Husserl‘s Phenomenology & Kūkai

The body of Dharmakāya, known as the Dharma Mandala, is the secret “scripture” esoterically said to consist of all ‘things‘ of this world, which form it‘s ‘script‘ or text as letters (empty vessels; linguistic devices), revealed by Mahāvairocana in his cosmic palace of the eternal present to his interlocutor Vajrasattva (वज्रसत्त्व; “Diamond Mind”). The letters are known as Aksara’, which also means ‘unchanging‘.  It is as the mark of universality evident within the contents of the ideological summa mundi, wherein contained is the entirety of the Cosmos, the Dharma Mandala of All Buddha’s & Bodhisattvas; of All Beings & Non-Beings, of All Forms & Non-Forms, of All Born & Unborn, of All Created & Not-yet Created & Created Incomplete & Completed Uncreated; it is that which is neither self-contained nor finished: yet-to-be bound: never-to-be-bound: the text[s] as the world: the world as the text[s] (Ryuichi, 276). In the Diamond Realm Mandala painting, the patron of the Lotus Sutra & practitioner of the ten great vows (the basis of being a bodhisattva), Vajrasattva (according his attributes or divine essences also known as Vajradhara, Viśvabhadra, & Samantabhadra) sits to the East near the “Immoveable One, or the Akshobhya Buddha – who represents the consciousness aspect of reality. Akshobhya is the embodiment of ‘mirror knowledge‘ – or the discernment between what is real & what is illusory, as the Mind is a perfect mirror, in which thunder spark (LVX) of the Infinite bears light & shadow. As vibratory utterances seed thought, ceaseless-thought breeds syllabic & symbolic mirror-windows through which one may perceive & apprehend that which is & is not, form & formless, Void-Becoming & Unborn-Abyss. The secrets held within the Dharma Mandala or universal script were, according to tradition, passed on through the Dharma Lineage of Mahāvairocana , Vajrasattva, and Nagarjuna.

Seed-syllables or bija (bīja), anthropomorphic & symbolic representations, are used to express Buddhist deities in their mandalas, of which their exist four types: mahā-mandala (anthropomorphic representations), seed-syllable mandalas or dharma-maṇḍala (using ancient Indian Sanskrit syllabic script known as siddham (Jap. shittan or bonji) is used to write mantras)., the samaya-maṇḍala (representations of specific deities vows, based on objects depicted held or their mudra), and the karma-maṇḍala (activities of the deities in three-dimensional representations, as statues, relics, idols, etc…). The sensory precepts of sight take the form of color, shape, and movement, and the combination of the three, distinguishing each precept from the other; thus, writing is the primary topos of differentiation – the deconstruction of sensory objects as but signs, manifesting themselves as things not by a prime transcendental mover, but by the perceptive faculties which interpret color, shape, and movement via the vibratory function’s essence, which is the seed of language turned to script attached metaphysically to concepts or images, where letter & word are the sound made to represent them, which as unique entities are in form & formation empty containers or vessels through which communication nonarises. For all things, as the letter A, are originally non-arising; as a negation it represents: “the very movements of differentiation, dissimulation, and articulation that are the primordial conditions for the act of writing and the production of text” (Ryuichi , 280). Thus a core meditative practice of Shingon is ajikan, (trans.: meditating on the Letter ‘A’), which uses the siddham letter representing that sound as ‘A‘.


[bīja ‘A‘ in siddham]

The esoteric meaning of ‘a’ is anutpāda or unarisen, as a reminder that all phenomena is causal, thus void of origination: there exists nothing outside of the perception-dependent flux of impermanence. As a bīja ‘a’ is the seed syllable of Vairocana in the Garbhadhatu Mandala, and more generally of Mahāvairocana as the Dharmakāya Buddha.

