MANTRA, JUMON, & KOTODAMA
'kototama-gaku', 'kotoage', & 'kazudama')
an attempt at a little clarification ... perhaps?
© 2010 James Deacon
often use the term 'mantra' as a simple way to attempt to explain the
Japanese word 'jumon' [ 呪文 ].
mantras and jumon
can be considered to be 'spiritual formula' which, when vocalised, are
intended to bring about a
have many parallels with mantras, the two are not identical on all
example, a mantra can be a phrase or sentence comprised of words
which, in the given language, have a clear
intellectually-understandable meaning. Alternatively, the phrase or
sentence may appear to be a meaningless series of unintelligible
same can be true of a 'jumon'.
a mantra can also be simply a single syllable (eg: a Bija or 'seed'
mantra, such as the ubiquitous: om), the
same is not true of a 'jumon'.
speaking, a single syllable
not classed as a
is a single
a phrase or sentence. Or even a few sentences.
However, a jumon can be
comprised of a series
of single syllable-sounds, for example: "a ba ra ha kya".
as short as a three
syllable phrase ( the jumon
of the Reiki symbols, for example) it can also be can be much longer
- in fact, more in keeping with Dharani
than with Mantra - and in rare cases, even longer still -
(the Heart Sutra for example, can be considered a jumon
it is used in mystical invocation)
term 'jumon' can perhaps be most simply and
clearly be explained as:
mystic, spiritual or magical incantation - a 'spell' - a sacred
phrase or Invocation.
like a mantra, a jumon
can be chanted once or many times, eg: 3, 9, 27,
108, 1,080, 11664 (108 x 108) – even 1,080,000 times.
is closely associated with mikkyo
(i.e. esoteric Japanese Buddhist) traditions.
as over the last 1200 years or so, Buddhism
and Shinto have influenced each others' development so profoundly, each
adopting so much in the way of beliefs, rituals, and esoteric
practices from the other - and both
Shinto and Buddhism have also
been strongly influenced by a form of Taoism which, as practiced in
Japan, was known as
- it is often difficult to say precisely where a specific
practice, concept, or term originated.
than getting caught up in whether jumon is a Buddhist
practice or a Shinto (or even an onmyodo)
one, it is best to simply consider it as a Japanese
Some 'traditional' jumon are
derived from Buddhist (or even Hindu) mantras - their original
wording modified to fit with the sounds of the Japanese
For example, a jumon
power of the five elements: "a ba ra ha kya"
is derived from: "a
va ra ha kha", which was in turn derived from "a
vam ram ham
Others are derived from, or strongly
influenced by, invocatory elements of the previously mentioned onmyodo - and
as such are commonly Japanese-language
approximations of original, Chinese-language,
Yet others may take the form of
extracts from norito
(Shinto prayers), or may contain be recognisable phrases and statements
drawn from ancient cultural texts written in classical Japanese.
traditional kotowaza [ 諺 ]
(sayings or proverbs) may also be used as jumon. For example
the kotowaza: "watari ni fune" - "a
boat for someone wishing to cross a river" -
alludes to good fortune in the form of the timely appearance of a
desired or needed thing. Thus, it may be used as a jumon in the hope
of actively invoking
such good fortune.
be created for just about any
specific purpose and intent.
Yet, in order to ensure their effectiveness, they are
commonly constructed in keeping with certain
Kotodama: [ 言
霊 or 言魂 ] "the spiritual power of words"
the heart of kotodama
theory is the understanding that
words and their component sounds, when used in certain very specific
ways, have a power to influence reality.
there is a mystical connection between
and the meaning(s)
and further, between words
and the situation, person, concept, thing or event they describe.
ultimately, a thought, idea or desire may be actualised by
verbalizing it in a
particular way with the proper focus.
often hear people talking about “the Reiki kotodama”
is claimed by some that Usui-sensei taught something commonly
referred to as “the Reiki kotodama”
to his early students, and
that “the Reiki kotodama”
were forerunners to the Reiki symbols
and accompanying jumon which are familiar to most
it is usually maintained that “the Reiki kotodama” are
quite different from the jumon associated with the
symbols, the former term is nonetheless
commonly used to refer to what are
essentially a set of
jumon; though jumon
comprised of a series of
single syllables rather than words.
