Tibet House President Clears Tantric Misconceptions within Japanese and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

Suspending the Buddhism Divide: The Indo-Tibetan & Japanese Mikkyo Bridge

Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 6:30 pm, at Japan Society

** Featuring a Live Ritual Chant Demonstration by Shomyo no Kai–Voices of a Thousand Years **


New York, NY - Columbia University Professor Robert A.F. Thurman, a leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism and the first Westerner to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk by H.H. the Dalai Lama, has been instrumental in popularizing the Buddha’s teachings in the West.

In Suspending the Buddhism Divide: The Indo-Tibetan & Japanese Mikkyo Bridge, taking place at Japan Society Tuesday, March 4, Thurman explores connections between Japanese and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, specifically focusing on "how the Mahayana Buddhists of India, Tibet, and the Shingon schools in Japan understand Tantra as not a late Indian invention imposed by yogis on the Buddhist tradition, but as coming from the Buddha himself and comprising the innermost of his teachings."

Thurman notes, "the reason for Esotericism is to protect people who might not have the requisite preparation from endangering themselves psychologically or even karmically due to their misunderstanding of the Tantric statements and attempting Tantric practices (the secrecy of Esotericism has nothing to do with anything disreputable about Tantra or there being some license to indulge in sex and violence). Unfortunately many Buddhists, of various Theravada and Mahayana persuasions, do not understand Tantra in this way, so there is a lot of misunderstanding to clear up." The talk will "clarify what the real nature, purpose, and value of Tantra is for other kinds of Buddhists as well as non-Buddhist publics in the East and the West."

Thurman will be joined in the discussion by Kojun Arai, priest of Japan’s Shingon Buddhist sect and leading member of Buddhist ritual chanting group, Shomyo no Kai – Voices of a Thousand Years, which will offer a special on-stage demonstration of what is considered one of the oldest forms of vocal music. The group makes their North American debut Thursday, March 6, with Shomyo: Buddhist Ritual Chant at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Midtown Manhattan, part of a tour produced by Japan Society.

To better understand Japan's Mikkyo or Shingon Buddhsim, the Foundation for Shingon Buddhism explains: "Shingon Buddhism is a school of Esoteric Buddhism that explains the central essence of the Buddhist teaching according to the Buddhist Monk Kobo Daishi, who established the teachings and founded this denomination. Esoteric Buddhism was transmitted from China to Japan by Kobo Daishi in the early Heian (794-1185) period of Japanese history… The central Esoteric Buddhist deity is Dainichi Nyorai, (Maha-vairocana Buddha), who embodies the essence of the universe and the absolute truth… According to the Esoteric Buddhist view of the world, everything in the Universe is a manifestation of the universal Life Force of Dainichi Nyorai, who embodies the essence of the Universe and the absolute truth. All things from the spiritual world of enlightenment to the world of material things share in this Life Force in an endless interrelationship that freely merge individual existences together.”

Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of the Tibet House U.S., a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization, and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, a non-profit affiliated with the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and dedicated to the publication of translations of important texts from the Tibetan Tengyur. Dr. Thurman is also the author of many books including, The Central Philosophy of Tibet, Essential Tibetan Buddhism, and most recently, Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World. He was chosen by TIME as one of its 25 most influential Americans in 1997. More at

Kojun Arai (Shingon sect) was born in 1944 and entered the Buddhist priesthood of the Shingon sect Busan-ha. He is Chusojo (a third highest level, 16th ranking Buddhist priest in the Shingon sect). Arai completed graduate school at Koya-san University. He practice Shingon sect Busan shomyo under the Grand Priest Yuko Aoki. Since 1972, he has performed traditional and contemporary works of shomyo at the National Theatre of Japan. He performed on the 1973 “Japanese Traditional and Avant-garde Music” world tour, which was followed by his many performances at contemporary music festivals in Berlin, Paris, Donaueschingen and Vienna, among other locations. In recent years, he has performed shomyo in Germany, Spain, Czech Republic and Austria, and in 2013, Arai performed in the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria. He is a member of the Kalavinka Shomyo Research Group and is a lecturer at Shuchi-in University. Arai has been participating in shomyo notation research at the Research Institute for Japanese Music Historiography, Ueno Gakuen University. He has written numerous treatises on shomyo, including Shomo’s Score and Notation, a chapter that he contributed to one of the Iwanami Koza Book Series Japanese Music, Asian Music.

Suspending the Buddhism Divide: The Indo-Tibetan & Japanese Mikkyo Bridge takes placeTuesday, March 4, at 6:30 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students, and may be purchased in person at Japan Society, at, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

Lecture Programs at Japan Society are generously sponsored by Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. Japan Airlines is the exclusive Japanese Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. United Airlines is the exclusive U.S. Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Additional support is provided by Chris A. Wachenheim, and the Sandy Heck Lecture Fund.

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