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The following piece is written by Reiki Instructor, and good friend of mine, Darragh MacMahon. It is an extract from a 'Work in Progress' and may not be published on other websites, posted to usergroups, or forums, or otherwise digitally/electronically distributed without prior authorisation.


At Kurama...
Copyright © 2005 by Darragh MacMahon

In the graveyard of the Saiho-ji Temple in Tokyo, a large memorial stone records how, in the early 1920's, a man named Mikao Usui undertook a 21-day period of shugyo (Physical & Spiritual Discipline) on a sacred mountain known as Kurama Yama, to the north of Kyoto. As a result of a mystical experience on the mountain, so the memorial explains, Mikao Usui became imbued with the gift of healing and later went on to develop a reiho: a 'Spiritual Method', by which to pass on this gift to others.

In time, this method for receiving and sharing healing with others came to be known as 'Reiki' and spread far and wide throughout the world.

Over the years, 'Reiki' has become many things to many people. To some it is perceived purely as a therapeutic art; to others, purely a method for spiritual growth. To yet others still, Reiki may be seen as falling anywhere in the broad spectrum between the complimentary polarities of 'physical healing modality' and 'Spiritual Discipline'.

But whatever ones perception, for those of us who have been touched by Mikao Usui's reiho, Reiki is a journey, and for many, that journey inevitably leads us to the place where, we are told, it all began: Kurama Yama…

* * * * *

It was my second visit to Kurama Yama (Mt. Kurama) that week. There was, to my mind at least, just too much to experience: too much to see and absorb in only one day. That and the fact that I hadn't been quite as prepared as I had imagined for the degree of physical exertion involved in 'doing the rounds' of the mountain temples and shrines. This time, I had also traded in my shoes for a good pair of ankle-supporting hiking boots.

From the Demachi-yanagi station in Kyoto, I had boarded the Eizan Electric Railway Company's small mountain train. The half-hour journey, on the Eizan-Dentetsu Kurama line, had been pleasant enough as we made our way, following the course of the swift-flowing Kurama-gawa river, through a beautiful landscape of tree-covered hills to Kurama station at the end of the line.

On the previous day, I had been persuaded to purchase an all-inclusive, 1,800 yen, 'Kurama Onsen Shuyu' Ticket at Demachi-yanagi Station. This, I was told, covered the cost of admission to the Kurama-dera (KuramaTemple) and entitled me to use the outdoor baths at Kurama's famous 'Onsen' or Hot Spring (towel provided). I also received a free gift, apparently a local (Kurama) speciality; a carton of cooked pepper leaf buds.

On this second trip, I had foregone the opportunity of receiving another free carton of pepper buds. (I'm still not sure if I was meant to eat them, infuse them, or bathe with them.). Instead of purchasing another 'Kurama Onsen Shuyu' Ticket (in the end I had decided not to avail myself of the dubious delights of the outdoor baths), I had opted for the basic train fare, choosing to pay the Temple entrance fee (200 yen) when I arrived at Mt. Kurama itself.

By the time we pulled in to Kurama station the train was almost empty. Most of the passengers had alighted at a station not far from Demachi-yanagi - apparently heading to some event at a local Imperial Villa. Save for a group of three Japanese students, a small party of elderly Americans (or possibly Canadians?) who alighted from the other carriage, and a highly athletic-looking young couple, of Nordic appearance, who were involved in a heated discussion while lightheartedly fighting over a folding map; the only other people who had remained on the train to Kurama station were myself and a woman with a young teenage girl.

Outside the station, the students boarded the free bus provided to take visitors to the Onsen. The party of 'senior citizens' whom, it transpired, were ornithologists, were busy unpacking binoculars, monoculars and cameras with ridiculously large telephoto lenses from their packs; and as I headed off down the road in the direction of the Temple steps, it appeared they had already spotted some avian rarity of great interest across the station carpark.

While the woman and girl, hand in hand, headed off in the opposite direction through the village, I had the feeling that somewhere, out of sight, the young Nordic couple were still fighting over their map.

