- the Kurama Yama Connection


James Deacon

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[Version 1.00] Copyright © 2007James Deacon

[Copyright © 2003 James Deacon]

Part 1 - Deities of the Sacred Mountain... It was Kurama Yama (Horsesaddle Mountain) - situated on the northern outskirts of Kyoto - where, it is said, Usui-Sensei carried out his 21-day meditation, and on the 21st day experienced the phenomenon that is Reiki. Kurama Yama (which is apparently not the mountain's original name), as is the case with most Japanese mountains, is considered a holy place for followers of both Buddhism and Shinto alike. It also has a strong historical connection with bujutsu the Martial Arts.

The main temple complex at Kurama Yama is referred to as the 'Kurama-dera' Mao-son(no Kami) According to a leaflet produced by the Kurama Temple, some six million years ago, Mao-son came to earth from the planet Venus. But the leaflet only tells a part of the tale... In an ancient legend, we hear how a meteorite from Venus streaked across the sky, and having broken in three, fell to earth in Japan. One section of the meteorite landed in Kumano - in the prefecture of Wakayama, another on Takamikura Yama* in Banshu, and the third section fell to the north of Kyoto, on Kurama Yama. It was this latter section of the meteorite which came to be enshrined as the kami: 'Mao-son' (the 'Great King of the Conquerors of Evil and the Spirit of the Earth') Since then, it is said, Mao-son’s powerful spirit has been emanating from Kurama Yama, governing the development and the evolution of mankind and all other living things on Earth. [But Mao-son apparently has another side to his nature. It has long been believed that, while bestowing divine protection on those who co-operate with him, Mao-son destroys those who oppose him.] Mao-son's small shrine, high on the mountain, is called the 'Okunoin Mao-den', and to the rear of the shrine, behind an iron fence, is an old cedar tree in which the spirit of Mao-son (also referred to as gohomaoson) is believed to reside.

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[*The Takamikura piece of the meteor is called Kimon Reiseki (or Kuki Mitamaishi). It was deified as the kami: 'Konjin', and during the Edo period, was worshipped at Kukimitama Shrine in Ayabe. ]

Bishamon-ten The Kurama-dera Temple itself was founded in 770 by the monk Gantei, who, led by a white horse, climbed this holy mountain and was enlightened with the realization of Bishamon-ten (God of War and Warriors, the scourge of evil-doers - also called Tamon-ten). The '-ten' part of the name indicates that Bishamon-ten is one of the gods of the 'twelve directions': guardians of the four quarters and four semi-quarters, up and down, and the sun and moon. Bishamon-ten - the guardian of the Northern Quarter - was regarded as a powerful protector of the city of Kyoto (which, up to the beginning of the Meiji Era, was the capital of Japan), defending it from evil coming from the north. Senju-Kannon Bosatsu Later, in 796, the chief officer in charge of the construction of the Toji Temple, received a vision of Senju-Kannon Bosatsu (also Senju-Kanzeon Bosatsu ) - the thousand-armed form of the Bodhisattva Kannon - and built further temples and pagodas on the mountain.

Amida & Fudo Other familiar deities at Kurama Yama include Amida Butsu - Buddha of Infinite Light & Life - (referred to as Amida Nyorai in esoteric tradition), whose giant statue can be found at the base of Kurama Yama; and Fudo Myo-o - the Immovable One - patron of the Martial Arts who is said to dwell deep in the mountains. The image of Fudo Myo-o is enshrined in the Sojogadani Fudo Do (Fudo Hall) high up in the mountains some distance above the Kurama Dera itself. Usually portrayed as livid blue in color with a fierce expression - teeth bared and with angry eyes - and sitting on a rock surrounded by flames, Fudo Myo-o brandishes a sword in his right hand, and holds a rope in his left. It is said he aids his devotees by defeating the obstacles and devils which hinder their practice of the Dharma. Entering into a flame-emitting meditation ('kasho zammai') Fudo exudes fire and destroys all karmic hindrances. Shinto Deities Besides the kami Mao-son, Kurama Yama is of course home to innumerable other kami - the numinous spirits of Shinto, and shrines to these deities abound. For example, the Kibune-jinja shrine is dedicated to the god of water, and the Yui no Yashiro ("Binding Shrine") is dedicated to the god of marriage.

