出羽三山倶楽部>学術>Being a yamabushi/(Gaynor Sekimori)
 
Where are the kami?
Yesterday, as I was passing by train through the endless grey suburbs of Tokyo, bland buildings and closely-packed small houses jostling together, the thought struck me, seeing the occasional manicured, mostly grassless park or playground, "Where have the kami gone?" At Hagurosan, the presence of thrumming life in the trunks of centuries-old trees and the potent stillness of sacred sites like Akoya make the kami seem like one twist of the kaleidoscope away, a presence palpable and possible. In Tokyo, or any big city, how do we find this? This question leads to one larger - is it possible to be a practitioner of Shugendo in the city?
Shugenja (yamabushi) go into the mountains to make contact with the sacred presence they call shinbutsu (kami and buddhas), and derive from this contact the ability to tap into a source of spiritual power. Some use this power for psychic healing, for fortune-telling, for all the divinatory arts that sustained the ordinary shugenja through much of his history. Others nurture it and continue to seek it out through ascetic practice, drawing upon its comfort to assure themselves of their just place in the world. Still others see it as the way they are able to pursue their bodhisattva vow as Buddhists - to seek their own enlightenment through the compassionate action of bringing others to the same enlightenment. These motivations are not mutually exclusive; in most practitioners they are probably blended, with many others, in a variety of combinations.
During the Akinomine, we look on the mountain as the womb of our rebirth as enlightened beings, knowers of our own buddha-nature. In the liturgy we refer to it as Haguro Gongen, in other words the avatar, or local manifestation, of the Buddha in the form of a kami. The mountain is the compassionate mother, giver of life, bestower of life-force. A very early concept associated with the kami is that of musubi, meaning birth, that which creates and harmonizes. Knowing the kami helps us be conscious of the need for all living beings to co-exist harmoniously in the world. Buddhism calls this consciousness "compassion." At the very least, what we take with us from the Akinomine then is a renewed sense of our place in the harmony of the universe, in the most real possible way.
For most ordinary Haguro shugenja, the chance to be shugenja occurs only once a year, at the time of the Akinomine. An outsider might wonder whether in taking part, dressed in the traditional clothes of the yamabushi, we were indulging in some romantic fiction that has no point or purpose outside that specific time and place. Certainly there is an element of taking up a role, but then we are after all taking part in a religious drama, a journey through the realms of death and rebirth in the mountain. However, after the excitement of being on parade, receiving the attention of the people of Toge as we move in procession through the town and up Haguro to the Main Shrine, sleeplessness and the lack of food, together with the physical demands made both by long periods of sutra recitation and visits to sacred places bring us very quickly down to earth, and the lines between any possible play-acting and reality are rendered meaningless.
But what happens for the rest of the year? How can those of us who hold ordinary jobs in cities seek to tap into the spiritual source we have found in the mountains? I have no answer, but make only the following observation. Shugendo is a practice of the individual: ultimately practice is a matter of yourself and the mountain. I don't think therefore that the answer can be found in any kind of transposed organization. Zen teaches us the importance of zanmai (samadhi), mindfulness in the deepest and broadest sense. If we know that the compassion and sense of balance engendered by Shugendo practice are treasures to be prized, our ordinary lives become extraordinary, illuminated by them and given the grace, dexterity and courage of a warrior. Can a kind of Shugendo zanmai be the way we practice Shugendo in an urban setting? And discover where the kami reside in the city?

* The best description of kami that I have read is that made by the scholar Motoori Norinaga, who lived two and a half centuries ago. "Anything whatsoever which was outside of the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring was call kami. Eminence here does not refer merely to the superiority of nobility, goodness or meritorious deeds. Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami.... There are again numerous places in which mountains and seas are called kami. This does not have reference to the spirit of the mountain or the sea, but kami is used here directly of the particular mountain or sea. This is because they were exceedingly awe-inspiring." (Holtom translation)


関守ゲイノー氏 プロフィール
Gaynor Sekimori is an associate professor at the University of Tokyo. She did her undergaduate degree in Oriental Studies at the Australian National University before moving to Japan in 1975. She did her Masters degree at Sophia University in Tokyo (1990) and her doctorate at the University of Cambridge (2000). She spent a year at SOAS (University of London) before returning to Japan at the end of 2001. Shugendo is both her research topic and her own practice. She is married with two children (the younger of whom will do the Akinomine for the first time in 2004).