Godai - Gogyo
The metaphysical lore of the East is, quite logically, intertwined with the arts associated with the Shadow Warriors of Japan. Often the influences are obvious, as in the use of the Shinto ceremony of respect and acknowledgment used to open and close classes; others, like the 5-element classification systems are not as apparent.
This system of 5 Elements is actually 2 systems; each used to describe a different process
The first system is known as the Godai or “Five Great Elemental Manifestations.” The elemental codes, in ascending order are chi “earth,” sui “water,” ka (or hi) “fire,” fu “wind” and ku “void.” This is a system based on, and leading up to, the rokku-dai “Six Great Elements” as used in esoteric Buddhist study.
The elements of the Godai are often, quite erroneously, confused with the elements that make up the Periodic Table used in the study of chemistry in Western science. I even remember a time when I was in school and one of my science teachers, who was covering the base elements, laughed quite condescendingly about how the people of the Orient believe that there are only “Five” elements and, naming the above, pointed out the “real” 81 (at the time).
In fact, the Godai elements are not meant to be used in such a detailed and destructive way as the ones of Western science. “Things” are not broken down so far that they become indistinguishable from their real form; the 5-Element code is actually a means of cataloging and grouping like concepts, aspects, strategies, energies, etc. The Western system can actually be reorganized and classified using the Godai system.
The five elements of the Godai, their symbolic representation, their appearance in the human being, and their use in the teaching of the ninja’s arts are:
“Earth”—represents the firm, hard objects that appear in existence. Rocks are probably the best symbol of the earth element in nature in that they are incapable of change, movement or growth, without the help of the other elements.
In the human being, the “earth” element shows up in the body as the bones, muscles, and other tissues. In the mind, it is confidence; and emotionally it is a desire to have things remain as they are; a resistance to change. When under the influence of this chi mode or ‘mood,’ we are aware of our own physicality and sureness of action.
As a means of self-protection, which is based, as are all of the strategies of the ninja’s art of operating with natural laws, on the student’s emotional level or mood, when the attack starts ‘earth’ represents our desire to hold our ground and ‘crush’ the assailant’s attack with our strength. We are calm and unbothered by their threats and we firmly resolve to stop them in their tracks.
“Water”—are elements in a ‘flowing’ or adaptable state. Aside from the common sense identification with natural water sources, plants are a good example of the “water” element in that they are, while incapable of movement, capable of adapting to their environment (i.e. turning their leaves toward the direct sun, growing their root systems in the direction of the most nutrient rich soil, etc.) In our bodies, the ‘water’ element represents the blood and other fluids necessary for life. Mentally, the code is the ability to adapt to and change our strategy, or way of doing things, if change is needed. At our core, it is our emotionalism and ability to ‘go with the flow.’
In the self-protection strategies of the ninja’s armed and unarmed combat arts, the ‘water’ element identifies both our defensive adaptation to the enemy’s attack and our ability to ‘flow’ with their actions. The feeling of being overwhelmed by their force or technique causes us to want to back up and create more space and time between us, as we attempt to cover and protect our targets from their attacking limbs.
“Fire”— as a code, this symbol represents those elements in a combustible, or energy-releasing state. It also symbolizes force and direction. Animals are a good example of the ‘fire’ element in that they are capable of movement and direction, though limited by primitive ‘programming’ or instinct.
In our bodies, this element is represented by our metabolism and body heat. Mentally, it is our directness, commitment and desire to be better than we are. Internally, from our heart come the qualities of will or intention, motivation and competitiveness as well as an outgoing or domineering spirit.
As a defensive strategy, ‘fire’ represents our committed spirit directed against our opponent as we take the fight to them. In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘fire’ technique per se—just as there are no water, earth, etc. techniques, either—but only our energy level or emotional mood that causes us to move in against the attacker.
