Category Archives: theSpirit

Shugendô & Japanese Mountain Asceticism, pt 2: Self-Mummifying Monks, the Sokushinbutsu Documentary, 50min

Sokushinbutsu (即身仏) refers to a practice of Buddhist monks observing Asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification while alive. This process of self-mummification was mainly practiced in Yamagata in Northern Japan between the 11th and 19th century, by members of the Japanese Vajrayana school of Buddhism called Shingon (“True Word”). The practitioners of sokushinbutsu did not view this practice as an act of suicide, but rather as a form of further enlightenment.

It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. There is a common suggestion that Shingon school founder Kukai brought this practice from Tang China as part of secret tantric practices he learned, and that were later lost in China.

Shugendō practice

A mountain-dwelling version of Buddhism called Shugendō emerged in Japan as a syncretism between Vajrayana, Shinto and Taoism in the 7th century, which stressed ascetic practices. This tradition continued through the Edo period. One of its ascetic practice was Sokushinbutsu (or Sokushin jobutsu), connoting mountain austerities in order to attain Buddha-nature in one’s body. This practice was perfected over a period of time, particularly in the Three Mountains of Dewa region of Japan, that is the Haguro, Gassan and Yudono mountains. These mountains remain sacred in the Shugendō tradition to this day, and ascetic austerities continue to be performed in the valleys and mountain range in this area.

In medieval Japan, this tradition developed a process for Sokushinbutsu, which a monk completed over about 3,000 days to ten years. It involved a strict diet called mokujikigyo (literally, “eating a tree”). The diet abstained from any cereals, and relied on pine needles, resins and seeds found in the mountains, which would eliminate all fat in the body. Increasing rates of fasting and meditation would lead to starvation. The monks would slowly reduce then stop liquid intake, thus dehydrating the body and shrinking all organs. The monks would die in a state of jhana (meditation) while chanting the nenbutsu (a mantra about Buddha), and their body would become naturally preserved as a mummy with skin and teeth intact without decay and without the need of any artificial preservatives. Many Buddhist Sokushinbutsu mummies have been found in northern Japan and estimated to be centuries old, while texts suggest that hundreds of these cases are buried in the stupas and mountains of Japan. These mummies have been revered and venerated by the laypeople of Buddhism.

One of the altars in the Honmyō-ji temple of Kyushu prefecture continues to preserve one of the oldest mummy of the Sokushinbutsu ascetic named Honmyōkai.

Related practices

There is the existence of at least one “self-mummified” 550-year-old corpse of a Buddhist monk named Sangha Tenzin in northern Himalayan region of India, visible in a temple in Gue village, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. This mummy was discovered in 1975 when the old stupa preserving it collapsed and it is estimated to be from about the 14th century, well after Islamic rule had arrived in India, and Buddhism had practically vanished there. The monk was likely a Tibetan dzogpa-chenpo practitioner and similar mummies have been found in Tibet and East Asia. The preservation of the mummy for at least 5 centuries has been possible due to the aridity of the area and cold weather.

According to Paul Williams, the Sokushinbutsu ascetic practices of Shugendō were likely inspired by Kūkai – the founder of Shingon Buddhism, who ended his life by reducing and then stopping intake of food and water, while continuing to meditate and chant Buddhist mantras. Ascetic self-mummification practices are also recorded in China, but it is associated with the Ch’an (Zen Buddhism) tradition there. Alternate ascetic practices similar to Sokushinbutsu are also known, such as public self-immolation (auto cremation) practice in China, such as that of Fayu in 396 CE and many more in the centuries that followed. This was considered as evidence of a renunciant bodhisattva.

 

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The Mysterious World of Shugendō (修験道) and the Japanese Mountain Ascetics, Pt 1

 

Little is known in the West about the the mystical practices of Japanese Mountain Asceticism: the Yamabushi, mountain-wandering warrior monks.

The Yamabushi believe that to become spiritually enlightened, you have to commune with nature over a long period of time, and that communing with nature will give you mystical powers.  They often trained in the martial arts to protect themselves in their journeys.  For the past 1400 years, these mountain ascetics have been engaged in a tradition of spiritual practice which evolved from the combination of number of separate teachings, ultimately becoming codified into a defined religion: Shugendō. 

