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Old 11-15-2004, 04:40 PM   #2
George S. Ledyard
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Re: Mysterious Action of Kotodama Lite

Don J. Modesto wrote:
Interesting exchange in the Voices of Experience Forum (
Even having studied Gleason, I'm still not sure what KOTODAMA means. I think it goes back to mantra out of Shingon tradition. I have a hunch it also involves conflation of map and territory, as Korzybski famously scolded us not to do, through puns, "KANJI mining", allegory or other arbitrary associations in the case of Osensei: "Aikido is love (ai)", e.g. or "The cross (ju) of aikido".

Jacqueline Stone speaks of "Kanjin" style of interpretation in her book Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. This involved drawing parallels with a conflicting text through any means possible--puns, breaking down KANJI into parts and rearranging the meaning accordingly (think, contra Osensei on the pun of harmony/love in Japanese, what harmony in English lends itself to: "Aikido: the Way of 'Harmony'--You just go ahead and 'harm-any' beggar that bothers with you"), Kotodama (?) or other. The popularity of this lasted about 100 years and then was thoroughly reviled and repudiated (as we see some thinkers reviling similar tendencies in Post-Modernism; remember the Sokal hoax?) She notes that this kind of thought survives today in the form of the New Religions of which, of course, Omoto is one of the more prominent and quotes Okada Kootama, founder of Suukyoo Mahakari, on Kotodama. Note: Mahakari was an offshoot of Omoto, so George may be right about Deguchi reviving the Kotodama stuff, especially since he was such an infamous punster.
Kototama in its more general sense goes back to the earliest written religious traditions. The "power of sounds" or as they were called in Sanskrit, "seed syllables" exists in the oldest of the Vedic texts and this, of course, would suggest that the concept had existed and been developed quite a bit before anything was written down.

I think that you do not have quite the subtlety with Sanskrit that you'd get with Chinese or Japanese. Sanskrit isn't based on pictographs and was said to be one of the most precise languages ever developed (very complex grammar).I suspect that the ability to talk at multiple levels simultaneously would have been limited here as opposed to Chinese and Japanese.

So at the heart of Kototama is simply the set of "seed syllables" a, e, i, o, u. Combining these together along with addition of consonants produces a family of sounds that gets grouped into sub families and becomes symbolic of every aspect of the world whether mind, body or spirit. This is not unlike the I Ching in which one starts with the essential differentiation into Yin and Yang. This allows the creation of a set of trigrams which are made up of lines either yin or yang giving you 8 possibilities. When two trigrams are combined you get a hexagram and the possibilities number 64. Each trigram represents a set of principles. Each hexagram symbolizes how those principles get combined into more complex forms as the universe became differentiated from it's original undifferentiated primordial state.

The kototama takes this type of symbology much further. Instead of starting with the split from one into two as in yang and yin the Kototama, starts with a, e, i, o, u developing out of the original Aum. So when looks at Gleason Sensei's book, one sees that there are more possible combinations of these essential symbological "traits" than there would be in the I Ching. This is VERY complex stuff. With the very large set of possible combinations available virtually aspect of mind, body, spirit development can be described. On the material level this isn't much different than Physics when it talks about everything in terms of vibration or waves of energy. The Divine level can be covered by having the essential combinations be represented by a particular deity with its various aspects. Everything right down to human emotional and character traits can be described this way.

The peculiar ability to take this essential symbology and add to it the dimension of speaking at multiple levels simultaneously which is offered by the Japanese language with its imposition of Chinese characters made it possible for teachers like Deguchi and O-Sensei to avoid having the system appear to be merely mechanistic, just mathematical. The essential mystery of the universe is preserved by having the meaning of things unfold, level upon level. This I think is the reason why the Japanese are so big on the Omote and Ura way of looking at things. Nothing has just one explanation. While being valid, a given explanation my have many levels underlying it. Developing an understanding of this process is what spiritual practice is about is what would constitute Wisdom in O-sensei's world.

At a certain point of understanding one would in theory, have enough understanding of how the universal process unfolds (the Kannagara no Michi) that ones own desires and actions would come increasingly into accord with the larger Process. This is my perception of what the Kototama was, at least in part.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 11-15-2004 at 04:50 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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