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Japanese mysticism

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

Japan was at one time a closed and protected society.

The policy of locking the country was called Sakoku.  Under the policy, no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. The policy was enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate through a number of edicts and policies from 1633–39 and remained in effect until 1853.

Although this annoyed the Americans, the Dutch and the English, Spanish and French enormously as they wanted to trade and their Christian missionaries wanted to convert, this fact was absolutely key to the success of the Japanese culture and its spiritual growth.

As a consequence of its protective policy Japan developed one of the most comprehensive, beautiful and complete spiritual cultures of any nation.  The culture was rich in symbolism, and artistic beauty as well as being spiritually hugely advanced.

katsushika hokusai-cloud hanging bridge at mount-gyodo ashikaga from the
series rare-views-of-famous-japanese places

 The spiritual approach was far far more advanced than that of the Christian missionaries seeking to ‘save them’  - most of whom had never seen heaven at all. 

The culture started to flower in about the 1300s.  Even though the country was still divided and ruled by war lords, the shamanic practises of the early Shinto religion and the introduced Buddhist practises started to produce a cohesive cultural framework available to the people as a whole not just the nobility….

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques
Japanese culture – including the martial arts – was perfected in the Muromachi period (1392-1568) particularly in the latter stages.  One feature was that the culture of the common people surpassed that of the nobility and this new culture thus became rooted in everyday life, Ikebano flower arranging, the Sado tea ceremony, No drama, Buyo dancing, Sukiya-zukuri architecture, Kare-sansui gardens … what pervades all of these is the idea of ‘Yugen’ – a world of subtle, dark beauty. 

 

The destruction of spirituality

This period of spiritual heaven on earth was ended with the arrival of the Black Ships of Commodore Matthew Perry and the forcible opening of Japan to Western trade. Thus it was America who in effect destroyed the culture of Japan.  When the United States Navy ended Japan's sakoku policy, it also ended its isolation, and Japan found itself defenseless against military pressures and economic exploitation by the Western powers. 

From this time – called the  Meiji period which extended from September 1868 through July 1912 – Japanese spiritual culture collapsed. The religion became  a state apparatus – a mechanism of attaining and retaining power and all the rich cultural heritage of the nation started to crumble. The country became the Empire of Japan and started to embark on a series of wars with China in Korea, and Russia in Manchuria.  Japan also joined the ‘Allies’ in World War I, seizing German-held territory in China and the Pacific in the process, but otherwise remained largely out of the conflict.

The Meiji Restoration returned the emperor to a preeminent position, and gave him unprecedented powers.  In one of the odd twists of fate, the American attack of Japan gave rise to the type of militaristic aggressive government that eventually attacked back at Pearl Harbour.  Pearl Harbour was an act of revenge.

 

The same Meiji regime then split the religion into a state sponsored Shinto-oriented religion and a separate Buddhist religion.  Since Shinto and Buddhism had molded into a syncretic belief system and Buddhism had been closely connected with the shogunate, this involved a considerable amount of violence and destruction - various Buddhist temples were destroyed and there was considerable physical violence (haibutsu kishaku).

The new State Shinto religion was ‘constructed’ for the purpose and in constructing it, it lost every thread of its original shamanistic roots. The Office of Shinto Worship was established, ranking even above the Council of State in importance. The kokutai ideas of the Mito school were embraced, and the divine ancestry of the imperial house was emphasized. The government supported ‘Shinto teachers’.  By 1877 the Home Ministry controlled all Shinto shrines.  Shinto was no longer a spiritual approach it was a state religion.

So a disaster, meaning that the Shinto you see today and all the other religions of Japan are but a shadow of the real religion and all its rich cultural and artistic roots that you find from 1300 to 1850.  In describing the techniques that help you reach a spiritual experience I have thus had to dig very deep and sometimes in unlikely places.  Occasionally I have had to make an educated guess based on only very small clues  – not a very satisfactory method, but there you go.

Japanese arts

Goldfinch and Cherry Tree Hokusai

Japanese arts are not simple skills.  All the older Japanese arts are spiritual in nature, they embody spiritual practises, or they document spiritual truths, or they help in the process of having a spiritual experience, or they were euphemisms for techniques used to gain spiritual experience.  

