Living in the Practice:
Kaihogyo (回峰行; circumambulation asceticism) is a practice found across the Esoteric-Buddhist sects, including Shugendo. The following article will look at the 'sennichi-kaihogyo' (千日回峰行) or 1000 day circumambulation asceticism of the Tendai sect through the 'marathon monk', Dai-Ajari Mitsunaga Kakudo (光永覚道), who also acts as overseer of the Koshikidake Shugen sect. The interview with Mitsunaga Dai-Ajari was edited and translated to mark his participation in Koshikidake-Shugen's 2021 mountain-entry asceticism in Yamagata, Japan.
The following comes from:
• In the Service of the Kaihōgyō Practitioners of Mt. Hiei: The Stopping-Obstacles Confraternity (Sokushō kō) of Kyoto, Catherine Ludvik, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Vol. 33, No. 1 (2006), pp. 115-142 (28 pages)
• The Kaihogyo Practice of Mt. Hiei, Robert F. RHODES, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1987 14/2-3
What is the Kaiho-gyo?
"The kaihogyo is often called a 'walking mediation' (hoko-zen) and interpreted as a form of the constant-walking samadhi (jogyo-zanmai). In spirit it is traced back to the Bodhisattva 'Never Disparaging' (Jofugyo) mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. In the kaihogyo reverence is extended to all of nature, including every tree and blade of grass, for they too are endowed with buddha-nature. The kaihogyo consists in walking around the sacred topography of Mt. Hiei along a set course, worshipping at numerous sites including, halls, temples, shrines, graves, peaks, forests, trees, mounds, stones, waterfalls, ponds and waterfalls. Throughout the circumambulations, the ascetic recites the mantra of Fudo-Myoo, the central deity of the kaihogyo. The practice is divided into one hundred day segments to be completed over 7 years."
It is traditionally claimed that the founder of the kaihogyo practice was Soo (ネ目応 831-918); generally known as Soo Osho, (Venerable Soo). Soo was a Tendai monk who spent many years secluded in ascetic practices on Mt. Hiei and other mountains nearby. The earliest and most important biography of Soo comes from the 'Tendai nanzan Mudo-ji konryu osho den' 天台南山無動寺建立和尚伝 (Biography of [Soo] Osho, the Founder of Mudo-ji or the Southern Mountain; author unknown):
"Soo joined the fledgling Tendai community at Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei in 845. Saicho, the founder of the Japanese Tendai sect, had died just over twenty years before, in 822, and the sect was still in the earliest stages of its development. On Mt. Hiei, Soo became disciple of Chinso (鎮操). Two years later, he took the tonsure and became a shami (novice). It is also about this time that he is said to have aroused the aspiration to attain enlightenment — an aspiration which, according to Mahayana Buddhism, marks the beginning of one’s commitment to the life of a Bodhisattva — upon reading the “Chapter on the Bodhisattva Never Disparaging” of the Lotus Sutra.
According to his biography, Soo vowed to remain in the mountains for three years, forgoing cereals and eating only wild plants. As a result of his earnest prayer , the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra appeared to him in a dream, and he gained the wisdom whereby he was able to easily gain insight into the meaning of the Buddhist scriptures.
According to the Katsuragawa-engi (葛川縁起) Soo had long practiced austerities on Mt. Hira dedicated to Fudo-Myoo. For seven days he prayed to Fudo at a waterfall on the mountain, when suddenly an old man appeared. This old man revealed himself to be the mountain-deity Shikobuchi Myojin. Shikobuchi Myojin declared to Soo that there are ninety-five pure waterfalls and seven pure streams in his domain, and that he would present this domain to Soo as an auspicious place to undertake ascetic practices. This waterfall, he continued, was the third of ninety-five waterfalls. It was called the Katsuragawa waterfall, and led directly to the Tusita heaven of Maitreya (the future Buddha). Shikobuchi Myoiin then vowed to protect all Buddhist practitioners, and to protect the Buddha Dharma when Maitreya appears in the world. With these words, Shikobuchi Myojin disappeared from view.
Thereupon Soo continued his meditation even more intensely. After several days, Fudo suddenly appeared in the waterfall where he was practicing, enveloped in a raging fire. Unable to restrain himself, Soo jumped into the waterfall to embrace the deity. But what he embraced was not Fudo but a log of the katsura tree. Pulling the log out of the water, Soo enshrined it and continued his practices..."
Similar to the mountain-entry practices of Shugendo, the kaihogyo practitioners of Enryakuji have a system of sendatsu (先達 ; guides who have gone before) and engage in annual ritual retreat. Advancement in rank is based on the number of times a practitioner (gyoja) attends the annual Katsuragawa Geango (夏安居) summer annual retreat held between the 16-20th of July. As in the Shugendo's mountain-entry practice, the main temple is reached by foot (referred to as nyuji; entering the temple). In the past, Soo's kaihogyo was referred to as "hokurei no shugen", the 'Shugen of the Northern Peaks' (of Mt. Hiei and Hira) contrasting it to the "nanzan shugen", the 'Shugen of the Southern Peaks' (of Yoshino, Omine and Kumano) centered on the traditions of En'no Gyoja.
In the Katsuragawa Geango retreat the practitioners re-enact Soo's leap into the waterfall and make pilgrimage to the waterfall where the event happened. Practitioners walk in procession, based on rank, from Sakamoto to the site of the Geango, following in Soo's footsteps. What is also interesting is that many of these practices are being revived after a long period of hibernation. The kaihogyo of Mt Hiei for example was practiced by three lineages with headquarters in different parts of the mountain complex of Enryakuji. The main surviving kaihogyo practiced today is that of Mudoji honryu. The Imuro-ryu, which lapsed for four hundred years, was revived in the 20th century by Hakozaki Bunno. It was last performed in 2003.
“The mountain itself is a mandala.
Practice self-reflection intently amid
the undefiled stones, trees, streams
and vegetation, losing yourself in the
great body of the Supreme Buddha.”
—Quote attributed to Sõõ, 831