are the four syllable-sequences, each of which is
described as being “a kotodama”:
[depending on who
you ask you get slightly different 'romanised' forms - and slightly
different pronunciation guidlines.]
|(or: "ho-a-ze-ho-ne" )
fact, not only do these syllable-sequences
constitute simple jumon,
but even allowing for a couple of slight differences in the way the
Japanese sounds have been 'romanised', it is not difficult to see how
they have been formed by extracting particular syllables from a set of
more complex, more complete. (and more familiar,) jumon. For
[s]ei [h]e(i) ki
[sh]a ze [sh]o
[d]ai ko [m]yo
for those people
who hold to the
basic principles of kotodama
(- even aside
from any connection with Reiki), it is indeed true that the particular
syllables presented above are genuinely believed to possess kotodama.
fact, every single word,
and even every single phoneme
syllable), used by the Japanese language is said to possess kotodama.
Yet, at the same
not one single word,
or even one single
phoneme used by
the Japanese language is considered to be “a kotodama”.
way in which the word: kotodama
commonly applied in relation to Reiki - i.e. as indicating the actual syllable-sequences
themselves, is simply a little confused.
does not refer to specific
words, syllables, (or other vocalised sounds), but rather, to the
spirit invoked by the correct use of words,
or other vocalised sounds:
(and/or syllables, etc) - whether individually or as phrases - can not
properly be described as
and syllables have kotodama - power.
It is this power which is kotodama: the
of the word" - "the-spirit-inherent-in-words"
and ultimately, the
'spirit' is inherent in all4 words - all
primal, guttural utterances - to the kiai
of the martial artist - to poetry -
to norito prayers
to the words and phrases and sentences of everyday
is the breath and heart within words.
Kotodama is the spirit - the power - of words
to make things happen.
jumon may be considered to possess
than others, though much has to do with the person using them, and
the way (and skill with which) they use them.
example, it is believed that a jumon performed
only once, with perfect pronunciation/intonation by a person
possessing the correct focus and spirit
or ki can have a far
than the same jumon
of kotodama: kototama
multi-faceted, complex discipline which has grown out of the central
the power of the 'spirit of the word'.
It is a
discipline concerned with understanding
of the-spirit-inherent-in-words, and ultimately, with the virtuous and skilful use of words to
influence 'mundane' reality, and also to effect spiritual change.
fact there are actually a few slightly different 'evolutions' of kototama gaku - slightly
different 'systems' of application of kotodama theory in
order to effect desired influence)
gaku deals with the
power of words on all
levels - whether as unexpressed
thoughts, or as vocalised sounds, or in their written aspect.
It is concerned with the effect
of words - as physical sound-vibration, and as 'vibration' on
subtle levels - and also, the multi-faceted communicative power of
words - intellectual, emotional, sentimental - the
words to inspire, uplift, hurt, heal, etc.
is intricately interwoven with other elements of Japanese spirituality,
mysticism, magic, onmyodo, numerology, kuji
no in, etc.
are prime examples of the application of kotodama.
as already mentioned, a jumon may
appear to be a series of unintelligible sounds,
or, may appear to be a phrase with clear meaning.
hidden within a jumon there
can frequently be several levels of further meaning
when it comes to uncovering/discovering the different levels of
meaning of specific jumon,
things can, theoretically, become quite complex.
one hand, Japanese is a language with a vast number of homophones
(words that sound the same, yet have different meanings, and also
have different written forms).
on the other, most written Japanese characters (kanji)
different 'readings' (i.e. a single kanji character
pronounced in several different ways depending on context)
example, the word 'san' - as written using this character: 山, means 'mountain'.
'san' as written using this character: 三, means
'three'. However, the character 山
can also be pronounced as 'sen'. The sound 'sen' can also be written
or river], or as 先
preceding, etc], or as any one of a large number of other kanji
characters, with diverse meanings such as: to feed, to confuse,
ringworm, change, a skewer, vivid, meditation, shudder, a lottery, a
trapeze, a bird of prey, to trample, a plug, discussion, a fan ,a
jetty, to hide...etc.
