Touching the Burning Infinite Light

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Touching the Burning Infinite Light

"Friends, all is burning."

Shakyamuni Buddha,

The Fire Sermon, Samyutta Nikaya Sutra


An interview with

multimedia artist, Miya Ando

FRANK LaRUE OWEN

 

We live in a high velocity, technocratic, and a (sometimes) loud and harsh world. It is a world increasingly characterized by violence, environmental degradation, psychological stress, cultural marginalization, urban anonymity, and a mind-numbing overload of digital imagery and information. Living within such conditions can have a detrimental impact upon the human psyche. Under such duress, art -- a universal human leaning shared across all cultures -- can serve as a salve for the heart-mind.

Art, both East and West, ancient and modern, causes us to pause, to contemplate, to return -- if for just a moment -- to a slower, more natural rhythm. Art also invokes experience, specifically within the inner life of the viewer. When that art is -- by its very nature -- spacious, contemplative, minimalist, and evocatively mind-like, the viewer is naturally invited into a meditative process. Therein, one can find healing and illumination.

With such art-making, and within such art-viewing, a person may even experience a sudden flash of deeper spiritual insight. This is one of the key features of what the late Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa called "Dharma art"; and, this was my own experience the first time I saw the art featured in this article. With my first glance, something elemental and primordial reached out to me.

 (c) L. Young from 'Obon (Puerto Rico)'

(c) L. Young from 'Obon (Puerto Rico)'

The year was 2010. I don't recall what I was looking for on Google, but as my eyes scanned the smorgasbord of images before me, I saw a photograph that suddenly stopped me dead in my tracks. Without knowing anything about the artist, I immediately uttered the phrase, mono no aware (pronounced mo'no, no, ah'wah'ray) -- a Zen-influenced literary concept first coined by Japanese scholar and philosopher Motoori Norinaga (1730-1831).

Mono no aware does not translate very easily into English. Languages are different because different cultures think and conceptualize differently. Yet, there is a universal human realm that connects us all and that is the realm of emotion; and, it is on that level that mono no aware gently flows in.

Some of the most widely accepted phrases used to communicate this deeply spiritual and aesthetic Japanese term suggest that it means an empathy toward things, a sensitivity to ephemera, awareness of impermanence, or a deeply felt comprehension of the transience of all phenomena. Even more so, what the term truly points to is the resulting tender feelings, including gratitude for the preciousness of things and the melancholic sadness that can result from having such a stark and precise perception that all things will eventually pass from existence.

As I gazed at some of the images you now see placed like stepping stones before you, I realized that many of the pieces stirred memories in me of landscapes I've wandered through; horizon lines I have looked out at while meditating near a shoreline, or mountain ranges that are dear to my heart. Other examples of this art conjured pure emotion, washing me in a haunting atmosphere I was unable to articulate with words. In all cases, something about this artist's work has a strong sense of mono no aware and seem to invoke -- in visual form -- something of the kensho-experience (sudden illumination) of Chan/Zen, or a quality of wabi-sabi -- another term from the Japanese tradition of aesthetics, which suggests beauty shining through a rustic sense of minimalism and simplicity.

 Three examples of Miya Ando's stunning work. / (c) L. Young

Three examples of Miya Ando's stunning work. / (c) L. Young

It is no accident, then, that I first reached for contemplative and aesthetic terms from the Japanese tradition to describe these works. As it just so happens, the artist is versed in an understanding of these terms, both from an intellectual point of view and as an internal experience as an artist.

MIYA ANDO

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Miya Ando is part-Japanese, part-Russian, and the direct descendent of Bizen samurai sword maker Ando Yoshiro Masakatsu. She was raised in Japan by sword smiths-turned Buddhist priests, and grew up in a Nichiren temple in Okayama, Japan. After her early years in Japan, another phase of Miya's childhood was spent in the misty redwood forests around Santa Cruz, California.

Now, Ando lives in New York City, where she -- to a large degree -- continues working with the materials of her ancestors; namely, steel. However, rather than firing, pounding, bending, and shaping the steel into swords, she uses steel, pigment, brushes, and the fire of a blowtorch to express her artistic vision in contemporary forms.

I had the opportunity to connect with Miya to discuss her background, her artistry, and some of the themes and influences that find their way into her work.


