Hasegawa Kenji

“Shugendō within Japanese Buddhism”


Shugendō is generally presented as a religious system that took form at the end of the Heian period on a basis of ancient Japanese mountain beliefs, under the influence of shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, Shintō, etc. This understanding involves giving a great role to the orthodoxy and autonomy of Shugendō as a tradition. However, while such an explanation shows a strong tendency to make abstractions of the religious elements inherent within Shugendō, it hardly clarifies the formation process of Shugendō. Also, from the Nara and Heian period onwards, mountain temples and practices started developing within the framework of Buddhism. While there is no question that the lineage of such “Mountain Buddhism” has had an impact on the formation of Shugendō, it certainly was not understood as Shugendō at that time. The first mention of a movement called “Shugendō” dates back to the end of the Kamakura period (end of 13th c.). Indivisible from mountain practice and the acquisition and display of marvelous powers by yamabushi, it evolved as a part of exo-esoteric Buddhism. One may also say that because, in most cases, yamabushi constituted the lower ranks of temple hierarchy, the social stratification of the temple and shrine society was reflected in Shugendō. Therefore, when approaching Shugendō from a historical point of view, it is indispensable to take into account “Shugendō as Buddhism”. Starting from this position, my presentation will first examine the accomplishments and issues risen by research on Shugendō history. To do that, I will discuss how historical research from the first half of the 20th c. led way to a heightening of interest toward Shugendō from the 1980’s onward, mainly in the field of medieval historical studies. Then, I would like to turn to the expression shugen as such, both to its evolution over time and to what it can tell us of the formation of Shugendō. I intend to reflect upon the process through which the term shugen, which initially denoted outstanding magical powers (genriki), gradually evolved into a recognizable system involving yamabushi and the neutral concept of Shugendō.