CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN PRACTICES OF THE YAMABUSHI
The twin pillars of the Tendai School in Japan are study and practice, neither one being neglected in favor of the other. This same system is applicable here, with the study part carried out initially in your own home using readily available books such as “The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei,” “The Lotus Sutra,” “The Vimalakirti Sutra,” and “The Avatamsaka Sutra.” Later on the field of study branches out to include discussion, questioning, contemplation, recitation, copying, examination, debate, and writing.
The practice part, on the other hand, cannot come from books, but can only be learned from those who themselves have practiced regularly and over a number of years. The Yamabushi practices in Japan have evolved into a myriad of forms while growing continuously for over a thousand years. California’s mountains are in many ways similar to Japan’s, but the history is radically different, and therefore adaptation is necessary for these times and places and people. Although we have many potential sites, very few are now open for practice. How many places can you think of where you can drink directly from a spring, or stand under a waterfall, or cut dead wood to build an outdoor fire, or even freely walk a circuit around the peak? If mountain practices are going to be established here, the first requirement is for people to open up some sites, one by one.
Now, remembering that the effort to study must balance the effort to practice, what about the practices themselves? The practices involve walking while praying, making pilgrimages to shrines, learning invocation, sleeping in the mountains, harmonizing with animals, trees, and the weather of the various seasons, standing in waterfalls, healing suffering, working to reduce the killing of animals and the destruction of forests, increasing your energy, increasing your love, cutting trails through the brush, cutting dead wood to minimize the damage from forest fires, chanting sutras, receiving inspiration to direct your life, meditating on scriptures, calming the mind and gaining insight into the nature of Truth, exorcising demons, observing heavens and hells, gathering medicines and foods, seeing the interconnectedness of all life, paying homage to those who have gone this way before us, working on interpersonal problems, experiencing gratitude, bridging the illusory chasm separating peoples, cultures religions and practices, promoting healthy eating and drinking, practicing harmlessness, abandoning some of the comforts of life, visiting hot springs, fasting, making offerings, learning the rules of conduct appropriate to your practice, writing prayers for the benefit and protection of the people and the land, and receiving the incredible beauty of the natural world.
Each of these practices leads to experiences, and the experiences lead to the flourishing of spiritual life among all people. This is the aim of the yamabushi in California.
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed
side by side, and the lion shall
eat hay like the bull, and dust
shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy
In all my holy mountain saith the lord.”