The Sacred Sounds of Kototama

William GleesonArticles, English 1 Comment

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This is an excerpt from the book “Aikido and Words of Power – The Sacred Sounds of Kototama” due to be published in 2009. This chapter is
“In the Beginning—The Kototama of Su”.

Aikido has its roots in Japanese Shinto, the original teaching of which is the kototama. It is from the kototama, which translates as “the souls of words,” that the innate sensibilities of language and thought are created.

The kototama, however, should not be seen as a tool for dividing people or distinguishing one race from another. As the root of thought itself, and therefore of all spoken language, it is a tool for understanding our common origins and ultimate unity.

The kototama is not a theory or even a teaching. It is the life energy, or ki, that gives birth to consciousness in all its myriad forms. In other words, it is mind that creates human beings, and not the other way around. Our uniqueness as members of the animal kingdom is our ability to translate our feelings into abstract thought, and therefore into creativity. The manner in which we use this tool largely determines the quality of our lives and even the life of our planet.

Aikitama, the spirit of harmony, is the function of the word souls; it is the creative ki of the universe. Like the fish in the great oceans, we are immersed in a sea of consciousness. So deeply immersed are we, in fact, that we cannot easily see our own nature or the decisive role that we inevitably play in the creation of our own reality. It is only when our subjective experience is verified by the objective principle of original mind that reality becomes consistently clear.

Kototama is “the word,” which is destined to become manifest in human form. It is kotoha, the super-speed invisible light wave (koto) vibration (ha) of life. As the life force of all things it is omnipresent; there is nothing outside of it. As the source of consciousness it is omniscient. As the source of movement and, therefore, power, it is omnipotent. As the reality behind appearances it is the unborn, that which knows no separation among the eternal trinity of mind, matter, and spirit.

In the words of Gautama Buddha, “Verily, there is a realm where there is neither the solid nor the fluid, neither heat nor motion, neither this world nor any other world, neither sun nor moon. . . . If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed, would not be possible.”

The creator spirit of the universe, from which all other word souls are born, is the kototama of Su. The ki of Su is pure movement; it is the spirit of the infinite universe and our own spirit as well. It gives birth continually to U, the mechanical judgment of our five basic senses. It is through this consciousness that the world of form is first perceived. What, then, is the origin of Su?

The great origin of Su is the boundless emptiness of Mu. To merge with this consciousness is to attain the great mirror wisdom. It is to discover the clear mirror of perfect mind called sunyata. Seen as existence, it is emptiness. Seen as emptiness, it is existence. Out of this endless expanse the creative power of universal consciousness becomes full and ripe, and comes forth as the great yang fire ki of Ho. From the movement of this great yang, the first particle of spiritual ki is born. It is called hochi.

This brightly shining ki radiating outward and gathering other spiritual particles of ki around it gives birth to the kototama of Su. Su, reaching out in all directions, gives birth to the kototama of U. This is the beginning of the spiritual world, the realm of intuitive mind, or kamyo, the age of the gods.

Reitai ittai


U dimension, born from the movement of Su, is reitai ittai, spirit and body as one. It is the realm of the senses, in which there is no ability to separate one thing from another. It contains no awareness of self and other. In Buddhism, it is called the Dharmakaya, the ground of being. In Buddhist terms, the word emptiness means the lack of any individual or separate being. In other words, it means the total interdependency of all things. The quality of emptiness is the voice of Ku. Mu, its counterpart, is the life ki that fills that great void.

Ueshiba Morihei O-sensei described the great emptiness of being as Su-U-Yu-Mu. Su-U is absolute and relative as one. At the center of the brain is iwasu, the nest of the fifty sounds. This is the island (shima) where sound and meaning unite. Yu is the harmonious balance of fire and water ki, yin and yang. It stands between and unites U and Mu, matter and ki. Ki and matter combined create umu, the power of birth. As a noun it becomes umi, the ocean from which physical life is born on this planet.

The kototama of Su contains and gives birth to all other dimensions of existence. Just as our individual bodies are composed of millions of cells, the kototama of Su contains all other kototama. Su is therefore called “the creator spirit of the universe.” Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, stated that the Biblical teaching, “In the beginning was the word,” should be understood as the kototama of Su.

As pure movement, Su is the spirit of non-resistance. It brings our five senses to a state of peace. This is shisuka, the deep quiet roaring beneath the busyness of our everyday minds. Within stillness is the greatest movement, yet it is void of any fixed or permanent reality. Union with this spiritual origin is the seminal meaning of the word yoga. Deguchi Onisaburo, O-sensei’s spiritual teacher, described the process as follows:

First of all there is Su (hochi). Using all of your power you must make that great origin clear. Possessing this wisdom deep within your hara, your physical and psychic center, you will be able to bring your mind and senses to a state of peace, even within demanding activity. The wisdom that lies undiscovered at the center of your being must become the means through which you actually hear the teaching of Su.

Within the infinite void, the kototama of Su ringing out brings us the great origin. Using this light of wisdom as your tool, you will come to hear the true teaching of the creator spirit of Ame no Minaka Nushi. When one awakens the desire to clearly understand this infinite origin, one should proceed with great caution and humility, and perform purification both morning and evening.

Fully receiving the truth and fullness of Su, swallow it completely; bring it into your hara and become one with the universe. Thereafter for three days nurture this feeling both day and night. Listen to the voice of the great void and smell the ki of vast emptiness. If you continue to train yourself in this way, regardless of the degree of genius or lack of it, you will inevitably receive the appropriate light of wisdom.

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