SHUGENDO & THE
© 2003 James Deacon
Originally, the mtythical Tengu were depicted as bird-like beings,
but over time came to take on more human-like form, yet retaining
wings and crow-like heads,
with red faces and long noses.
Described as 'forest goblins' by some, the Tengu are the guardians
the mountainous regions, and highly skilled in the martial arts.
They are said to be possessed of supernatural powers including
shape-shifting, the ability to move instantly from place to place,
without moving their mouths, and the power
to appear uninvited in peoples dreams.
Tengu are also said to have mastery over rain and wind and to
be responsible for mysterious lights seen in the mountains.
only are they said to be skilled warriors,
but the Tengu are also mischief makers, and are especially prone
to playing tricks on vainglorious
monks and priests.
they take it on themselves to punish those who willfully misuse
knowledge and authority to gain fame or further their position.
The have a great dislike for braggarts, and for those who would
corrupt the Dharma (law), and are regarded as guardians of Buddhist
shrines and temples.
the centuries, the Tengu became closely associated with the Yamabushi
or Shugenja (followers of the path of Shugendo).
These ascetic mountain priests are
part of an ancient tradition involving the practice of strict
and rigourous mystical disciplines often referred to collectively
The original meaning of the kanji for shu was something
like 'sweeping away the dust that obscures a persons primal elegance',
however the kanji-pair shu-gyo is commonly now translated
as "austere training"- and the term Shugendo, this
is generally translated something along the lines of: 'the
way of cultivating psychic and spiritual powers'
origins lie in the Nara Period, and can be traced to the legendary
no gyoja ('En, the ascetic' - Gyoja is a general term
for an ascetic mountain-dwelling monk)
who lived near Kyoto in the late 7th Century.
deep into the mountainous regions, these practitioners - a great
many of them devotees of Fudo Myo-o, undergo harsh training, and
through the practice of rituals, fasting, abstaining for drinking
water, sutra recitation, meditation,
and sitting in misogi (spiritual
under waterfalls), and the practice of sammitsu (involving
use of incantation and mudra-like techniques), seek mystical states
and the development of powers including
exorcism and healing.
often been said that the Tengu would instruct these priests in
sacred rites and magical knowledge. In legend,
the distinction between Yamabushi / Shugenja and
the Tengu often becomes blurred. It is said that
shape-shifting Tengu often take on the form of these mountain
priests, and in turn, the ascetic priests often take on the guise
of Tengu to deter the uninitiated from interrupting their seclusion.