Saigyo's "Six Elements and Four Mandalas" Sequence: The Story and Rhetoric of Enlightenment
McClure, Bonnie Lynn
MetadataShow full item record
This paper analyzes Saigyo's little-discussed waka cycle on the six elements and four mandalas of Shingon. I first introduce the sequence in the context of other similar works by Saigyo, then turn to a discussion of the place of Saigyo's poetry as a whole within the history of Buddhist themes in Japanese poetry. Saigyo lived at a turning point when Heian-era tension between the poetic and Buddhist traditions was giving way to robust and varied philosophical defenses of their compatibility. Saigyo's work formed a defense of this compatibility via practice: he allowed his Buddhist and poetic impulses to confront each other within his poetry. After tracing this thread through Saigyo's oeuvre more broadly, I introduce the Shingon conceptualization of the six elements and four mandalas, then translate and analyze each of Saigyo's ten poems, commenting on stylistic elements and allusions and on the larger structure of the cycle. I find these poems to be representative of Saigyo's broader vision in that they treat a Buddhist concept with the same sense of narrative and inner dialogue that marks the encounter between Buddhism and poetry in Saigyo's work as a whole.