The five great elements: earth, water, fire, wind, and space are somatic components of the Dharmakāya and “five essential aspects of emptiness: originally nonarising (earth), transcending designations (water), freedom from taint (fire), being devoid of primary cause (wind), and being formless as space (space)” (Ryuichi, 281). The five great elements incessantly interfuse with one another to generate all of the three great realms (sanshu seken), or the totality of the world – material existence, living beings, and enlightened ones; thus, interplaying with all existences incessantly, nonarising constant movement of emptiness makes all things impermanent, though all things are able to maintain their identity momentarily, as consciously entertained by sentient beings beholding them. As such, order is brought about by the sixth great element (shikidai), or the Dharmakāya-mind: the awareness of emptiness. Together, the six elements represent the Creative Force which is the world-text, which is the Dharmakāya [body of Three Mysteries] located by differentiation as semiotic articulation in the text & in-between the text’s letters or signs which manifest themselves as the shadow of difference, revealing the emptiness of constructed language, of linguistic articulation of the world into parts, or the dividing of reality by the matrix of symbols & archetypal functions. The act of differentiation is defined by Kūkai as:

Defined by the objects of sight
[the letters] of color, shape, and movement
Are both sentient and inanimate beings
both life forms and their environments

As [the Dharmakāya 's] spontaneous play
and as their consequences, [these letters]
Can either trick one into delusion
or guide others to enlightenment.

It cannot be read literally & linearly, as that will cause reification. Signs are the Dharmakāya present in the in-between-ness which is their differentiation, from which their identities as signs arise though have no essence; are illusory, ephemeral, polyvalent multifarious signs. It is available anthropomorphically through manifesting itself as small bodies of illumination, spontaneous interplay of the great elements, as the letters of sentient beings, enlightened ones, and their habitats, as the “seals of the Dharmakāya ‘s wisdom of differentiation” (shabetsu chiin), or traces of differentiation. As Kūkai explains:

The creative force (nosho) is the five great elements of five forms; creation (shosho) is the threefold world. This threefold world is divided into countless differences. All these infinite differences are the letters, the letters of both [the Dharmakāya ‘s] spontaneous play and its consequences (Ryuichi , 281).

So how then is man apt to become enlightened when we’re not each an Amitabha Buddha? According to Kūkai, we latently are. Each individual holds his/her own keys to the secret treasury, boundless & formless it anthropomorphically may be comprehended. Phenomena is the cause whose effect is Noumena: with Man as the phenomenal thing, and Experience as the noumenal ‘thing in itself’, Man who is made of both Material and Spiritual, or Physical and Mental, becomes in combination the Archetypal Phenomenal-Noumenon: rather than experiencing, observing, recording, & categorizing he becomes experienced, observed, recorded, & the category. As such, each man may choose to mirror the Dharmakāya via the Three Mysteries, thus the noumenal is no longer unknowable, it as Nous etymologically holds esteem high enough to break barriers of intellectuality, to extend the ontology of the Self into the nether-realm of the space in-between (as each the noumenal & phenomenal become all the in-betweenness of the world-script); yet, the problem is that once the Noumenal becomes Experiential, does it not in vehicle represent Phenomenon? – As the Mind and Body, or Soul and Materiality are separated via the Will in Kabbalistic Ecstatic praxis, or hypnagogically hallucinatory meditation, Phenomena and the Noumena are objectively confirmed as separate yet equal. It may be said then that Man is the in-between; below is his Self, above is the All, god-form, or Dharmakāya– which his lower self (or Other) beholds-becomes. The Monad or Mandala-self is then both Neo-platonic and contemporaneously symbolic, with Man phenomenally as the circle, and noumenally as its infinite shape neither beginning nor ending. The principle practice of Kūkai‘s Buddhism which describes the entirety of universal harmony & movement revolves around the Three Mysteries, or supranational activities of the Body, Mind, & Speech of Mahāvairocana; so when man seeks actuality & enlightenment he finds none but himself reflecting the “extension, intention, communication, and action of Mahāvairocana; when man phenomenally seeks and accepts – he noumenally becomes and engages the Absolute (Hakeda, 91).

