A: THE ASCETIC EN, AN ANCIENT SUPERHERO
By commandment, the loyal ascetic posterity of my disciples throughout time —
thou descendants in this vicinity — will be attended by this.
The True Narrative of Ozunu Enno
There is no doubt that Ozunu Enno existed, but he can scarcely be found in history books. Almost the entirety of his life is contained in legends, each of which differs from every other in some way.
Ozunu is said to have lived from 634 to at least 700 CE. There is disagreement on the year of his death, which may have come later. He is best known as the founder of Shugendou, a religion that prays for the divine protection of the gods, with the ultimate goal of gaining supernatural powers through mountain ascetics.
This is by no means a definitive text of the legends of Ozunu. Entire books have been written on the subject of his semi-mythical life.
Ozunu was born on New Year's Day in the village of Chihara at the base of the Katsuragi mountains (in the present day city of Gosho, Katsuragi District, Nara Prefecture).
His family name was Kamo-no-edachi-no-kimi, of the Kamo clan, which had lived in the area surrounding those mountains for generations. Since ancient times, the family of the Kamo that officially led the Shinto rituals to honor the gods of Katsuragi bore the name Edachi (meaning "official," "service" or "duty"; pronunciation transformed over time).
Though most accounts state that "Kamo-no-e(dachi)-no-kimi Ozunu" was his name at birth, at least one legend claims that he began with the given name Asahimaru.
From the time of his infancy, Asahimaru engaged in scholarly pursuits, but it was his excellence as a sorcerer which earned him fame at a young age. When he turned 13, he was known as the Buddhist incarnation of Kashou, and he wished to be admitted to the Buddhist priesthood.
When he was 17, he is known to have studied at Genkyou-ji Temple in the Katsuragi District.
He performed miracles of healing. At about 20 years of age, he is said to have cured the sickness of Fujiwara no Kamatari (614–669 CE), an aristocratic statesman of the central government, who with Prince Naka-no-ooe ([626–671 CE] later Emperor Tenji) destroyed the Soga family and initiated the Taika reform around that same time.
On the Katsuragi mountains — from the foothills to the summit — are great collections of medicinal plants. Ozunu had a profound knowledge these plants and a garden within the mountain (but in 675 CE, during the reign of Emperor Tenmu, at the age of 41, it is said he was ordered to forfeit it).
In spite of his Buddhist upbringing, Ozunu sought to become a yamabushi ("mountain priest").
As the successor of his house, Asahimaru prayed to Kongou Zaou Gongen (recognized as a divinity since at least Heian times) for a child to be sent to his family from heaven before he entered the Katsuragi mountains at the age of 32. Soon after, Asahimaru's father died, and his mother gave birth to the heaven-sent child, Tsukiwakamaru.
It was at this time that Asahimaru changed his name to Ozunu, practiced mountain ascetics under the protection of the animals, and discovered valuable mercury and silver resources in the mountains.
At one time, it is said that he saw a spiritual light to the north. He chased it, and arrived at the Great Waterfall of Mount Minoo (at least one source gives the reading "Mount Kimen" instead). He entered the cave behind the waterfall, and there he gained knowledge of great laws from the Ryuuju Bosatsu, and the way of enlightenment was opened to him. (The Bodhisattva Ryuuju was a man of southern Hindustan in the second century, meaning this meeting was impossible, so there is also the idea that the waterfall was a ryuu ["dragon"].)
When he was 39, Ozunu employed Zenki and Goki into his service.
There is an oft-alluded-to legend which is difficult to find in detail, but it seems that Ozunu ordered Zenki and Goki to build a stone bridge between Mount Oomine and the Katsuragi mountains. While his demon attendants were engaged in this task, the god Hitokoto-nushi no Kami — the master god and "landlord" of Katsuragi — attemped to capture Ozunu. Ozunu evaded capture, but apparently at the cost of angering Hitokoto-nushi no Kami, who (some legends say) had a hand in orchestrating his later exile.
In an old Bunraku narrative about the War of the Monkey (entitled Enno Gyouja's Oomine Cherry Trees), it is said that Ozunu, with Zenki and Goki, saved Prince Ooama by overthrowing Prince Ootomo. In June of 672 CE, the Year of the Monkey, Emperor Tenji's younger brother Prince Ooama (later Emperor Tenmu) opposed the emperor's son Prince Ootomo (later Emperor Koubun) in his imperial court, causing the greatest civil war of ancient times. Lord Nukata-no-ookimi said that it was also a sibling argument between Emperor Tenji and Prince Ooama which was the cause. However, it is historical fact that Prince Ooama secluded himself on Mount Yoshino, and the Kamo clan performed rituals on his behalf.
After the birth of Tsukiwakamaru, roughly the same script for what happened next is contained in several texts: the old Bunraku narratives Enno Gyouja, The True Earth of Oomine, and Enno Gyouja's Life Story; Berlin Library Book Collection's En no Gyouja Picture Scrolls; and the British Museum's En no Gyouja.
