Why are the Dewa Sanzan mountains known for rebirth?

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi at Yamadera in Yamagata Prefecture

I'm going to use today's blog post to collect my thoughts, I hope you don't mind.

The Dewa Sanzan, the three mountains of Dewa in Yamagata Prefecture, have been home to Yamabushi (mountain monks or ascetics) training since Prince Hachiko founded them in 592. I believe that the theory of mountains of rebirth comes from people who have done the training trying to explain the experience to those who haven't. This is an impossible task, but this way we can have some way of expressing the sensation. As with basically everything in life, seeing, or in this case doing, is believing. So, to truly understand the answer to this question, I highly recommend you to try and do the training yourself (see yamabushido.jp).

Over the years, thousands and thousands of Yamabushi ventured into the three mystical peaks in the search of answers to life's deepest secrets. When they came out, they were overcome with a feeling of euphoria that they likened to being reborn. At its purest sense, I believe this feeling is exactly where the mountains of rebirth originated. Then, to further give meaning to the place, each of the mountains was given a moniker, or a cosmic realm to represent; Mt. Haguro the present, where the troubles of the current world are overcome; Mt. Gassan represents the past or the afterlife, where we come face to face with our ancestors (if you actually go up there on a foggy day when you have to walk on snow, it really does feel like walking through the version of heaven that is depicted in movies); and Mt. Yudono, which is known as the location we are reborn. The reason for this is obvious if you go there as there is a sacred object that literally represents where we are born/ reborn.

Collectively, by venturing through these three cosmic realms, we take our souls on a symbolic travel through all time, similar to the time when we are in the womb. Likewise, as there is this concept of rebirth, the mountains where we train are the mother, and they represent the womb where we develop and grow, before we are ready to in this case return to the real world, or our real bodies. In the training, we metaphorically die (we have a ceremony called the Buchushiki which acts as our funeral, our Tsue sticks are representative of our gravestones), and our souls embark on a journey into the mountains (AKA the womb). We wear white Hokan like a turban, on our heads and this has a few representations, one of them being the umbilical cord. All these things are designed to best connect us to nature, the mother, for us to have realisations while there that we can take back to our everyday lives when we are reborn.

And so, by training as Yamabushi, we are able to get back to our original selves, back to a simpler time, or I would say mental state, that gives us clarity as we go on this journey of life. For me it has been amazingly helpful to be able to call upon my experience in the mountains when things get tough, and similarly to stay grounded when I need to stay humble. This is why I think everyone should do the training at least once. And this is what I think it means to be reborn on the Dewa Sanzan.



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Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 


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