FO: Frank LaRue Owen / MA: Miya Ando

FO: You have a compelling lineage, Miya; both the fact that you were raised in a Nichiren temple, and that you are a descendant of swordmakers that carried on samurai tradition. From the point of view of cultural and spiritual identity and consciousness, how do these energetic forces influence you on a day-to-day basis?

MA: My exposure to Buddhism occurred very early. Since I was a child, Buddhism has made a strong impact on my perception of the world, as well as my art practice. I feel a deep affinity to the Japanese word otonashii (quiet). It is from a place of deep quiet that I create, and it is a place of deep quiet and reflection that I invite people to visit through my art.

The other half of my childhood was spent living in a redwood forest in Northern California, completely surrounded by nature, miles from the nearest store or gas station. I consider this experience to be equally influential and complementary to my time living in Japan. They are very different countries and cultures, but each place and each culture has offered something to me. As a result, I now see that the practice of harmonizing and finding beauty in disparate things has become an artistic and philosophical pursuit. Simple forms and non-denominationalism interests me greatly.

FO: Your spiritual and cultural roots are undoubtedly an important part of who you are. What is your artistic lineage -- your mentors, your influences, and the figures from the past that inspire you?

MA: My Japanese grandparents, with whom I lived, have always been my moral compass. My grandfather was head priest of our temple, but also my caretaker. The connection of family and religion has been significant in my life and have drawn me to make certain choices in my artistic expression.

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FO: Due to your Japanese and Buddhist roots, the tendency of some could be to pigeonhole your work as "modern Japanese art" or "contemporary Buddhist art." I want to resist that because your work stands on its own as a captivating and unique manifestation. At the same time, the links with your ancestral background are undeniable. To what degree do certain principles of Japanese and Zen aesthetics influence your work such as wabi, sabi, wabi-sabi, mono no aware, etc.?

MA: I have been strongly influenced by the philosophy and aesthetics of Zen reductivism. I appreciate very much the idea of paring away all except that which is essential and I seek this also in my thinking and execution of my work. Mono no aware is a wonderful concept. I have been investigating the idea that all things in life are ephemeral and transitory and this force, being universal, has always been a subject matter of my work. Hakanai (fleeting) is one of my favorite words and is a feature of some of my installations.

FO: There is a phrase I have heard that: "Some Japanese are Buddhist, but all Japanese are Shinto." What is your own relationship to the kami and how do the ancient nature-honoring traditions of Shinto influence you and your own relationship with nature, the elements, and the seasons?

MA: In my childhood, living in the redwoods in Santa Cruz, I had a particularly close relationship with nature. This, coupled with my experiences in Japan, and being exposed to a culture that has such a deep respect and reverence for nature, has been a strong influence on my being and also my pursuits as an artist.

I have always loved the Shinto idea that stones, trees, mountains, and natural forces such as wind are sacred. When I was a child and learned that Shimenawa meant that there was a spirit present inside of a particular tree or stone, I was delighted beyond belief. (Note: The shimenawa is a large braided rice or hemp straw rope placed around certain holy trees, stones, or above archways around Shinto shrines).

  Shimenawa , near Dewa Sanzan, Wikimedia Commons

Shimenawa, near Dewa Sanzan, Wikimedia Commons

Seeing the spiritual power of nature and natural forces myself, it makes perfect sense to me that Shinto would recognize the sacredness of these forces. I have such a respect for the Japanese awareness and sensitivity and adoration of nature. It's really ubiquitous in Japan, from the architecture that allows one to live with nature, to interior design elements like the tokonoma (a recessed alcove in traditional Japanese homes and teahouses), which is a place to display flowers and scrolls for that particular season. The attunement to nature and harmonizing with nature is really second nature to me, personally, but as an artist I also find it as an inspirational theme in my work.

 Example of  tokonoma  (alcove) where plant cuttings, ikebana, and scrolls are often placed to acknowledge the season. source: Wikimedia Commons

Example of tokonoma (alcove) where plant cuttings, ikebana, and scrolls are often placed to acknowledge the season. source: Wikimedia Commons

 

FO: On that note, something we learn from your biography is that you divide your time between the quiet, pristine environs of the redwood forests around Santa Cruz and the vibrant pulse of New York City. How do the distinct energies of these places influence you as a person and as an artist?

MA: I lived in California when I was child. Now I am based in New York full-time. Santa Cruz is like Japan in that respect for me. They are both filled with strong, beautiful memories and they are both in my heart wherever I am. I think ontonashii, quiet, is inside the self; it doesn't truly matter what the surroundings are.

