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...(Yamabushi)... (Literally: "One who lies/hides in the mountains") are Japanese mountain ascetic hermits with a long tradition as mighty warriors endowed with supernatural powers. They follow the Shugendō doctrine, an integration of mainly esoteric Buddhism of the Shingon sect, Tendai and Shinto elements.
Shugendō literally means "the path of training and testing." It centers on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from Old Shinto, Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies including folk animism. Shugendō practitioners are the most direct lineage descendants of the ancient Kōya Hijiri monks of the eight and ninth centuries. The focus or goal of shugendō is the development of spiritual experience and power.
born 634, was a Japanese ascetic and mystic, traditionally held to be the founder of Shugendō, a syncretic religion incorporating aspects of Taoism, Shinto, esoteric Buddhism (especially Shingon Mikkyō and the Tendai sect but some Zen sects have also been heard of) and traditional Japanese shamanism.(1) He is venerated as a bosatsu (a bodhisattva, or pursuer of enlightenment) Jinben Daibosatsu
This legendary holy man was a mountain ascetic of the late 7th century. Like much about Shintō-Buddhist syncretism, his legend is riddled with folklore. He was a diviner at Mt. Katsuragi 葛木 on the border between Nara and Osaka. Said to possess magical powers, he was unjustly expelled to Izu Prefecture in +699 on trumped-up charges of “manipulating demons and using sorcery to mislead the people.” Popular lore says he climbed and consecrated numerous sacred mountains. En no Gyōja is mentioned in old Japanese texts like the Shoku Nihongi 続日本紀 (compiled around +797) and the Nihon Ryōiki 日本霊異記 (compiled around +822).
He was born in the Katsuragi 葛木 mountains of Nara Prefecture, and hailed from the Kamo 加茂 clan and the family Kamo-no-Edachi-no-Kimi 加茂役公. His given name was Asahimaru 朝日丸. The clan had lived in this mountainous region for generations -- a verdant region with numerous varieties of medicinal plants. Asahimaru reportedly gained a great knowledge of these medical plants and managed a garden in the area, but for some reason he was forced to give up his plot in 675 AD. But by this time he had already gained a reputation as a healer.
When his father died, Asahimaru changed his name to En no Uzunu 役小角. He prayed to heaven to bless his mother with another child, for he hoped to depart to the mountains to pursue his practice. His mother subsequently gave birth to a son named Tsukiwakamaru 月若丸, and then Uzunu entered the Katsuragi mountains (at the age of 32 it is said) to begin sustained ascetic practice. Legend claims he practiced under the protection of mountain animals, and that he discovered valuable deposits of mercury and silver in the mountains.
In 699, according to most Shugendō legends, he was falsely accused of evil sorcery by a jealous disciple named Karakuni-no-Muraji Hirotari 韓国の連広足 and banished to Izu Prefecture during the reign of Emperor Monmu 文武天皇 (reigned from 697 to 707). Another legend contents that En no Gyōja had angered the god of Mt. Katsuragi (known as Hitokoto-nushi no Kami 一言主神). This deity had tried unsuccessfully to capture Ozunu and vented his heavenly displeasure by possessing Hirotari, who thereafter orchestrated Ozunu's banishment. Others speculate that Ozunu's banishment was caused by disputes over the metal resources in the mountains where he practiced. Yet another legend contents that his mother was falsely accused of having a wicked romance with an elder cousin. She is arrested. Uzunu comes to her aid and is himself arrested, bound in straw ropes, and exiled to Izu. During these events, Tsukiwakamaru (Uzunu’s younger brother) is forced to sell flowers to make a living, but he unexpectedly meets the emperor, tells his story, and gains the emperor’s sympathy. Ozunu and his mother are then pardoned, but Ozunu decides to remain in the mountains.
The final years of this holy man are clouded in uncertainty.
