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the Yamabushi introduction

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posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 06:27 PM
who were the Yamabushi of Japan? a quick wikipedia summary first:

...(Yamabushi)... (Literally: "One who lies/hides in the mountains")[1] are Japanese mountain ascetic hermits[1] 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.

also, and importantly, what was Shugendo? another quick wikipedia summary before i continue:

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.[1] The focus or goal of shugendō is the development of spiritual experience and power.

En no Gyoja:

born 634, was a Japanese ascetic and mystic, traditionally held to be the founder of Shugendō,[1] 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

En no Gyoja can be said to be the 'founder' of the path of shugendo and the yamabushi life. Though, it also can be said that there are many different stories to this beginning, it is almost singular that he is somehow involved from my understanding.

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.

the Yamabushi were indeed impressive specimens of the human being. As with Japanese philosophies at the time, daily lifestyle encouraged personal development and health - mentally and physically. Aside from that the japanese philosophy of spirituality and religion was at the time ( and still currently ) in a harmonic symbiotic relationship with itself. It can be said that when Buddhism was immigrated into japan it blended quite nicely with the Japanese Shinto religion. Here we have common farmers who live their life not just content with what they experience, but also interested in aquiring wisdom and honest behavior. Of course, this was also a time of great suffering, the fuedal ages of japan: you did not want to be there. War, death and bloodshed was common. A growing government, excessive taxing and criminals running things under the veil... Martial arts that derived from spiritual and physical fitness roots developed into the mastery of war and combat.

Deep in the mountains, where the most original Chinnese monks had come to Japan and resided shugendo evolved as more of the Occult expression of Buddhism and Shinto practice. Living in fuedal Japanese countryside can be described as being at the mercy of your ability to cope with nature's extremes, not just because technology and extreme population crowding didn't exist yet, but mainly because Japan (being centered in 4 major tectonic plate joinings) is an extremely mountainous and 'hilly' country... the geographic difference in this part of the orient is just as unique as the life that inhabit it. During a time when horse back was the fastest way to get somewhere, mountains made neighboring towns and government help weeks away. Self reliance was a must. The ability to survive in such extreme conditions was to perfect one's self in every way. The Shugendo philosophy adapted as monks who practiced more occult and 'sorcer like' abilities began to excel at this.

Shugendo attained this 'toughness' by vigorously forcing the practitioners into extreme conditions

[edit on 4/30/2010 by indigothefish]

posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 06:27 PM

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).

What was the motivation for such a life style? One way to look at it was a personal advance and spiritual growth, eastern thought was intent to the dedication of one’s life to the pursuit of such.
Another way of looking at it was from the stance of an early early ‘hippy’… Although it was common knowledge of that time, and now, that the Samurai class, although well respected, was corrupt on many levels, the evil’s of humanity and desire for greed were not limited to the poor or the weak. Those who gained power, ultimately were controlled by it. And respect was measured in fear with rival clans and country sides. The escape of this required the surrendering of all benefits of living in the social network of feudal Japan – an escape would mean hiding in the mountains, the wilderness and cloaking oneself with the odors of animals and leaves of plants.

Such self reliance and survival abilities were not unheard of, but limited to those intelligent enough to make use of what nature had to give. The Yamabushi that practiced the way of Shugendo had to endure living in complete natural settings. If a poisoning or injury acurred, knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs was necessary as well as practical physical anatomy and basic medical skills to address common ailments. Mental and spiritual practice had to be utilized to maintain clarity of thought ( such isolation could bring about ‘madness’ in the unprepared – for example we’ve all seen tom hanks on the island talking to a volley ball! ) Every single aspect of one’s self was challenged and tested.

The Yamabushi were described as wise warrior monks for their talented skills in combat ( they often did engage in samurai battles and advised generals and sometimes the emporer ) but in the end their journey was a spiritual and religious one.

Eventually though, the age of the Yamabushi came to an end. Just like tom cruise’s experience in the reform of Japan’s sword carrying and Samurai days ( see the movie: the last samurai ), the government eventually outlawed or banned the practice of Shugendo…

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.”

eventually though, even the ban came to an end and a few schools popped up to try and ressurect what had been lost…

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.

for more information beyond what I have presented here are my sources

[edit on 4/30/2010 by indigothefish]

posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 06:29 PM
yamabushi wikipedia

shugendo wikipedia

great yamabushi and shugendo information site i found

further the search

posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 06:32 PM
hey, i've always been intrigued by eastern thought in general, specifically though the japanese. I had never seen anything on ATS about the yamabushi, but here is an ancient philosophical and spiritual group of people who practiced occult sorcery, mastered combat and martial arts and generally were the bad asses of the time, even still though they maintained a great respect by the populace and were often seeked for help!

they were effectively eliminated by the government, and although since ressurected in the format of schools now, the idea of escaping the japanese government in such a way is now non existant, that is why i placed this into the ancient civilization topic forum, hope you like


[edit on 4/30/2010 by indigothefish]

[edit on 4/30/2010 by indigothefish]

posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 07:09 PM
Awesome stuff, I didn't know this, though it sounds a bit like a movie I have.


There are quite some Japanese movies and Anime's that touch the supernatural.

I think the myths and legends are very interesting, some of them are a bit like the things we have in the west.


posted on Apr, 30 2010 @ 07:11 PM
yes, i beleive that in one of my sources, possibly the wikipedia on the yamabushi, En no Gyoja is described as the Japanese version of Merlin!

posted on May, 3 2010 @ 08:13 PM
some more 'visual' examples of the yamabushi and the shugendo way...

(since i just learned how to use the add youtube video feature)

this video shows a person (don't know who) giving a lengthy talk on Asceticism, i find it enlightening in regards to the yamabushi's conception of such philosophy, at least the first few minutes of the video, he kind of makes it a lil too lengthy for me haha

you might get the idea that these people were in a cult if you ever saw them, their clothes in this video and ritual like ceremonies were very powerful though, i have seen religious ceremonies in Japan, but never anything that i knew to specifically relate to what is shugendo, it can be said that cultural shock and what not is really what tends to make westerners 'astranged' to seeing a Japanese shamanic or spiritual ceremony ( i say that because most ATSers here do not live in asia as far as i've noticed ) so bear in mind that the garments and ritual tools involved are in no way 'brain washing' or 'cult' oriented, it's simply what the yamabushi image had been

posted on May, 12 2010 @ 03:05 PM
I absolutely love the Japanese culture! I greatly appreciate threads about them so thanks OP. I just seen an anime not to long ago that talked about en no gyoja. My wife and I are going to move to Japan in the future I hope it will be in within the next 3 years.

posted on May, 15 2010 @ 01:55 AM
Well done thread.. Good to see someone do accurate research on the subject. Been living in Japan many years now (dual japanese / us citizenship) .
Still new to site not figured out how to star posts or wouldve left a star for you on it..

posted on May, 16 2010 @ 05:41 PM
Nice presentation and something new for me too. As a European, which means very far from things Japanese, especially those in the past, I only knew of Samurais, Geishas, tea ceremonies and things like that (thanks to watching Shogun in the 80s
). This was a "window" to a past we knew so little of. Thanks!!

Expat88, just click on the little star in the post you want to "star" and you have starred it

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