“Wind”—is the symbolic representation for elements in a gaseous state. Freedom of movement and an expanding nature are the keys here. Again, apart from the naturally identifiable ‘things’ alluded to by it, the ‘wind’ element is best symbolized by human beings. Human beings, in their lower or most common states of development, are capable of movement, direction and have intellect; the trait necessary for development, growth and overcoming the limiting tendencies of programming and the primitive instinct from our ‘animal’ nature.
In our body, the ‘wind’ element is our respiration and the processing of oxygen and other gasses between cells. Mentally, it is our intellectual capabilities and our ability to be ‘open-minded.’ Emotionally, we are carefree and not influenced by stress.
As a basis for self-defense, this element shows in our desire to avoid, and stay just beyond, his reach. We naturally want to avoid any conflicts or at least a direct confrontation. Our strategy is reflected in our turning and evasive movements that allow us to flank him and smother his assault attempt if necessary.
The “Void”—is the code for the sub-atomic or ‘creative’ foundation of all that is. Actually, the term “void” is probably a bad translation when compared to the definition of what the element represents. The English language word “de-void,” as in the absence of any pre-determined shape or character, is much closer to defining the nature of this element. Human beings in a higher conscious state are the representatives of this element, just as the sub-atomic material that forms the atoms that group into the molecules that form all other material things in the universe are the base example from nature.
In our bodies, the ‘void’ element is our ability to think and communicate with others. Mentally and emotionally it represents our creative nature, as well as our personal means of self-expression as we identify with and operate in the world around us.
As a self-protection method, the ‘void’ represents several tactics. They are:
1. Our communicating with the attacker in an attempt to diffuse the situation before it becomes physical.
2. The creative and spontaneous flow between the lower elements as we adapt to and alter our techniques as our emotional state changes from moment to moment. We literally ‘make-up’ the technique as we go.
3. Our ability to ‘let go’ of any pre-set techniques or mental chatter about “what we will do if hex,” and clear our mind so that we can see and pick up the sense impressions and feelings that will tell us what he is doing or preparing to do to us.
4. The application of Kyojitsu Tenkan Ho or the strategy of altering the attacker’s perception of truth and falsehood. Our ability to make the attacker think we are doing one thing when in fact we are doing the opposite is key here.
The Godai elements, as codes for action in a self-protection situation, serve as a guide for the student, not in learning set techniques or kata as such, but in relating to their emotional moods and responses, and their influence over the student’s mental and physical options.
It must be remembered that, as human beings we have a ’natural’ way of learning effectively and efficiently. A physical, hands-on approach, coupled and followed by theory leads to an emotional feeling about that which we have learned. This feeling could be good (we like it), bad (we dislike it) or neutral (we neither like it or dislike it.) Unfortunately, we deal with stress (read: fights) in just the opposite way. First we experience an emotional response about the situation, encounter, environment, etc. Based on whether we are attracted or repelled, etc., we form a mental strategy based on what we know and what we think we can do, and finally we go into action. Though taking several sentences to describe, the actual impulse to response time takes only a fraction of a second.
Beginning students, more often than not, do not understand the defensive strategies implied in the techniques being learned, let alone have an awareness of their emotional state at any given point. The Godai then, explain the modes in which we operate, their prompters and the possibilities available based on what the body is, and is not, capable of when under the influence of each emotional state.
The Gogyo ‘Five-Elemental Transformations’ theory is a Chinese system of explaining the growth, progression or destructive dissolution of energy in an ever-changing process. Where the Godai ‘Five-Elemental Manifestations’ symbolize and categorize “things (i.e. solids, fluids, sexes, job titles, personalities, etc.) as they appear in the ever-growing and expanding universe, the gogyo “transformations” — which are based on the Taoist concept of in and yo (yin/yang in Chinese), shows the development of, progression towards or blocking of energy in any “thing.” Far from being contradictory theories, the godai and gogyo symbologies are in actuality mirror images of each other. In fact, in the Buddhist mind-sciences, the gogyo system can be seen as the sixth element (mind) transforming the godai into the rokudai.