It’s not that there is a place in-between Time and Space, nor a difference between subject & object outside of the physical laws of the universe, it’s that man or his faculties represent the place in-between Time and Space (or by text, symbol, sound, etc..), and his psychic faculties – the polytheism of the Self (as described by Hillman), gives the seeker Archetypal precedence over the entirety of the Cosmos: until One forms in this realm whose Mind is not severed from his body, whose pillar-like Self extends beyond knowledge, language, and experience, touching the tip of the pure & Infinite Holy that surely lies beyond Imagination, simultaneously walking the earth amongst men as if one of them. But, it’s likely the Savior is none but ourselves, hence the phenomenal reality and noumenal realization of it: where it is not our duty to worship the gods nor is it ours to be amongst them, they are in us as Archetypally we are the World; or for Esoteric Buddhism, extending from the Light of Mahāvairocana, anthropomorphically we are the “to-be”or “becoming”of the world. It is where G-d or Buddha may be likened to a black hole, a Void or Abyss, which aware of its Infinite nature swallows itself, creating an Ourobouric Universe: it’s mouth the outer-well of the black hole, which vacuuming itself in flux, conjoins it’s new-entirety spherically around it’s conical-tornadoes as an impressively perfect Space, which loops itself again through the Void (picture a balloon pierced with a needle; the balloon itself is in fact an extension of the needle which breathes life into it or fills it with air – for here, air is unconscious space; the needle is the conscious dying star penetrating itself in search of itself, finding naught but the same beginning as end – it’s point, it’s tip, it’s peak is its first and last. This is the unconscious, for now categorized as a Void or Air swallowing a Void and birthing शून्यता (Śūnyatā) as the first No-thing: quantum leapt a photon – Light – began.

The same is as Man, who penetrating himself, his noncorporeal-unconscious nature, finds none but that which is corporeal and real: his fantasy meshes with reality and lost again in Indra‘s unfathomable net he’s made to return to the psychological idioms and philosophical treatises of his day: which speculatively refute previous scriptures of the Uncertain Unborn Mind. The same way the Void is the Unconscious, the Unconscious is the Noumenon, the entirety of Consciousness is the Dharma: inseparable forms of experiential reality and descriptive objectification. The subject Man, is the Mirror of G-d or Buddha, Archetypally Man as eventual-Nous; for an easier example we may turn to the Trinity of the Catholic faith (or any Trinitarian faiths in general), who typically hold steady to the belief that God is the Father, Ἰησοῦς (Jesus; Yeshua) the ַ חי ִׁשָמ(Messiah) is the Son, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit: Father, Son, Spirit. From which we may say God, the Infinite, fathered the people of Israel (the Son; or humanity) and that which binds them through Love and Wisdom (amongst countless other attributes; human words to comfort human minds) is the Holy Spirit; or we may conclude: God the Father-Mother, the Creator Archetype, bears his fruit through the Son (Daughter), the Savior (Hero) Archetype – the offspring and material generation of our Ancestors, Patriarchs, and Matriarchs – and finally the Holy Spirit is the Hermetic lamp which is passed from Aeon to Aeon through birthright as human-kin – the knowledge (Kabbalistically that which relates Keter through Chokhmah and BinahDa’at); the trinity Archetypally suggesting the Supra-gnosis, Mind, the Nous (All-Is-Us), the G-d, the Spirit of G-d, Buddha, the Nirvana of Buddha and Messiah as one. Simply: the Father is seen as the eventual-All which is unknowable (a Void as Śūnyatā is Nothing Named), the Son is humankind as Archetypal eventuality embodied complete (redeemed through the process of seeking redemption; the relation of the mythopoeia & sacred to the animal/human-profane), and the Holy Spirit is the Psychic faculties of Father and Son as One – the vessel which ties the two beyond material planes, the Holy Spirit or Thinking faculty [of Mahāvairocana] is then thought itself.

