The stories of Kumano - Kumano Nachi Sankei Miya Mandala

The popularity of the Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines) as a pilgrimage destination in ancient times is due largely to the efforts of the Kumano missionaries (Bikuni) who traveled all over Japan explaining, to whoever they met, the stories told depicted in the various Kumano mandalas. The efforts of the Kumano Bikuni (nuns) are particularly notable since their goal was primarily to lead women into Kumano in order to experience the power of the Kumano Gongen (Avatar/Deity). By using the Kumano mandalas the Bikuni taught that Kumano was a land of divinity whose gods accepted all people rich or poor, pure or sinful, man or woman, without conditions. They used the Kumano Jukkai Mandala to teach that every thought, word, and action has an effect in this life and in the next, and that grace could be achieved in this life, while peace would be achieved in the next. The Sankei Miya Mandala, on the other hand, taught Japanese people about the kind of ceremonies and practices in Kumano which were leading people to an awakening to the true meaning of life and death.

Sankei Mandala-Healing Pilgrimages
The Sankei Miya Mandala was used to teach people about Kumano during the 12th-17th centuries AD. Through the mandala many legends and stories were told about the many pilgrims who came to Kumano for physical and spiritual healing. The stories were chanted by Kumano Bikuni while showing the mandalas.
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Sankei Mandala-Fudaraku Tokai
The picture on the right is of the Fudaraku temple. Fudaraku is one of the Pure Lands of Buddhism. It was the custom at one time that when a monk reached sixty years of age he would set out on his last voyage across the sea hoping to arrive at the Pure Land of Fudaraku.

The picture on the left depicts one such departure. The boat has a Shinto Torii (gate) and is fenced on all four sides. The monk brought food and supplies for 30 days and set out for Fudaraku when the wind began to blow in from the west around the month of November. From the year 868 to 1722, twenty-one monks set out on this voyage.
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Sankei Mandala-Ninose bashi
This is a picture of Ninose Bridge. Before entering the sacred grounds of Nachi, pilgrims would purify themselves in the waters near this bridge and would then be physically and spiritually purified through a ceremony performed by the Kumano Bikuni (nuns). You can see the Bikuni in the picture clothed in red robes with a white cape over their head.
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Sankei Mandala-Furikase bashi
Here Furikase Bridge is depicted. It is said that this bridge derives it name from the belief that by way of this bridge one would leave the mundane and enter into the world of immortality and sacred existence. The child riding the dragon is a manifestation of the Nachi deity. The deity is there to assist the monk on the bridge in achieving his purpose.
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Sankei Mandala-Daimonzaka
'Daimonzaka' is one approach to Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine and Seigantoji Temple, the final destination of the Kumano Pilgrimage (see Sankei Miya Mandala). This is one of the few sections of the Kumano Kodo Old Road that still remain fully intact. As you walk up this path, you will catch your first glimpse of the Nachi Waterfall. It was customary that before entering the Shrine precincts one would report in at a checkpoint which used to be along this section of the path. This part of the path is called Daimonzaka because at one time there used to be a large Gate called NioMon, where a guardian spirit of the Nachi Shrine resided. The gate was later moved to Seigantoji Temple.
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Sankei Mandala-Nachi Waterfall
After walking down and to the right of the Niomon Gate on the Daimonzaka Path, you will come to the Nachi Waterfall. In this photo you can see the Senjyu Kannon Do Building. The waterfall is an historic location for the training of Mountain Buddhist monks seeking self-knowledge. Turn right after Niomon Gate, and you will soon reach 'Hiryu Gongen' and the Nachi Waterfall. The big building with the tiled roof is the Senjyu Do Building where Senjyu Kannon, the Buddhist version of 'Hiryu Gongen' is deified.
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Sankei Mandala-The Story of Mongaku
This picture tells the story of Mongaku, a man who renounced his life as a samurai guard at the Imperial residence in Kyoto after accidentally killing the woman he loved in an attempt to murder her husband. After this experience he renounced the world as an illusion and put himself through severe training to purify himself. This picture depicts the time when he almost died during takigyo (waterfall purification). Two monks are seen assisting him. He carried out his training for 21 days under the protection of a local deity.
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Sankei Mandala-Offerings of Labour and Ceremony
Nachi Dengaku and Okibiki
Kumano Bikuni travelled all over Japan in order to spread the teachings of the Kumano Gongen while raising funds to restore and maintain the shrines of the Kumano Gongen tradition. This picture is drawn based on the stories people heard about Kumano. In Okibiki (pulling logs) devotees from all over Japan gather logs for the renovation of the shrine building and three story tower built by Emperor Shirakawa. Dengaku is a music and dance event held to celebrate and provide an offering to the gods. After climbing up the path from Daimonzaka you will come the Jinguji Temple of Nachi Gongen. Next to the temple is a three story tower which is said to have been built by Emperor Shirakawa. In front of the tower is the square where Okibiki, the practice of gathering logs for renovating the shrine building is taking place. The Dengaku Hoshi are dancing the Nachi Dengaku to Japanese flute music. Behind the three story tower is a 'torii' (gate), a cedar, and a stone. The cedar is a sacred tree, and the stone is called Kudari Ishi, one of the 'seven stones' of Nachi.
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Sankei Mandala-Pilgrimage of Emperor Goshirakawa
This picture shows the Emperor Goshirakawa praying in front of the main building of the Nachi Kumano Gongen. It was his 34th time to make the pilgrimage to Kumano. It was told that those who made the pilgrimage to Kumano would live a long and healthy life. In fact, many famous pilgrims who came to Kumano at that time lived until their sixties and seventies in a time when the average life span was around forty to fifty years. The rock seen near the priest is called Karasu Ishi. There is a legend which says that a three-legged crow serving as a messenger for the Kumano Gongen guided the Emperor Jimmu to Yamato and then later hid itself behind this rock.
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Nachi Sankei Miya Mandala-Myohozan Mountain
This is Amidaji Temple in Mt. Myoho, which is also known as the Koyasan for females. Koyasan was founded by Kobodaishi and was restricted to male trainees only. The person praying in front of this temple is a pilgrimage guide. The mountain behind the temple is called Shikimiyama Mountain where a mountain path for the dead is said to be found. When a person dies, he becomes a ghost and visits Amidaji Temple. There he rings a bell once with a branch of 'shikimi' in his hand before a meal for the dead is ready, then he drops the branch in the mountain behind the temple. Hence the mountain behind the temple is called Shikimi Mountain. A Bikuni nun explains to the women that since the devotees were led here by their guide, they can go to Kannon Jodo (the Pure Land of Kannon) without having to become ghosts.
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Nachi Sankei Miya Mandala-Ojo Shonin
Beside the temple you can see a pagoda dedicated to Ojo Shonin, a Chinese monk who came to Kumano, chanted daily eating only pine needles, and later burned himself praying while facing to the west. By practicing this method of discarding the body it was considered to be an act of purification. This photo is of the place where his final practice was held.
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