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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Mountain Beliefs and Practices
Yoshino, Kumano Shinko
Beliefs and practices associated with the Ōmine mountains, stretching from Yoshino (Nara Prefecture) to Kumano, in the central part of the Kii Peninsula (Wakayama Prefecture). This area is the birthplace of Shugendō and its most important site. Yoshino was venerated from ancient times as a source of water and metals, and as a sacred mountain and a Pure Land in the Buddhist sense. Kumano was also regarded as the realm of the dead, being the Pure Land of Amida, as well as the entrance to Tokoyo. These facts are closely related to the reason the Ōmine mountains became such an important Shugendō site. The range has a number of peaks over 1000 m. in height, including Sanjōgatake, Daifugendake, Gyōjagaeshidake, Misen, Shakagatake, Dainichidake and Tamaki. The highest is Hakkyōgatake (1915 m.). On the western side of the range is the Totsu River (Kumano River in its lower reaches) and on the eastern side is the Yoshino River. Legend says that En no Ozunu summoned forth Kongō Zaō Gongen (see gongen shinkō) here, and that Shōbō (831-909) later revived the faith. Around the end of the Heian period, Kimpusen (Kane no mitake), including both Yoshino and Sanjōgatake, and the three sacred areas of Kumano (Hongū, Nachi and Shingū; see Kumano sanzan) became well-known as sites for shugenja to gather. At the end of the Kamakura period, Kumano became associated with the Shugendō Honzanha and linked to the Tendai temple of Shōgoin, and in the Muromachi period, Tōzanha was formed, based eventually at the Shingon temple Sambōin at Daigō near Kyoto, and ritually centered at Ozasa, east of Sanjōgatake. Yoshino and Kumano were linked as a result of the popularity of Shugendō. Honzanha sponsored a mountain-entry ritual where shugenja made their way from Kumano to Yoshino, while Tōzanha shugenja moved in the opposite direction. The former was called junbu ("direct peak") and the latter gyakubu ("reverse peak"). However, by the end of the medieval period, most shugenja were performing the gyakubu. Both forms considered the mountain to be the Other Realm, where the process of death and rebirth was ritually enacted, known as the Practice of the Ten Realms (jikkai shugyō), since through it shugenja were considered to attain each of the realms of rebirth leading to buddhahood. From the middle of the Edo period, people began forming confraternities () with the purpose of climbing the Ōmine mountains; most were concerned, not with the okugake from Yoshino to Kumano, but with climbing Sanjōgatake. A circuit of seventy-five sacred places (nabiki) was set up. The Yoshino side of the range was associated with the Diamond Realm and the Kumano side with the Womb Realm, and practice in the mountains had as its purpose uniting the two mandalas and attaining buddhahood in this life (sokushin jōbutsu). The mountains were thought of as riding on the back of a huge tortoise, expressing the idea that they were Mt Sumeru, the axis of the universe. Sanjōgatake remains forbidden to women. It is the site of the temple Ōminesanji, which reveres both its main image Kongō Zaō Gongen and En no Ozunu, and is managed jointly by temples in Dorogawa and Yoshino. It is also called Sanjō Zaōdō ("Zaō Hall on top of the mountain"), as opposed to Yoshino's Sange Zaōdō ("Zaō Hall at the bottom of the mountain") and Anzen Zaōdō ("peaceful meditation Zaō Hall"), and is the site of many rituals and ceremonies, including those marking the official opening of the mountain for pilgrimage (tobiraki) on May 3 and the official closing (tojime) on September 22. Sanjōgatake consists of both a "front" area for ritual activities (omotegyōba), perhaps best known for the practice of nozoki, where practitioners are hung by their feet over a cliff and made to confess their transgressions, and a "rear" area (uragyōba), where tainaikuguri ("moving through the womb": passing through a cave entered by a cleft in the rock) and ari no towatari (proceeding like ants over a steep cliff) are performed. The underlying theme of these practices is ritual death and rebirth. This theme is continued in the four great gates which used to stand between Yoshino and Sanjōgatake: Hosshinmon (Gate of Awakening), Shugyōmon (Gate of Practice), Bodaimon (Gate of Enlightenment) and Nehanmon (Gate of Nirvana). They indicate that the practitioner has arrived at the realm that follows death. East of Daifugendake is Shōnoiwa, where practitioners confine themselves to attain magico-relgious power. Misen, in the center of the range, is the inner sanctuary (Okunoin) of the Benzaiten Shrine in Tenkawa. It is also called Yoshino Kumanogū, and is managed by the village of Tenkawa. South of Shakagatake is Jinzen, where Honzanha conducts its consecration rituals to attain buddhahood in this body. It is considered to be Chūdai, the hall of the central dais of eight petals, the center of the Womb Mandala. It is supported by the people of Zenki, a village below the mountain. Zenki is also the site of an uragyōba consisting of waterfalls and caves. Mt Tamaki is the inner sanctuary of Kumano. As a result of the separation of kami and buddha worship (shinbutsu bunri) at the beginning of the Meiji period, while most of the Yoshino side remained Buddhist, the Kumano side became affiliated with shrines, and mountain-entry practices disappeared for a time, to be revived after World War 2.

— Suzuki Masataka
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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