II. Husserl‘s Phenomenology & Kūkai

20th Century philosopher and mathematician Edmund Husserl developed an phenomenological reductionist approach to hermeneutics. Such an approach designated a new kind of phenomenological descriptive method with which one could apprehend the primordial experience of consciousness through realizing the variant intentionality one attaches to objects; one need ‘bracket‘ notions that objects are real & focus on the processes which led to their mental-apprehension. Early in his career Husserl focused on such a method in his Ideas, which sought to produce a “new eidetics”. ‘Eidetics‘ is derived from ‘eidos,‘ a Greek word meaning ‘form‘ (form was essence for Aristotle). Husserl was trying to build a science of essences, for he held experience to be the source of all knowledge; & where the realm of logic and mathematics provides one type of essence, the realm of consciousness provides another fundamental & elaborate display of functionality: in order to confirm the structure of consciousness one need distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed (the objects as intended). Traditional philosophy has begun with the “natural attitude”that finds consciousness to be one thing among many things in a “real world”. The goal of traditional philosophy has been to relate consciousness and objects in space (Descartes), which cannot be attained; thus the essence of consciousness need be found another way, & hence Husserl‘s call for a new approach. The Essential may be described as the qualities without which something could no longer be itself. For Husserl & the focus on Consciousness, this means methodologically reducing the noemata (content of experience) into an eventual being-in Erlebnis or residing wholly in a realm of “pure experience”where epistemological acts & phenomenological essences of der Leib (“body-as-subject”) are known as they truly are – primordially & intuitively (Shaner, 38-44). Phenomenological description of eidetic essences with apodictic certainty are the fundamental axioms of experience, therefore ontological or ethical attitudes are bracketed & one‘s thetic positings removed; resultantly the experience described is given to consciousness purely unclouded & untainted. For Husserl essences are primordially & intuitively given in experience & as such precede existence: they are the building blocks of phenomenal reality which are overcrowded by psycho-phsyical notions of duality & distinction.

Such separation & flux of psychic activity is a huge barrier to fully comprehending one‘s self in relation to what one experiences; as Shaner describes, “neither mind nor body can become the noematic focus of a noetic glance”& “have meaning that is abstracted from experience”(42). As we‘ve been blinded to be we often assume our Mind thinks while our Body acts, when naturally it goes both ways: we think with our body & act with our mind, & vice versa. – When the very presence of Mind (& it‘s aspects) & Body (& it‘s aspects) includes experientially both – as symbiotic or polar aspects of eidetic & noematic material – the two need be ideally united as a bodymind with no thetic separation or pre-cognizant/existent intentionality of the object-experience & subject-experiencing; as such, one may behold the primordial tendency to irrationally circumvent supra-real gnosis of any given moment – where one‘s horizon is unlimited & self is detached from the proto-typical thought-matrix continually dividing, differentiating, uniting, & entwining the subjects noetic factors or vectors (direction of attention) of the imaginal with the object & noema functioning as imaginal noematic foci (objects perceived) in ones psyche. As the meaning of a situation unfolds, the noesis & therefore noema change meaning (45). – Thus to understand a noematic focus one need approach the entire situation, expanding one‘s periphery from the object or immediate stimuli at hand to the horizon of a situations current, expanding awareness to its entire logoic nature: moving with apodictic certainty into the realm of true eidetic bodymind gnosis.

Before going further it would be best to briefly overview where we were philosophically prior to Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida & similar recent hermeunetical philosophers. Traditinoally we “generally posit that there is a natural world continually on hand which contains spatio-temporal objects, ourselves, other selves, & the values thereof, our activities are directed variously from elaborate conceptual description to simple acts of consciousness & of its presence; consequently our view of the world is perpetually changing, and sometimes we are deceived/ deceive ourselves about the experience & representation of it (phenomenal reality). Descartes‘s method of universal doubt provides a standard from which we may move forward. He negated the general positing of the natural attitude by taking as false what is subject to the slightest doubt.

We have a tendency to change the value of a thing by “putting it out of action,””excluding it,”or “parenthesizing”it; when such things are removed from the spatio-temporal world, pure mental processes remain, which are “immanent,”in that they exist within the conscious sphere of investigation. That which lies outside the sphere of consciousness is “transcendent”. The exclusion is a “reduction,”because part of the object is put out of action, thus the reduction of natural objects and focus on pure consciousness is “phenomenological,”because it describes objects as they appear, not in their natural causal relations (Hegel). This phenomenology is “transcendental,”because it deals with the conditions that make knowledge possible (Kant). Therefore the description of paradigmatic consciousness initially precedes the reduction of its transcendental & immanent features within the stream of mental processes, including perceiving, remembering, imagining, feeling, describing, etc…— each with its own essence & being its own essence. By examining solely the reductive qualities we exclude what does not lie in the mental act itself. This may be seen in the way we judge the appearance of another individual, based on their posture, manner of speaking, presence, etc… whereby idiomatic language often presupposes a direct-immediate relationship between a person‘s physical appearance & their mental condition (Shaner, 46). A notion of simultaneity is necessary for the noetic vectors or intentions of ontological perception to actively become singular, where the direct experience of dynamism & spatio-temporal simultaneity within conscious awareness is as a temporarily immutable experience: the functions or thetic positings of an individual exist & cease existing simultaneously as noesis of the noema in the form of the horizon as it is primordially given to consciousness.