* * * * *

The entrance to Mt. Kurama is just a few minutes walk from the train station. From the street, it is only a "stone's throw" up the broad, tiered flight of steps to the entrance-proper to the Kurama Temple complex, the Nio-mon (Guardians) Gate.

Standing one at either side of the Nio-mon Gate, as the name suggests, are two impressive statues of guardian deities: Jikoku-ten, the Guardian of the East, and Komoku-ten, Guardian of the West, two fierce Buddhist deities brandishing 'Dharma weapons' with which to defend the temple from evil spirits.

From the Nio-mon Gate, depending on how energetic you are feeling, it can take a good 25 minutes up the scenic winding pathway, past several shrines and monuments, to reach the precincts of the main hall Kurama Temple itself.

For those having trouble making the climb (or those with the foresight to save their energies for sightseeing adventures further up the mountain), modern technology offers a helping hand.
From a visitors' brochure I had read before ever coming to Kyoto, I had remembered that there was supposed to be a cable-car running, from a point near the Nio-mon gate known as San-mon station, part-way up towards the Temple, terminating at a point called Tahoto station.

I had had visions of a little car, dangling precariously from a cableway strung high above the treetops, but was mildly surprised the first day when the 'cable-car' actually turned out to be a funicular (a hillside tram pulled by cables running between the rails underneath the car).

On my previous visit, I had considered taking the funicular, but decided against it as this 'easy option' would mean bypassing several shrines along the winding route up the mountainside. This time I rested my legs and let the little car do the work. Yet even from Tahoto station it was still a ten-minute uphill walk to the temple main hall.

* * * * *

Kurama Temple has its origins in A.D.770 when, according to the legend, a monk named Gantei had a dream that he should allow himself to be guided to a sacred place on the saddle of a white horse. He followed the dream's instructions and his horse brought him to the foot of the mountain.
Climbing the mountain, he was attacked by a demoness, but rescued by the Buddhist deity, Bishamonten.
In gratitude, Gantei built a small thatched temple to Bishamonten at the site of his rescue.
26 years later, Isendo Fujiwara, officer in charge of constructing the Toji temple, was also guided on horseback to the mountain, with the intent of building a temple to Senju Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Thousand-armed Kanzeon Bodhisattva) and discovered Gantei's small Bishamonten temple.
In a dream-revelation Fujiwara saw that there was a fundamental connection between Bishamonten and the Bodhisattva Senju Kanzeon. As a result, he redeveloped Gantei's temple for the joint worship of Senju Kanzeon and Bishamonten.

It is said the temple became known as Kurama-dera (Horse-saddle Temple) due to Gantei and Fujiwara both being guided there on saddle-back.

It would seem that the Mountain was named after the Temple, not the other way around.

From early on in its history, Kurama had also been associated with the mystical cult of Shugendo. The followers of Shugendo, ascetic warrior-priests known as shugenja or yamabushi (yamafushi), undertook intense spiritual and physical training in the mountains: fasting, meditating and participating in esoteric rituals, with the intent of developing gen (also called rei-gen) - magical powers, and were renowned as sorcerers, healers, exorcists and shamans, communicating with (and drawing on the power of) the Spirits and Deities of the mountains for the benefit of the community.

The yamabushi were also masters of the martial arts, and during the Middle Ages, people came from far and wide to train in the Hachi-ryu, the "Eight Schools" of martial arts taught by the yamabushi of Kurama.

Later, during the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), the Kurama Temple became the administrative headquarters of an order (or perhaps more properly, a guild) of licensed religious performer-practitioners: the gannin or gannin bõzu.
In many ways similar to the yamabushi, yet in other ways quite different, the gannin, who were frequently married, also practiced rituals, exorcisms, divination and incantations. Often seen parading through towns carrying small portable shrines to either Enma-o or Awashina Daimyo-jin (Buddhist and Shinto deities respectively), the gannin were known for creating and distributing amulets and talismans, undergoing ascetic midwinter cold-water ablutions, and also undertaking 'proxy pilgrimages' on behalf of paying clients.
Frequently wearing nothing more than a loincloth, the gannin provided the public with semi-religious recitations and entertainments including dancing to the accompaniment of popular tunes.