And in turn,
characters can also have other pronunciations: eg: 'sen' can
be written 千
'a thousand'] and this kanji
also be pronounced: 'chi'. The sound 'chi' can also be written as
can be pronounced as 'ji'... and so on, ad
primary element of
gaku is devoted to the concealing and revealing of
deeper levels of meaning of jumon, (and other words and phrases)
via a sometimes complex system of kanji-substitution.
example, this can involve the replacing of one kanji character
with another which, while sharing the same 'reading' (i.e. pronunciation) has
a different meaning
- e.g. replacing 山 ['san'] ,
with 三 [ also pronounced: 'san'] and so changing the meaning
from 'mountain' to 'three'.
Or meaning can be
concealed/revealed by taking an alternative reading of a
and replacing the kanji
with one which shares the alternative 'reading'
- e.g. the character
'san' has the alternative reading: 'sen', so
for example, 山 could be replaced with 千 [which also has
the reading: 'sen'], thus changing the meaning form 'mountain' to ' a
Yet another approach
involves the replacing of
one kanji with another having the same
'stroke-count' - i.e. a kanji
written with the same
number of brush-strokes - yet having a different meaning.
method of concealing/revealing meanings involves converting the written form of the jumon (or
other phrase, etc) from kanji characters
of the Japanese syllabic scripts:
example, the previously mentioned word 'san' [mountain], originally
written using the kanji character:
山, would in hiragana be
さ = 'sa',
ん = 'n'].
initially this would at least seem to simplify things a little.
When the word 'san' was written using the kanji character: 山, for example, the alternative
'reading' of that kanji
could be used as a stepping-stone in the process of transforming the
meaning. By writing the word using characters representing
this is no longer possible.
the katakana and hiragana syllabaries were
originally derived from something called man'yōgana.
man'yōgana was an
early system of writing using kanji
characters, not for their meaning, but simply
to represent sounds.
Each character [kanamoji]
in the katakana and hiragana syllabaries is
actually based on a kanji
character originally used as part of man'yōgana.7
So, having converted the jumon (or
other phrase, etc) from
kanji into syllabic script, the resulting
characters can then be replaced with the 'man'yōgana' kanji from
which they were originally derived, leading to yet another new meaning.
As mentioned earlier, kototama gaku - the
science of kotodama
is intricately interwoven with other elements of Japanese esoteric
belief, including numerology.
In the same way that kotodama refers
to "the spirit inherent in words", there is also kazudama:
"the spirit inherent
One method of concealing/revealing
meanings via a combination of kotodama and kazudama principle, again involves converting the
written form of the jumon
etc. from kanji
or katakana. However, in
this method, each syllabic
is allotted a specific numeric value and alternative meaning is
established via a system of numerological association.
Another combined koto/kazudama method
(the final one we will look at here), applies numerological meaning to
'stroke-count' of any given kanji
or group of kanji.
all these methods of concealing/revealing further levels of meaning, as
briefly outlined above, technically allow for mind-boggling levels of
happily, in practice, actual use of the various forms of substitution
is generally of
a very simple nature.
* * * *
The other primary element of kototama
gaku is initially
concerned with mastering the
art of intoning specific core syllables8 -
in order to influence reality, bring
harmony, healing, and to effect spiritual change.
[This is perhaps the one element that most people
who are aware of the term 'kotodama'
are at least partly familiar with.9 ]
The different 'traditions' of kototama gaku tend
to differ in their approach this 'toning' aspect of the discipline.
practitioners concentrate solely on toning a limited number of core
syllables, while others expand on this initial area of focus,
work with for example: 46-50 syllables, or 71-75 syllables (and in some
instances, 107 or 108 syllables).
there is far more to this 'vocal' element of the discipline than simple
focus on the intoning of individual syllables.
the 'correct' toning of the individual syllables has been
mastered, work on intoning combinations of syllables to
produce certain 'virtuous' and 'fortuitous' words and phrases
in time, the practitioner may begin to work with jumon, or with norito, or other
ritualistic, incantatory formulae including, for example: authoritative
phrased in the style of ancient Imperial edicts; or mystical pronouncements, in some
instances, taking the form of hokku [
発句 ] or tanka [ 短
For example: the first two vowel sounds in Japanese (in the traditional
order of sounds), 'a' and 'i' combine to form
the simple yet profound: 'ai' ('love').
basic syllable-combinations the practitioner may choose to work with
include: 'ma-ko-to' ('makoto'
= 'sincerity'), or 'fu-ku-ju' ('fukuju' =
longevity, happiness); and even 'a-ri-ga-tō-go-zai-ma-su' 10
This active aspect
of the 'science of kotodama'
is known as kotoage.
