Japanese Ascetic Training: shugyō

I’ve been inspired lately by reading a certain manga my in-laws gave me a while ago, depicting Japanese Buddhist founders and their lives. The manga, mentioned briefly before (see footnote), is in Japanese, and pretty difficult reading too, so it’s been slow reading as I have to re-read a certain page a few times, and consult online dictionaries even more so, but it’s still a fun read. Despite the difficulties in reading the manga, I am inspired by the lives of Saichō and Kūkai who sought to live austere lives in their youth in their sincere efforts to realize the truth. The term in Japanese for austere practices, or dedicated practice, is called shugyō (修行)1 and naturally varies depending on the Buddhist sect, and one’s ability, but the essence is the same. One sets asides the distractions of the world, and focuses on practicing the Dharma as much as one can.

Frequently one takes on a more restrictive set of moral precepts, like the Eight Precepts, for example. This act of undertaking the precepts is called jukai (受戒) and can be done in front of clergy or by one’s self before a Buddha image. Also, if feasible, takes a retreat somewhere. If you’re a lay Buddhist like me though, even if you have to go to work, you can still make the day a good opportunity for Buddhist practice right there at the office through hard work, good conduct (a la precepts), right speech, and taking time to study the Dharma.

As to why I want to do it, I am inspired by one of my favorite quotes from Roger Zelazny’s book, Lord of Light:

Demon: “So why do you consider my presence a pollution, a disease? Is it because there is that within you which is like unto myself? …If so, I mock you in your weakness, Binder.”

Sam: “It is because I am a man who occasionally aspires to things beyond the belly and the phallus.”

See you all Friday!

Namo Kanzeon Bosatsu
Namo Amida Butsu

1 The word shugyō actually is a pretty generic word, and exists in Shintoism as much as it does in Buddhism.

Be the first to like this post.

4 Comments on “Japanese Ascetic Training: shugyō”

  1. johnl says:

    If you go to Koyasan, you can participate in a jukai ceremony if you go to the Daishi Kyokai 15 minutes in advance (they conduct the ceremony four or five times daily). I did it on December 23. They use the ten precepts of the ‘juzenkai’ 十善戒 as well as the 三帰 and some mantras that you may have seen in the Shingon gongyo. It was very impressive, and you can also get an English explanation written (or translated) by our friend Eijo-san.

  2. Tornadoes28 says:

    There is a new statue in front of the Shingon temple in Downtown Los Angeles. It is a status of a man on a pilgrimage and the name on the statue is “Shugyo Daishi”. At first I thought it was an alternative name for Kobo Daishi but I could not find any reference to a Shugyo Daishi. I was not familiar with the term “Shugy”. Later I learned what Shugyo meant and the name on the statue became clear. It is Kobo Daishi.

  3. Doug says:

    Hi guys,

    Johnl: Yeah, I really really want to visit Koyasan one of these days. I’ve seen videos and such and it just looks awesome, and yes, I’d love to meet Rev. Eijo in person one day, but I am not sure I can do that in this next trip. I’ll be visiting some other places I really want to visit like Todaiji, maybe Kofukuji (both in Nara) and some stuff in Kyoto I haven’t seen in 5 years, but want to see again with a more experienced “Buddhist” eye. ;)

    Tornadoes28: Was it anything like this one? :)

  4. Tornadoes28 says:

    Yes and I also took some photos and did a blog post about it. Here they are:


Leave a Reply

WordPress.com Logo
Twitter picture

You are commenting using your
Twitter account. (Log Out)

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your
Facebook account. (Log Out)

Connecting to %s