When I visit the Dewa mountains in the Yamagata Prefecture in Japan, I go alone and I stay for nine days. I take something to eat, a little bit of water and a sleeping bag. No more than that. Usually on the first day I head to one of the old temples in the mountains and stay the night there. Then I fast and pray for several days, or recite mantras under a cold waterfall. As a member of the monastic Yamabushi order (in English, yamabushi literally means “those who lie in the mountains”), which is spread around all of Japan, it is my duty to find myself and to bring my spirit into accord with nature – and where better to do this than in the mountains?
In the mythology of Shinto, a religion similar to Buddhism from which we draw many of our Yamabushi traditions, mountains are places of self-reflection. Yomi, the Shinto version of the underworld, is also located in the mountains.
Here various different realms meet: The world of humans and the spirit world. When I meditate in one of our temples I try to detect these different worlds and to lose my everyday self. A lot of city people, who rush through metropolises like Tokyo every day, can’t understand this. They glorify our lives in the mountains because it seems so distant to them.
Earlier some Japanese even believed that the Yamabushi were related to goblins and that they had gained supernatural powers in the mountains, for example, mastering the art of flying. But in reality, our practices are a lot less mystical and religious than many believe.
transcribed by Kai Schnier