A Feather from a Mountain Temple: Manifestations of thought and culture for future generations


Sometimes the details are not important.  To ask why I was in Japan doing something extremely important for my part of it would be to miss the internal reason for traveling there.  The mind has a way to unleash whatever it is that you most desire and it will manufacture the circumstances of your contemplation—so it is always good to mind your thoughts—even in the middle of the night in a far away land.  The products of your thoughts will manifest into reality at some point in time.  If you are skilled enough to keep your thoughts very good then eventually your mind will produce into reality whatever becomes the sum of your contemplations.  So be careful what you think about.

Temple1I have talked about it before, but I’ve spent well over two decades now studying a pretty small book written by Miyamoto Musashi called The Book of Five Rings.  I can’t say that it’s my favorite book but I can say that I don’t think a single day has went by since I first read it that I don’t draw from it.  So as fate would have necessitated I was in Japan doing Musashi types of things on a big scale, but that was not the intention of the trip for me.  Temple2There were a cast of characters who had worked very hard together to bring me to a temple atop the mountain Shosha and specifically to the statues of the Shitennō protectors within the temple Maniden.  I was doing the kind of things that were the products of my mind that were very specific to all my lifelong efforts so I was living in the moment.  There was nothing for me to pray to standing atop that mountain temple isolated from the world that resided far below in Himeji City.  I was very impressed with the Maniden structure, it was massive.  I couldn’t help but think of the time when Musashi climbed a similar mountain to confront the Buddhists gods then came down spending the rest of his days as an undefeated samurai conqueror uniquely individually based.

The Maniden temple was dedicated to the national religion of Shinto Buddhism which was an inherited mythology from the long forgotten Indus Valley as far over to the east as India. Temple4The gods Shitennō are classic examples of Indus Valley mythology which I believe is a remnant of a long lost civilization predating all known history and religion. During his early travels I believe Jesus Christ ran into aspects of Buddhism and took it back to the shores of his birth with his own spin on Zoroastrianism.  That religion would of course be Christianity which would become one of the world’s largest religions. But, it is a watered down version of what came before and there is nothing to say that Buddhism was the first thought of rationality concerning religion.  It too just as Christianity experienced, is a hand-me-down religious philosophy.  But in Japan Shinto Buddhism works and they revere their ancient heroes like Miyamoto Musashi without apology.  After spending many years reading books about all these topics it was quite refreshing to see the spirit of Miyamoto Musashi in everyone I met in Japan—literally.  From the airline stewardesses to the cooks of Kobe Beef in some of the highest end Steak Houses in the world, it was Miyamoto Musashi who used a foundation of Shinto Buddhism to become one of the greatest swordsman who ever lived and a mythological rock that all of Japan had been able to cling to empowering them to take a tiny island and make it one of the world’s most dominate economies.

Temple5So there I was in a remote Shinto temple atop a high mountain just as Musashi had visited well before me, and I had to realize that my thoughts were on my next generation.  I was looking for something very unique to bring back to my grandchildren and within the temple as is rather common at such temples around the world, there were little souvenirs that were supposed to bring good luck to those fortunate enough to have them.  The story goes that with such items that the god who protected the Buddha years ago would also protect those who made offerings within the temple.  So in full ceremony and with the help of a professional guide who said a prayer to the Shitennō on my behalf through the smoke of incense, I brought off the mountain gifts for my grandchildren.  For my two grandsons, I brought blessed arrows that will ward off and conquer Jyaki demons—whom I call ultraterrestrials.  Different names, same embodiments of corrosive spirits.  However for my granddaughter who at this time is still an infant not yet crawling I brought a specific ornament that she can hang in her bedroom for all years to come.  The ritual is that you write a wish on the back of this ornament and present it to the Shitennō statues and they will carry out the request.  So I wrote my wish on the back and my guide prayed to the Shitennō for me and even carried my items down off the mountain since he insisted that the gods would recognize me as a lord for having a servent to conduct this business between gods facilitating harmony and the fulfillment of objectives.  So this is what I wrote.

To rule the earth with grace and persuasion making everything your feet touches an addition to your kingdom without bringing harm to a single person.  Make it so Shitennō and bring justice to the world.