The five elements of the gogyo are sui “water,” moku “wood,” ka “fire,” do “earth.” and kin “metal.” The elements, unlike those of the godai have no real beginning or ending as such. They “appear” to start where the observer first becomes aware of them and can be seen to progress in an unending series of cycles from there. The system has two parts. One, a productive, progressive ‘growth’ cycle; and an ura destructive, blocking or damming cycle.
The productive cycle of the gogyo, picking an arbitrary starting point, is as follows:
“Water” — is energy in a pooling, collecting or sinking state. Unlike the godai element of the same name, the “water” element represents the coming together of all the necessary components that will allow growth to take place. As an example, we could take a look at the growth of a plant and see how the seed from which it comes is just one part of the whole process involved. But without the right soil conditions, moisture level, mineral content and balance, warmth, etc. the seed will not even begin to germinate.
“Wood” — represents upward reaching new growth. As the elements of the “water” element come together and focus they take on a ‘life’ of their own that appears to be separate and distinct from it’s base parts. In our example of the plant, we see it’s stem or shoot break through the surface and begin to reach toward the sunlight which will feed and nourish it.
“Fire” — also an element of the godai but used here in a different context. This symbol represents expanding or evaporating energy. Our plant opens up in full bloom as it comes to full maturity. However, by doing so, it exposes more of its self to the air allowing for more evaporation and moisture loss; thus leading naturally to the next element.
“Earth” — is the representation of energy in a condensing state. From the initial growing stage of the “water“ level, and through the expansion phase of the “fire” state, the energy now begins to condense back in upon itself. As the plant continues to mature it begins to wither and dry out.
“Metal” — represents energy in a ‘hardening,’ compacting state. Our plant continues to dry out until even the solid parts return to their mineral base forms and return to the soil from which they came. The moisture that the plant has been giving up as it dried, the solid matter returning to the soil for decomposition, the gasses given up during decomposition and so forth, all contribute and lead to the “water” element of the next cycle.
The elements are not, and should not be thought of as separate and distinct steps, but rather phases in a natural process. It is difficult to find an exact changing point from one to another, but each is seen as a gradual coming into being from the previous elements activity. The seasons (for those of you in the temperate zone!) make a good analogy for this process. In contrast to the man-made calendar that has divided the year into four roughly equal parts measuring ninety-tow to ninety-three days each, nature takes its own course in its gradual shifting from the new growth of Spring into the warmth and activity we all enjoy during Summer; which becomes the colors and beauty of Autumn (which is really the drying out of the vegetation) and the slowed activity as the days become progressively colder into the Winter months. As I said, man has constructed this ’reality’ for convenience and then complains when Spring doesn’t come on schedule!
The fifth ‘season,’ here represented by the “water” element can be seen to be the ‘dog-days’ of Spring. That “unofficial” season when the ground is thawing, and the ice is melting and everything is preparing for the new growth to come.
This same cyclic progression can be seen in a defensive situation, and should be acted out by those wishing to prepare for a real situation. It can be viewed from either perspective; attacker’s or defender’s.
At the “metal” phase, the attacker is laying plans for the attack; the defender is operating in a mindful state instead of the sleep-walk living typical of the ‘average’ person. possible.
Next, the attacker launches the actual assault either with the first grab, punch or kick or by causing a ‘scene’ from which he can apply psycho-emotional pressure; the defender receives the initially attack — hopefully with success! At last the fight is fully engages as each participant counters, evades, attacks, etc. in an attempt to win until finally the tempo dies down (“earth”) as each loses energy until one is brought under control, and finally stopped (“metal”).
While it takes a lot to explain, the actual timeline of events often takes less time than it took for you to read about it.
