Religion

Mittsumunedō: The Way of the Three Pillars

Religion in the Empire draws from a variety of sources, and focuses on three main pillars of piety: Prayer, Meditation, and Scholarship. Each pillar expresses a facet of the Way, the pursuit of which improves the mind and spirit.

Prayer

The world is full of spirits. The Divine Court serves the Lady of the Sun and the Lord of Steel, and its members, the Terrestrial and Celestial Gods, watch over their mortal descendents. Below them, the Major Fortunes watch over the people of the Empire, while worldly and otherworldly spirits command and protect the elements and other facets of the World, and of the World Beyond the World. Departed ancestors watch over their continuing bloodlines. Mortals make offerings and offer devotion to these powers out of duty to those higher in the Divine Order than themselves, and receive guidance and protection in return.

Prayer is the Outward Pillar, because it focuses on that which is external to oneself.

Meditation

Human beings are imperfect creatures, formed at the dawn of the world from the chaotic roiling of the four physical elements. But through their connection to the Void, humans touch the divine truth of the cosmos, the emptiness out of which the first gods sprang. By focusing the mind on motion and substance, mortals come to understand the interaction of the elements in themselves and in all things, and know the world. By focusing on stillness, they approach the Void, and come to understand the interconnectedness of all things. With greater and greater understanding of oneself and one’s place in the universe, Enlightenment draws closer. Those who attain it find themselves transcending their baser selves, allowing them to rise in the Divine Order, whether as honored ancestors, nascent fortunes, or stranger spirits.

Meditation is the Inward Pillar, because it focuses on that which is inside each person.

Scholarship

The path is difficult to walk, but those who have gone ahead have left signposts to help the pious find their way. At the dawn of the Empire, mortals of great talent and wisdom walked alongside the gods, and their words with the divine and with each other have been preserved to this day. The Canon of Righteous Works includes letters, treatises, essays, manuals, and innumerable other sagacious texts from the wise men of ages past. Discussions of the nature of Virtue and Justice and Beauty, of the correct structure for society, of the natural world and its features— all of these are to be interpreted and understood. By studying the words of the gods and their followers, one may better understand the methods and purpose of prayer. And by studying the nature of humanity and the elements, one may better meditate on their place in the cosmos. Finally, by gaining a broad understanding of the world, one may more easily live a righteous life, serving society and the gods.

Scholarship is the Bridging Pillar, because it focuses on transforming that which is external to oneself into that which is internal.


In Practice

Every subject of the Empire should in theory practice all three Pillars to the best of their abilities and means; however, the reality is that many individuals specialise. Priests, monks, and librarians all understand that their function is not the only facet of the Way, but that understanding does nothing to give them more hours in the day to pursue those Pillars outside of the one it is their role to facilitate, and consequently, many do not find the time to do so.

Governance

Many facets of the religious landscape of the Empire fall under the purview of the Enlightened Ministry Between Heaven and Earth for Sagacious Governance and Indefatigable Oversight of Ephemeral Matters, the ministry responsible for dealing with spiritual affairs throughout the Empire.

Often abbreviated in conversation to merely Watchers of the Ephemeral, or simply Watchers, this ministry is responsible for maintaining shrines in the Imperial capital, appointing high-level priests throughout the empire, monitoring and rooting out heresies, and investigating and dealing with any mysteries or dangers of a spiritual nature.

Conflict

Though all agree that the Three Pillars of Piety are the core of religious philosophy in the Empire, there is disagreement nevertheless. Countless sects elevate one Pillar over the others. Priests disagree about which fortunes and spirits should be prayed to when, and how to do so; monks argue whether worldly or ascetic practices best serve meditation for the pursuit of Enlightenment, or whether the physical elements or the void are the best focus; scholars argue over the interpretation of the greatest texts in the Canon of Righteous Works, or whether a given work or author should be included at all.


History

The Way of the Three Pillars is the end result of a long process of synthesis and syncretism, stretching back before the Dawn of the Empire.