“Shugendō” literally means “the path of training and testing.” It is an old Japanese practice of being outside using special awareness.  It centers on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from other eastern philosophies.is a form of Japanese folk religion, based on primitive mountain worship, and formed under the influence of Buddhism, Daoism, Onmyōdō, and other religions. The name shugen is derived from the term genriki, which refers to special powers acquired as the result of religious practice (shugyō) performed within the mountains. In the past, such persons were frequently referred to by such terms as sanga (one who beds in the mountains) or the more common yamabushi (one who retreats to the mountains).

While Shugendō provides abstract theories regarding the meaning of such terms, they are generally used to refer to those who supranormal magico-religious capabilities by sheltering in the mountains, in other words by retreating to the mountains and engaging in concourse with mountain spirits. Shugen practitioners are also called yama no hijiri (holy-men of the mountains), genja (men of power), or gyōja (ascetic practitioners).

The 7th century ascetic and mystic En no Gyōja is widely considered as the patriarch of Shugendō, having first organized Shugendō as a doctrine. Shugendōliterally means “the path of training and testing” or “the way to spiritual power through discipline.”

In modern times, Shugendō is practiced mainly through Tendai and Shingon temples. Some temples include Kimpusen-ji in Yoshino (Tendai), Ideha Shrine in the Three Mountains of Dewa and Daigo-ji in Kyoto (Shingon).

Shugendō practitioners are said to be descendants of the Kōya Hijiri monks of the eighth and ninth centuries.

The world of Shugendo and the Yamabushi is one filled with arduous spiritual discipline,  supernatural powers, other-worldly forces and creatures & rigorous warrior training. The following are articles & videos which begin the explain this nearly inexplicable and mysterious religious sect and it’s esoteric culture.

Shugendō & Japan’s Mysterious Mountain Monks

 From the comfort of the bullet-train, Japan’s countryside appears picturesque and benign.

 

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Shugendō

Shugendō (修験道)

Crow Tengu, the Yamabushi Ninja martial instructor

Crow Tengu, the Yamabushi Ninja martial instructor

is an old Japanese practice of being outside using special awareness. “Shugendo” literally means “the path of training and testing.” It centers on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from other eastern philosophies.In modern times, Shugendo is practiced by the Yoshino Yamabushiof Dewa Sanzan (Tendai sect), Kinpusenji and Ishiyama-dera Shingon sects, but it retains an influence on modern Japanese religion, Culture of Japan and many outdoor practices.

History

En-no-Gyōja is often considered the founder of shugendo. Shugendō evolved on the cultural background of state-sponsored Buddhism and other religious influences in Japan around the 7th century, including but not limited to Taoism and Shintō. During the Meiji restoration, Shugendō was banned as a superstition not fit for a new, enlightened Japan. The Shugendō temples were converted into imperial Shintō shrines.

Followers

Those who practice Shugendō are referred in two ways. One term, shugenja (修験者), is derived from the term “Shugendo”.

The other term, yamabushi (山伏) means “one who sleeps in the mountains”. Supernatural creatures often appeared as yamabushi in Japanese mythology, as is evident in the legendary monk warrior Saito Musashibo Benkei and the deity Sojobo, king of the tengu (mountain spirits).

Modern Shugenja in Japan and throughout the world are known to practice through challenging and rigorous ritualistic tests of courage and devotion known as shugyo. Walkabouts involving mountain treks (Mts Ominé, Dewa, Hakusan, etc in Japan) are embarked upon by the aspiring Yamabushi, and, through the experience of each trek, as well as years of study, experience and insights are gained.

 

Yossi Sheriff,Shugendo,http://www.akban.org/wiki/Shugend%C5%8D

 

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Shugendō is a form of Japanese folk religion, based on primitive mountain worship, and formed under the influence of Buddhism, Daoism, Onmyōdō, and other religions. The name shugen is derived from the term genriki, which refers to special powers acquired as the result of religious practice (shugyō) performed within the mountains. In the past, such persons were frequently referred to by such terms as sanga (one who beds in the mountains) or the more common yamabushi (one who retreats to the mountains). While Shugendō provides abstract theories regarding the meaning of such terms, they are generally used to refer to those who supranormal magico-religious capabilities by sheltering in the mountains, in other words by retreating to the mountains and engaging in concourse with mountain spirits. Shugen practitioners are also called yama no hijiri (holy-men of the mountains), genja (men of power), or gyōja (ascetic practitioners). 

