This’ll be a multi-parter. There’s no real simple way to have this conversation…and you can’t even suggest this topic without pissing off half the Western Zen population (since somehow they tend validate themselves by how many swordslingers they can count among their numbers).
The good news is: I’m not here to count the Who’s Who of Religious Japanese Swordsmen. Shit no. I’m here to give you an *overview* of the typical psycho-spiritual disciplines Japanese warriors engaged in. I’ll also run down a few of the texts you can find in English.
As a bit of a contextualizer, I *will* be dropping some names here and there. Some you’ll have heard of (probably from me)…others you’re gonna have to look up. The more you get into Japanese history and culture, the more you’ll realize that for a community-based culture the history tends to gravitate heavily on a steady flow of individual personalities.
The parts of this series are:
- Intro, overview, list
- Domestics: Shinto, The Way of the Gods
- Domestics: Shugendo, and The Mandala of the Mountain
- Imports: Zen-shu, and The Liberation of Emptiness
- Imports: Shingon-shu, The Womb and the Diamond
- Imports: Kegon-shu, and The Clockwork Universe
- Imports: Tendai-shu, and The Spiritual Buffet
- Imports: Nichiren-shu, and The Lotus Sutra
- The extras: Ninjas, Wizards, and Demons
As you can see, we’ve got a lot to cover. By the end of it, you’ll have a general understanding of traditional religions in Japan…and a very specific view of how that shit relates to warriors–how they engaged their cosmos, and how they attended to what was going to happen to them once they got cut down.
Intro just happened. Here’s the overview…
Religions are like beers in Japan, you got domestics and you got imports. You’ve got some commingling in there, of course. But the one absolute detail to know with this difference is that *everything* listed here as an import was restructured, reorganized, and/or reformulated as something very specifically Japanese. (Hell, that even holds true for the Christianity that followed later.) So even imports get adapted to such a great extent that they can no longer be considered truly imports, and become more naturalized offspring rather than immigrant parents.
So, when I start to breakdown this shit individually, keep that blurb in mind. It’ll get reiterated, but not very deeply.
The above list constitutes the “list” portion of this first piece, but I’ma drive on a bit more with the overview. Imports managed their way to Japan via two basic ratlines: China and Korea. And of those, all that I can think of *did not* originate in either of those countries. Shinto and Shugendo are the two best examples of trad “religions” adhered to by warriors of pre-modern Japan. Shugendo, though, could be argued to be more of the commingling one mentioned above. (We’ll get into more deets on how/why in-article.)
If you’ve ever watched a Samurai movie, read a manga, followed an anime, or delved *at all* into East Asian history, you’ll appreciate what kind of light this series will shed on the most random of shit. We will crawl in a few weeds just to air out some facts that should be known. Most of that will revolve around Japanese religious concepts that have melted their way into almost every aspect of Japanese society and culture–many of which have been touched on in my other works in here.
So tighten up those top-knots, strap on your woodblock flip-flops, and let’s follow this dark mountain stream upward and backward.
Featured image courtesy of Modern Tokyo Times.
We thought this story would be interesting for you, for full access to premium original stories written by our all veteran journalists subscribe here .