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- 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. ]

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
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 Sojoga-
dani 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

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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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 crow-
like 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

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)
of 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.

After his Minamoto clan was
defeated by the Taira clan, a
young man named Ushiwaka-
maru (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
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 Usui-
Sensei, 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,

[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 more commonly 'on' Bishamonten 'vai'

'un' used form of 'un' ('om')

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 'Kurama-
Kokyo 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

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...

* * * * * * *

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