Friday, July 13, 2012

Approach with awe (2)

A Japanese theologian's view of mountain religion in Japan (continued)

"Veneration of mountains by the Japanese goes back as far as the ancient Jomon period. This veneration of mountain as god or as the abode of spirits was amalgamated with the Chinese Way of Ying and Yang and also with esoteric Buddhism. The legendary founder of Shugendō, the Japanese way of reaching salvation by practising spiritual exercise in the mountain, was called En no Ozunu, who lived in the seventh century.

In the Heian period (tenth to twelfth century) mountain veneration prospered, increasing the number of Shugendō practitioners. These were called yamabushi because they practised a ritual in which they are to receive the spiritual force of the mountain (yama) contacting it through lying (bushi) on the ground . With the spiritual force of the mountain, and the ability to perform some esoteric religious rituals, they were thought to be able to perform superhuman magic.

People thought their prayers to be especially meritorious and flocked to them whenever they toured through the villages and population centres. At the core of Shugendō was a religious fascination for the mountain as god or as the abode of the spirits. When Chinese cosmological speculation and a complicated ritual of esoteric Buddhism are added to this mountain reverence, it has become by itself a complex religious phenomenon.

The yamabushi's main motivation for going to the mountain was to acquire supernatural magical powers by engaging in special spiritual and physical exercises. Shugendō must be seen as a different phenomenon from the retreat into the mountain to seek personal salvation in the beauty of nature, which was discussed in the previous chapter.

A number of mountains in Japan have become centres of Shugendō during the long centuries since the tenth century. One of these is the mountain cult centred about Mount Fuji. The name of Hasegawa Kakugyō (1541-1646) is associated with Mount Fuji as the one who opened up the mountain for religious purposes. Kakugyō was the founder and organizer of Fuji-Kō, the Mount Fuji Devotional Associations. He taught that the god of Mount Fuji called Sengen Dainichi, is the creator of all things, and that those who believe in this god will live a long and happy life.

In the middle of the Edo period the outstanding leader of Fuji-Kō was Jikigyō Miroku (1671-1773). He became a devotee to the god of Mount Fuji. when he was seventeen years old, from that time climbing the mountain once a year to deepen his devotion to the god of Mount Fuji. In 1771 he became the head of the Fuji-Kō movement. He published his own 'Theology of the Mount Fuji God' in 1729, in which he said that the god of Mount Fuji is the giver of all good things, including the rice harvest.

His message to the people who were not engaged in agriculture was also positive. Faith in this god of Mount Fuji would make people honest and diligent, he said, and consequently they would become happy and rich, and live a long life. What he said bears a strange similarity to the view expressed by the social scientist Max Weber about Protestant ethics and capitalism..."


Excerpted from Kosuke Koyama, Mt Fuji and Mt Sinai: a pilgrimage in theology

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