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Ku-ji simply means “nine syllables”, and refers to a variety of mantras that consist of nine syllables. The syllables used in kuji are numerous, especially within the realm of mikkyo (Japanese esoteric Buddhism). The kuji most often referred to is of Taoist origin, not Buddhist. However, several Taoist texts say that the kuji came to China via Tibet; if this is true then kuji may have originated with Hinduism. It is unclear whether the nine standard kuji found in Taoism are found in Tibetan Buddhism, and if so what their correlation with the nine Taoist kuji are.

The kuji are first introduced in Taoism in the text Neipian written by Ge Hong (a.k.a. Baopuzi, c.280-340 ADE). In it he introduces the kuji in chapter titles “Into the mountains, over the streams” as a prayer to the six Liu Jia, ancient Taoist gods. The Chinese ku-ji actually forms a grammatically functional sentence when translated, “May all those who preside over warriors be my vanguard!” Other translations are possible as well especially in Japanese esoteric Buddhism. According to the Neipian, the kuji is a prayer to avert difficulties and baleful influences and to ensure things proceed without difficulty. To this end it can be said that the primary purpose of ku-ji is shōkanjō and chōbuku.

Ku-ji itself is a very flexible practice that can be modified depending on the needs of the practitioner. The practice of ku-ji ho as found in Japanese esoteric Buddhism is a sanmitsu nenju (concentrated three mysteries practice), and as such, consists of several dependent, integrated practices. It can be practiced in the form of either of the two mandaras of esoteric Buddhism [mikkyo]. The Kongo-kai/金剛界 mandara (vajradhatu; Diamond Universe Nine Assemblies mandala) of Shingon Buddhism, or the Taizo-kai/胎蔵界 mandara (garbhakosa-dhatu; Womb mandala). It is also used by other Buddhist sects, especially in Japan; some Taoists and practitioners of Shinto and Chinese traditional religion; and in folk-magic throughout East Asia.

The Kuji-in practice symbolizes that all the forces of the universe are united against evil; because of this, it was often used by the common people for luck when traveling, especially in the mountains.

The Nine levels of the Kuji-in:
 
Rin - Strength
Pyo - Direction of energy
Toh - Harmony of the Universe
Sha - Healing of self and others
Kai - Premonition of danger
Jin - Knowint the thoughts of others
Retsu - Mastery of time and peace
Zai - Control of the elements of nature
Zen - Enlightemment
 

Kuji-kiri (九字切り lit. "nine symbolic cuts") is a practice of using hand gestures found today in Shugendo and Shingon Mikkyo. It is also present in some old and traditional schools ("ryuha") of Japanese martial arts including but not exclusive to schools that have ties with ninjutsu. Originally thought to have originated from Taoism and brought to Japan from China by Buddhist monks, it is often misconceived as a spell or curse (jumon) to cause ones adversary to meet a foul end.

A subset of Kuji Kiri, Kuji-in (九字印 lit. "nine symbolic signs") is the name given to the hand postures that represent each of the nine cuts when performed in the long form as detailed in Shingon Mikkyo Kuji Goshin Ho.

Kuji Kiri has even found its way into the world of Japanese sports where some athletes can often be seen sporting tiny taped latices (representing the nine cuts symbolically) on their skin. How this started and what the belief in this practice it is unknown. It is a protection spell, you put a kanji symbol of whatever you want protection from inside a 9 lined grid representing RIN, KYO, TOH, SHA, KAI, JIN, RETSU, ZAI, ZEN have to draw lines in that order for it to work.

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