"Let the mind flow freely

without dwelling on anything."

The Diamond Sutra

FO: Are there other places to which you feel an exceedingly profound connection? If so, what makes the spirit of these places particularly important to you on the level of your heart-mind? I'm thinking of how Basho, the wandering haiku master, had a deep connection to a stretch of land near Natagiri Pass, which he explores in his various travel journals, Narrow Road to the Interior; and also some of the other "spiritual-creatives" of Japan felt a deep relationship to a specific place which they nurtured, and which nurtured them; like the Zen hermit, poet and "wisdom clown" Ryokan Daigu ("Great Fool") who felt a deep affinity to the bamboo and hardwood forests around his hut "Gogo-an", or the 'crazy wisdom' Zen master Ikkyu, who first developed the Japanese tea ceremony, or the potter, painter, poet, and martial artist Rengetsu (Lotus Moon).

MA: Yes, the redwood forests still are the most magical to me. I was just in Santa Cruz filming for a documentary that the filmmaker L. Young is making about my work. The forests are so comfortable to me. Every time I return, it takes my breath away. The fog and mist, in particular, is magical and mystical to me. That said, I also have a strong affinity to Miyajima, which is near where I lived in Japan. There are torii everywhere (gates associated with Shinto shrines that signify moving from the profane to the sacred). It is such a spiritual place to me, and for many Japanese people.

 Miyajima Floating Torii, image:  Michael Day

Miyajima Floating Torii, image: Michael Day

FO: One of your most well known installations is the 9/11 Memorial in London, commissioned by the 9/11 London Project Foundation as a permanent addition in England. Crafted from polished World Trade Center steel from Ground Zero and the 9/11 attacks, you were actually given the opportunity to create a piece of sculpture from the rubble.

What was your own personal experience of 9/11 and what was your experience on the artistic and emotional level working on the 9/11 Memorial in London?

MA: Creating the piece for 9/11 was very taxing on an emotional level for me. I worked for two years on the monument and the entire time I kept praying that I make something that had reverence for the victims. I prayed that I was able to make something that was respectful. My concept was simple; to polish to a mirror finish the World Trade Center steel. My hope was to create something non-denominational and put forth light into the world. So, I made a highly reflective piece.

 9/11 Memorial, London, Miya Ando, (c) L. Young

9/11 Memorial, London, Miya Ando, (c) L. Young

FO: One of your most recent installations, commissioned by the Fist Art Foundation, is called "Obon (Puerto Rico)." It also deals with the theme of light. Share with us the initial inspiration of this site-specific, large-scale exploration.

MA: I was inspired by the ceremony of 'Obon,' which occurs in August in Japan. The belief is that one's departed relatives return to the home for 3 days. On the third day, the spirits return to the spirit world and small boats with candles are floated down rivers and bodies of water. I have always loved Obon, in that it is about respect and memory.

FO: Seeing the images of the long strand of leaves, each emitting an eerie luminous glow, I had my own association of a "blue spirit road" of the ancestors. Truly fascinating. Share with us a bit more about the materials you used, as it is a definite departure from your use of steel and metals of various kinds.

MA: For "Obon (Puerto Rico)," I wanted to create something in Puerto Rico which introduced some of the ideas surrounding the theme of the tradition of Obon, but I also wanted to create this using unexpected forms and materials. So, I used phosphorescence instead of candles because the phosphorescence absorbs light from its surroundings and emits a glow continuously. I love the idea of a sustainable light source and I have had interest in light as part of my vocabulary as an artist for quite some time.

Also, I used leaves from the tree known as Ficus religiosa, which is the type of tree, sometimes called the Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

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FO: So, there is the theme of light again; the light of the ancestral festival of Obon, the light of Buddha's enlightenment, and the phosphorescence or light of nature. It's not only wonderful, artistically, I like how it really is a teaching for the eyes to behold but communicated on levels that are more visceral and primordial rather than rational.

So, what is next in the luminous, light-filled world of Miya Ando? Do you have any specific upcoming shows or gallery openings you would like to tell people about? From an artistic 'always-in-process' point of view, what is stirring for you as far as inspirations, directions, and possible creative expression?

MA: I am currently in the studio working on pieces for a solo exhibition at Sundaram Tagore gallery next spring. The work is inspired by my continued interest in states of transformation.

FO: Thank you, Miya, for your work and the light you are shining into the world.

