Zen and the Eastern Spirit

Kurozumi Munetada

By cultivating the "Nothingness" (Mu) that is the root of the heart/mind, Munetada became one with the heart/mind of God (the living reality of the heavens and the earth), and reached the state of "pervading life" (ikito^shi) which transcends life and death.
On the basis of having thoroughly tasted this way of life, he founded Kurozumi-kyo, a school of Shinto that displays the universality of true religion.

1, Direct Reception of the Heavenly Decree

One of the first independent schools of Shinto, Kurozumi-kyo was founded by Kurozumi Munetada (1780-1850), a rare person who attained enlightenment―fully embodying the state of selflessness and sincerity―on his own, without the guidance of a teacher, and who on his own accord undertook to educate others far and wide.

Born into a family of traditional Shinto priests, from a young age Munetada felt a strong sense of filial piety. At the age of nineteen, in a book by the Shinto teacher Yoshida Kanetomo called The Great Meaning of Shinto, Munetada came upon the phrase: "the heart/mind is God."
From this time onward, it became his profound, if seemingly exorbitant desire to indeed "become God in this life." And yet, at the age of thirty-three, both of his parents died unexpectedly from a plague.
This left Munetada in a state of despair, and before long he himself fell gravely ill with pneumonia, which worsened until he was on the verge of dying.

As he lay there resolutely waiting for death, it dawned on Munetada that since his sickness was caused by the great depression of grieving for his parents death, if his heart were to turn cheerful, then his sickness too should heal. By focusing his heart on gratitude to the heavens, his bodily ailment too mysteriously became alleviated.

On the night of the winter solstice, after bathing Munetada told his wife that he wished to pray to the rising sun. Although his wife objected out of concern for his weak health, he dressed in the ceremonial robes of a shrine priest and waited for dawn. As the awe-inspiring sun began to reveal its shape in the eastern sky, Munetada clasped his hands together and prayed single-mindedly and without distraction.
Unselfconsciously he let the cheerful sunlight penetrate his entire body until he became enveloped in a spiritual force like the corona of the sun itself. At last, Munetada intuitively experienced a unity of soul and body with the basic root and origin of all things, which he referred to in Shinto terms as the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami.

At this time when Munetada awakened to "the living spirit of heaven and earth," he realized that human beings were most originally and eternally "everlasting life," beings free from the vicissitudes of life and death. In Kurozumi-kyo this fundamental experience is called "the direct reception of the heavenly decree."

2, Munetada's State of Mind: "Nothingness" and "Sincerity"

Later he spoke of this experience as follows:
"The Way is bountiful, and each embodied part of Amaterasu Omikami must remain full and without lack. When a person's cheerful and bright spirit slackens, then the spirit of depression grows strong. Defilement occurs when the spirit of depression is empowered. This withering of spirit―that is, of the great brightness of the spirit of the sun―is the cause of various forms of distress.

Thinking that it would go against the divine spirit for only himself to receive this rare blessing, from that time onward Munetada began to teach so that others could receive this blessing as well. Without accepting any payment, he also cured many sick people by way of a type of spiritual healing involving incantations. Numerous seriously ill people on verge of death were instantly and miraculously cured by this healing practice. His on the spot healing of people who had been blind or lame for years may remind one of the healing miracles performed by Jesus Christ.

But the healing of physical sickness was not Munetada's final aim; for him this was only the entrance gate to the Way of sincerity. The Way of sincerity is the "divine Way" full of joy and happiness, also called "everlasting life." In his heart he recited the following verse: "The heart of Amaterasu Omikami and the human heart, when they are one there is everlasting life."

As his school prospered it suffered various slanderous attacks from the outside, yet Munetada never defensively reacted to these attacks. He saw them rather as welcome opportunities to practice and refine his own virtue by even stricter disciplines of self-reflection. He undertook a thousand day prayer retreat, embarked on a ten year monthly pilgrimage to one hundred different shrines, and, in an age where long distance travel was an arduous affair, he journeyed many times to the far away Ise-jingu, the central shrine in Japan.

When teaching Munetada detached himself from the egocentric state of mind and entered into a state of the non-egocentric state of mind. Since the words came from his mouth naturally and unselfconsciously, he called this "natural-heavenly speaking," and he reached a great self-awakening to "the direct transmission from the great God of the sun, the great Way of the pacified soul."

To his listeners he said: "I have no knowledge, and rely on no written texts. … I know neither Confucianism nor Buddhism, and have no intentions to preach anything. Yet when I receive the inspiration of Amaterasu Omikami and step up onto this platform, the divine spirit naturally fills my breast and flows effortlessly forth. …
Thus, do not think that you are listening to Munetada when you hear me speak, but rather gratefully receive these words as the teaching of Amaterasu Omikami. I ask that, in preparation to listen, you first cast aside your doubts and discard past teachings of the Way you believe to already possess; then empty your minds and renew the innocence of your hearts. …
If you listen well, then even if you are seriously ill and on the verge of death, you will be healed by the time this talk is finished."

For Munetada, becoming the non-ego meant becoming of one body and soul with Amaterasu Omikami, who is the root and origin of all things.
Sincerely entrusted oneself completely, "the ego wholly disappears, and then for the first time the living heart that binds heaven and earth together is awakened, as if awakening from a dream."

3, The Uniquely Exquisite Taste of Cultivating Nothingness

Naturally, Munetada highly regarded the feeling of "gratitude."

He said: "If you spend your days in thankfulness for everything, each event without exception will appear as an exceptional gift. Since your life to begin with is a rare blessing, do not become careless for even a moment. [He sang:] 'If you live in the world in appreciation for everything, each and every thing you encounter is greeted with gratitude.'
If you are thankful for both the good and the bad, then each moment and each matter will be a rare occasion for gratitude. … All physical forms are subject to difficulties (tribulations); but it is our religious practice to not think of difficulties as difficulties, and so there is no occasion for suffering to arise.
When there is no suffering, there remains only joy. This state of mind is the Way itself; and when the heart and mind are peacefully established in the Way, there is great peace and joy. Of course it is up to the heart/mind to bring about this joyfulness as it wishes."

According to Munetada, it is our usual egoistic opinions and desires that cover over and conceal the sole "living reality" that is the true heart/mind.
He teaches, however, that it is possible to completely caste off our egoistic discriminating mind by diligently practicing "constant purification" without interruption, until not a single thing remains and one reaches the state of Nothingness.

"If one does not stop even upon reaching the state of Nothingness, there awaits an incomparably exquisite taste of gratitude, joy and brightness. This is called reaching the state of heavenly heart/mind. The heavenly heart/mind is becoming one with the heart/mind of the heavens and the earth, with the living reality of the heavens and the earth, in other words, with Amaterasu Omikami."

According to Munetada, each of our embodied selves originally came out of Nothingness (Mu); hence to continually cultivate the Nothingness at the core of our hearts and minds is, in fact, to cultivate the spirit of Amaterasu Omikami.
He also said that "the living reality dwells in the midst of Nothingness," and explained the state of mind in which he realized daily this Nothingness as follows:
"I doubt that there is anyone in the present world who works within such a state of no-intention and no-desire as do I. At this very moment, sweeping all intentions clean out of my breast, I stand here with not a single thing in my entire body.
Because my heart/mind is entirely given back to Heaven, the one living reality entirely fills the heavens and the earth. And yet, I receive it with gratitude as once again it freely returns to me right here and now."

Having related Munetada Kurozumi 's own account of his experience of the state of Nothingness, and of his practice of cultivating this state of heart/mind, I hope to have conveyed something of its spirit.

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