The History of Shugendō
The history of Shugendō can be roughly divided into four periods. The first period extends to the end of Heian period before the two schools of Honzanha and Tōzanha were formed. It can be called pre-Shugendō or primitive Shugendō. Based on early views of mountains as sacred space or gateways to the other world (takaikan), the number of ascetics using mountains and forests as sites of religious practice gradually increased. With the rise of mountain-centered Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism in the Heian Period, groups of shugen gradually coalesced, and by the end of the Heian period, sacred mountains throughout the country had become well known as sites of ascetic religious practice. Beginning with the pilgrimage to Mount Yoshino (typified by the Fujiwara Michinaga’s 1007 pilgrimage to Mitake or Mitake mōde) and the pilgrimages to Kumano (Kumano mōde) by retired Emperors Shirakawa, Go-Shirakawa and Go-Toba, pilgrimages to the “three mountains of Kumano” (Kumano sanzan) flourished to such a degree that the parade of visitors came to be known as “pilgrimage of ants to Kumano.” 
       The second period extends from the formation of the two Shugendō branches Honzanha and Tōzanha to the forcible “separation of Shintō and Buddhism” or Shinbutsu bunri in 1868 and the abolition of Shugendō itself in 1872. This can be called the period of sectarian Shugendō, and can be divided into early and late halves centering on the Bakufu’s issuance of the Shugendō hatto(Ordinance for Shugendō) in 1613. Shugendō flourished during the early half of the period, with Mount Ōmine, including the peaks of Yoshino, Ōmine and Kumano, considered the religion’s central place of training and practice and En no Ozunu coming to be viewed as patriarch. Periodic intensive mountain retreats (nyūbu shugyō, or buchū shugyō) were practiced, and the Honzanha and Tōzanha branches developed organizationally. Furthermore, various sacred mountains throughout the country—from the “three mountains of Dewa” (Dewa Sanzan) in the northeast to Hikosan in Kyūshū—displayed independent development as places of Shugendō practice. The Shugendō hatto of 1613 represented an official recognition of the dual existence of the Honzanha and Tōzanha branches, and both groups continued their organizational development through the early modern period, but unfortunately the practice of mountain retreats (nyūbu shugyō) tended to become formalized. Ritual spells and invocations (kaji kitō) performed for the common people became the primary religious activities, and yamabushi practitioners commonly began residing in villages (sato yamabushi) instead of mountains. From the mid Edo period, lay people commonly participated in mountain retreats as well, and Fuji gyōja (Mount Fuji ascetics) in the line of the founder known as Miroku, and Mitake gyōja (Mount Mitake ascetics) in the tradition of Fukan and Kukumei became active. 
       The third period of Shugendō history extends from the Meiji-period separation of Shinto and Buddhism and abolition of Shugendō, to the end of World War II in 1945, when the new Religious Corporations Ordinance (Shūkyō hōjinrei) was promulgated. With the Meiji-period abolition of Shugendō, practitioners went in three directions: they either grew their hair and became Shinto priests (shinshoku), joined the Tendai or Shingon sects of Buddhism, or returned to secular life, and Shugendō ceased to exist as an organized religion. Shugendō practice continued to be observed, however, within the Tendai and Shingon schools of Buddhism, and within sectarian Shinto (kyōha Shintō) groups such as Fusōkyō, Jikkōkyō, and Mitakekyō.
       The fourth period of Shugendō history runs from the promulgation of the aforementioned postwar Religious Corporations Ordinance to the present. A wide variety of new Shugendō organizations exist with an equally wide variety of affiliations, from the old Honzanha and Tōzanha groups and independent practitioners who formerly were associated with individual mountains, to new religions of a Shugendō nature. 

The Similarity of Shinto and Shugendō —
The historical process of Shugendō’s development is similar to that in the history of Shinto: from primitive Shinto to Ryōbu Shintō, Ise Shintō, Yoshida Shintō, and on to Jinja Shintō and Kokka Shintō (State Shinto). The resemblance between the two is reflected in the fact that widespread feuding and rivalry occurred between adherents of Yoshida Shintō and Shugendō in the early modern period as a result of the expansion of Yoshida Shintō throughout the period, and the fact that the Meiji-period separation of Shintō and Buddhism and subsequent abolition of Shugendō resulted in many practitioners converting from Shugendō to Shinto.
       Viewed from the contrary side, it might be said that factors lying behind the conflict with Yoshida Shinto and the Meiji-period conversion from Shugendō to Shintō priesthood include the fact that shugen practitioners vastly outnumbered Shinto priests during the early modern period and Shudendō rituals included Shintō-type elements, and the fact that most yamabushi who resided in villages formed groups of clients for their thaumaturgic invocatory practices and frequently performed Shinto rituals in the status of supervising intendent priests (bettō) over Shinto shrines. 