* * * * *

For most of its existence, right up to the late 1940's, the Kurama Temple had belonged to the Tendai sect, one of the two great branches of Japanese Mikkyo (esoteric) Buddhism. It was always an important (and quite wealthy) Buddhist temple and up till the end of the Tokugawa era, the Kurama temple boasted control of some nineteen sub-temples. One reason for its importance stemmed from the fact that it was situated close to the capital, Kyoto, as a result of which it benefited from courtly and Imperial patronage.
However, with the dawning of the Meiji era (beginning 1868) Kurama Temple's prestige and fortunes deteriorated somewhat. This was in part due to the fact that in 1869, the Dajokan (Grand Council) - administrative body of the Meiji Government -transferred the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, beyond Kurama's direct sphere of influence.

But worse than this, the new Meiji government, which was embarking on a radical transformation of Japan, for various reasons viewed Buddhism as hindrance to its plans for modernisation. As a result, during the early years of the Meiji era, the various privileges and favours which had over the years been bestowed on the Buddhist Priesthood were systematically revoked. All across Japan, wealth and lands belonging to various temples was appropriated by the government. In many cases, temples were completely dismantled and destroyed.

Yet the Kurama Temple managed to 'weather the storm'.

Since 1949 Kurama-dera has been the headquarters (and sole temple?) of a modern-day Buddhist sect called Kurama Kokyo.

Yet while the Kurama-dera has always been classed as a Buddhist Temple, founded on the worship of the Buddhist deities Bishamonten and Senju-Kanzeon, the temple complex at Kurama also includes numerous Shinto Shrines, something not uncommon in Japan.

Probably the major Shinto shrine at Kurama, on the way up to the Kurama-dera itself, is the Yuki-jinja. Founded in 940AD, this large shrine is comprised of several structures and houses a sacred artifact in the form of a quiver known as 'Yugi'. The shrine is a chinju-sha, that is, a shrine to the tutelary kami (i.e. Shinto deity) of a place, in this case the Kurama-dera itself. And so we have a Shinto deity enshrined as guardian-protector of a Buddhist Temple.

We in the west commonly tend to think of Shinto and Buddhism as to distinct religions, but it seems the reality is that the dividing lines between the two, where they do exist, are very blurred to say the least. In fact, and at several points throughout history, various philosophical doctrines have been consciously developed in attempts to permanently merge the two faiths in to one.

Further examples of degrees of this merging are to be found everywhere, a case in point being the Kurama Kokyo sect (founded after WWII) who are now in charge of the Kurama temple. Essentially a Buddhist sect - or 'Buddhist-derived Religion' - the Kurama Kokyo worship a triune deity known as Sonten, comprised of the Buddhist deities Bishamonten and Senju-Kanzeon and a Shinto kami known as Mao-son.

On the first day I visited Kurama-dera, I had attended a talk in the 'Golden Hall', given by Shigaraki Konin, the elderly, but still quite active, Abbotess of the Kurama Kokyo.
In this talk, entitled 'Kurama-dera and its Natural setting', Abbotess Shigaraki had spoken in a most reverential way about the mountain: the forest of cedars, cypresses and pines - about nature in and around the Temple precincts.

In expressing elements of the philosophy of this Buddhist Kurama Kokyo sect, she was also expressing core sentiments of Shinto belief.

She had talked of reverence for the cycle of life; how everything in nature was precious, had its place and purpose; how nature and society were interconnected. There was, she had said, a need for harmonious co-existence and respect for others, for culture and belief. She had talked about the essential oneness of all things - how there exists one single great natural force, and that at Kurama this spirit, this Life Force was strongly evident.

A little later that first day, I had found myself in the basement of the temple. Here, the air was heavy with the smell of incense; the place was illuminated by numerous small ceiling-hung lanterns, which didn't really give off that much light.
The basement itself was a maze of shelves, about nine rows high; and lining the shelves, several rows deep, were what seemed like thousands of small ceramic pots or jars, some: bulbous, urn-like, and unglazed and bearing golden labels; others: hexagonal, glazed and embossed with figures both human and divine.

