In North America today, there is a lot of interest in Buddhism. People practice many different kinds of Buddhism, including Tibetan Buddhism, Thai Buddhism, Sri Lankan Buddhism, and more. Though these forms of Buddhism have many strong points, they also have certain lacunae or obscurations. Each is a Buddhism from a specific culture. In the final analysis, a Buddhist is someone who follows the teachings of the Enlightened One, the World Honoured One, Shakyamuni Buddha, no matter the cultural context, race, or national origin.
Perhaps the most popular export of Japanese Buddhism is Zen. Zen is so familiar around the world that Japanese words such as satori(i) or enlightenment have entered the everyday lexicon of many languages. However, there are other forms of Buddhism in Japan besides Zen. One of them is less well known, at once both ancient and modern, and completely unique. Shugendo is its name.
In fact, it may even be that the rich diversity of the various cultural Buddhisms in the West has produced confusion regarding what the core elements of the Buddhism tradition actually are.
Shakyamuni, the Buddha of our age, left clear teachings for followers, no matter their culture.
Core Buddhist teachings include the law of Cause and Effect, the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Paths, among others
The Law of Cause and Effect (b)
There is a cause, and the effects of that cause may have many unintended consequences. The Buddha thought about the challenge of man’s existence in terms of cause and effect.
Ignorance is a root poison, as well as Anger and Attachment. These emotions cloud the mind of mankind. Therefore, human beings cannot understand the Truth. And, since all people must suffer from the afflictions of sickness, old age, and finally death, our existence can be considered filled with suffering. Though the word suffering is included in this equation, it may be more useful to consider suffering as a catch all term describing a range of experiences from ordinary dissatisfaction to extraordinary despair.
The Buddha taught that all sentient beings can escape suffering by realizing the Buddha nature deep within. He also advocated maintaining a religious practice as a means to further clarify and refine that understanding. Core beliefs, such as the Four Noble Truths, are supports in that process.
The Four Noble Truths (b)
Man’s existence is surrounded by suffering.
The cause of man’s suffering is Desire.
The Removal of Desire allows for the cessation of man’s suffering.
There is a method for removing Desire and easing man’s suffering. The method is Eightfold Noble Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path (b)
Shoken: Training for the Right View.
Shoshi: Training for the Right Vision.
Shogo: Training for Right Speech.
Shogou: Training for Right Conduct.
Shomyou: Training for Right Life.
Shoshoujin or Suru: Training of the application of Right Effort.
Shonen: Training of Right Thinking Mind.
Shojou: Training that Right Unites Spirits.
Shakyamuni encourages us to show courage and to practice the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha`s teaching valued the twin methods of study and practice. The man or woman who perfectly practices the Noble Eightfold Path is few and far between. It is not easy. But it can be done.
Your body, mind, and spirit are the Foundation of your practice. Treat these supports well. You should not look for others to be the Foundation of your practice. Make the Dharma an island, and cling to it like a castaway. Moreover, assume the Dharma to be the Foundation of your life, and you will not fail in your attempt at self-realization. Nothing but the Dharma should be the Foundation of the Life. Shakyamuni’s teaching is the Law that becomes a vessel that allows practitioners to traverse the river of confusion and arrive at Wisdom. But it is a means to an end; please do not confuse it for the destination itself. The fundamental feature of Buddhism is to become a Buddha.
Realizing one`s Buddha Nature
Sometimes people of the Book, whether Christians, Jews, or Moslems, misunderstand the Buddhist context of the word God. A god in Buddhism is not the Omnipotent, Omniscient creator of the Universe as described in the Bible, Koran, or Torah. It is completely different. When the teachings admonish followers to realize their Buddha nature, they are being requested to bring forth their potential and realize the law of nature in the act of daily living, whatever form that takes. They are not being requested to supplant any other religion`s God or Gods. Thus God and the individual are quite different. Moreover, all traditions should be respected, whether or not one believes. In Buddhism, every practitioner should strive to realize their Buddha nature in this very life.
The Root Teacher or Religious Preceptor
The quest of becoming Buddha involves other people and different relationships.
It is necessary to be led to Shakyamuni’s teaching. It is necessary to practice the teachings in one`s life. It is necessary to be guided in one`s practice to avoid pitfalls and maximize successes. Therefore, the Buddhism is a religion that values training and practice a great deal.
Shakyamuni was a man not a God, who like other men was born to die. Religious training will have to be completed through great effort, great persistence, and great curiosity. Assisting in the process is the Religious Preceptor or Teacher. The Senior teaches and recommends the road and the method of the Buddha to the Junior.
Over the millennia, many different methods and approaches have manifested on how to realize one`s Buddha nature. Religious thought and methods have developed differently within cultural contexts. So diverse views arose on how best to realize one`s Buddha nature. One method that developed in Japan is known as Shugendo.
