A Look at Japanese Ascetic Practice
One traceable tradition goes back to En-no-Gyoja (c 7th century CE), also known as En the Ascetic. He became posthumously the founder of a tradition of mountain monks, known as 'yamabushi' and was a well organised religion by the Heian period (9-12th C). This tradition is called Shugendo and translates to "Way of Cultivating Spiritual Powers". It had two branches or schools - Honzan-ha (Tendai); and Tozan-ha (Shingon).
The ritual practices were lost during the Meiji restoration at the end of the 19th Century as the government attempted to universalise Shinto ideology, and disestablish the Buddhist Church.
The followers, known as 'yamabushi' "those who lie in the mountains" or 'shugenja' "those who accumulate spiritual power or experience" through ascetic practices in the mountains such as fasting, seclusion, solitary meditation, group pilgrimages, chanting incantations and sutras, sitting or standing under waterfalls.
One of their main texts is a sutra, "Sutra on the Unlimited Life of the Threefold Body" which apparently was composed through 'Kantoku' ("inspired vision") by a follower in Japan, but is often attributed to either the Buddha or to En-no-Gyoja. It is part of the 'Shugen joyoshu' (collection of Shugen Texts and Liturgies) chanted as part of daily service in the Tozan-ha (Shingon) branch of Shugendo, another text used is the 'Hannya Shingyo' ("Heart Sutra").
In the "Sutra of Unlimited Life..." Manjushri poses questions to the Buddha on the source of the Buddha's teachings and authority. Answers relate to Shakyamuni going through 41 stages of enlightenment and hearing the Dharma directly from Mahavairocana, the "Great Sun" Buddha, (Eternal/Cosmic Buddha). Mahavairocana in turn receiving Dharma teachings from "the beginningless and endless original Buddha who is one mind and one thought." Who in turn heard teachings from "the beginning and endless original Buddha of no mind and no thought."
The sutra assures us there is "no Buddha above and beyond" this Buddha. This Buddha is the fundamental reality and nature of all, that in whom we live and move and have our being.
The sutra points to all beings are Buddhas just as they are, the direct experience of the fundamental reality through meditative concentration (samadhi).
"The supreme path of all Buddhas
Has the marks of perfect light and eternal abiding
Those who enter meditative concentration together with the Buddha
In the same way realise the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta)."
The contemporary practices of the Tendai 'Marathon' Monks, the Shingon Shikoku Pilgrimages and 100 day fast seem to follow in this long Japanese tradition of asceticism and devotion. It seems possible that a certain Mikao Usui (1865-1926), a follower of Esoteric Buddhism tried out this tradition of Shugendo too on the mountain Kurama-yama, becoming a 'yamabushi' (mountain recluse) performing intensive meditation, fasting, chanting etc., and through 'Kantoku' (gaining inspiration/vision by supernatural means) and his many years of study he developed the discipline Reiki.
The Sutra on the Unlimited Life of the Threefold Body
Sources: "Religions of Japan in Practice" by Paul Swanson (Princeton University Press, pp. 246-53)
At one time the bodhisattva [of wisdom] Manjushri was seated on a jewelled lotus, having a five-knotted crown on his head, his dark blue hair hanging down to his shoulders, his bodily form that of shining gold, his left [hand of] concentration holding a blue lotus with a five-pronged vajra above it, his right [hand of] wisdom grasping a sutra-box [backpack], and his body shining like an autumn rainbow.
Peacefully dwelling in [the state of concentration called] the "moon-ring," he spoke to the Buddha, saying, "World-Honored-One. We all have, from the distant past, listened to the Tathagata's preaching of the Dharma [sermons]. From which Buddha did the Tathagata hear this preaching of the Dharma-sounds?"
The Buddha spoke to Manjushri, saying, "I received the preaching of Mahavairocana (Great Sun Buddha) after passing through the forty-one levels to enter the great inner chamber."
The bodhisattva Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha, saying, "Who is within the inner chamber of the forty-one levels?"
The World-Honored-One again said, "After passing through the ten stages of abodes, the ten stages of practices, the ten stages of merit-transference, ten bodhisattva stages (bhumi), the stage of becoming comparable to enlightenment, and entering the inner chamber, I received the preaching of the Dharma he by Mahavairocana, who is at the stage of wonderful enlightenment. The bodhisattva Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha, saying, "From what Buddha did Mahavairocana on the stage of wonderful enlightenment receive this preaching of the Dharma?" The World-Honored-One replied, "Mahavairocana on the stage of wonderful enlightenment received the preaching of the Dharma from the beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought.
The bodhisattva Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha saying, "From what Buddha did 'the beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought' receive the preaching of the Dharma?"
The World-Honored-One again said, "'The beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought' received the preaching of the Dharma from the original Buddha of no mind and no thought."
Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha, saying, "From what Buddha did the 'original Buddha of no mind and no thought' receive the preaching of the Dharma?" The World-Honored-One again said, "There is no Buddha above and beyond the 'original Buddha of no mind and no thought.' There is no Buddha before and no Buddha after 'no mind and no thought.' The original Buddha is in essence beyond conceptual understanding. From the beginning he/it does not go nor come, does not have the nature of the threefold body, does not have the nature of the ten destinies [from hell to Buddhahood]."
Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha, saying, "If above and beyond the original Buddha of no mind and no thought there is no nature of the threefold body and the ten destinies, from what basis do the threefold body and ten destinies arise?"
The World-Honored-One again said, "The original Buddha of no mind and no thought is by nature beyond conceptual understanding. Both the conceptually understood natures of the threefold body and sentient beings in the ten destinies, and the nature of that which is without a nature, arise from the nature that is beyond conceptual understanding."
Manjushri again spoke to the Buddha, saying, "If this is so, then is there no Buddha who teaches at the beginning?"
The World-Honored-One again said, "There is nothing that teaches or receives above and beyond the original Buddha of no mind and no thought. Moreover, this is a single Buddha, and there are not two Buddhas. You all should shut your eyes and contemplate the original Buddha that is without beginning and without end."
Manjushri spoke to the Buddha, saying, "That which the World-Honored-One preaches is exceedingly profound. It is true yet beyond our power to comprehend. It is good; it is good. I gladly preach this sutra."
At that time the Tathagata named King of Imposing Sound [Bhismagarjitas-vara-raja] spoke to Manjushri, the prince of the Dharma, saying, "Well done, prince of the Dharma. You have questioned the Tathagata in such a way that it is cause for a great event. Now listen carefully. listen carefully. Reflect well on these things."
The Buddha, after preaching this sutra, sat in the lotus position and entered the concentration [samadhi] that is wonderful and supreme. At that time Manjushri, prince of the Dharma, and everyone in the assembly of eighty-four thousand monks, all entered this samadhi through the supranormal power of the Buddha.
The following events were seen. The Buddha, from within his state of concentration, emitted a great circle of light from his own face, illuminating with insight Manjushri and the eighty-four thousand monks. A sword of wisdom [appeared] from the top of Manjushri's head, and from his side ["liver"] emerged a golden-haired lion. The Tathagata's ray of light extended everywhere, and the colour of his body was like that of gold.
Manjushri spoke to the Buddha, saying, "World-Honored-One. We have attained unprecedented [insight]. Our hearts greatly rejoice."
The Tathagata again preached in a verse, saying,
The supreme path of all Buddhas
Has the marks of perfect light and eternal abiding.
Those who enter meditative concentration together with [the Buddha]
In the same way realize the mind of enlightenment [bodhicitta].
When the Buddha finished preaching these verses, the great monks in the assembly at once stood up, bowed, and went on their way.
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