The system also has a ‘destructive’ or energy damming (NOT damning) cycle. The same elements are involved but are related to each other differently. Where the productive cycle shows the natural progression from one phase of energy to another, the destructive cycle shows how each type of energy can be used to block or destroy another and prevent the productive cycle from continuing. The elemental relativity of this cycle is:
earth, water, fire, metal, wood, earth
The attacker moves into position readying his body for the attack — gets mentally and emotionally set for what is about to happen; the defender becomes aware of a problem and also attempts to position him or herself for the easiest solution
(**Note that I have listed “earth” twice to show the continuing cycle in the process and not as an additional element. Also note that arbitrarily chose “earth” as my starting point, but could have chosen any of the others instead.)
The logic of the flow can be seen in the obvious natural descriptions of the elements in that Do the “earth” dams-up and controls the flow of “water” SUI which, in turn, destroys KA the “fire“ — just as the cold water puts out a roaring fire. “Fire” destroys “metal” Kin, as the furnace turns the iron ore to soup; “metal” destroys “wood” as the saw cuts down the trees. Finally, MOKU the “wood” element then destroys “earth” — just as the growth of plants and trees can be seen to move the earth, and even boulders, from their path.
The destructive cycle can also be seen as a guide for strategy in a battle if one understands the context of each element. Metal represents the planning stage and will naturally progress to the equipment gathering or preparation stage unless it is stopped by a full assault (Fire). The Water phase of preparation for battle will naturally lead to the invasion if not delayed or stopped by information which requires a return to the planning stage (earth). The initial invasions (wood) will progress effortlessly into the heat of battle if not stopped by better-laid plans (metal) by the opposing forces which cause an army to require more supplies and renewed preparation to continue. The fury of battle will wane and phase out (earth) as each side evaluates their previous strategy for any necessary changes unless it is forced to continue by a new assault (wood.)
This destructive cycle, which stops the progression of energy to its next phases (causing it to either return to the previous stage or skip to the following one), can also be seen with our plant.
This destructive cycle, which stops the progression of energy to its next phase (causing it to either return to the previous stage or skip to the following one), can also be seen with our plant. The seed, as pre-planned (karmic) potential represents the metal element. It will not progress to the growth state of its life if it does not get the moisture and nutrients needed because of draught (“earth” drying). The new shoot (“wood”) will never bloom (“fire”) if it encounters a gardener’s blade (“metal”) but will immediately move onto the drying out stage of the “earth” element. And so the process goes on.
The gogyo theory receives a great amount of attention in the practicing of the ninja arts (and is NOT limited to the Kasumi-an program!) The Goton-po escape and evasion strategies are categorized by these elements as are the teachings involving military strategy as shown above.
First, the Goton-po categories, and some of the skills comprising them, are:
· Doton-Jutsu — is the use of the terrain, ground, and geography to hide or escape from, thwart the activities of, or attack the enemy as he attempts to move through an area. Land navigation, reading the land, tracking, and the ability to operate various types of vehicles are some of the skills covered by applying this strategy.
· Kinton-Jutsu — employs the use of metal and steel in the form of tools to assist with our strategy. Various weapons, both man-made and improvised, tools for gaining access to, and escaping from, barricaded structures, as well as equipment for climbing or perching on high natural or man-made structures are examples of skills suggested by the “Metal” element.
· Suiton-Jutsu — covers the use of actual water sources for escape and evasion and attacking from a distance. Induced flooding, swimming skills for survival and stealth, water collection and purification in emergency situations, and construction and use of various water vehicles represent some of the skills here.
· Mokuton-Jutsu — is the application of plants and other vegetation for survival, escape and evasion. Climbing skills (shotenjutsu), camouflage and concealment, use of plants for food, medicine, and poisons, rope-making, improvised shelters and carpentry skills all fall under the implied use of the “wood” element.
· Katon-Jutsu — is the heading for skills employing fire and explosives. Skills under this category include, but are not limited to, use of a wide range of firearms, improvised explosives, fire-building, and the reflection of sunlight as glare against an attacker’s vision.
This Goton-po strategy is introduced to students of the Kasumi-an program early in training as a basis for optional outdoor wilderness survival training and is a necessary requirement for teacher certification.
