What is Shugendo?  

Shugendo (修験道) is a Dharma tradition characterised by combinatory ritual-practice and mountain-asceticism.

As a practice-path, Shugen's roots extend into ancient folk-traditions related to mountains and ancestors. Gradually these absorbed and influenced aspects of both Shinto and Daoist thought, ultimately to be shaped through the doctrines and practices of esoteric Buddhism & the Buddhadharma more broadly.

"Shugen is a bodhisattva practice where house-holders and common-people aspire to hone their bodies and minds, establishing wakefulness through the dignity of daily-life."

Shugendo's defining method is the use of periodic retreats and unique practices involving the ritual 'entering' of mountains and valleys. Shugen can be said to possess, in the words of Riten Tanaka, a 'glocal' outlook, combining both global/universal and localised/particular approaches to belief and practice. 

Another important aspect of Shugendo is that it is fundamentally a lay practice. This means that as a tradition it is orientated towards the non-monastic or householder. The majority of participation in Shugen retreats comes from non-ordained practitioners. Advanced paths of practice into priesthood also exist for those who have taken a basic commitment to a direct student-teacher relationship, ordination (tokudō), as well as consecration/initiation (abhiṣeka).

Periodic retreat is complimented and deepened through the practice of ritual (sādhanā) taught in the context of the teacher-student relationship. These include various altar practices, such as homa, puja and ritual-prayer (kaji-kito). As a sect which due to historical reasons is closely linked to the esoteric Buddhism of the Shingon and Tendai lineages, consecration (abhiṣeka), ritual-practice and the direct teacher-disciple relationship are considered paramount. The esoteric-Buddhist viewpoint  - an extension of the Mahayana perspective - is characterised by yoga; the creative union of body, speech and mind.

Further Learning:

I will share with interested readers some short introductions by renowned figures from across various the various lineages of Shugendo. 

ubasoku | what is shugendo?