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The story of Shinnyokai, the farmer who became Sokushinbutsu

Updated: Aug 31



Shinnyokai the Sokushinbutsu at Dainichibô

Shinnyokai 真如海 was born around 1688 in Asahi village.

He was the son of a farmer family. Working in the fields from his younger age gave him a strong, tall and robust body. One day, while the twenty years old man was walking his way back from the fields to his home, he encountered a warrior from Shônai Clan. Shinnyokai was carrying his dirty buckets full of dirt and fertilizer. But as he was walking, the content of the buckets was jumping out of the buckets and splashed onto the warrior's robe. The warrior, at the view of his stained clothes got into a fury.


In a matter of seconds, the warrior pulled his sword out, and asked revenge for his affronts.

Shinnyokai, in panic, tried to apologize with every words he could find for having offended the warrior, but the warrior would not listen to him.

Shinnyokai did not want to die. As the warrior was jumping on him, Shinnyokai took a pointed farming tool out of his robe, and stick it in the warrior's head. The warrior died instantly.


Shinnyokai was lost, panicked... "What shall I do? I never wanted to kill anybody! I had no choice!"

He perfectly knew that kind of excuse would never be tolerated in a court, since killing a clan warrior was one of the highest crime someone could be charged of at the time, and that he would be condemned to death penalty.


Desperate for his life, he ran, ran. He arrived at Dainichibô Temple where he thought he could find help. The temple's monks offered him asylum.

Shinnyokai, eaten up by remorse, decided to dedicate his entire life to others and to doing good. He became a monk, and undertook a very harsh training based on hunger and tiredness. It was thought by doing so, monks would experience all the pain in the world.


Once arrived at the advanced age of 93 years old, Shinnyokai decided to take his training further and become a Sokushinbutsu: a Buddha in his living body. During three years, Shinnyokai fulfilled an ascetic training based on a diet allowing just tree barks and leaves, extreme fat loss, living burial and the drinking of a toxic lacquer-based tea.


At the age of 96, Shinnyokai died. His body, fully preserved, is still revered as a god of mercy and is exposed at Dainichibô Temple.




Sources:


HATAKEYAMA Hiroshi 畠山弘, Yudonosan to Sokushinbutsu「湯殿山と即身仏」(Mt. Yudono and Sokushinbutsu), Irori no Kai 爐の会 、2001.

TOGAWA Anshô 戸川安章, Dewa Sanzan no Miirabutsu「出羽三山のミイラ仏」(Dewa Sanzan's Buddha Mummies), Chûô shoin中央書院、1974.

IWAHANA Michiaki 岩鼻通明, Dewa Sanzan: Sangaku Shinkô no rekishi o aruku「出羽三山~山岳信仰の歴史を歩く」(Dewa Sanzan: A discussion on Mountain Spirituality's history), Iwanami Shinsho 岩波新書、2017.

NAITÔ Masatoshi 内藤正敏, Nihon no miira shinkô「日本のミイラ信仰」(Japan's Mummies spirituality)、Hôzôkan 法蔵館、1999.

DEGAM Tsuruoka Tourism Bureau (General Incorporated Association)

Address: 3-1 Suehiromachi, MARICA East Building, 2nd floor, Tsuruoka, Yamagata 997-0015, JAPAN

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