On My Way For Yamabushi Training

Here I am, headed to Japan for a 5-day Yamabushi Training program! Until a few weeks ago, I did not even know what Yamabushi was about. But an email that landed in my inbox convinced me to go check it out.

Yamabushi are Japanese mountain ascetic hermits who, according to a traditional Japanese mysticism, are believed to be endowed with supernatural powers. They have also served as sendatsu, or spiritual mountain guides, since medieval times for pilgrims. In other words, they are like Native Americans. They often live in the forest, hike for days, eat what they can find, all to connect with nature. Their practice, known as Shugendō, evolved during the 7th century from an amalgamation of beliefs, philosophies, doctrines and ritual systems drawn from local folk-religious practices, pre-Buddhist mountain worship, Shinto, Taoism and esoteric Buddhism.

The practice is no longer limited to hermits. Many Japanese people are taking a break from their busy city lives to go to the countryside and connect with nature. Therefore, Yamabushi training programs for Japanese people has become quite popular. But very few, if any, training programs are offered to non-Japanese visitors. I will be one of the first foreign visitors to experience a 5-day program under the guidance of a 13th generation Yamabushi master. Yamabushido is based in the sacred mountains of Dewa Senzan in Yamagata prefecture, an hour flight north of Tokyo.

I Skyped with Tak (Takeharu Kato) and Kanae Soma (owner of Megurun Inc.) in Japan, to better understand what I was signing up for. “We realized that many people have tried meditation and other mindfulness practices in their lives, but also realized that Yamabushi practices offer something different, something more powerful, and something which – although it has been practiced for 1,300 years has never been more relevant. Yamabushi training is the simple philosophy of placing yourself in nature and feeling, not thinking, to rejuvenate back to your true self. Yamabushi training is quick, practical, and effective, and provides a powerful context in which to resolve any challenges, questions, or decisions that need to be made. It has been used for centuries to provide space for consideration of the challenges of the modern-day person, an important role in the current age where people are becoming busier and busier and are looking for the chance to revitalize.”

Sounds great doesn’t it? I am totally in for a spiritual retreat that involves connecting with my true self, but wait, there’s more…

Soon after, I received a list of guidelines and checklist to prepare for arrival. In it was a fair warning. “Yamabushi undertake training in harsh alpine conditions including hiking through bush, over streams and waterfalls, up rocks, ladders and stone steps, which can include walking more than 10km for the basic course, or 15km for the extended course per day. In addition, your Yamabushidō experience will likely include hiking during the nighttime, meditating under ice cold waterfalls, jumping over fire, and being enclosed in a smoky room.”

Ok now I am not so sure!  I am fine with meditation, but am I ready to hike all day and night, and jump into an icy waterfall? Well, physically I am not so sure if my body that hasn’t stepped into a gym in years, could possibly handle it.

Other guidelines include not washing your face, brushing your teeth, or shaving, not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and making sure to get as much sleep as possible before arriving. The last one may be tough as I make my 24-hour journey from Atlanta to Tsuruoka, and catch up with the 13 hour time difference.

The release form also came with bunch of warnings, most sentences ending in the word “death.” Yikes!

Well, I am on my way, packed with a suitcase full of white clothes (required), hiking boots and my backpack. It will be interesting to see how my mind and body are able to handle the demands of the program and what wisdom I gain from it.

For the next few days, I will be following the three basic rules of Yamabushidō:

Number one: no talking.

Number two: no questions.

Number three: uketamō! Meaning ‘I humbly accept with an open heart.’

On that note, I am keeping an open mind about what’s to come. To be continued…

Pilgrimage in the capital

Lotus TempleNew Delhi, the capital of India is perhaps the only city in the world where a vast number of different religions coexist with much harmony. The population of India is majority Hindu, but also includes a good number of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Jews and Zoroastrians. If you want to visit all their places of worship and see how they differ in their preachings, theology, rituals and architecture, plan a visit to Delhi where all of these religions have managed to represent themselves fairly well.

The Lotus temple built 25 years ago is perhaps the only one of it’s kind. It is a giant structure shaped in the form of a lotus, placed in a pond of blue water and surrounded by manicured gardens. Started 150 years ago by Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahai Faith believes in equality of mankind and one God. It’s teachings are more spiritually than religion inclined, catering to new age believers around the world.

Hindu God'sHindu temples feature various God’s and Goddesses, each of who stand for a particular virtue. Hindu’s worship the respective temples based on what they are seeking at the time. There are also some temples that are all encompassing with deities of a number of the God’s. Laxshmi is the goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, Shiva symbolizes fertility, Krishna love and prosperity. Finally Ram and Sita are the main idols and you will always find their statues in the middle of the temple. The Hanuman temple in New Delhi is perhaps one of the most frequently visited. Built in 1540, it boasts a tall statue of the Lord Hanuman (monkey God) and is one of the five temples of Mahabharata days. An important feature of the worship at this temple is the 24–hour chanting of the mantra (hymn) “Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram”, since August 1, 1964. It is claimed that this continuous chanting has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Of the 165 Jain temples in Delhi alone, the Lal mandir that was built in 1658 AD is the most famous. Jainism originated in India and is based on science of nature and man. Many of the beliefs stem from Buddhism and Hinduism, such as reincarnation, non violence and Moksha (or attainment of enlightenment). Jains do not believe in God, but in a supernatural power that may be the collective souls of the universe.

Don’t forget to visit the biggest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal) in 1650. Constructed in Sandstone and white marble, it has domed pavilions, pillared corridors and a vast courtyard. Friday is the holy day of worship for Muslims. Islam is the second-most practiced religion in India, after Hinduism, with more than 13% of the country’s population.