Shugenja (修験者) a practitioner of Shugendo (修験道) also known as Yamabushi (山伏). Shugendo can literally be translated to mean “one who preforms austerities in the mountains”.
The Yamabushi follow a variety of Bodhisattva and Buddhas due in part to their Vajrayana Buddhist background they are unique in that they believe in both Buddha’s and Deities and choose to worship many Shinto Kami (Gods/Goddesses) alongside Buddhist/Hindu and Vedic deities. The Shugendo are often worshipers of O-Inari-Sama, Amaterasu-O-Mikami, or a variety of other Shinto Kami. Though each sect offers homage to varying deity figures, the deity that is found throughout all of Shugendo practice is Fudō Myō-ō. His name in Sanskrit is Acala and he was originally a Hindu deity that migrated into Buddhism and later Japanese Shingon practice; the birthplace of Shugendo.
Fudō Myō-ō is known as the Immovable One and he stands firmly, feet planted like tree trunks. Nothing can move him, not even storms or earthquakes. He converts anger and fear into the salvation of the Buddhas by frightening people into accepting the teachings of Buddha. His sword works to cut through illusions and deception and his rope is for binding the demons that haunt humanity. These demons are specifically the things that work against us when seeking to reach enlightenment such as – Greed, Selfishness, Anger, Jealousy, Gluttony, and the like. The fire that surrounds his image is meant to represent the purification of the mind by the burning away of all these material desires and demons.
Because of his image and these associations Fudō Myō-ō became very popular as a strong and rugged image, perfect for traversing the rough terrain of the mountains. He came to be worshiped in secret caves where one could find his hidden altars. The trials of climbing the mountain with no food, no water, and no shelter were meant to push your body to their limits and set your mind into that of an altered state of consciousness. He and his followers were often associated with the Japanese Tengu (crow spirit) and you will often find the Tengu represented as a long-nosed mask in Shugendo temples or worn for rituals. In fact, many statues of Tengu are dressed the same as a Yamabushi/Shugendo priest and hold the sword of Fudō Myō-ō.
Fudō Myō-ō and the local mountain Kami are treated as manifestations of the Buddhist divinities and small images of these are carried with the Shugenja as they go on their mountain pilgrimages. I have one such charm below, I have had it for many years and I always carry it with me when I travel.
Prajna Paramita (Heart Sutra)
The Prajna Paramita, also known as the Heart Sutra, is considered the most important sutra to the Shugendo, portions of it are repeated at the opening of specific rituals. However, before any climbing of the mountain or rituals can be done, the Shugendo must state their intentions repeating this chant:
I take hold of my staff
And make this vow for the sake of all living beings:
To organize great gatherings
To show forth the true way
And venerate the Three Treasures*
*The 3 treasures of Buddhism are: The Buddha himself, the Sangha (Buddhist community), and the Dharma (teachings of Buddha).
If you are facing hardships in your life, or you feel you have lost your way, then Fudō Myō-ō is an excellent deity to associate with. He will use his lasso to help bind your woes and use his sword to help cut away any illusions, angers, or regrets that you might have. He is all about clarity of the mind and heart. But he is also about defense. You can call on Fudō Myō-ō when you need to feel protected, when you need some extra guidance on making a decision that could greatly affect your life, or when you need to call down justice or righteous vengeance (be careful with this last one though, it must be justifiable or you might bring consequences onto yourself). Fudō Myō-ō can be called upon by reciting the Heart Sutra. I like to believe that Fudō Myō-ō is open to the healing of anyone who needs it.
The Heart Sutra
When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita,
he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty,
and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.
Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness;
emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.
Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.
They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure;
and they neither increase nor diminish.
Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;
no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;
no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;
no field of the eyes up to and including no field of mind consciousness;
and no ignorance or ending of ignorance,
up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death.
There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way,
and no understanding and no attaining.
Because nothing is attained,
the Bodhisattva through reliance on Prajna Paramita is unimpeded in his mind.
Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid,
and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.
All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
through reliance on Prajna Paramita.
Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita is a Great Spiritual Mantra,
a Great Bright Mantra, a Supreme Mantra, an Unequalled Mantra.
It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false.
That is why the Mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:
Gaté Gaté Paragaté Parasamgaté