Using Husserl‘s phenomenological method, Shaner endeavors to empirically confirm the primordially united bodymind as mythopoeically described in the Japanese Buddhist teachings of Kukai and Dogen. He asserts that “phenomenology, as a method of textual interpretation, is appropriate to cross-cultural studies because of its emphasis upon description of the eidetic experiential structures independent of cultural differences” (Shaner, 189). Thus Shaner attempts to ‘bracket‘ all cultural presuppositions and return “to the things themselves,” thereby providing a standpoint from which to describe the eidetic structures of the bodymind experience in Japanese Buddhism. Shaner provides a Husserlian profile of the eidetic structures characterizing three distinct orders or intentionality levels of bodymind awareness, with a description of the noetic acts and noematic content distinguishing each level: (1) First-order bodymind awareness denotes “a direct awareness of bodymind within the horizon. All thetic positings are neutralized. There is only an awareness of the horizon in toto”& is thus “pre-reflective neutral consciousness with no intentionality”; (2) Second-order bodymind awareness signifies a mode of experiencing wherein “there is only one specific noetic vector directed towards a single privileged noematic focus” & is thus primordial intentionality, where bodymind awareness is secondary to intended noematic focus, as a musician performing for an audience; (3) Third-order bodymind awareness designates a mode of experiencing wherein “there may be many overlapping noetic vectors towards a multiplicity of noematic foci” & is therefore reflective-disscursive consciousness (48). According to Shaner, second & third-order bodymind awareness represent the normal mode of perception analogous to the “natural attitude”. It is first-order bodymind awareness which describes the mode of experience cultivated through the sanmitsu or “three secrets” of Kukai‘s tantric philosophy.

By distinguishing between the myriad intentional habits of constructed habitual perception which distort the neutral experiential ground through differentiation, Kukai advises the student to become sensitive to the neutral thetic conditions necessary to sediment awareness like empty space (107). For him “to attain enlightenment is to know one‘s mind as it really is…like empy space” (Hakeda, 208-209). By noting the emptiness of all experience & utilizing the phenomenological approach, one is demanded to remain presupposition-less, assuming nothing; therefore beginning one‘s perceptual analysis of experiential reality with the noema (what appears) & our noesis (how we see it); thereby realizing the primordial given-ness of bodymind. As Shaner describes,

In this way, first-order bodymind awareness helps explain why perceptual objects given to consciousness are never completely known. This is due to the fact that (1) intended experience is perspectival and therefore limited, and (2) experience is a dynamic, ongoing process with a seemingly infinite reservoir of possibility (24).

For as noematic foci & external stimuli cloud the mind with overlapping thoughts, memories, feelings, ideals, etc…one‘s perceptual periphery is narrowed. It is as an empty canvas visible in a dark room, where the seeing-feeling aspect of it are cogitationes & the canvas is cogitatum – not a mental process. While perception involves an advertence (“turning toward”) in which the mental grid differentiates between things, picking this focus or that: aware of the canvas, the light on the canvas, & the darkness around, etc… it all at once, though refraining from experiencing all simultaneously due to intentionality of perceptual direction. Beyond what is beheld exists a horizon or halo of environment, or that which we are aware of in a non-actional way, as our focus is directed on the canvas & not the room in which we know intuitively exists approximate to our stimuli. Therefore intentionality is the essence of consciousness, as it precludes sensory data & the essences remain the same regardless of one‘s focus on the inactively-present background field (horizon) of awareness or the active mode of singular awareness focused on one object. By removing the distinction of subject-object-surrounding one neutralizes the noetic vector, presencing only the experiential horizon, as Kukai writes:

Away with all images
The great meditation of void is to be our companion (Hakeda, 99).

