Sunday, March 2, 2014

En no Gyōja

En no Gyōja 1
The legendary founder of the Japanese religion, Shugendo when translated means `path of training to achieve spiritual powers’, which is an important Kami Buddha combination sect that blends pre Buddhist mountain worship known as Kannabi Shinko. Their practitioners are known by various names such as Shugenja, Shugyosha, Keza and Yamabushi and these terms are translated into English as ascetic monk or mountain priest.

As a rule, this sect emphasizes on physical endurance as a path to enlightenment where the practitioners perform fasting, seclusion meditation, recite sutras, magical spells and also engage themselves in feats of endurance like standing or sitting under cold mountain waterfalls or in snow. The devotees also have a particular practice of setting up wood or stones markers leaving a trail of their mystical journey up the mountain.

They also need to follow a procedure on entering into any sacred mountain space, where each stage consists of a specific mudra, a hand gesture with religious meaning, mantra, a sacred verbal incantation and waka which is a classical Japanese poem. The honored sage of this sect is En no Gyoja who is also known as En no Ozunu, Ozuno, En no Shokaku and En no Ubasoku where Gyoja means ascetic and En no Gyoja means En the Ascetic.

En no Gyōja 3
Ubasoku according to the Japanese form of Sanskrit upasaka means an adult male lay practitioner or a devotee or a Buddhist layman who is recognized as a father of Shugendo. He is given the title of Shinben Dabosatu which means Miraculous Great Bodhisattva which was bestowed in 1799 to him by the Emperor Kokaku during his reign in 1771 – 1840. En no Gyoja was born in 634 and is honored as a mountain saint and a bodhisattva with several supernatural powers attributed to him. This holy man was a mountain ascetic during the 7th century and like most of the Shinto Buddhist syncretism, his legend is a puzzle with folklore.

As per the Nihon Ryoiki, En no Gyoja was born in Katsuragi Mountains of Nara Prefecture, hailing from the Kamo clan, the family of Kamo-no-E-no-Kimi and his clan had lived for many years in the mountainous regions for generation which was a verdant region with a variety of medicinal plants.

It is believed that he gained wide knowledge of these medicinal plants and also maintained a garden in that area but was forced to give it up in 675 AD during which he had gained a high reputation of a healer. After his father’s death, En no Gyoja prayed that his mother would be bestowed with another child since his intention was to depart to the mountains to pursue his practice and she subsequently gave birth to a son who was named Tsukiwakamaru and he returned to the Katsuragi Mountains at the age of 32 to continue with his ascetic practice. According to the legends, he practiced under the protection of the animals living in the mountains where he discovered valuables deposits of silver and mercury in these mountains.

As per Shugendo legends, in 699, he was wrongly accused by one of his jealous disciple, Karakuni no Muraji Hirotari for evil sorcery and was sent into exile to Itoshima island during the reign of Emperor Monmu. This angered him towards the god of Mt. Katsuragi also known as Hitokoto nushi no Kami and to punish the god he cast spells and confined the deity to the bottom of the valley. Hirokoto nushi in his turn showed his displeasure by possessing Hirotari who lodged a complaint in the capital which lead to him to his exile.

During his exile, it is believed that he changed into a mountain wizard and flew to the kingdom of Silla towards the Korean peninsula and met Dosho, a Japanese Bhuddhist monk. This monk had travelled to China in order to study Buddhism and founded Hosso secto of Nara Buddhism on his return. Though Gyoja’s great abilities remain unknown, he had made a peace treaty with Hiruzen Sarutobi during the Third Shinobi World War and had developed an unusual technique which was capable of destroying an entire village and the Third Hokage proclaimed a kinjutsu due to its power.

En no Gyōja 2
He had two students, one named Hato who was brilliant with remarkable skills in ninjutsu while the second was his very own granddaughter Hotaru. Gyoja blamed himself for the downfall of his clan and made it his duty to restore the clan back to glory but his advanced age hindered him. Before his death, seeing how much his dream meant to him, his granddaughter begged him to seal the kinjutsu in her so that she could continue with his dream.

Being skillful in fuinjutsu he devised a way to seal the clan’s kinjutsu in his granddaughter to safely remove it. Great reverence for En no Gyoja grew as mountain asceticism progressed and Shugendo religion took shape making him its founder. Moreover since he had visions of Zao Gongen deity, her belief also flourished along with veneration of Gyoja and he is linked to sacred mountains all over Japan.

According to some, the final years of Gyoja is a mixture of uncertainty which states that he did not die in 700 but returned to Mount Katsurag when he was pardoned in 701. Here, he captured Hitokoto nushi no Kami and tied him with arrowroot vine and locked him at the bottom of the valley and sometime later returned to the Japanese mountain where he attained Nirvana or probably crossed China.

Others presumed that he was released in 702 after which he either became immortal and flew away or migrated to China with his mother. It is reported that during his lifetime, he traveled widely and established Shugendo sanctuaries in various locations which included Omine mountain range, Mount Kinpusen, Mount Mino, lkoma mountains on the border of Osaka and Nara prefectures and Izu in Japan. Towards 1872, the Shugendu sect got banned as a superstitious belief and the sites became Shinto shrine, losing its heritage or branching off to either Tendai or Shingon Buddhism though Mount Haguro retained a small Buddhist presence and successfully maintained its Shugendo religion.

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