In honour of the ancestors

The ancient Japanese didn’t have a word for death. They believed the souls of the dead inhabited the same world as us, so they had no need for the term (the word for death in Japanese 死 (shi) came from China when they brought Buddhism over starting in the 6th century, that’s why there is no native Japanese pronunciation (訓読み)). There is still a belief in Japan, especially among the Yamabushi of the Dewa Sanzan who follow Shugendo, that when we pass, our souls undertake their own mountain training. Our souls start training on the lowest mountains, and under the guidance of 13 Buddha, they are believed to take 33 years to reach the top of the highest mountain, in our case, Mt. Gassan. Then, our souls turn into Kami gods to look over those below. The souls that are prayed to become gods that bring good fortune, and those who aren’t prayed to bring bad fortune.

That is why on the fourth anniversary of dad’s passing, I wish for a safe journey into the mountains. It is also ANZAC day in NZ and Australia when we remember all those who fought for us.

On Mt. Gassan during Yamabushi training last year

This photo is of me last August on Mt. Gassan leading Yamabushi training. Mt. Gassan is where the souls of the dead are said to travel, and it’s even believed that we can meet our ancestors there.

It was also one of those rare days when we could see all the way out to Mt. Chokai, another historically important mountain for the Dewa Sanzan. Mt. Chokai is home to Omonoimi Shrine, which historically was for the calming of the gods that wreak havoc on the townspeople, and I feel it is fitting for today’s situation too.

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MOUNTAINS OF WISDOM

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Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

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