I was aware of a vague, and what I can only describe as a somewhat 'unreal' sensation in this subterranean room, but I put this down to the effect of the half-light and the incense.

I had assumed the basement (as is the case in many western churches) was a crypt and that the jars may have contained human ashes. However, later in the morning while chatting with a German girl, Anya, I realised how wrong this assumption had been.

Anya explained that the energy or power emanating from Kurama yama (the Life Force that Abbotess Shigaraki had spoken of) is believed to enter the body through the feet and travels upwards, eventually coming to reside in the hair. The pots were receptacles for this power emanating from the mountain; they each contain locks of 'energised' hair.

So it would seem that the basement was not so much a crypt, as a psychic energy accumulator!

* * * * *

Tahoto 'cable-car' station is named for a pagoda tower near the point where the funicular stops. Moments after stepping out of the car into the clear, fresh, pine & cedar-fragranced air, I met a young monk who welcomed me to mount Kurama. I thanked him and explained this was my second visit, that there was so much to take in.

"Yes", he agreed, "So few visitors can find time in their busy lives for more than a fleeting visit."

I was indeed fortunate. Having met my work commitments in Japan almost two weeks ahead of schedule, the next ten days were all mine; and what's more, all expenses-paid (within reason).

I headed off up towards the Temple.

The previous day I had spoken briefly to another, somewhat older, monk.
Pausing for a moment, he had looked at me and said, "You are here not just to see the temples and shrines and splendid beauty of this sacred place, but to look for the Reiki."
It was a statement, not a question; I was taken aback.
Seeing my expression of surprise, the monk had grinned, "How do I know? Nothing mysterious" he explained, "Your collar told me", and he indicated towards my left lapel.

Instinctively I had grasped at my jacket, and felt the lapel pin.
My purple-coloured lapel pin.
The one with the silver Reiki characters on it!

We both laughed.
I asked politely, did he know much about Reiki?
"Oh, a little. Mainly what we have heard from visitors though. Sometimes, we have Teachers of Reiki who come and make use our facilities, to give talks to their students." he replied, then, "Usui Mikao san* was from before our time. Before the Kurama Kokyo's time."
"But don't worry," he had said encouragingly, "you will find what you will find. We trust in Sonten to lead us to the truth"; then bowing, he had excused himself and went on his way.
[* In Japan, the surname is given first, then ones personal name. san is a standard term of respect]

* * * * *

The 'Reiki Pilgrim' coming to Mount Kurama is at a disadvantage from the outset.

There is no tangible evidence of Usui-sensei's* time spent here; no marker posts or plaques; no reference in the names of places or features in this mountain landscape; no recorded connections with particular shrines or sub-temples. Nothing.

[*Usui-Sensei, that is, 'Teacher Usui' is the way in which Reiki Practitioners generally refer to Mikao Usui]

But then this is nothing strange. Usui-sensei was one of probably hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people: pilgrims and mystics, sightseers and poets, courtiers, warriors and emperors who at some or other time had come to Mt. Kurama seeking inspiration or divine intervention. Of these, a few considered to be socially or nationally 'important', have merited having their visit to Kurama recorded in the history books, or in the oral traditions of the local area.

Even then, tangible evidence is generally only found in relation to really famous figures, like, for example the great Warrior Hero, Yoshitune. (Mt Kurama is awash with sites connected to Yoshitune.)

And it is not just a lack of a tangible connection at Mt. Kurama.

All in all, Usui-sensei is in a way an almost mythological figure. Aside from the memorial stone and grave where his ashes are interred in the Saiho-ji Temple in Tokyo, we have very little evidence of his existence:
two, or possibly three, photographs of the man
a reference to him in a single newspaper article from 1928
a family reference on a 'tori gate' at a shrine in the village of his birth
a list of Treatment Guidelines said to have been devised by him, and
what professes to be a transcript of an interview with him (these latter two presented in a booklet compiled in the 1970's)

Beyond this, no one has, as yet, discovered any specific reference to him in public record, newspaper print, or other checkable medium.

In fact, one could easily be forgiven for believing he had never existed at all.

Were it not for the Reiki.


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