be realized and held by the pratyekabuddhas who live alone or in a group among themselves. They meditate on the Twelve Links of Causation and have a strong aversion to the world of samsara. Falling flowers and leaves evoke in them a keen awareness of the transitory nature of the phenomenal world of birth, growth, change, and destruction. They live in forests or in villages, keeping strict silence and devoting themselves to the practice of concentration with the aim of uprooting the tree stump of ignorance, the seed of karmic force and defilements … They may lead others to salvation with their supernatural power of transformation but not by oral instruction. Since they lack a sense of great compassion toward others, they are not equipped with the knowledge of expedient means in guiding people; they are concerned about extinguishing their own sufferings and about realizing Nirvana.” So, at this fifth stage, escape from the round of rebirths is achieved, but the pratyekabuddhas’ inability to transmit the teachings would lead to the disappearance of Buddhism.

Sixth Stage: The Mahayana Mind with Sympathetic Concern for Others
“Here is a Dharma for bodhisattvas known as the Vehicle of sympathetic concern for others … They meditate profoundly and meticulously on the alaya-consciousness and pay close attention to the data of mind, which are nonsubstantial like phantoms or flames of fire.” Using a military-like metaphor to describe the stance of the Yogacara’s “mind-only” school, Kukai continues: “They construct, as it were, the walls of the city of samadhi and install therein the general of “mind-only”; fighting victoriously against a host of tempters, they overcome the leader of the bandits which are the defilements … The result thus attained is the ultimate state in which genuine peace can be found; any attempt at describing it is beyond verbalization … The reason why this religious mind is called the mind concerned with others is that it is concerned with the salvation of all sentient beings in the entire world.” As Hakeda notes, at this stage “compassion arises unconditionally; this is the first instance of great compassion.” He also remarks that chronologically Madhyamaka (2nd century CE) is prior to Yogacara (5th century CE), but because Shingon had a close relationship with Madhyamaka, Kukai wanted to rank it higher in the Ten Stages.

Seventh Stage: The Mind That Realizes that the Mind Is Unborn
“The great space, being vast and tranquil, embraces all phenomena within itself; the great ocean, being deep and serene, contains in a single drop of water a thousand beings. As the cardinal number one is the mother of one hundred and one thousand, so is voidness the root of all relative beings; yet the universe is filled with beings. That which is absolutely empty [Suchness] is not empty; yet it manifests itself as a variety of phenomena and is nowhere fixed. Matter, which is not different from emptiness, unfolds itself as all phenomenal existences; yet it is of the nature of emptiness. Emptiness, which is not different from matter, nullifies all marks of particularity; yet it is manifested as a variety of temporary beings. Thus, matter is none other than emptiness, and emptiness none other than matter.” The seventh stage, then, is identified with the Madhyamaka (Sanron) philosophy of Nagarjuna. Hakeda says that “at this seventh level, the mind discovers unity in diversity, voidness manifesting itself through phenomena.” In many ways, it is in Nagarjuna’s equation of emptiness with co-dependent origination, and its corollary in the non-duality of conventional and ultimate truths, that Madhyamaka Buddhism reached the radical breakthrough towards an identification of emptiness with the phenomenal world that is the basis of Kukai’s esoteric teaching.

Eighth Stage: The Mind That is Truly in Harmony with the One Way
Here, “Kukai summarizes the goal, doctrines, and methods of meditation of the Chinese T’ienT’ai school of Buddhism established on the basis of the Lotus Sutra and the works of Nagarjuna”(Hakeda). Zhiyi, the Chinese founder of the Tiantai tradition in the 6th century, had advocated “entering emptiness from conventional existence.” When working out his Threefold Truth doctrine – emptiness, conventional existence and the middle – Zhiyi had privileged entering emptiness from the side of what in the Awakening of Faith is called “the aspect of Mind in terms of phenomena” instead of entering it from the side of the “aspect of Mind in terms of the absolute,” as Nagarjuna had done in the Two Truths, arguing that there was no way of knowing what came first, the mind out of which phenomena arise, or phenomena generating the mind. Kukai’s emphasis on the world of phenomena resonated with Zhiyi’s “emphasis on concrete particulars as instantiating ultimate truth.” In Zhiyi’s words, “Of every form and fragrance, there is none that is not the Middle Way.”

Ninth Stage: The profoundest Exoteric Buddhist Mind That Is Aware of Its Nonimmutable Nature
That “the moment a man sets his mind on enlightenment he has attained enlightenment” [a famous line in the Avatamsaka Sutra] must be true. The excellent power of an aspirant’s Buddhahood, the moment he sets his mind on enlightenment is mysterious; all excellent qualities are made manifest for the first time, and the One Mind is unveiled. When he realized this mind, he will come to the awareness that the threefold world [the world of sentient beings, the world of matter, and the world of perfectly enlightened Buddhas] is his body and that the entire universe is also his Mind.”

For Kukai, the doctrines of Huayan Buddhism, as expounded in the Avatamsaka Sutra and the works of Chinese Huayan masters Tu-shun (557-640) and Fa-tsang (643-712), were the culmination of Exoteric Buddhism. Kukai says that the contents of the Avatamsaka Sutra are the teachings of Vairocana Buddha [the main Buddha in the Avatamsaka Sutra]: “He taught that infinite time is in one moment and that one moment is in infinite time; that one is in many and that many is in one, that the universal is in the particulars and that the particulars are in the universal. He illustrated this infinitely interdependent relationship of time and space with the simile of Indra’s net and with that the interfusion of the rays of lighted lamps’.”

Tenth Stage: The Glorious Mind, the Most Secret and Sacred
The Tenth Stage is of course Shingon’s doctrines and practices. Hakeda says that, for this stage, the text in the Precious Key is different from the original long version, and proceeds to tell us what Kukai wrote in The Ten Stages:

“The glorious mind, the most secret and sacred is, ultimately, to realize one’s own mind in its fountainhead and to have insight into the nature of one’s own existence.” He conceives man as “body-mind,” not as mind or body, nor body and mind, and holds that this “body-mind” is grounded in the “Body-Mind,” the secret and sacred living Body-Mind of all, the Dharmakaya Mahavairocana. His premise is that our mind in its essence is united with the Mind of Mahavairocana and that our body, so long as it is in the universe, is part of the Body of Mahavairocana; all men as well as all other sentient beings are particular “body-mind” beings participating in the “Body-Mind.” It is this “Body-Mind” that is represented in the Shingon mandalas, which describe various aspects of Mahavairocana.”

Source: Yoshito S. Hakeda – Kukai: Major Works

East Pagoda, Mount Koya (Danjōgaran)