Temple6The Shitennō are Buddhist protectors of the four directions. They ward off evil, guard the nation, and protect the world from malicious spirits, hence the Japanese term Gose Shitennō 護世四天王, literally “four world-protecting deva kings.” Each represents a direction, season, color, virtue, and element (see below chart). They originated in India as deva generals protecting Lord Indra, but were later adopted into the Buddhist pantheon in China and Japan. Each dwells in and protects one of the four continents surrounding Mt. Shumisen 須弥山 (Skt. = Mt. Sumeru), the mythical home of the Historical Buddha and other Buddhist deities. In China and Japan, they are venerated as temple guardians and protectors of the nation. In China, statues of the four are often placed near temple entrances, but in Japan, effigies of the four are more commonly placed around the central deity on the main altar (the main dais is befittingly called the Shumidan 須弥壇). The four are commanded by Taishakuten (Skt. Indra), Lord of the Center. They are nearly always dressed in armor (yoroi 鎧), looking ferocious (funnusō 忿怒相), and carrying weapons or objects (jimotsu 持物) said to eliminate evil influences and suppress the enemies of Buddhism. They are also typically shown standing atop evil spirits (known as Jaki in Japan), symbolizing their power to repel and defeat evil. Sometimes they are depicted with a fiery halo behind them. Their attributes, however, are not rigidly prescribed and thus differ among Buddhist nations. Shitennō iconography is related to the Four Celestial Emblems (dragon, red bird, tiger, turtle) of China, who also guard the four cardinal directions. In Japanese statuary, the Shitennō are almost always portrayed in animated warrior poses rather than static postures of ease or meditation. Among the four, Tamonten (aka Bishamonten) is considered the most powerful, and over time, supplanted the other three in importance. Indeed, Bishamonten is the only member of the four worshipped independently in Japan, both as protector of Buddhist faith and as one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods — one who brings wealth and prosperity. Bishamonten also supplanted Taishakuten (Lord of the Center) as an object of worship, but Taishakuten never enjoyed great status in Japan.Castle2

Guardians of the Four Directions, Protectors of Buddhist Law, Protectors of Human Kind, Protectors of the Bosatsu and Nyorai. Most often found standing at the corners of alters. Ferocious looking, sometimes with fiery halo behind them, often stepping on demons called Jyaki. They protect the Buddhist realm for Taishakuten (Skt. Indra), serving as his generals to guard the territories inhabited by humans. Originally from Hindu mythology, and later incorporated into Buddhism. In the Lotus Sutra, they vow to protect those who believe in the Dharma (Buddhist teachings). In Japanese artwork, especially in the mandala form, the four typically appear in a set order, starting with Jikokuten (East), followed by Zōchōten (South), Kōmokuten (West), and Tamonten (North). All four are described in Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese texts, but their attributes, colors, and names often vary.Castle5

Jaki is the name of the tiny creatures the four kings stand upon. Classified as members of the Yaksha in Japan; also referred to as the Amano Jyaku (Heaven Jyaku). In a tradition unique to Japan, the Jaki demons are sometimes represented by two creatures known as Tentōki (Tentoki) 天燈鬼 and Ryūtōki (Ryutoki) 龍燈鬼, which translate literally as Celestial-Lamp Demon and Dragon-Lamp Demon. Japanese legends say these two creatures were originally evil, but after getting trampled by the Shitennō, they repented, were saved, and now carry lanterns as offerings of light to the Buddha, or to light up the road in front of the Shaka Nyorai (Historical Buddha). The Jaki and Tentōki / Ryūtoki symbolize the power of the Shitennō to repel and defeat evil. Two wonderful sculptures of Tentōki and Ryutōki can be found at Kōfukuji Temple in Nara.


We carried out the rest of the trip visiting also the nearby Himeji Castle and eating on the grounds of a former Samurai camp.  All this put my mind in the proper place to complete the objective of this particular visit.  So I have to thank all the many people who made it possible.  There were many kind people involved who took such an epic event and played a part in a stage play that had been written by my mind for many years manifesting now at a time in my life where intellect had become the author of reality.  It was for these reasons that I think anyone visiting Japan should embark—because within those two monuments is the heart of a culture and the reasons for its massive global success.  Unlike Miyamoto Musashi however, I differ in that I have a family that is getting larger by the moment, and I have expectations for them to do better than I have—and I have set the bar very high.  But it’s good to have goals so that the mind knows how to formulate reality around the desires that are most embraced in daily thinking.Castle4

I don’t believe that the Shitennō will do as the prayer to them instructed.  But what I do believe is that my granddaughter will read that wish for years to come and formulate her mind into a reality that will make it so. For that is the aspect of religion that never has quite found itself as a root of contemplation—too often the belief is that something has to give you something to make it happen.  That luck and empowerment come from somewhere else and is given based on sacrifice.  It’s not.  It comes from the strength of thought and the manifestation of those contemplations into reality by the nature of human endeavor.  As a very grown man who has read books about such things for years, I understand that the magic of the Shitennō doesn’t reside in heaven; it is within our own minds.  So if I could give my grandchildren a way to think largely early enough to still make a difference, then perhaps their lives will reach those lofty peeks with sheer ambition.  Sometimes a young, immature mind needs a feather as Dumbo did to convince him that he could fly. Humans need their religions and other emotional crutches to maneuver their thoughts to higher places.  But eventually you come to realize what Miyamoto Musashi obviously realized later in life—that we are the authors of our own fate. The story that evolves comes from what we allow ourselves to think and how that manifests into reality.  Given that knowledge, it is good to think big—as big as possible.  And it is my hope that in the future, my granddaughter will read that wish from the mountain of Shosha and use it as a feather to realize that she can really fly—as far and often as she wishes—for as long as she cares to over the millennia.

Castle1Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman


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