Friday, December 21, 2007

Gozen-sama as Shaman

My teacher Gozen-sama appears three times in Carmen Blacker's classic "The Catalpa Bow -- A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan," first published in 1975. Though at Sekizan everyone knows him as Gozen-sama, in the book he is called either "The Ajari Enami Kakusho" or "The abbot of Mudo-ji on Mt Hiei."

Ishibashi Hiroko, to whom the book is dedicated, facilitated the contact with Gozen-sama in 1961, and he then gave Blacker permission to experience the kaihogyo, or mountain-walking meditation, for herself.

Kaihogyo and many other ascetic practices are described in detail in The Catalpa Bow, but notwithstanding the variety of practices, the resulting spiritual power of shamanism is almost exclusively used in HEALING people, of both their spiritual and their physical sufferings. This is true not only in Japan but throughout the world.

Nowadays, shamanism is most often associated with ethnogens (psycho-active plants), ritual drumming, and endurance of cold, but in Japan of these three only the last is employed. In addition, the Japanese shamans emphasize chanting, fasting, fire, and marathons. Here is Professor Blacker's report on Gozen-sama:

"[Though most of the shamans in Japan are Shinto or Shugendo adherents, occasionally] a fully ordained priest of the Tendai, Shingon or Nichiren sect may fulfill exactly the requirements of the ascetic life. After a long and severe regime of austerites performed directly under the aegis of this sect, he dedicates himself to the task of healing spiritual maladies. The Ajari of the Tendai temple Mudo-ji, on the slopes of Mt Hiei, is a noteable example of an ascetic in full Buddhist orders....The Ajari Enami Kakusho, the incumbent of the Mudo-ji at the time of writing, described to me in 1961 the nine-day fast he had undergone in the course of the ascetic exercise known as kaihogyo. For nine days he had performed without a break, in an enclosed and sealed hall, a continuous series of goma fire ceremonies. Not once had he descended from the goma platform and not once had food or drink passed his lips. He showed me the photographs of his ceremonial emergence from the hall at the end of the nine days. Emaciated, pale, so physically weak that he had to be supported on either side by stalwart assistants, he was yet so imbued with sacred power that the crowds which lined the path prostrated themselves in reverence on the ground as he walked by."

(note: Blacker's telling has mixed two separate nine-day practices, one of fasting and two years later, one of fire.)

It is a remarkable sidelight that 46 years later Gozen-sama still leads the Tendai ascetics, which parallels Shakyamuni Buddha's 45 years of teaching following his enlightenment.

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