Shugendō Religious Practice— 
Originally, Shugendō based its practice on a “transmission beyond words” (furiyūmonji), and aimed at the acquisition of spiritual powers through ascetic practice, but from the medieval into the early modern period numerous works of doctrine were authored. These works, however, were mainly explications and descriptions of mountain retreats, vestments and ritual procedures based on theories of esoteric Buddhism. Although four seasonal mountain retreats are postulated in Shugendō (one each in spring, summer, autumn and winter), only the Haguro sect continued to observe all four throughout the early modern period. And while Shugendō evolved its own object of worship called KongōZaō Gongen, various other deities are also worshiped, including natural phenomena such as sun, moon and stars/planets, various Buddhist divinities and the kami of Shinto. Overall, however, practice focuses on the cosmic buddha Dainichi Nyorai and its “disciplinary manifestation (kyōryō rinshin)” as Fudō Myōō (demon-quelling form with scowling countenance), and ritual practices likewise focus on the adept’s visualizing his unification with the deity Fudō Myōō. Frequent use of the Buddhist goma fire ritual is seen in Shugendō during the performance of various rites, including mountain retreats and rites for Buddhist deities and kami. While many of these adopt the goma rituals of esoteric Buddhism such as the sokusai goma(ritual for exorcizing disaster), Shugendō also makes use of its own unique hashiramoto gomaduring mountain retreats, and saitō goma is frequently performed both during mountain retreats and in various other rituals. Religious activities performed for the common people mainly comprised thaumaturgic spells and invocations (kaji kitō) and purificatory harai rituals that utilized a variety of sacred texts, amulets, and ritual implements. Such activities ranged from exorcisms of possessing spirits (tsukimono otoshi), to thaumaturgic healings, all-night vigils held on specific days of the lunar calendar to worship the moon or sun, and rituals dedicated to deities of home and grounds (ie no kami and yashikigami). Among the rites of Shugendō, many of those of Shinto lineage have been compiled in the Shugendō shoshin kanjō tsūyō edited by Gyōson and the Shugenshū Shinto jinja injin edited by Jinkan, while the Shugen shinpi gyōhō fujushū and Shugen shinpi gyōhō fuju zokushū reproduce numerous Shinto-derived kirigami, ritual transmissions originally written on small slips of paper.

-Shinto and Shugendo, Minamoto Kesao, Encyclopedia of Shinto, http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=830

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Below is a trailer for the feature film, Shugendō Now, directed by Jean-Marc Abela & produced by Mark Patrick McGuire.

Synopsis:

This feature documentary is an experiential journey in to the mystical practices of Japanese mountain asceticism. In Shugendō (The Way of Acquiring Power), practitioners perform ritual actions from shamanism, Shintō, Daoism, and Tantric Buddhism. They seek experiential truth of the teachings during arduous climbs in sacred mountains. Through the peace and beauty of the natural world, practitioners purify the six roots of perception, revitalize their energy and reconnect with their truest nature — all while grasping the fundamental interconnectedness with nature and all sentient beings.

How does one return to the city after an enlightening experience in the mountains?

More poetic than analytical, this film explores how a group of modern Japanese people integrate the myriad ways mountain learning interacts with urban life. With intimate camera work and a sensual sound design the viewer is taken from deep within the Kumano mountains to the floating worlds of Ōsaka and Tokyo and back again.

THE YOGIS OF TIBET, documentary, 2003, 76 min.

PEMA CHODRON :: Once You Get This, Everything Will Change, full lecture, 2016, 51 min.

Tibetan buddhist teacher  Pema Chodron offers some very useful wisdom about living a spiritual path,  and guidance for navigating through rough passages and avoiding pitfalls.

Pema Chödrön (born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown on July 14, 1936) is an American Tibetan Buddhist. She is an ordained nun, acharya and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Chodron has written several books and is the director of the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

 

 

PAULO COELHO, in conversation with Krista Tippett, unedited interview, On Being, Aug 4, 2016

A fascinating and inspiring conversation between novelist Paulo Coelho and On Being host Krista Tippett.  This clip contains the whole unedited interview.  From August 4, 2016.