In these traditional works, a false accusation leads to Ozunu's banishment, and his household is saved by Zenki and Goki in some form. The enduring theme is one of retribution. Typically, Ozunu's mother is falsely accused of having a wicked romance with her older cousin. Troops are dispatched to capture Ozunu, and while he makes his flight to Mount Fuji the troops attack the home of his mother and younger brother. His mother entrusts Tsukiwakamaru to the guardianship of a married couple named Tameji before she is arrested. To save his mother, Ozunu comes forward; he is bound in straw rope and taken to Izu. Meanwhile, Tsukiwakamaru is making his livelihood by selling flowers. By chance, Tsukiwakamaru meets the emperor (probably Tenmu), who has come to Hase to give his blessings, and he humbly explains his situation. The emperor sympathizes and pardons Ozunu and his mother, but Ozunu remains secluded in the mountains of his own will. Zenki and Goki play their role by expelling the cousin. After that, Ozunu goes to India, where he repels the demons and meets the Buddha, Shakyamuni, on Mount Ryouju (Rajgir). He encourages the spread of Buddhism in Japan, returns to the Katsuragi mountains, and becomes the founder of the Shugen religion.
The Katsuragi mountains were not the only place where Ozunu pursued asceticism. Starting from the mountains of Ikoma — where he had captured Zenki and Goki — he wandered throughout Kinki (the region around Osaka, Kyoto, Nara) and Tokai (the region south of Tokyo on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan, including Izu). Legend states that his footprints were equal to the mountains of the whole country.
He is especially revered on the sacred mountain of Oomine, where he forced his way deep into the interior and threw himself into 1000 days of austere ascetic practice. Ozunu opened up the Oomine mountain range, establishing halls of asceticism, and he made Zenki and Goki live in the interior of Yoshino's Kinpu mountains, just to the north of Oomine, to protect the disciples of ascetic practice.
In those mountains, Ozunu prayed for a guardian for those engaged in Shugendou practice, and he invoked Miroku, Kannon, and Shakyamuni. Unconvinced that any of these single deities were strong enough for this disordered world, Ozunu continued to pray until at last Zaou Gongen came forth from a large stone. Zaou Gongen, who some believe to be a composite of the three rejected deities, became the central deity of Shugendou. (According to A History of Japanese Religion, this legend did not emerge until the Kamakura period, some 400 years after Ozunu's death.)
Ozunu had made such a great name for himself, legend goes, that Emperor Tenmu retired to Yoshino for the sake of making contact with him. The succeeding emperor, Emperor Jitou, made a famous Imperial visit to Yoshino for the same purpose.
According to the teachings of his disciples, Ozunu was permanently banished to Izu in May of 699 CE, at the age of 65, during the reign of Emperor Monmu. He had been charged with: "Manipulating demons and leading society astray."
The story goes that Ozunu's disciple, Karakuni-no-Muraji Hirotari, was either jealous or fealful of his master's abilities. He publicly alleged that Ozunu used dark magic and deceived the human heart. (Ozunu's subsequent exile is the only fact of his life which is written of in history books.) There is speculation, however, that his banishment had much more to do with disputes over his metal resources.
According to Strange Narrative of Japan's Spirits, Hirotari was possessed by Hitokoto-nushi no Kami. It also states that even while Ozunu was held captive in Izu during the daytime, he climbed Mount Fuji (located in the northern region of Izu) every night and never stopped pursuing ascetic knowledge.
Accounts which claim he did not die in 700 CE say that he was pardoned in January of 701 CE. He returned to Katsuragi (where he captured Hitokoto-nushi no Kami, tied him up with an arrowroot vine, and locked him away at the bottom of the valley), and four months later, in May (some give the date as June 7), he either went to the mountains in Minoo and there attained Nirvana, or he crossed to China.
Other accounts profess that he was in fact released in 702 CE, after which he either became a Sennin and flew away into the Great Sky, or he migrated to China with his mother.
The circumstances of his final years remain largely unknown.
Ozunu's fame increased amongst his posterity, and he was conferred the honorary title of "Gyouja" ("Ascetic"). Enno Gyouja ("The Ascetic En") also became less widely known as "Enno Ubasoku" ("En of Gentle Aged Strength"), a title which was never approved by the Imperial Court.
In the Edo era (1600–1868), Ozunu was written of as the "Law Awakening Bodhisattva" in the Shugen Pentateuch. A bodhisattva is one who puts off attaining Buddhahood in order to help others on the path to enlightenment.
That same era, in 1799, the honorary title of "Jinben Daibosatsu" ("Great Bodhisattva of Mysterious Change") was bestowed upon him by Emperor Koukaku. His official mantra, for those who wish to make prayer to him, is: "On gyaku-gyaku enno-ubasoku arangya sowaka."
It was said that he could run across the sea like the wind. It was said that he could fly through the sky like a phoenix. To this day, Ozunu is thought of as a great being who subjugated his human instincts, transcended the everyday world, and expanded human knowledge.
Today, those who believe in wearing the garment of a yamabushi are following Enno Gyouja's course of enlightenment, taking on the challenge of austere asceticism in the Great Nature of Mount Oomine. These men climb the mountains, engage in mortification of the flesh, master magical powers, and perform faith-healing prayers and incantations in the way of Ozunu.
Throughout Japan, statues and figures of Ozunu show him accompanied by Zenki and Goki, but there are infinite varieties of his likeness. One of the earliest is stored in Jikou-ji Temple's Founding Hall on Mount Kougiri (the temple was erected in the place where Ozunu cut Zenki's and Goki's hair and caused them to repent); it suggests that Ozunu did not carry a shakujou ("khakkhara") staff, but a sword. Also, a true portrait of Ozunu exists in the Sakurahonbou compound in the Yoshino mountains.
[DUNGEON MAIN HALL]