Shugendo is a religion that values encounters with gods and Buddhas in the context of mountain training. The Gyoja (ascetic) goes into a deep valley or goes up to the mountain top, and trains. The training naturally erases the three root poisons of desire, ignorance, and anger, and as a result, the soul is purified. Shugendo is an original mountain religion. Elements of the Faith are based on ancient teachings of Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Onmyodo. Shugendo is a special religion with influences from India, China, Korea, and the ancient folk religions of Siberia. Shugendo may well become a major religion of the future when the symbiosis of man and nature can no longer be ignored. At once ancient and modern, Shugendo is a religion unique to Japan.
En no Gyoja
The founder of Shugendo is En no Gyoja. Many Japanese people think of him as a Second Buddha. Like Shakayamuni Buddha, En no Gyoja was born and died, and in between lived as a religious preceptor for the nation. Records state he was born in 634 and died in 706. The superhuman results of his prayer gave birth to a lot of legends. Nevertheless, for all the fanciful tales of magic, En no Gyoja was a flesh and blood human being.
En no Gyoja attracted people’s attention as an expert of petitionary prayer. Modern day people have the choice to look at the legends as symbolically true or literally true. Because of the power of En no Gyoja`s prayer, legends arose regarding supra-normal abilities, such as flying through the air and so on. Nevertheless, to this day, people visit the mountains of Yoshino and Katsuragi where En no Gyoja lived and trained. These places are venerated as the birthplace of Shugendo.
In Shugendo, the ascetic takes En no Gyoja as his role model. The Gyoja enters into the mountains for severe training. This training originates from the tradition that though En no Gyoja was left for dead on the mountain, through embracing mountain training, he was saved. For the Gyoja, this legend implies the death and rebirth. The training is called Jukkai Jo. The aim is to purify and renew the disciple through the medium of severe training, and ultimately, for the extra-ordinary practitioner, to realize the Buddha nature in this very life. Jukkai refers to the ten worlds coexistent within the Buddhist universe. The ascetic will experience ten worlds by virtue of Jukkai training in the mountains.
The 10 realms of Jukkai
(1)Jingokyu, Hell Realm, (2) Gaki, Hungry Ghosts, (3) Chikusho, brute, (4) Shura, ( fighting mind), (5) Ningen, man (mind of confession and repentance), (6) Tennin, Angel (pantheon), (7) Shomon, (place realized hearing of the Dharma), (8) Enkaku, (Seeing) (9) Bosatu, Bodhisattava (10) Hotoke, Buddha
By treading the road of realization through the ten worlds outlined above, Shugendo reaffirms itself as a religion which affects change in the personal by utilizing spiritual forces provided by the landscape of the mountains.
In the modern age, Shugendo was abolished with the establishment of national Shintoism of the Meiji era government in 1872. The horrendous excesses of the edict of Shunbutsu Bunri, have yet to entirely heal. However, Shugendo is reviving powerfully now. Shugendo addresses all level of Japanese belief, from the ancient worship of Shinto nature gods, to the philosophically challenging concepts of the Madyamika doctrines such as the Pranaparamita. The Spirit of the Shugendo that worships nature and seeks for human harmony in connection with the natural world is a vital message for the global environmental and the protection of the world`s resources for the future. Shugendo maintains the vitality of traditional knowledge, and also points the way forward for living in harmony for tomorrow’s world. Shugendo is a unique expression of man’s spirituality.
We are currently accepting a wide range of new members, from those interested in receiving our email newsletter in Nihongo and English, to those who want to attend a lecture or participate in a weekend retreat, to those interested in advancing their training through engaging in the formal relationship by becoming a Deshi.
Candidates for Deshi come from many different walks in daily life. There is no one size fits all mold. There is no discrimination based on age, gender, race, creed, or national origin. However, candidates should not desire to pursue religion as a career.
Religion should not be a business. The role model for modern shugenja is En no Gyoja. Our ideal is a traditional householder, who is at once part of the secular world as well as the sacred realm at the very same time. This is known as hanzo hanzoku. Full time priests should not apply unless they are willing to change their occupation. Living in samsara involves becoming polluted, yet one cannot spiritually assist or aid others without knowing the trials and tribulations of everyday life through one`s own experience. By knowing the joys and miseries of the human condition directly, the shugen practitioner then recognizes the necessity for spiritual assistance and training, especially purification and repentance.
Finally, religion should never be used as a way of making money. Any candidate with this intention should not apply. Our path is not for you.Our address is
Nihongo and English: North America inquiries;
Mr. Jikkai hennum at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are indeed fortunate that the Blessed One, the World Honoured One, Shakyamuni Buddha, left behind so many different teachings, more than enough to satisfy most personal inclinations, and different cultural needs. However, please remember that in the final analysis, the most important factor is whether or not the individual is attempting to put the teachings of the Buddha to work in her or his daily life, regardless of the cultural context or lack thereof. Many thanks for your attention.
The Venerable Rev. Shokai koshikidake, Kancho
Chief priest KannonJi