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Komusō and Ninja

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Mahayana Canon


This Article is Mahayana Canon
Thereavada Buddhism is more conservative than Mahayana Buddhism, strictly following the teachings of Buddha. Mahayana is more diverse and flexible, accepting aspects of other religions (Hinduism & Taoism or Shintoism in Japan).The Mahayana is more of an umbrella body for a great variety of schools, from the Tantra school (the secret teaching of Yoga) well represented in Tibet and Nepal to the Pure Land sect, whose essential teaching is that salvation can be attained only through absolute trust in the saving power of Amitabha, longing to be reborn in his paradise through his grace, which are found in China, Korea and Japan. Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, of China and Japan, are meditation schools. According to these schools, to look inward and not to look outwards is the only way to achieve enlightenment, which to the human mind is ultimately the same as Buddhahood. In this system, the emphasis is upon ‘intuition’, its peculiarity being that it has no words in which to express itself at all, so it does this in symbols and images. In the course of time this system developed its philosophy of intuition to such a degree that it remains unique to this day. In general, the goal of Thereavada Buddhism is personal liberation from suffering. The goal of Mahayana Buddhism is liberation of all beings from suffering.

A komusō (虚無僧 komusō?, Hiragana こむそう; also romanized komusou or komuso) was a Japanese mendicant
Ko

Komuso Monks

monk of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism, during the Edo period of 1600-1868. Komusō were characterised by the straw basket (a sedge or reed hood named a tengai) worn on the head, manifesting the absence of specific ego.They are also known for playing solo pieces on the shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). These pieces, called honkyoku ("original pieces") were played during a meditative practice called suizen, for alms, as a method of attaining enlightenment, and as a healing modality. 

Ninjas under komusō hoodsEdit

The komusō was also used as a disguise by ninja, who were seldom members of the samurai class, and samurai, particularly rōnin. Komusō wore a woven straw hat which covered their head completely looking like an overturned basket or a certain kind of woven beehive. The concept was that by wearing such a hat they removed their ego. What the hat also did was remove their identity from prying eyes. When the Tokugawa Shogunate came into power over a unified Japan at the beginning of the 17th Century, the komusō came under the government’s wary eyes. Many komusō had formerly been samurai during the Sengoku (Warring States) period (16th Century) and were now lay clergy. The potential for trouble was there because many of them had turned rōnin when their masters were defeated – most likely by the Shogunate and their allies. Komusō were granted the rare privilege of traveling through the country without hindrance.

Buddhist Meaning Edit

  • 虚無僧 (komusō) means "priest of nothingness" or "monk of emptiness"
  • 虚無 (kyomu or komu) means "nothingness, emptiness"
  • 虚 (kyo or ko) means "nothing, empty, false"
  • 無 (mu) means "nothing, nil, zero"
  • 僧 (sō) means "priest, monk"

The priest were known first as komosō which means “straw-mat monk.” Later they became known as Komusō which means “priest of nothingness” or “monk of emptiness.” Fuke Zen emphasized pilgrimage and so the sight of wandering Komuso was a familiar one in Old Japan, making them a perfect disguise for Ninjas.

Ninjas - the false KomusōEdit

A ninja (忍者?) or shinobi (忍び?) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox warfare. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, and open combat in certain situations.Their covert methods of waging war contrasted the ninja with the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.The shinobi proper, a specially trained group of spies and mercenaries, appeared in the Sengoku or "warring states" period, in the 15th century, but antecedents may have existed in the 14th century, and possibly even in the 12th century (Heian or early Kamakura era). In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th–17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire became active in the Iga Province and the adjacent area around the village of Kōga, and it is from their ninja clans that much of our knowledge of the ninja is drawn. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate (17th century), the ninja faded into obscurity, being replaced by the Oniwabanshū body of secret agents. A number of shinobi manuals, often centered around Chinese military philosophy, were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably the Bansenshukai (1676). By the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868), the tradition of the shinobi had become a topic of popular imagination and mystery in Japan. Ninja figured prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities purported to be in the province of ninja training include invisibility, walking on water, and control over the natural elements. As a consequence, their perception in western popular culture in the 20th century was based more on such legend and folklore than on the historical spies of the Sengoku period.

