Jun 18, 2023
Martin Goodson

The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan...

Book Extract

When a Buddhist priest finds out that his kinsman has been reborn into an agonising hell, a yamabushi holds the key to helping his friend



An itinerant priest found himself summoned by a yamabushi to a certain temple, and told to recite the eighth book of the Lotus Sutra, and to continue reciting the holy text, however terrible the sights that might appear before him. Past midnight there was manifested before his eyes a vision of the Avīci hell, in which he saw his wicked kinsman Yūki Kōzuke Nyūdō subjected to unspeakable torments. Time and again he was killed in an agonising manner and brought to life again by means of a winnowing basket. Go at once to the man's wife and children in the north the yamabushi told the horrified priest, and instruct them to recite the Lotus Sutra every day. Only thus can he be saved. Dawn then broke, and the priest found himself alone on a dewy more the prospect of hell and the yamabushi had both vanished. At once he made his way to the man's family and related his vision to them. At first they were incredulous, not yet realising that the Nyūdō was dead But a day or two afterwards a messenger arrived with the news of the Nyūdō’s terrible end. They therefore lost no time in reciting the prescribed sutra every day for the space of 49 days. The salvation of this wicked man was thus accomplished ultimately by the power of the Bodhisattva Jizō,  of whom the yamabushi was a transformation, but effectively by the itinerant priest who carried the message of the vision.

(The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan by Carmen Blacker, pub. Mandala 1975)

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