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Tengu Also strongly associated with Kurama Yama are the legendary Tengu. Originally, Tengu were depicted as bird-like beings, but over time came to take on more human-like form, yet retaining wings and crowlike heads, with red faces and long noses. Described as 'forest goblins' by some, the Tengu are the guardians the mountainous regions, and highly skilled in the martial arts. They are said to be possessed of supernatural powers including shape-shifting, the ability to move instantly from place to place, to speak without moving their mouths, and the power to appear uninvited in peoples dreams. Tengu are also said to have mastery over rain and wind and to be responsible for mysterious lights seen in the mountains. Not only are they said to be skilled warriors, but the Tengu are also mischief makers, and are especially prone to playing tricks on vainglorious and arrogant monks and priests. Likewise they take it on themselves to punish those who willfully misuse knowledge and authority to gain fame or further their position. The have a great dislike for braggarts, and for those who would corrupt the Dharma (law). Buddhist temples, shrines and monasteries are often said to be guarded by Tengu, and while Bishamon-ten is considered the original deity at the Kurama Temple Complex - it is believed that the most holy image in the temple (rarely ever revealed to public view) is a statue of a winged, human-like figure, with a red face, a white beard, and holding a fan in his hand -in other words, a Tengu. Part 2 - Shugyo Discipline... Yamabushi and Shugendo Over the centuries, the Tengu became closely associated with the Yamabushi or Shugenja (followers of the path of Shugendo) Kurama Yama. These ascetic mountain priests are part of an ancient tradition involving the practice of strict and rigourous mystical disciplines often referred to collectively as shugyo. [The original meaning of the kanji for shu was something like ' sweeping away the dust that obscures a persons primal elegance', however the kanji-pair shu-gyo is commonly now translated as "austere training".] Retreating deep into the mountainous regions, these practitioners - a great many of them devotees of Fudo Myo-o, undergo harsh training, and through the practice of rituals, fasting, abstaining for drinking water, sutra recitation, meditation, and sitting in misogi (spiritual purification under waterfalls - the Nachi Falls being very popular),


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and the practice of 'sammitsu' (involving use of incantation and mudra-like techniques), seek mystical states and the development of powers including exorcism and healing. It has often been said that the Tengu would instruct these priests in sacred rites and magical knowledge. In legend, the distinction between Yamabushi / Shugenja and the Tengu often becomes blurred. It is said that shape-shifting Tengu often take on the form of these mountain priests, and in turn, the ascetic priests often take on the guise of Tengu to deter the uninitiated from interrupting their seclusion. Not surprisingly, considering their connection with the legendary Tengu and with Fudo Myo-o, these ascetic mystics have always been closely associated with the martial arts, and as long ago as the 12th century, a great many people came to train at the Kurama-Hachi Ryu martial arts school which had been organised by the Yamabushi of Kurama Yama. Ushiwaka-maru After his Minamoto clan was defeated by the Taira clan, a young man named Ushiwakamaru (1159-1189) was ordered (by the leader of the Taira clan) to enter the Kurama temple to become a monk. However, Ushiwaka-maru, as well as learning the Buddhist scriptures, also studied various martial disciplines. Legend says that he learned swordsmanship and acquired other more unusual skills from the legendary white-haired Sojobo, King of the Tengu. The young Ushiwaka-maru (later known as Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune) also became a master of tactical strategy, something which would later help him defeat the Taira clan and and reclaim the Minamoto clan's honour. A number of historical sites connected with him are still identifiable on the mountain, including a monument to him, which is situated to the side of the Tokobo temple, where he lived for nearly ten years. And a simple shrine, the 'Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune Do' (Hall), is located deep in the mountains some distance above the Kurama Dera, at a place where it is believed Ushiwaka-maru used to practice martial disciplines. On September 15th each year sees a festival in which Ushiwaka-maru's spirit is worshipped under yet another childhood name, Shanao. Morihei Ueshiba In the 1920's, Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, was known to retreat to Kurama Yama to undergo austere training. Once a year, he would take several of his best students with him and they would live on rice, miso soup, wild herbs & pickles. Their routine involved rising at 5 AM to pray and undergo misogi. This would be followed by swinging heavy swords five hundred times, and then practicing footwork. From 10 AM to noon they trained in body techniques. From 3 to 5 PM; the students would take turns acting as Morihei's partner as he ran through series after series of techniques. Evenings saw the students reviewing the day's physical and spiritual training, with a midnight training session every third night.

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Gogen Yamaguchi And during the 1930's, determined to train his spirit as well as his body, Gogen 'the Cat' Yamaguchi - possibly the most graceful and exciting karate masters the martial arts world has ever seen - often spent long periods in training on Mt Kurama - undertaking ascetic exercises: fasting, meditating and practicing a kata or training routine known as sanchin.

Part 3- The Kurama-Kokyo sect & The Reiki Symbols... The Kurama-Kokyo Sect On numerous websites you will read extracts from a tourist information leaflet about Kurama, the Kurama-Kokyo sect (who control the Kurama-dera Temple Complex) and about their beliefs and symbolism concerning their Supreme Deity: 'Sonten'. For the Kurama-Kokyo, the deities Mao-son, Bishamon-ten, and Senju-Kannon [or Senju-Kanzeon] are seen as symbols of the universal soul, forming the triune deity which they call: ‘Sonten’. Mao-son is seen as representing the power of Sonten, Bishamon-ten is seen as representing the light of Sonten, and Senju-Kannon - the love of Sonten. In recent years, many people have attempted to make a connection between UsuiSensei, the Reiki Shirushi (symbols), and the doctrine of the Kurama-Kokyo sect some even going so far as to claim that the Kurama-Kokyo sect was the original source for Reiki, or at least, an influencing factor in the origin of Reiki. One of the things that many have latched onto is the Kurama-Kokyo's use of certain symbols in connection with the Mao-son - Bishamon-ten - Senju-Kannon trinity. 'Seed' Characters & Reiki Shirushi However, in itself, this use of symbols is nothing out of the ordinary. In Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, each deity (Buddha, Bodhisattva, Myo-o, etc) - and each of the Five Elements - has its associated symbol - known as a shuji ( 'seed' character): a particular character from the 'Siddham' form of the Sanscrit script. This shuji is held to be the 'sacred sign' of the given deity, and is regarded as itself possessing the divine grace and power of that deity. Amongst other things, a deity's shuji is essentially perceived as a single-character depiction of the sacred mantra of the deity, and as such invokes the merit associated with the fukushu or recital/repetition of that mantra. Now, in what would seem to be a combination of, on one hand, an almost desperate attempt to make connections to the Sonten doctrine and, on the other, a very superficial approach to research, many people - either after viewing images of Kurama-Kokyo's San-Mon Shrine (or having visited Kurama Yama in person) have jumped to some slightly misguided conclusions concerning the origins of the Reiki shirushi and Reiki itself.