The gogyo theory, as with the godai, regardless of whether or not they are a formal part of any particular school, remain valid and powerful tools in a ninja’s arsenal; both for learning the material covered and application under stress. Coming to a deeper understanding of these theories still lie ahead past the given description here.
Let’s examine both the Godai and Gogyo 5-elemental systems, in their combined or complimentary forms, and their use in personal development training. The approach here is not solely in the same mechanical application or psychological strategies of each system but in their use as mirror images of the same processes.
I will explain the connection between the two systems of five elements
In the metaphysical lore of the East, there are several ways that have been developed over the centuries to explain the workings of the universe and man’s existence within this cosmic framework. Two such ‘ways’ or systems developed to do this were the Godai or ‘Five Great Elements’ and the Gogyo, the ‘Five Goings or Journeys.’ The Godai’s 5-elements are called manifestations or appearances and are seen as a means of cataloging all the parts or individual ‘items’ that show up in existence. The elements of chi, sui, ka and fu or the earth, water, fire and void go much further than identifying those natural phenomena that each seems to point out. The element ‘earth,’ for example, alludes to much more than simply the ground beneath our feet. It is a way of identifying and coming to a deeper understanding of those firm, absolute, and stable aspects of existence, regardless of whether we are operating on a natural, human, sub-atomic, conscious or subconscious, or pure energy level. The same goes for the remaining elements.
This system, imported from Tibet, is often used as a way of describing the creation of the universe. First there was a single germinating cause (“Big Bang,” God’s word, etc.), representing the formless potential and creative aspect at the void level. Next, atomic particles gravitated toward each other forming loosely grouped masses which were free moving, called gasses in the scientific community. As these gasses at the fu or ‘wind’ level continued to condense in on each other they began to react with one another, giving way to the connectedness, energy and reactiveness of the ‘fire’ element. Continuing to condense to the point where the particles were close enough to roll around on each other, they became the elements and ‘things’ in a fluid state. Finally, coming together to the point where motion can no longer be discerned (there is ALWAYS motion), the solid, firm ‘earth-like,’ aspects of existence came to be.
This systematic coming into being is also seen in the creation of a living organism but I will use the Gogyo to explain this process (in that it is easier to see). But the godai can be used to easily identify the ‘formation’ of the organism after ‘creation.’ (Check your science notes folks.)
First the physical tissues and structure, including the heart forms. Next the heart begins to beat and the fluids begin to ‘flow’ and circulate. The baby does not yet breath air so the oxygen metabolism and continual cell division is the representation of the ‘fire’ element in operation. As the child enters the world, the ‘wind’ element comes into being as he or she takes their first breath. And finally, they learn to think and communicate with their world around them.
It is here that we enter the connection of the two elemental systems, or the forming of the Rokudai or ‘Six Great Elements.’ The ability to think and communicate, to create and conceptualize requires consciousness beyond the preprogramming at the primitive cellular level of the animal world. This requirement then become the underpinnings or foundation of all we experience. The sixth element, shitta (citta in pali, sittam in Sanskrit), ‘mind’ is the combinations and flow of the gogyo on a human psychological level.
As a refresher, the Gogyo or 5 Elemental Transformations or fluctuating energy states. Developed and imported from China, the gogyo can also be used to catalog phenomena, but at a different level than the godai*. Where the elements of the godai describe and catalog energy “types,” the elements of the gogyo describe and catalog energy “states” or stages in the continuing change through which the energy flows.
The five elements of the gogyo, sui, moku, ka, do and kin or water, wood, fire, earth and metal (in their ‘productive’ cycle) show the life (or death: water, fire, metal, wood, earth cycle) of any ‘thing’ as identified in the godai. This behind-the-scenes flow of the ‘what-is’ can be seen in the creation as opposed to the formation of an organism as discussed previously.