“Paulo Coelho is the author of many books including “The Pilgrimage,” “Veronika Decides to Die” and “The Alchemist.” His forthcoming book out in the fall is “The Spy.” This interview is edited and produced with music and other features in the On Being episode “Paulo Coelho — The Alchemy of Pilgrimage.”

NKISI NKONDI : AFRICAN POWER FIGURES

Nkondi (plural varies minkondi, zinkondi, or ninkondi) are religious idols made by the Kongo people of the Congo region. Nkondi are a subclass of minkisi that are considered aggressive. The name nkondi derives from the verb -konda, meaning “to hunt” and thus nkondi means “hunter” because they can hunt down and attack wrong-doers, witches, or enemies.

The primary function of a nkondi is be the home of a spirit which can travel out from its base, hunt down and harm other people. Many nkondi were publicly held and were used to affirm oaths, or to protect villages and other locations from witches or evildoers. This is achieved by enlisting spiritual power through getting them to inhabit minkisi like nkondi.

The vocabulary of nkondi has connections with Kongo conceptions of witchcraft which are anchored in the belief that it is possible for humans to enroll spiritual forces to inflict harm on others through cursing them or causing them to have misfortune, accidents, or sickness. A frequently used expression for hammering in the nails into a nkondi is “koma nloka” (to attach or hammer in a curse) derives from two ancient Bantu roots *-kom- which includes hammering in its semantic field, and *-dog- which involves witchcraft and cursing. Kindoki“, a term derived from the same root is widely associated with witchcraft, or effecting curses against others, but in fact refers to any action intended to enlist spirits to harm others. If exercised privately for selfish reasons, the use of this power is condemned as witchcraft, but if the power is used publicly by a village, tribe, political leaders, or as a protective measure by innocent people, however, it is not considered witchcraft.

Continue reading NKISI NKONDI : AFRICAN POWER FIGURES

RAM DASS ON THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

 

The term “dark night (of the soul)” was originally used in Roman Catholicism for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God, like that described by Saint John of the Cross. It has since been adopted by many spiritual practitioners across many modalities of spiritual practice and refers to a turbulent period of darkness encountered along the spiritual path.

“I reserve the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ for a dark mood that is truly life-shaking and touches the foundations of experience, the soul itself. But sometimes a seemingly insignificant event can give rise to a dark night: You may miss a train and not attend a reunion that meant much to you. Often a dark night has a strong symbolic quality in that it points to a deeper level of emotion and perhaps a deeper memory that gives it extra meaning. With dark nights you always have to be alert for the invisible memories, narratives, and concerns that may not be apparent on the surface.” – Thomas Moore, A Dark Night Of The Soul And The Discovery Of Meaning Continue reading RAM DASS ON THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH, episode 1: The Hero’s Adventure, 57 min.

Episode 1 of the 1988 PBS documentary: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, originally broadcast as six one-hour conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers.

  • Episode 1: The Hero’s Adventure (first broadcast June 21, 1988 on PBS)

About Campbell, hero types, hero deeds, Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Krishna, movie heroes, Star Wars as a metaphor, an Iroquois story: the refusal of suitors, dragons, dreams and Jungian psychology, “follow your bliss,” consciousness in plants, Gaia, Chartres cathedral, spirituality vs. economics, emerging myths, “Earthrise” as a symbol.

TENZIN GYATSO, H.H. XIV DALAI LAMA :: NO REGRETS-ADVICE FOR LIVING & DYING, 34 minutes

“Passing through life, progressing to old age and eventually death, it is not sufficient to just take care of the body. We need to take care of our emotions as well.” The Dalai Lama

“In daily life, before death actually happens, it’s important to accept that sooner or later death will come.” The Dalai Lama

In ‘No Regrets: Advice for Living & Dying’ His Holiness the Dalai Lama addresses the profound importance of preparing for dying & how to live a meaningful life. This video provides a rare insight in HHDL as he gives advice to the terminally ill, medical professionals & general public on issues, including grief & loss and emotional & spiritual support at the end of life. Filmed in Australia at Karuna Hospice Service, HHDL brings compassion, practical advice & wisdom to outline the path for a fulfilling life & a peaceful death. – Karuna Hospice Service, 2008