Accounts which claim he did not die in 700 say he was pardoned in January 701. He returned to Mt. Katsuragi (where he captured Hitokoto-nushi no Kami, tied him up with an arrowroot vine, and locked him away at the bottom of the valley). Four months later, in May (some give the date as June 7), he either went to the Japanese mountains in Minō and there attained Nirvana, or he crossed to China. Other accounts profess that he was in fact released in 702, after which he either became a Sennin 仙人 (immortal) and flew away into the Great Sky, or he migrated to China with his mother.”
He reportedly traveled widely during his lifetime, establishing Shugendō sanctuaries at numerous locations, including the Ōmine 大峰 mountain range (Nara prefecture), Mt. Kinpusen 金峯山 (Nara prefecture), Mt. Minō 箕面山 (near Osaka), the Ikoma 生駒 mountains on the border of Nara and Osaka Prefectures (where he captured two demons who thereafter served him), and in Japan’s Izu 伊豆 and Tōkai 東海地方 areas.
As a general rule, this sect stresses physical endurance as the path to enlightenment. Practitioners perform seclusion, fasting, meditation, magical spells, recite sutras, and engage in austere feats of endurance such as standing/sitting under cold mountain waterfalls or in snow. Another particular practice of Shugendō devotees is to set up stone or wood markers (Jp. = Hide 碑伝) along mountain trails, presumably to leave proof of their mystical journeys up the mountain. There are also precise procedures the practitioner must observe when entering into any sacred mountain space (Jp. = Nyūzan 入山 or Sanpai Tozan 参拝登山), with each stage consisting of a specific mudra 確認印 (Jp. = Kakunin-in or hand gesture with religious meaning), mantra 真言 (Jp. = Shingon or sacred verbal incantation) and waka 和歌 (classical Japanese poem).
Banning of Shugendō. In 1868 the Meiji government outlawed the fusion of Kami-Buddha (Shinbutsu Bunri 神仏分離) and forcibly separated Shintō and Buddhism. It 1872, the Shugendō sect was banned as a superstitious religion. Shugendō sites either became Shintō shrines (e.g. Hakusan, Mt Hiko), thus losing their Shugendō heritage, or they became branches of either Tendai or Shingon Buddhism. Mt Haguro was an exception, for it managed to retain a small Buddhist presence that successfully maintained its Shugendō traditions. But overall, a large number of practices were lost and mountain-entry rituals in particular were not kept up. Adds scholar Gaynor Sekimori: “Shugendō was banned in 1872 for its eclecticism by a reformist government anxious to be perceived as having shed the shackles of a ’feudal’ or benighted past. Shugendō priests were given the choice of becoming (Shintō) shrine priests or fully ordained priests within the tradition (Tendai or Shingon) to which their institutions had been affiliated, or giving up their religious role completely. The very small number (less then ten per cent) who joined Buddhist institutions found themselves ranked inferior to regular priests and encouraged to integrate with their new sects rather than try to maintain their Shugendō traditions. Initially they were forbidden to wear their distinctive robes, to perform Shugendō-style rituals, and to conduct Shugendō-related activities.”
Modern Shugendō. Shugendō was not allowed to exist independently thereafter until 1946, when the old legislation was rescinded. This legislative change prompted a large number of Shugendō schools / lineages / groups -- those forced to take cover within the Tendai and Shingon sects during the Meiji period -- to declare their insititutional independence from Tendai and Shingon. Some of the most important independent sects that emerged include:
· those associated with the pre-Meiji Honzan-ha (now known as Tendai Jimon-shū, Honzan Shugen-shū, and Kinbusen Shugen Honshū)
· those assocated with the Tōzan-ha (Shingon-shū Daigo-ha)
· those associated with Haguro Shugendo (Haguro Shugen Honshū)
· In the past seven decades, Shugendō practice has slowly recovered and today can be found in various localities around the nation (see Centers of Shugendō). Research on Shugendō topics by scholars in Japan and abroad has also experieced a revival.