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It is now widely accepted that the Reiki shirushi: SHK ('mental-emotional' symbol) is almost certainly derived from the shuji: 'kiriku' (pronounced somewhere between: 'k'rik' and 'k'lik') ['hrih' in the original Sanscrit]. Noting that at the San-mon Shrine, the shuji kiriku is plainly visible as the symbol of Senju-Kannon, many, it seems have, without further investigation, leapt to the conclusion that, as Senju-Kannon is presented in the Kurama-Kokyo doctrine as being an element or attribute of their Sonten deity, then, as Kiriku is the symbol of Senju-Kannon, the Sonten religion must be the original source of the SHK symbol and therefore probably also the source of some of Usui-Sensei's spiritual ideas! And when they discover that the term Dai Ko Myo is sometimes applied to Sonten, well...! [Of course, the point that 'Dai Ko Myo' refers to the 'great illuminating wisdom' of deity - and can be properly be applied to each and every Butsu, Bosatsu or other Enlightened Being - is one that is completely missed!] Some, it seems, have even attempted to make a connection between the symbolic meanings of the shuji of Mao-son (in Japanese: 'un', Sanscrit: 'hum') and Bishamonten (Japanese: 'vai') and the CKR and HSZSN shirushi respectively something made all the more confusing as many Reiki-related websites misrepresent the Mao-son shuji (which is, admittedly actually a variant form of the more common version of 'un') as being: " older form of the 'om' symbol..." (the Sanscrit 'om' is 'on' in Japanese).

Mao-son 'un'

more commonly used form of 'un'

'on' ('om')

Bishamonten 'vai'

However, in Japanese Buddhist tradition, the allocation of shuji to deities is not a simple and clear-cut process. Certain deities have more than one shuji: each representing a different form or set of attributes of that given deity, and - just to confuse matters even more - deities with similar attributes can sometimes share one or more shuji in common. The shuji kiriku is indeed a symbol of the Bodhisattva Senju-Kannon - and not just in Kurama-Kokyo doctrine. Yet it is first and foremost the 'spiritual emblem' of Amida Butsu - Buddha of Infinite Light & Life - (referred to as Amida Nyorai in esoteric tradition).

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[And of course it is claimed by some that Usui-Sensei was a Tendai Buddhist all his life, and in particular a devotee of Amida.] While kiriku is also allotted (in a secondary sense) to Senju-Kannon - it is essentially because this male Bodhisattva shares some of the attributes of Amida Butsu, and is seen as one of Amida's attendants. Elsewhere, the shuji of Senju-Kannon can often be seen depicted in the following stylised form [perhaps to distinguish it from the shuji of Amida?]:

Senju-Kannon Bosatsu shuji (left) and Amida Butsu shuji (right)

But attempts to connect Usui-Sensei, Reiki and the Kurama-Kokyo doctrine do not stop with confusion concerning the shuji. ‘Kurama-Kokyo Reiki’ Recently we have even begun to hear about 'Kurama-Kokyo Reiki' - which claims to be "the original system of Reiki using the ancient Japanese symbols rediscovered by Usui-Sensei during his meditation on Kurama Yama..." and includes the 4 'KuramaKokyo Reiki' symbols, a secret mantra said to have been used by Usui-Sensei, a secret Japanese mantra that activates all symbols, and the prayer used by 'Masters' ( - presumably the Senior Priests??) of the Kokyo sect's Hondon Temple on Kurama Yama... However, something overlooked by the teachers of this 'Kurama-Kokyo Reiki', and by many other Reiki practitioners is this: during Usui-Sensei's lifetime, the Temple Complex on Kurama Yama was under the control of the Tendai Sect (yet, admittedly, visited by monks and lay practitioners of many different sects). It was not until 1949 - almost a quarter of a century after Usui Sensei's death that it passed to the control of the then newly founded, Sonten-worshipping, Kurama-Kokyo sect. This simple fact, to my mind at least, somewhat negates the theory of a connection between Usui Sensei and the Kurama-Kokyo sect - particularly the claim that the Kurama-Kokyo sect was either the original source for Reiki, or at least, an influencing factor in the origin of Reiki... * * * * * * * Download more FREE pdf-format Reiki documents at: James Deacon’s REIKI PAGES:

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