The First Pillar, Prayer

The Way of the Three Pillars has its roots in the shamanic traditions of the pre-Empire peoples of the region, and as such its history is poorly recorded. Before the Terrestrial and Celestial Gods stopped warring and turned their attention towards guiding humanity, mankind lived in a desperate and chaotic world, and those among them who had the gift of speaking with spirits would call upon their Ancestors, and on the spirits of nature and the elements for guidance and protection. The earliest practitioners of magic emerged at this time as shamans who who laid the foundations of what eventually became the various onmyoji traditions. Prayers and offerings formed the core of worship in this period, though many shamans used meditation and other contemplative techniques to open themselves more fully to the spirit world.

Beyond those Ancestors who lingered as benevolent ghosts, or the spirits of nature mankind was able to bargain or treat with, humanity was also aided by the emergence of the Seven Major Fortunes, who nurtured and defended them. Shamanic practices came to include devotion to these figures.

Together, devotion toward and intercession from these powers— Ancestors, elements, spirits, and Fortunes— formed the first Pillar, Prayer.

The Second Pillar, Meditation

At the Dawn of the Empire the gods ceased their warring and went among mankind to guide them. In that period, many great sages emerged, heirs to centuries of shamanic tradition. With the advent of the gods walking among mortals, these sages had new access to the mysteries of the cosmos, and began to develop new spiritual practices and techniques. In particular, the practice of meditation saw incredible refinement from a means to prepare oneself for the outward practices of prayer to an end in and of itself.

Two mortal sages in particular defined the practices of meditation that continue in the Empire to this day. Itsumaru was a powerful practitioner of elemental magic, able to call on the kami of the Void as well as of the elements, and his meditation focused on stilling the mind and body, allowing emptiness to fill the soul and thereby enter a state of divine oneness with the universe.

The other technique of meditation was developed by Itsumaru’s contemporary, Midokaji. Also a practitioner of elemental magic, Midokaji was less powerful than Itsumaru, but was more insightful about the nature of the world that Itsumaru sought to see beyond. Her techniques of meditation focused on the balance of the physical elements, and on understanding their interaction. Where Itsumaru’s techniques relied on stillness and emptiness, Midokaji focused on visualisation and rhythmic, cyclical motion as aid to meditation, seeking to unify body, mind, and spirit into a seamless whole where Itsumaru sought to transcend all three.

Both sages attracted followers and students, and ultimately drew the attention of Radiant Kagayaki and Shining Senkō. Near the end of the Dawn of the Empire period, both were invited to the Imperial Court to demonstrate what their practices had bought them.

First, Midokaji spoke of the interactions of the Elements, of their interconnection, and of her knowledge of her own place among them. Then, she began to meditate while standing before the Emperor and Empress, swaying back and forth on her feet, eyes open but unfocused, a wordless hum on her lips. She swayed thus for several minutes, and those looking on began to grow impatient, until, just as they began to mutter among themselves, without sound or fanfare, the vary walls of the chamber began to sway in time with the sage. The court erupted into an uproar, and Kagaki and Senkō were greatly impressed with the sage. Midokaji smiled, and spoke, saying: “Knowing the world, I am everything.” Hearing her words, the Emperor and Empress decreed that her principles of meditation should be spread throughout the Empire.

Next came Itsumaru’s turn. First, he spoke of the nature of the Void, of the oneness of all things through emptiness, and of his knowledge of his own ephemeral nature. Then, he began to meditate while standing before the Emperor and Empress, body completely still, eyes closed. He stood so still for so long, that the onlookers of the court began to grow bored until, just as they were about to begin muttering among themselves, they saw that Itsumaru was gone. The court erupted once more into uproar, and Kagayki and Senkō were greatly surprised by the sage. Then, his voice sounded as from thin air, saying: “Knowing the Void, I am nothing,” and with those words he reappeared where he had been standing. Hearing his words, the Emperor and Empress decreed that his principles of meditation should also be spread throughout the Empire. In this way their practices became the second Pillar, Meditation

Though unconfirmed, apocryphal accounts continue the story of the encounter between the two sages; supposedly Itsumaru, pleased by his victory, turned to Midokaji and said: “You see? Separation is an illusion.” Her response is given as: “Then truly, our arts are the same.” It is unrecorded what they spoke of after that, but it is said that in that moment both became Enlightened.