This perceptual interface corresponds to first order bodymind awareness, as a “vision that all is undifferentiated oneness like the infinite space”as a result of the “unshakable concentration in the oneness of body (dhyana) and mind (prajna)”, where functionally as a Mandala, all is mandala under Dainichi Nyorai (Shaner, 97). Such bodymind awareness asserts that all physical objects are transcendent, as are their appearances— & as a result only consciousness is imminent, only construed perceptions change the object of focus & by differentiation & synthesis we fill in the gap of the in-betweenness of all things & the tendency to attach adumbrated significance to all that is external.

As Descartes asserts, immanent consciousness is given in reflection, with no possibility of error, as transcendence presupposes the world of unities (which is adjusted according to one‘s consciousness relatively according to the one experiencing), therefore all experience within the world is common, universal & primordial. Pure consciousness exludes the positing of unity & distinction automatically presenced & alleviates one from the illusory notion that the noetic vector is the object, when really the noematic experience is the perceptual stimulation of a focused consciousness on the reflective qualities provided by & given to said object or objective experience – where reality is interpreted as it actually is, not as it relates to our adumbration of it. This is taking the ur-doxic & proto-doxic view (of Tillich), where the ground of consciousness in which all positive & negative judgements are constituted neutral as preconditions of the Imagination; where the bodymind experience is as part of the horizon prior to thetic judgmental positings (Shaner, 50). Therefore intuitional experience of direct, immanent ground of conscious act/ activity is the process of perception as the perfection of cognition, or the primordial unity of bodymind with its experiential environment & interactions thereof. Kukai & Shingon praxis holds that reality is veiled-samsara until the realization of the Nous or Mandala-universe of Mahavairocana is made apparent: all conscious activity is from Dainichi Nyorai & is Nyorai as the personified Dharma or Dharmakaya characterized non-abstraclty & perpetually unfolding it‘s macrocosmic activity through our consciousness & perception. For Shingon practitioners all of reality is like a script or mandala, where symbolically presenting itself through phenomena & noumena the realm of reality superimposes itself as being-reality when in actuality it is only the perceptual response to noematic stimuli. Dynamic action is then the basis of all experience, & experience the basis of all gnosis. True self-gnosis requires one then to practice indefinitely the active mystical nature of an infinite dharma preached through the bodily, verbal, & mental actions of microcosmic sentient beings & macrocosmic Dainich Nyorai; or the practice of mudraa (gesture), mantra (chant), and ma.n.dala(symbolic images), which are the three methods for transfiguring one’s body, speech, and mind – the goal of “sedimenting” paradigmatic states of firstorder bodymind awareness through repeated sanmitsu (Shaner, 113).

During first order bodymind awareness time is experienced as non-linear, distinguishing not between past, present, nor future but experientially offering awareness purely of the temporal noetic experience. All noemata are then experienced as universal particulars of the Dharmakaya under temporal oneness (ichiji) & spatial oneness (ichijo) – all in toto (Shaner, 115). As Kukai writes in the Dainichikyo, Nyorai himself experiences sedimented first order bodymind awareness as:

I have realized that which is unborn;
It is what language cannot communicate;
It is free from all defilements;
It transcends causality;
I know it is void like space;
I have gained the wisdom to see things as they are;
I am free from all Darkness;
I am ultimately real and immaculate (Hakeda, 218).

Prior to existential judgments the primordial horizon or periphery is ‘unborn‘, neutralizing all ideals of time, space, specifiable noemata, causes and effects by entailing a ‘transcendence of causality‘, or direct experience of Now as void, residing in a spatial and temporal simultaneity. That which is contingent upon causes does not exist & has never existed before as a thing or being identical to the thing or being which is apprehended: as paradigmatic or noematically percieved, for it‘s the experiential horizon or neutralization of the non-dual, unborn nature of mind aware of thetic experience & it‘s origin which comprehends the metaphorical unity of peripheral reality.



Abe, Ryuichi. The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Print.

Ancona, Francesco Aristide. Myth: Matter of Mind? Lanham: University of America, 1994. Print.

Kūkai. Yoshito S. Hakeda. Kūkai: Major Works. New York: Columbia UP, 1972. Print.

Nagarjuna. She-rab Dong-bu (The Tree of Wisdom). Edited and translated by W. L. Campbell. [Calcutta, 1919] {reduced to HTML by Christopher M. Weimer, June 2002}

Shaner, David. The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism. A Phenomenological Study of Kūkai and Dogen. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

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