To learn more about the work of Miya Ando, visit her website: miyaando.com


All photos (c) L. Young except where otherwise noted

This interview originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Written River: The Journal of Eco-Poetics

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Mountain As Mandala

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Mountain As Mandala

An interview with the filmmakers of Shugendo Now

FRANK LA RUE OWEN

 

THE ORIGINAL INTERVIEW

I conducted this interview for the Winter 2011 issue of Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics. It is about the still-living traditions of the shugenja (Japanese practitioners of Shugendo), their ecological message, and a very special film that documents modern-day shugenja called Shugendo Now. The film was featured by the Buddhist Film Foundation in the 2010 International Buddhist Film Festival.

THE FILMMAKERS

The filmmakers, both from Montréal, are Mark Patrick McGuire, a humanities professor at John Abbott College, and Jean-Marc Abela, a talented self-taught filmmaker. Driven by my own “haunted familiarity” with elements of Japanese Shinto, and a natural interest in the subject from my decade of training in Japanese Buddhism and martial arts, I watched the film in early 2011 and reached out to Mark and Jean-Marc to connect with them about their beautiful film.

SHUGENDO - ANCIENT & MODERN

Believed to have first been organized by a 7th-century mystic named En no Ozunu (a.k.a. En no Gyoja), Shugendo is not one isolated tradition but various expressions of spiritual practice that share similar aims. Ozunu—who is venerated as a bodhisattva (saint)—authored the Sutra on the Unlimited Life of the Threefold Body, a central text used by the shugenja even today. Modern-day practitioners of Shugendo, most of whom are city-dwellers, intentionally leave the world of man behind to head into nature on retreat, to commune and connect with mountains, forests, rivers, and waterfalls, in a truly unique spiritual training path that weaves elements of Shinto, Buddhism, Daoism, Shamanism, martial arts, and - now in the 21st-century - environmental activism.

THE FILM: SHUGENDO NOW

INTRODUCTION

From the very first sounds we encounter in the film Shugendo Now, we realize we are in for a highly textural, sensual film-viewing experience. Water droplets, wind, and subtle vibrations radiating out from metal chimes all coalesce with various kinds of imagery, ranging from pristine natural places to bustling cityscapes in modern Japan.

We then see words on the screen that indicate we are entering a spiritual geography:

“The yamabushi are those who enter the mountain to seek experiential truth. They perform austerities and ritual actions adopted from shamanism, the kami tradition (Shinto), Esoteric Buddhism and Daoism. This syncretic tradition is called Shugendo.”

A map appears, stylistically produced as a landscape painting of the Kumano mountain range in Japan, including Mt. Omine (one of the pilgrimage sites and holy mountains of this ancient tradition). As we hear reverberations from a temple bell, the “geographic map” fades backward and an image rushes forth to meet us, namely ancient Japanese iconography depicting the buddhas and bodhisattvas that occupy the Womb-Realm and Vajra-Realm mandaras (Skt: mandala, Japanese: mandara, a circular design depicting images of religious significance).

Without overtly interpreting or over-intellectualizing, the intuitive filmmaking and editing style of Shugendo Now softly guides viewers into understanding: the mandalas are the mountains, the mountains are the mandalas, and practitioners of Shugendo journey through the mountains-as-mandalas to the dwelling place of the kami and buddhas.

WR: Frank LaRue Owen for Written River
MARK: Mark McGuire, JEAN-MARC: Jean-Marc Abela

WR: First of all, Mark and Jean-Marc, thank you for taking the time for this dialogue. You’re both men-on-the-move, with lots of creative endeavors and projects, so I’m grateful for your willingness to discuss your film – Shugendo Now.

MARK / JEAN-MARC: We thank you for the opportunity to share our reflections on the film!

WR: You have created a compelling documentary that will appeal to readers of Written River for different reasons. What was your initial inspiration for the film and how long were you in Japan shooting?

MARK: I was initially attracted to these places and practices as a first-year graduate student looking for a field site to do my Ph.D. research. It was about to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and become a global hot spot for tourists and curiosity seekers, so I wanted to learn as much as I could about its past and present and chart the changes that would occur in the future.

After having the chance to participate in some of the mountain ascetic practices, and spend time with some of the priests and lay practitioners, my attention shifted to the motivations each had for participating in these traditional practices. They come from a fast-paced, modern age, so my interest was in the ways diverse urban pilgrims apply what they learn in their daily lives, in urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka. The stories they told me about what took them to the mountain—and what they came home with—inspired me to collaborate with Jean-Marc in trying to represent the practices and places through an accessible documentary film.