  • The Sado Tea ceremony - The tea ceremony is not a tea ceremony.
  • Ikebano flower arranging - Ikebano flower arranging encapsulated flower symbolism and thus helped in disseminating information about people, clans and techniques.  There was an order in the flowers denoting a form of ranking of ability.
  • No and kabuki drama - No and kabuki theatre was not only a place for the shamans of Shinto to find employment, but also a place where their exploits and the exploits of the shamanesses – the geisha - could be re-enacted.  Both the kabuki and No theatre also had dances, drums and music used to induce trance – a kabuki theatre could become a ‘rave’ club.  Many of the dances – such as the Buyo dances were trance inducing.  Theatre is symbolic
  • Sukiya-zukuri architecture – embodied the spiritual landscape as did the Kare-sansui gardens, which formed the added advantage that they were places suited to meditation.  Thus the Japanese had an advanced system for sacred geography
  • Ukiyo-e Painting and drawing  - captured the spiritual landscape, and demonstrated the techniques.  Many of the drawings and paintings are like a manual of techniques. Practically all the Shinto religious paintings depicted the Floating World and captured the symbolism of the Floating World as well as the actuality of it – what people in out of body states actually saw. 

Although one can find any number of secularly inspired paintings and drawings in Japanese art, the paintings of the masters are spiritually inspired and hugely symbolic in content, just like they were in western spiritual paintings.  Sesshu and Yokoyama Taikan, for example, who died as late as 1958, were both supposed to be ‘inspired’ painters with ‘divine inspiration’ able to convey the spiritual landscape and the symbolism of the spiritual world.

Sadly much of the Japanese arts have been lost, but we do have one thriving branch of the culture – martial arts.

The inter-woven systems

 

 There appear to be a vast range of systems and beliefs operating in Japan in the golden years, but behind the apparent confusion there is a well defined system.  The Japanese were extremely good at seeing the potential of other spiritually based movements, absorbing mystic systems that complemented their own into a richer tapestry of approaches. 

In a sense there was something for everyone, if someone wished to pursue the path of 'love' they could, if they wanted to pursue the path of contemplation they could.  There was also recognition of the need to 'open the door' with support of the old shamanic methods.  The majority of  these different systems are described on the site, as such I have provided links to the entries for them:

  • Zen buddhism - Buddhism was introduced through China in the late Asuka period (6th century) and the Japanese absorbed the beliefs.  Buddhism gave Japan an added moral framework and a set of techniques largely [but not exclusively] based on meditation.  At the time that Buddhism was introduced most of the techniques appeared to have been 'overload' techniques, which if one looks at the spiritual path get you from the calling to rebirth, but take you no further.  Zen Buddhism techniques took you further - on to moksha and nirvana.
hanko kajita - woman at a well
  • Geisha - The Geisha system is for those who wish to follow the sex based techiques.  Thus it is a system for those who wish to use peaking, making love, sex magick and sexual stimulation.  The system is extremely sophisticated and appears to have evolved from an amalgam of Buddhist techniques, shamanic techniques and some Shinto practises.  Geisha were symbolically equivalent to the High Priestess. The red lips and sky walkers were badges of office
  • Shinto - encompasses all the old shamanic techniques to launch you on the spiritual path and get you to rebirth.  It also defines the concepts of the entire system.  Shinbutsu-shugo is the name given to the combined Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.
  • Tendai  - is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism.  The Tendai sect flourished under the patronage of the imperial family and nobility in Japan, particularly the Fujiwara clan; in 794, the Imperial capital was moved to Kyoto. Tendai Buddhism  contributed to many of the developments in later Japanese Buddhism.
  • Shingon Buddhism (真言宗 Shingon-shū) is one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan.  The word "Shingon" is the Japanese reading of Chinese: 真言 Zhēnyán "True Words", which in turn is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word "mantra". It is one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia, originally spread from India to China through traveling monks

There was also a healthy system of magic prevalent at one time.  Kotodama are Shinto spells or songlines. The name Kotodama derives from the word  koto meaning "word; speech" and tama meaning "spirit”. 

