Of the six fundamental disciplines, the observance of the commandments is considered the most important; of the ten commandments, the prohibition on the taking of life is the prime one. All living creatures are our dear friends, successive generations are of one flesh and blood. There is no end to the turning of the Wheel, and no escape from the torments of hell… The virtue of sparing life comes from the fact that it arouses divine retribution Brahma, sitting in his lofty palace in Heaven, scrutinizes the minds of men and clearly knows their thoughts. Shakra, dallying in his pleasure garden, turns his compassionate glance and illuminates all actions He who accomplishes an act of mercy will have a prayer accomplished, he who increases the happiness of others will have his span of life increased… If the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman extends his divine protection, the gods will answer my great prayer, if the Tathagatas of the ten directions vouchsafe their aid, my life will be strong as the Diamond. I shall then be able to attain enlightenment, and I shall certainly be born in the paradise of peace and purity. The moral force of good actions brings neighbors, their merit has no bounds.
– from “Prayer of the Retired Emperor Shirikawa on Offering the Tripitaka to Hachiman”
Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129) was the 72nd emperor of Japan, reigning from 1073 to 1087. He was also the first Japanese emperor to end his official reign by entering a Buhddhist monastery – although he still influenced the political and spiritual dimensions of Japan under his successor. The prayer the emperor offers here, 41 years after his abdication, asking for ten more years of life, is addressed to a Shinto god (Hachiman); however, the prayer itself, offered by a proponent of Esoteric Buddhism, indicates the syncretic tendencies of this form of Buddhism, allowing for the inclusion of other faiths in its prayers, or mantras, which are one of Esoteric Buddhism’s defining characteristics. (Incidentally, despite the prayer, the emperor died a year after offering it.)