言挙 or 言擧 ]
kotoage is: “to lift the voice” (i.e. to “speak up”) - to
“raise up or
invoke (the power of) words”.
the active manifestation of kotodama-power to
influence and effect other living beings,
the world around
us, and the world within
some levels, the meaning of the term kotoage can overlap
with that of
and a few
other related terms, however while the terms
primarily refer to the actual
words (the phrases,
prayers, 'spells', vows, etc) to be voiced or intoned, kotoage primarily
the actual voicing
kotoage is the
the prayer, the reciting
of the poem, the spell, the vow, - the chanting of the jumon.
It is the actual
itself, unleashing the
power of kotodama.
can be very formal and ritualised, though it is not
is undertaken always
what is spoken 'with
spirit' will have effect - will
engage in kotoage
is to become involved in the manipulation of cosmic forces.
Thus, there is a need to be
conscious of one's use of the power of language - to be mindful of
– to be aware that what is
said carelessly could
is not just about focus on the affirmative use of
also on avoidance of unsuitable
There is great importance placed on choosing one's
words with care, on using appropriate expressions, and as far as
possible, avoiding speaking negatively about
This has given rise to the concept of: imikotoba [忌み言葉 ] or taboo words - words one should refrain from
using so as to avoid undesirable
It is understood
that there is a need to be especially
vigilant concerning the words that are used on formal
occasions, at momentous events, or in certain pivotal situations so as
not to be inauspicious or
bring bad luck as a result of "accidental kotoage"
(i.e. the unintentional invoking of the kotodama residing
within the words)
Such awareness and concern as
kotoage has also filtered down into the realm of everyday
there is the feeling that, even in everyday life, one should refrain from giving
voice to “dark”
or discouraging words. That one should be
mindful in one's
choice of words so as not to hurt
another's feelings or cause them embarrassment; and that if it
is absolutely necessary to convey a negative message, it should be done in a
sensitive, roundabout, and euphemistic, way.
There are certain
phrases to be avoided in certain instances - for example, words
alluding to separation or parting, etc, should not be used in formal
toasts or blessings at weddings; and phrases which might possibly (even
in the most indirect way) allude to
miscarriage or other difficulties, must be avoided in any celebratory
speeches or toasts relating to pregnancy.
One of the most prominent taboos is that concerning the number four.
The Japanese word for 'four' is commonly pronounced 'shi' (though it
can also be pronounced 'yon'
) however, 'shi'
is also the pronunciation of the word written as:
死 which means 'death'.
So, not only is it considered important in the formal ritualised
practice of kotoage to
avoid the use of 'shi'
in, say, a prayer, jumon,
etc for an sick person, but, in everyday life, there are also many
taboo's relating to its use.
For example, some people will simply refrain from using 'shi'
for the number four in any situation they feel might be important.
Hotels, apartment blocks and hospitals may not have a fourth floor; or
a room number four. People will not give gifts consisting of four
pieces; and so on.
And it is not just
the word 'shi'
itself, but also certain words containing the sound 'shi'.
A person would not send shikuramen
(cyclamen) flowers to someone who is ill,
or in hospital - as the name shikuramen contains the sound
immediately followed by the sound: 'ku'
(which can mean: 'suffering', 'pain', 'distress', 'hardship', 'worry',
etc), this latter, only adding to negativity concerning the word 'shi'.
people are also very aware of the beneficial effects of 'good words'
and 'good 'speech'. Even in everyday situations there is emphasis on
the intentional use of fortuitous phrases and expressions - and a sense
of the positive kotodama
generated by warm, friendly, enthusiastic greetings.