Beginning, arbitrarily for our model, with the symbolism of the ’metal’ element which depicts the planning stages or motivating factors behind the current flow, we have the initial intention or preprogrammed inclination towards procreation on the part of the parents. Next, the coming together of the egg and sperm (in the case of we humans not having attained God-hood yet) which carry all of the necessary requirements (water) for life. This then leads to the beginning of a new life (moku) at birth. The growth of the individual through the energetic years of childhood represents the energy transition of the ‘fire’ level leading to the adult years where the individual settles down with a companion (earth) and carries out the necessary actions for the next cycle (metal).
An easier way of looking at the relationship between these two systems has been provided in the esoteric mind-science training known as Mikkyo. The graphic representations or maps known as mandala can help to show in a pictorial form, the processes described so far. The godai manifestations are represented by the Taizokai mandala which even shows us a picture of what appear to be individual ‘things’ and, in some cases, groups of likes with subtle differences (i.e. tree = pine, maple, oak, palm, etc.). The gogyo is then depicted by the Kongokai mandala which is laid out in a systematic, almost simplified, manner. Where the taizo mandala depicts individual potentials or already manifested realities, the kongo view describes and shows the development and inter-relatedness of any one of these individual ‘things.’
An excellent example of this, drawn from our own Western sciences, is the relationship between Anatomy and Physiology. One is the study of the individual parts and the outer is the study of how the parts work together as a whole. Without the parts, the whole could not function properly, but, conversely, breaking up the whole to examine the parts ends the life of the organism.
In our study of the martial arts, the godai/taizo examples represent all of the individual techniques, kata, waza, strategy, principle, disguise and tactic, while the gogyo/kongokai coded representations represent the drills, experimentation and exploration leading to the mastery of each. Where the godai/taizo are the kata, the gogyo/kongo are all of the possible henka that could ever exist from each kata. One is the parts, pieces, examples and form or outward appearance, without which we could not identify it as some-thing, the other is the life, breath and rhythm that makes it ‘real’. (“Hatsumi-sensei says life is the most important thing. . .” quotes the fool — without ever learning the lesson!)
Both systems in and of themselves are life filing cabinets with each drawer containing an element. Each drawer then contains folders with examples and aspects on various levels which describe a concept (i.e. personality, nature, energy, emotion, mental attributes, constitution, physical quality, etc.) in both a positive and negative context. Each system provides a view from which we can look at the world. But we cannot have one without the other. The godai and Taizokai representations show us the reality (read: perspective) that everything is separate and identifiable. We see the trees and the mountains and the wars and the... The gogyo and Kongokai view show us the reality (see above) that everything is ultimately connected and the essence and direction toward the potential of each manifestation. You cannot have form with that which it is made of and you cannot identify the universal laws and potential without the forms.
The understanding of the combination of the two systems into one is the beginning of higher levels of mastery, not only of our martial arts, but of ourselves. And the most important thing to remember is, just as with gravity, you don’t have to study it or even believe in it, but it is there working all the time The five elemental manifestations known as the godai can also be written with the kanji for gogyo (five forms). So Hatsumi-sensei’s use of the term Gogyo no kata when referring to the elements earth, water, fire, wind and void is, in essence, correct. Be careful about arguing over what is right and wrong when it comes to his teachings.
Mikkyo literally means secret teachings. It is a tradition from the Isles of Japan that is an amorphous mix of all spiritual-religious systems in Japan around the time of the 6th -9th century*. During this time, the state governments ran the religions of the country. This government took great pains to destroy or diminish any belief systems that were not state run or controlled or that were esoteric in practice. Therefore, the need for Mikkyo was born from the practitioners of these abolished belief systems during this period, integrated into a working system and blended with the established and accepted spiritual practices of the land.
The way I describe Mikkyo is it has the religious aspects of Shinto, the psychological aspects of Shingon Buddhism, and the mystical aspects that emulate the practices of Shugendo sects. During the time of its birth, there were several foreign schools of thought that were introduced to Japan and integrated accordingly. The most notable inclusion of spiritual-religious practices from other lands came with the collapse of the T'ang dynasty in China. During this time, priests, monks, religious hermits and sages fled the country and traveled to places such as Tibet, India, and Japan.