The final link is the system are the Martial arts.

Martial arts

 

A large number of  Japanese martial arts have a strong link with spirituality and with the need to obtain spiritual experience.  They are there for the knight and the hero - the defender of the rest of the systems and the ideals of mysticism.  Martial artists do not attack, they defend.

Today, the martial arts are the only surviving practical link with spirituality in Japan  – all the other links have been destroyed and there is a real danger that even the martial arts link might be lost too.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques
Ninjustsu has always been passed down by Ninja who managed to find their way through the midst of confusion and destruction and to survive, whether in the Sengoku period (1482-1558), the turbulent times at the Edo/Meiji transition (1868) or the First or Second World wars

The ability of a true martial arts practitioner is achieved by ‘going with the Force’ – in effect letting go via spiritual experience and thus achieving your effects via the Higher spirit and not your own will.

Essence of Ninjutsu – Dr Masaaki Hatsumi
The Chinese characters for strength and nothingness are both read ‘mu’ in Japanese.  Therefore, nothingness is the same as strength

 

At least three Japanese terms are often used interchangeably with the English phrase "Japanese martial arts":

  •  "budo"  - literally means "martial way", The term is a modern one, and is intended to indicate the practice of martial arts as a way of life, encompassing physical, spiritual, and moral dimensions
  • "bujutsu", - has no perfect translation but refers specifically to the practical application of martial tactics and techniques in actual combat
  • "bugei"  - literally means "martial art." it refers to the adaptation or refinement of the tactics and techniques to enable them to be learnt.

Thus it is the term budo that has specific relevance in our context.
In martial arts, the practitioners include the terms satori – meaning moksha, nirvana or enlightenment.  They also use the term kaigen meaning a person’s spiritual awakening. 
Thus the path of the true martial arts ‘hero’ is a spiritual path.

 

The historical origin of Japanese martial arts can be found in the warrior traditions of the samurai, who arose when Japan’s ruling class restricted the use of weapons to members of the warrior class. Now, there are an enormous number of martial arts native to Japan.  Not all the martial arts practised have a spiritual association, but I have picked out two because they are well documented and the spiritual links are very clear:

  • Ninjutsu and ninpo -   Ninjutsu is sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably with the term ninpo  -  ninpo in our context is the correct term.  The martial art, strategy, and tactics of ‘unconventional warfare’ as practiced by the shinobi (commonly known outside of Japan as ninja).   Togakure-ryu is said to be the oldest recorded form of ninjutsu dating to the 1500s.  Superficially this martial arts practise appears to have no links with spirituality, but these so called ‘warriors’ are heros on the spiritual path
  • Ninjutsu  - are the set of techniques used to physically engage in combat – thus Nunjutsu is the part most people witness.
  • Ninpo - A parallel system exists for the  spiritual aspects and this is called  Ninpo.

Ninpo stresses ‘philosophic and spiritual training’ in conjunction with the physical training.

  •  
    Aikido -  is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. Aikido derives mainly from the martial art of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, but diverged from it due to Ueshiba's involvement with Omoto-kyo (Omoto-kyo is a sect of Shinto), founded in 1892  by Onisaburo Deguchi - by Deguchi Nao (1836–1918).  One of the primary features of Omoto-kyo is its emphasis on the attainment of spiritual experiences during one's life.

The techniques

The Shinto system tended to use overload techniques and these are listed within the entry for Shinto, but the other systems were based more on suppression.  The following table is an attempt to map some of the suppression activities to the various systems.  Where the entry is blank [a dash] the information is unknown.

