Esoteric Buddhism: The Practice Of The Three Mysteries

February 09, 2018

Esoteric Buddhism: The Practice Of The Three Mysteries

“Body, speech, and mind are considered the three doors to enlightenment”

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche 

The symbolic activities of Body, Speech, and Mind (the Three Mysteries or Three Secrets) are present everywhere in the universe.

Engaging three these three aspects of the self called the ‘three doors of personality’: body, speech, and mind. The body is adsosoated with mudras (or symbolic hand gesture), speech with mantra, and mind with mandala. Using meditation methods involving body, speech, and mind, people aim to unify the polarity of wisdom and energy that exist within each person with the same polarity that exists in all things of this world. Once this unity and outside is reached, the target is to go beyond the polarity and finally arrive as the unity with all things that exist in the Buddha-nature.

"Form mudras with your hands,
recite mantras with your mouths,
and dwell in meditation with your minds."

"Attaining Buddhahood in This Body," Kobo Daishi

Body, speech, and mind are one, but it seems useful to first deal with each of them separately.

The Secret of the Body: Esoteric mudra

Hand gestures called mudras express the form of the secret activity of the body. These mudras symbolically identify the practitioner with the universe.


The human body functions as symbolic of the larger universe. In the "Discourse or Visualization of Truth by Mindful Recitation," Kobo Daishi wrote:

"If the Buddhas are the Dharma Realm,
they exist within my body.
If I myself am also the Dharma Realm,
then I exist within the Buddhas."

The Secret of Speech: Esoteric Mantra Recitation

Mantra plays a central role in Tibetan Buddhism. This is because mantras are believed to be configurations of the vibratory energy, or primal Energy, that that constitutes al the things in the universe.Properly invoked, madras especially seed mantras, not only can evoke and awaken the sound vibrations and the states they symbolise but they can also connect meditators to the universal vibratory energy and enable them the corresponding states of consciousness and reality. 

The Secret of Mind: Internal Visualization

The mandala is especially used to open the door of the mind. Literally meaning ‘circle’ symbolising completeness, a mandala is a symbolic representation of the entire field of multidimensional reality. As a circle mandala is also the sacred circle of a Buddha. Often mandalas are made up of concentric circles, at the centre of which is a square with four gates in the four directions. The square represents the palace of the main deity. The centre of the square is the most scared space of the mandala. it is the centre of the spiritual universe it represents.  


Esoteric meditation

Representing the Mind, the original goal of esoteric meditation is to achieve a state of 'no mind, no thought' (Skt: asphanaka Samadhi; Jap. munen muso). However, in the Dainichi-kyo, one of the two principal sutras of Esoteric Buddhism, it is stated that visualisation may employ images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities, human beings or non-human beings; in other words, any forms are embodiments of the universal self.


An early Esoteric sutra, the Kanjizai Bosatsu Tabatari Zuishin Darani-kyo, which focuses on the Bodhisattva Kannon, was the first to systematise so-called 'three secrets' visualisations. The practitioner first forms hand mudras and visualises Kannon as a mantric 'seed-syllable,' then as a symbolic object and finally in human form. In this way, the abstract gradually becomes concrete and the practitioner can relate directly to it.


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