WR: Briefly describe the tradition of Shugendo for readers of Written River.

MARK: Shugendo is a Tantric vehicle, which means that its practices are only for the initiated and features some hidden or secret practices only transmitted from teacher to student. It brings together ritual practices from the kami tradition (Shinto), Shamanism, Tantric Buddhism and Daoism with a premium placed upon a physical experience of the teachings' truth. So, practitioners enter mountains, forests, waterfalls, caves and streams in order to have a visceral contact with the sacred. As Tanaka Riten of the temple Kimpusen- ji explains at the beginning of the film, “For us, these mountains are the dwellings of the kami and buddhas. If you want to simply enjoy trekking, you can go hiking on your own time.”

WR: I have known about the traditions of the shugenja, or yamabushi, since the late-1980s when I began practicing Zen and Aikido, and learning about the life and many influences of O-Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba, its founder. Like Shugendo, Ueshiba was influenced by many forces including the kami tradition, Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism, Zen, Daoism, even contemplative-esoteric Christianity, but also Shugendo. While it is not immediately obvious, the worldview of Aikido is shaped by Shugendo. Later, I encountered Shugendo as a topic in my undergraduate studies in Japanese religions.

It is fascinating to see these ancient traditions depicted on film, and a truly soul-stirring component is seeing modern people (many of them from highly congested urban settings) taking part in pilgrimages, honoring nature, participating in a nature-based spirituality. What were your own personal impressions about these juxtapositions – ancient-modern, nature-technological, etc.?

JEAN-MARC: I think we all have a deep connection with nature.  That may sound like an obvious statement but in our modern and urban lifestyle it needs to be stated. Of course, cities offer great cultural experiences and places of refuge, but nothing seems to compare to standing in a forest.  The sounds, the vibrations, the smells, and sight of it all, I think, bring great peace within all of us.  Therefore, the people who live in highly congested urban settings have an even greater need to get out there and breathe the forest into their lives. Many viewers tell us after watching the  film that they want to go for a walk outside the city and this is how we hoped people would react.

WR: Like Shugendo’s own characteristic weaving of different facets together, your film does a magnificent job of weaving different elements: stunning footage of the natural world, documentation of a unique spiritual tradition, and investigating certain key questions. Was the theme of the film already in place at the outset, or did it organically evolve as you were documenting these traditions?

JEAN-MARC: From the start of the project we wanted to weave together urban and natural spaces. The question that remained was how we would achieve this without hitting any of the clichés normally associated with Japan. The opening sequence was the scene used to explore this. I started editing it while shooting in Kumano.

Before I left Japan, I had several different versions of the opening. Returning home, I continued this exploration, from very drastic juxtapositions of images and sounds, but it never felt quite right until I decided to keep the sounds of nature throughout the opening sequence, which included scenes of cityscapes. When we watched it together, Mark instantly approved and observed that this was more in-line with our views on the subject: that nature is everywhere around us.

MARK:  There were two important juxtapositions that we wished to highlight: that of the productive tension between the mountains and the city, and the different personalities, efforts and intended audiences of our two main characters (Tateishi Kôshô and Tanaka Riten) as they sought to creatively re-invent the traditional practices for busy, urban people.

On the surface, these men are very different personalities, with different approaches, who, in turn, attract different individuals. However, at their core, what they are doing is very similar. As for how we illustrated these juxtapositions with our footage; that came together organically both during initial shooting and post-production. Jean-Marc is a highly intuitive, self-taught  filmmaker with an excellent eye for detail and pattern, so I was comfortable giving him full creative decision-making power over the direction the film would take.

WR: In the film, you offer viewers an inside-view of the preparations that some of the practitioners of Shugendo undertake. How did you make these connections, meet these practitioners, and secure permission to be part of their sacred ceremonies?

JEAN-MARC: Each connection is a little bit different. Mark had a previous relationship with Tateishi Kôshô and Tanaka Riten.  These were important people to know as they each gave us access to their respective temple and the participants who visit them. I think this says a lot about the relationship that Mark cultivated with the head priests over the years. He has a very respectful and sensitive approach as an academic and a filmmaker.