Tendai

Ninpo

Zen

Shinto

Geisha

Suppression activities

Yes

Yes

Poetry

Painting

Music

 

Flower arranging

Painting

Music

Beauty, art and music

No

No

No

No

No

Being naked in the sun

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Believing in the spiritual world

No

No

No

No

No

Biofeedback

Yes

Yes

Gardens

Gardens

Gardens

Communing with nature

Yes

Yes

Yes

-

No

Contemplation and detachment

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Controlled breathing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Creating a sacred geography

Yes

No

Yes and no

No

No

Cut out sex

No

No

No

Buyo dancing

Dancing

Dancing

Yes

varied

Yes

varied

varied

Dietary moderation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Dont hurt

-

-

-

-

-

Dreaming and lucid dreaming

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Eating for health

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Enacting ritual and ceremony

-

Yes

-

-

-

Exercising and keeping fit

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Healing yourself

-

Yes

Yes

-

-

Know yourself

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

LOVE

-

-

-

Yes

Yes

Laughing

-

-

-

Yes

Yes

Listening to beating sounds

-

-

-

Yes

Yes

Listening to music

Yes

No

No

No

No

Love with visualisation

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Making love

No

Yes

No

Yes

Taught - yes

Peaking

Yes

-

Yes

-

 

Reducing and controlling emotions

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Reducing desires

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Reducing opportunities

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Reducing threats

-

Yes

-

-

Yes

Relaxation

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Sensory deprivation

No

-

-

Yes

Yes

Sex magick

No

-

-

Yes

Yes

Sexual stimulation

-

-

-

-

-

Sexy eating - dairy products, eggs, figs and nuts

Yes

-

Yes

Yes

Yes

Singing and humming

-

-

-

Yes

-

Singing spells

Yes

-

Yes

-

Yes

Sleeping

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Squash the big I am

-

Yes

-

-

Yes

Stimulation of trigger points

-

-

Yes

-

-

Suppressing memory

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Suppressing obligations

Yes

-

Yes

-

-

Suppression of learning

No

No

No

No

No

Swirling, whirling, spinning and twirling

-

Yes

-

Yes

Yes

Warmth

 Further information

There are more sections that you can turn to on the site which are also relevant to Japanese mysticism:

The Book of Five Spheres  - is also known as the Book of Five Rings.  It was written in 1643 by Miyamoto Musashi, a masterless samurai, undefeated dueller and independent teacher.

Shunga - The techniques of Making love, Sex Magick and Peaking to help with health and obtain spiritual enlightenment were never lost or repressed in the east, Shunga was simply the expression of the Joy of Sex and love,

Gentling the Bull or the Ten Bull pictures  - is an allegory of the spiritual path.  It is by the 15th century Japanese Zen monk Shubun, but is traditionally attributed to Kakuan, a 12th century Chinese Zen master of the Rinzai lineage

Suzuki Harunobu (1725 –1770) was a Japanese woodblock print artist, one of the most famous in the Ukiyo-e style.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, and one of the last great artists in that tradition.

Ikkyū (一休宗純 Ikkyū Sōjun, 1394–1481) (self-named: "Crazy Cloud") was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, musical composer and poet. He is one of the most significant (and eccentric) figures in Zen history

Okakura Kakuzō (岡倉 覚三  February 14, 1862 – September 2, 1913) (also known as 岡倉 天心 Okakura Tenshin) was a Japanese scholar who greatly 'contributed to the development of arts in Japan’. Outside of Japan, he is chiefly remembered today as the author of The Book of Tea.

Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生 or 弥生 (born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer.

Ono no Komachi (c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese poet, one of the Rokkasen—the Six best Waka poets of the early Heian period.  She was renowned for her unusual beauty, and Komachi is today a synonym for feminine beauty in Japan.

The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War  - was written in 1632 by Yagyu Munenori, a warrior, mentor of the shogun and the head of the Japanese Secret Service.  Superficially this does not look very promising, but it is not what it seems.

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 –1806) was a Japanese printmaker and painter, who is considered one of the greatest artists of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). He is known especially for his masterfully composed studies of women, known as bijinga

Kūkai - is one of the greatest Japanese Buddhist saint of all times. He introduced Esoteric Buddhism to Japan, founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism and nourished other branches of Buddhism as well

Myōe (Japanese: 明恵) (1173–1232) was a Japanese Buddhist monk active during the Kamakura period who also went by the name Kōben (Japanese: 高弁).  He is perhaps best known for his development of a sutra brought back from China by Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism – the Mantra of Light.

Eizon [叡尊] (1201–1290): Also known as Eison and Shien was a restorer of the Precepts (Ritsu) school in Japan.