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Home » 8. Schools, Groups, and Personalities » Medieval and Early Modern Schools
Shugendō
Shugendō is a religion that espouses a variety of salvific activities based on the attainment by its practitioners, called shugen, of supranormal, magico-religious power through ascetic training in the mountains. It gradually took form between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, but was eventually forced into decline as a result of modern governmental policies in the period 1868-70 which required the separation of buddha and kami worship (shinbutsu bunri), and of the ban on Shugendō itself in 1872.
       Following the promulgation of the Religious Corporations Ordinance (Shūkyō Hōjinrei) in 1945, a number of Shugendō groups deriving from various lineages became independent of the Buddhist sects within which they had often become subsumed. By the middle of the nineteenth century the most important of these lineages had become Honzan-ha, affiliated with Tendai Buddhism, and Tōzan-ha, affiliated with Shingon Buddhism. In addition a number of other important Shugendō lineages were based on a single organization associated with a particular mountain, such as Haguro-ha, based on the three Dewa mountains (Dewa Sanzan) in present-day Yamagata Prefecture; Hikosan-ha in northern Kyushu, Nikkō and Mount Hiei. Certain other mountains, such as Mounts Fuji and Ontake, were sites where shugen practiced in large numbers, although they lacked the infrastructure of the former sites. Honzan-ha and Tōzan-ha both centered their practices on the Ōmine mountains, stretching from Yoshino to Kumano, and revered En no Ozunu as their founder. Both eventually controlled vast networks of shugen and temples throughout Japan.
       By around the twelfth century certain sacred mountains were known as centers of shugen practice, and the most preeminent of these were Kimpusen in Yoshino and the three shrines of Kumano (Kumano Sanzan), where shugen formed themselves into Honzan-ha. Kumano had flourished from the late eleventh century as a result of imperial pilgrimage; Zōyo, a priest of the temple Onjōji, belonging to the Tendai Jimon lineage, was appointed guide (sendatsu) to the Retired Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129; r. 1072-86) on the occasion of a pilgrimage there, and he was subsequently rewarded with the temple of Shōgoin in Kyoto and the office of Kumano supervisor (kengyō). Thereafter, because of the continuing status of Onjōji and Shōgoin as kengyō, Kumano became a central training center for Tendai-affiliated shugen, whose core practice was a "mountain-entry" (nyūbu) ritual that took place as an ascetic journey between Kumano and Yoshino known as jubu or the "forward-sequence peak."
       As a result of the nationwide travels of Dōkō (Shōgoin's head priest or monzeki), the institutionalization of Honzan-ha proceeded apace until by the seventeenth century five inge-ranked temples (Shakuzen'in, Nyakuōji, Shōsen'in, Jushin'in and Gayain), with Shōgoin at their head, supervised kasumi, (parishes or demarcated districts where Honzan-ha shugen had rights to undertake religious activities) on a nation-wide basis.
       Beneath the inge, temples were ranked in descending order as zasu, shukurō sendatsu, kugyō, nengyōji, jikimatsuin, jun-nengyōji and dōgyō. Practitioners were given fivefold rankings, based upon the number of times they had completed the annual mountain-entry ritual, so, for example, someone who had done it more than thirty-three times was ranked as buchū shusse, and one who had done it more than twenty times was jikisan. It was through such means that Shōgoin was able to establish such a far-ranging system of control.
       Tōzan-ha was built upon the efforts of Shōhō, who reinstituted ascetic practice at Ōmine after it had fallen into abeyance since the time of En no Ozunu. A number of Shingon temples, mostly in the Yamato region, banded together under the name Tōzangata Ōmine Shōdai Sendatsushū to supervise the activities of Shingon-affiliated shugen throughout the country, and they also sponsored a mountain-entry ritual that involved journeying from Yoshino to Kumano through the Ōmine range (known as the "reverse-order peak" or gyakubu).
       In the medieval period some thirty six Shōdai Sendatsu temples existed, but their number gradually diminished, and by the latter part of the seventeenth century they comprised just twelve, including Sakuramotobō at Yoshino, Byōdōji at Mount Miwa, and Eikyūji at Uchiyama.
       In the early years of the seventeenth century, disputes arose within both Honzan-ha and Tōzan-ha over lines of authority. Gien (1558-1626), the head of Sanbōin, a subtemple of Daigōji, mediated in a number of these disputes, and it was due to his efforts that Tōzan-ha received favorable treatment in the regulations that the Tokugawa shogunate issued for the Shugendō schools in 1613. As a result Sanbōin gained great influence within Tōzan-ha, and in 1699 one of its subtemples, Hōkakuji Kaijōin in Edo, was appointed general supervisor (kesaga-shira) of Tōzan-ha shugen throughout the entire country, bringing them all under its control.
       Unlike Honzan-ha, Tōzan-ha did not have the institutions to supervise all its shugen and a looser system based on appointments issued both by the Shōdai sendatsu temples and by Sanbōin was in effect throughout the early modern period. After 1702, a system of thirteen ranks was instituted, based on the number of times a practitioner had done the mountain-entry ritual; they included hōin (thirty six times) and daiokke (nine times).
       The routes between Yoshino, Ōmine and Kumano consisted of ritual practice sites (gyōba), such as caves, waterfalls and cliff-faces, and of sacred places where kami and buddhas were venerated. Seventy-five centers of ascetic practice, called nabiki, came into being and were used for a form of practice based on the "ascent of the ten realms (hells, hungry spirits, animals, ashura, human beings, heavenly beings, shravakas, pratyeka-buddhas, bodhisattvas and buddhas)." The means employed in this practice involved various associated rituals, including tokoga-tame (remaining rooted in one place), zange (repentance), gōhyō (weighing karma), abstention from water, aka (water purification), sumo, sacred dance (ennen), kogi (providing firewood for the ritual bonfire of saitō goma), abstention from eating grains, and consecration. By passing through these ten realms, the practitioner was enabled to attain buddhahood in this body (sokushin jōbutsu). In addition, the practice can be interpreted as a ritual of death and rebirth.
       During the medieval period shugen conducted mountain-entry rituals during each of the four seasons, but most of these practices were lost in the course of the civil wars of the sixteenth century. From the seventeenth century Honzan-ha practiced only the Akinomine (Autumn Peak, also called gyakubu), and the Katsuragi Peak, while Tōzan-ha practiced only the Spring Peak entry called Kagunomine (Flower Offering Peak) and the Akinomine (gyakubu) in fall. One reason for the discontinuation was the decline in the number of shugen taking part in mountain-entry rituals; in the Tōzan-ha this in turn led to the decrease in the number of Shōdai sendatsu temples. By and large mountain-entry practices became formalized during the Edo period and lost their ascetic character, and there were many instances of shugen attaining higher rankings without the need to undertake any practice. Village shugen, both those of Honzan-ha and Tōzan-ha, were strongly characterized as magico-religious practitioners and providers of prayer rituals for this-worldly benefits. They also managed village shrines in the role of temple intendent bettō. In general they provided a variety of religious services in response to the needs of the people around them, a factor that led to feuds and conflicts both with Yoshida Shintō and with other Buddhist temples.
       After 1945, members of the former Honzan-ha formed the sect Honzan Shugen-shū, with Shōgoin as its head temple and Hon Shugen-shū with Kisshōsōji as its head temple. Former adherents of Tōzan-ha, on the other hand, separated into a number of different groupings, one of which is Shingonshū Daigōha. See also Shinto and Shugendō

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