Early History Edit

It was not until the 15th century that spies were specially trained for their purpose. It was around this time that the word shinobi appeared to define and clearly identify ninja as a secretive group of agents. Evidence for this can be seen in historical documents, which began to refer to stealthy soldiers as shinobi during the Sengoku period. Later manuals regarding espionage are often grounded in Chinese military strategy, quoting works such as The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa) by Sun Tzu.  The ninja emerged as mercenaries in the 15th century, where they were recruited as spies, raiders, arsonists and even terrorists. Amongst the samurai, a sense of ritual and decorum was observed, where one was expected to fight or duel openly. Combined with the unrest of the Sengoku era, these factors created a demand for men willing to commit deeds considered not respectable for conventional warriors. By the Sengoku period, the shinobi had several roles, including spy (kanchō), scout (teisatsu), surprise attacker (kishu), and agitator (konran). The ninja families were organized into larger guilds, each with their own territories. A system of rank existed. A jōnin ("upper man") was the highest rank, representing the group and hiring out mercenaries. This is followed by the chūnin ("middle man"), assistants to the jōnin. At the bottom was the genin ("lower man"), field agents drawn from the lower class and assigned to carry out actual missions.

Ninja Gear Edit

Tools used for infiltration and espionage are some of the most abundant artifacts related to the ninja. Ropes and
Hookg

Real Ninja Grappling Hook and Tekko-Kagi (Climbing Claws)

grappling hooks were common, and were tied to the belt. A collapsible ladder is illustrated in the Bansenshukai, featuring spikes at both ends to anchor the ladder. Spiked or hooked climbing gear worn on the hands and feet also doubled as weapons. Other implements include chisels, hammers, drills, picks and so forth.

The kunai was a heavy pointed tool, possibly derived from the Japanese masonry trowel, to which it closely resembles. Although it is often portrayed in popular culture as a weapon, the kunai was primarily used for gouging holes in walls. Knives and small saws (hamagari) were also used to create holes in buildings, where they served as a foothold or a passage of entry. A portable listening device (saoto hikigane) was used to eavesdrop on conversations and detect sounds. The mizugumo was a set of wooden shoes supposedly allowing the ninja to walk on water. They were meant to work by distributing the wearer's weight over the shoes' wide bottom surface. The word mizugumo is derived from the native name for the Japanese water spider (Argyroneta aquatica japonica). The mizugumo was featured on the show Mythbusters, where it was demonstrated unfit for walking on water. The ukidari, a similar footwear for walking on water, also existed in the form of a round bucket, but was probably quite unstable. Inflatable skins and breathing tubes allowed the ninja to stay underwater for longer periods of time. Despite the large array of tools available to the ninja, the Bansenshukai warns one not to be overburdened with equipment, stating "...a successful ninja is one who uses but one tool for multiple tasks".

The Real KomusōEdit

The streets of cities and villages were accustomed to the sight of a Buddhist priest playing a bamboo flute with his head completely covered by a straw hat. Komusō were Zen Buddhist monks who wandered about Japan playing the shakuhachi for both meditation and alms. Fuke Zen came to Japan in the 13th Century. Komusō belonged to the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Fuke Zen comes from the teachings of Linji Yixuan, a Zen teacher from China in the 9th Century. Fuke however is the Japanese name for Puhua one of Linji’s peers and co-founders of his sect. Puhua would walk around ringing a bell to summon others to enlightenment. In Japan, it was thought the shakuhachi could serve this purpose. Komusō practiced Suizen, which is meditation through the blowing of a shakuhachi, as opposed to Zazen, which is meditation through sitting as practiced by most Zen followers.

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