This awareness of
the positive effects of words also finds expression
in the context of the choosing of babies names - and in
particular, the choosing of the specific kanji which will be
write the baby's name.12
mentioned previously, Japanese is a
language with a very great number of homophones, and so a person's
name can theoretically be written in many, many different ways. As a
result, a great deal of consideration may be given to the choosing of a
combination of kanji
which have positive, auspicious meanings, and which, through the power
of the kotodama
inherent in those words, may have a beneficial influence on the
individual's character, and on the unfolding, development, and overall flow of their life.
* * * *
has already been mentioned how some jumon are
possess stronger kotodama than others.
holds true not just for complete jumon, but
also for all of the individual core syllables, and all of the
other individual syllables which are the basic
'building blocks' of every jumon, every
prayer, every vow, every poem
- ever single word
in the Japanese language.
While all the syllables (and
therefore all words formed with these syllables) are understood to
kotodama power, not all are considered
equal in the degree of
possess (- or the degree of kotodama-power
which can be made manifest by their proper use).
And again, as has
already been mentioned when speaking specifically about jumon
when it comes to working with the individual syllables, (or for that
matter, with complete prayers, vows, 'spells', etc), the person
intoning them, the level of skill they possess, the way in
the sounds are used (and even the
situation in which they are used), all have a strong
bearing on their effectiveness.
prayers, ritual statements etc, elegantly phrased in a particular
archaic style of Japanese (once used for the composing of Imperial
proclamations or edicts ) are believed to have particularly strong
And a specific
jumon, vow, etc,
performed at a pivotal point in a person's
live - for
example, at the
start of a new venture or undertaking, at the birth of a child, or on
another special occasion such as a marriage - is likewise considered
manifest a more powerful kotodama
effect than it might if performed at less signifcant times.
manifests when syllables, words and phrases are
intoned with spirit - with ki, i.e: with sincerity, with
determination, and/or with passion and feeling –
when they are intoned charismatically: with 'emotional content'.13
1 This is commonly because some
of the words are
approximations/corruptions of words borrowed from other human
languages from other places or other ages, or the words are
considered part of some magical or Divine language only known to an
2 Except in one or two rare cases
an almost-forgotten form of the 'magico-religious' aspect
of Taoism, which was first introduced to Japan in the 6th
4 Some believe it is only the Japanese language
that holds the power of kotodama
well as using kanji,
the Japanese language also makes use of two other writing systems: hiragana, and katakana.
kanji represent ideas, Hiragana
and Katakana are phonetic writing systems - their characters
rather than ideas
another, more obscure variation of hiragana
- called hentaigana
- is used. The characters of hentaigana are
also derived from man'yōgana.
'traditions' of kotodama
gaku focus on different numbers of syllables
9.And this is the
direct source of the highly simplistic application of kotodama-principles
which have been adopted by several Reiki practitioners, and which are
commonly referred to as: "the Reiki kotodama"
The Japanese expression arigatō gozaimasu
is a polite/formal way to say 'thank you'.
can be used to show appreciation for something that has already
occurred, or something yet to occur. In a separate practice,
intoning of 'a-ri-ga-tō-go-zai-ma-su' repeatedly
is used to help evoke deep heart-felt gratitude (kansha) for all
that is good in one's life.
what is commonly called waka
poetry (originally tanka
was only one of several different forms of waka). hokku is an even
shorter form of poetry, commonly known by the modern
not just babies names, but also names for new business ventures,
spiritual organisations, and even pop or rock groups.
also manifests when words/syllables are written with
so, closely associated with the 'intoning' element of the discipline is
a calligraphic (書道,
shodō) practice of drawing/writing individual characters and complete
spirit/ki . However, this does not have to be done with 'brush and
ink'. Characters can be traced in the air (for example,) with
hand, or with the eyes, or with the breath. (Think Reiki Symbols) .
particular element of the process of evoking of the power of kotodama
is pertinent when it comes to why so many people do not seem to
'get' the power and importance of the Reiki Symbols.
they may have learnt the symbol shapes,
and even the correct order and direction of
the strokes with
each symbol is written, they simply have not learnt how to write them -
with spirit, with ki.