A good example of this is the story around the release forms that we got each person in the  film to sign. I had brought examples from previous projects, but, of course, they were in English and they needed to be translated into Japanese, which Mark did. When he presented to me his translation, the new version of the release form was no longer written in cold, direct legal language, but was much softer. It also shared the goals of our  film and what we intended to do with it, offering our responsibility with the material we were filming instead of just asking people to sign away their rights. From there, I knew I wanted to proceed carefully as a camera operator and I found that I was much more welcomed by the people as they now understood our intentions and wanted to help create this film.

WR: In one part of the film, we see a large gathering of people (men, women, children, families). Sacred arrows are shot into the air and offerings are made to a ceremonial fire (goma). Describe for us your experience of this gathering as both filmmaker but also as an individual awake-and-aware spiritually.

JEAN-MARC: All of the Goma ceremonies we filmed were special in their own way. It’s a very powerful shamanic experience and I personally feel a deep connection to the transformative powers of fire. I didn’t feel the need to know exactly what they were saying and Mark informed me that even most Japanese people didn’t know as they were talking in an older dialect. The significance of fire ritual is universal.

As a cameraman, I try to fuse with the subjects I am shooting, and so I got taken into a trance with the drumming, chanting and fire. Of course, while I try to fuse as much as possible, I also need to step out of the moment, look around, and see how I can best capture it.  It is is the job of a documentary cameraman: sometimes it’s a sacrifice not to be able to totally participate in an event so that you can capture it and share it. But, sometimes that journey brings its own benefits and discoveries.

WR: One of my favorite parts of the film is your documenting the life of Tateishi Kôshô. What a compelling figure! Just to make readers aware, Kôshô lives on a Shugendo compound (complete with temple) beneath the Kumano Mountains and performs the role of priest but also of guardian of the land.

In the film, we see that some expressions of the Shugendo traditions restrict women from access to certain sites and holy mountains; yet Kôshô-san has broken off on his own, practices more of a householder (family, village-centric) expression of the traditions. He seems to have a remarkable ability to balance things in life. He practices a minimum-impact lifestyle, raises his own rice, and sees cooking as an extension of Shugendo practice. On the one hand, he has an apprentice, and performs the duties of a yamabushi, yet he also has a family and plays the role of environmental activist for a specific patch of ground. Tell us more about this man.

JEAN-MARC: I first learned of Tateishi Kôshô in Montréal when Mark told me about his idea for this film. My  first response was, “This man would make a perfect subject for a film!” Mark replied,“I know. It’s why I’m telling you so much about him!”

Tateishi Kôshô has many facets to his personality. His activities range from cooking, playing music at sacred ceremonies, tending to the forest and his experiences as a priest and traveler. Discussions with him always make for fascinating stories.

When I first met him in Kumano, we were in the middle of a typhoon, and we spent the night cooking, drinking sake, playing music, sharing stories and ideas. I was instantly enamored with this man. Later on, I realized that spending 21 days with him would only give us a glimpse into this amazing person. I learned that he had lived in New York working in business, travelled in India for a few years as a musician, and had been part of a butoh dance group as well.

I think this is what cinema does so well. Without ever sharing some of his stories or telling the audience more details about him, people tell me that they get a good sense of his personality just from watching the  film. You can sense his rich lifestyle in everything he does.  This is how I see this man: a rich person because he fully enjoys each little thing that life offers him as a precious gift; and this gratefulness he experiences is in full expression each time one of his devotees sends him a gift, which he quickly takes to his altar.

WR: The account he gives of combating unchecked dumping and pollution is inspiring. It is, in effect, an expression of “engaged Shugendo” (spirituality meets environmental and social activism). You were afforded a very intimate view of this particular expression of contemporary Japanese environmental activism. What were your impressions?

JEAN-MARC: Kôshô-san expresses himself quite clearly on this issue throughout the film. For him there is no separation between his devotions to the Buddhas and kami, and his work as an environmental activist.  They are one and the same. I fully agree with him. I think this is true for everything we do, and one of the great challenges of our modern lives is to  find a way to live in our actions the values that we hold dear in our hearts and minds. We are constantly swayed towards a lifestyle of consumption that contradicts what we know to be more important issues, such as social welfare for workers around the world and environmental protection. Finding that balance is difficult.

As Kôsô-san shares with us: “We must not become ‘eco-fanatics’ because we might not enjoy the process or we might become too rigid and lose sight of our purpose.” 


To learn more about the film Shugendo Now, and to purchase it, visit: SHUGENDO NOW

To learn more about the ancient tradition of Shugendo and a modern-day training program of shugenja, visit YAMABUSHIDO

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