Mikkyo blends many doctrines, philosophies, deities, religious rituals, and meditation techniques from a wide variety of sources over a thousand years time. From Shinto came beautiful ritual and an approximation of over 3 million deities (how's that for a selection of pantheons!), from Shingon Buddhism came rich text and another 108 centralized deity figures (the majority from Hinduism). Also, from Shingon Buddhism came the introduction of "mind sciences" and specific meditation practices, mudras, mantras, and mandalas. Shugendo gave Mikkyo its mystical and occult teachings, its universal laws, and the workings of the cosmos.
*It is important to note that the Mikkyo of today has been glorified and integrated into the esoteric Buddhist sects of Shingon and Tendai schools. This move, at the time, was in hope of absorbing and dissolving Mikkyo as a separate school of thought. Also, there were several mystical systems at the same time that we officially abolished such as Hijiki and Shugendo. Before they could be fully wiped out, elements of them were integrated in Mikkyo. Lastly, as an interesting side-note, Christianity was allowed to enter Japan during this time, in an effort to drive out esoteric and mystical practices.
Mikkyo is characterized by the thorough and scientific approach to analyzing and overcoming problems in all phases of one's life, at the same time being closely associated with highly "occult" and spiritual beliefs and skills. In this path, it is taught that there is no coincidence, there are no accidents and luck is little more than unguided or un-channeled energies playing themselves out in our daily affairs. From the mystical teachings of Mikkyo came the insight into the workings of the cosmos, and the application of this understanding cultivated personal power.
Mikkyo is considered a Tantric path (tantric meaning using the body as a tool in working toward enlightenment). Mikkyo esoteric knowledge is based on the three esoteric keys (sanmitsu) of thought, word, and deed. It is a system of taking direct responsibility for ones own actions and over ones own life. By aligning our thoughts, words and deeds, we directly control our surroundings...... we effectively focus and direct our will in the world (sound familiar? magick?).
Because Mikkyo strives to realize ultimate truth and supreme wisdom, there are no "beliefs" to be accepted unchallenged. There are no "Gods" to be feared or appeased. There is no "dogma" to take precedence over rational thought and verifiable experiences. On this path, doubt and personal exploration are encouraged. "Faith" in the teachings, if it is to be had, is cultivated through research and exploration, and not accepted blindly out of mere loyalty.
Mikkyo believes in Karma (in its original form - different than most schools of thought today) and liberation by achieving enlightenment (which can be reached in one lifetime).
Mikkyo does not accept the soul or transmigration, treating both as illusory. Rather, there is an eternal, differentiated stream of being (samsara). Out of this, existence is produced and prolonged according to karma. The individual is not a separate entity, but rather a grouping of the 5 elements. They revert to the original primal stream when desire, the cause of the transmigratory cycle, ceases and enlightenment is reached. It is believed that enlightenment has to be experienced, not merely taught and followed.
In Mikkyo, its cosmology is made up of a spiritual realm (Kongokai) and a material world (Taizokai). It believes that everything in existence (in the material world) is made of a combination of the 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit). Because the roots of Mikkyo can be traced back through Hinduism, most of the cosmology can be attributed to the Vedic school of thought. Mikkyo follows the balance of In/Yo (Yin/Yang). Men and women are considered equal. All life is held as being precious.
Deities in Mikkyo consist of 108 "greater" divine beings (from Shingon Buddhism) and a myriad of "lesser" divine beings or spirits (from Shinto). There are chaotic spirits or "Oni". Demons are hinted at, but, seem to correspond more to our own personal demons (greed, hatred, addiction) rather than actual evil beings.
Practitioners use a chakra and a tattva system. They believe in and use various forms of holistic healing such as herbalism, Kaji (esoteric healing - predecessor to Reiki), and meridian therapies. Divination was popular in some sects, as was possession by spirits, automatic writing, and sooth saying.