Ninjutsu as it is Correlated with the ‘Mysteries’: Is Ninjutsu an Occult Art?

Of all chapters contained within the Bansenshukai, none other is more alluring to me than ‘Seishin’, a volume intended to present the reader with the principles of a ‘correct mind’.

In that chapter, Fujibayashi lays out imperatives of conduct for the initiate who has taken up the path of a shinobi (see rudiments of their moral code here). Included in these precepts of behavior are admonitions to avoid things like lust, greed, dishonesty, and indulging the sundry passions of human nature to one’s demise. Fujibayashi goes on to instruct that certain behaviors correspond with man’s lower and higher natures.

The author with a Shakuhachi flute. Shinobi were known to impersonate Komuso monks that played Shakuhachi.

With the understanding that the secrets of ninjutsu were only divulged to the initiate after a period of testing one’s fidelity, and that at least some ninja were ordained or familiar with an esoteric form of Buddhism of the Mt. Koya region (namely Shingon Buddhism), I am tempted to correlate the dark art of the ninja with the occult philosophies and practices of the ‘Mysteries’ schools of the ancients.

But first, so that you may follow my line of thought, let us define the ‘Mysteries’:

“In all cities of the ancient world were temples for public worship and offering. In every community also were philosophers and mystics, deeply versed in Nature’s lore. These individuals were usually banded together, forming seclusive philosophic and religious schools. The more important of these groups were known as the Mysteries.” – (The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall p.40)

Hall expatiates at great lengths the ambitions of the Mysteries, most central of which was to collate the secrets of nature’s laws into  a coherent philosophy purposed for the elevation of man beyond his lower proclivities (which inexorably diverted one’s attention from his/her ultimate self-realization). These lower proclivities consisted of lustful passions, greedy appetites, and an appeal to the sense-mediated pleasures of the material world.

The Mysteries developed “secret processes” that were intended to help man, escape “lust and degeneracy”, awaken spiritual power, and “overcome his lower nature, master his appetites,  and give expression to the higher side of himself.” (Hall p. 42)  This esoteric knowledge was preserved by establishment of secret societies which retained the means to execute those who violated oaths of secrecy.

So what do they have to do with the ninja?

As stated in the outset, Fujibayashi’s manual contains a chapter on conduct principles which a shinobi is advised to bear in mind and practice at all times. In fact, Fujibayashi thought this chapter to be so crucial to ninjutsu that he puts it at the beginning of the text and states had he not included it, his manual would have basically just taught the skills of thievery.

‘Seishin’ is the title of Fujibayashi’s first chapter within the Bansenshukai (mentioned above) and is Japanese for spirit, mind, or psyche. The content of this chapter is replete with allusions to the higher propensities of man (such as those spoken of in the Mysteries) and how our lower natures can pollute or make feckless the stratagems of ninjutsu. Hence the reason the shinobi is to bear its precepts in mind at all times.

I do not claim that the Mysteries influenced Ninjutsu, although this proposition is tenuously possible given that Shingon Buddhism is an esoteric (occult) form of religion that undoubtedly shaped the belief systems of some ninja (and the ancient philosophies of the Mysteries permeated the Orient). Indeed, it has been written that the doctrines of Shingon Buddhism known as mikkyo (secret teachings) differ significantly from Buddhist teachings for public consumption known as kengyo; an allusion to Shingon Buddhism’s recondite roots:

“Kukai claimed the superiority of Shingon teachings by categorizing it as mikkyo, secret or hidden teachings, often translated as “esoteric Buddhism as opposed to other forms, which he called kengyo, public teachings. Kengyo are the teachings preached by Shakyamuni Buddha after he attained enlightenment which include all Theravada and Mahayana teachings. Mikkyo, however, argues that their teachings were passed down straight from Mahavairocana, the name given to enlightened reality itself.” – Shingon Buddhism: Attaining Enlightenment with this Body by Buichiro Watanabe p.27

What I do contend is that ninjutsu is itself an occult art by comparison to other known bodies of occult knowledge (such as that of the Mysteries).

In sum, the similarities between the Mysteries and Ninjutsu are as follows:

  1. Both adhere to strict obeisance of secrecy oaths
  2. Both are esoteric bodies of knowledge that are only dispensed to the initiated
  3. Both justify murder in protecting its secrets
  4. Both retain philosophical tenets that posit man has possession of higher and lower natures
  5. Both prefer the suppression of the lower nature and exaltation of the higher nature

More to come…







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