At the Imperial command, the Brotherhood of the Way was founded to spread the two sages’ meditative practices throughout the Empire. Over time the Brotherhood has divided into countless loosely affiliated sects, each with its own teachings and practices. In addition, their role has expanded to include spreading the other facets of the Way of the Three Pillars, though Meditation has always remained their primary focus.

The Third Pillar, Scholarship

For the birth of the first Imperial heir, Waheiji, Kaibansou, the closest servant of Kagaki and Senkou, assembled a book of advice drawn for her conversations with all of the infant’s divine aunts and uncles, coupled with her own observations and insight regarding life before the advent of the gods and during the Dawn of the Empire. This book, the Manual for the Divine Prince, was presented to the heir as a gift, and formed one of the cornerstones of his education. When he ascended the throne as Waheiji I, he continued to make use of the advice it contained. Near the end of Kaibansou’s life, the young Emperor asked his family’s first and closest servant to expand her book with the wisdom he had gleaned from his own rule, as a gift for Waheiji’s son and heir. Together the two created a new edition of the Manual for the Divine Prince, which in turn formed the cornerstone of the education of Waheiji II. Upon ascending the throne, Waheiji II decreed that his father’s book should be enshrined as the foundation of philosophy in the Empire, and distributed across the land to uplift his subjects, who should forever seek wisdom wherever it might be found. In this way, he created the root of the third Pillar, Scholarship.

Following his decree, many other books rose to prominence in the Imperial court, several of which Waheiji II deemed worthy of likewise being promulgated. Over the centuries, the list of books so endorsed by the Emperor has grown into a veritable library, which came to be called the Canon of Righteous Works. Countless additional books are also considered honorary members of the Canon by scholars, based on their merits. Every education includes several of the volumes found in the Canon, most especially the Manual and Naibuki’s To Command.

Unification

It was Waheiji III who unified the Three Pillars into Mittsumunedō, the official religion of the Empire. During the early part of his rule, disagreement over the three pursuits which came to be the Pillars grew schismatic and ultimately violent. When a lecture in the Imperial capital sparked bloodshed between the listeners, the Emperor decreed that the three competing ways must henceforth support the well-being of the Empire jointly, like pillars supporting a roof, rather than seeking constantly to undermine each other. Those sects that sought conflict were declared heretical and were suppressed, while those sects that synthesized the newly named Three Pillars were promoted. By the end of his reign, Waheiji III’s methods had worked, and Mittsumunedō had becomes the primary religious philosophy in the Empire.


Trappings and Practices

Religious trappings and practices associated with Mittsumunedō vary across the breadth of the Empire, but maintain a strong core of similarity.

Prayers and Offerings

Devotees of Mittsumunedō pray to Divinities, including the Terrestrial and Celestial Gods of the of the Divine Court and the Fortunes, to their Ancestors, and to the kami and other local spirits.

Prayers

There are two types of prayer, formal and informal. Formal prayers are the province of onmyoji, priests, shrine-keepers, and other religious officials. They make use of sophisticated and highly ritualised language, and their structure and content are formulaic. Formal prayers change very little between regions and across the centuries, and each is used for specific purposes at specific times. Formal prayers are often pronounced publicly, and form the backbone of many festivals, processions, and ceremonies. They are invoked for weddings, funerals, births, to bless the harvest, before battle, and at any other occasion of great import, and are often performed in temples and larger shrines. Formal prayers invoke the attention and intercession of the Gods, Fortunes, and Ancestors for the benefit of the community, and are typically pronounced on behalf of other people. Gods and Major Fortunes are more likely to take notice of this approach.

Informal prayers are more personal. Their language is loose, and they are uttered in private or in small groups. They are the province of individuals, from peasants to samurai. They most frequently represent requests for guidance or personal assistance spoken in the privacy of the personal or family shrine. Minor Fortunes and especially Ancestors are more likely to respond to this method.

Offerings

Offerings made in Mittsumunedō vary a great deal depending on the intended recipient.

Incense is the most common, burnt in offering to every manner of spirit, from Blessed Ancestors up to the Gods. The finest incenses are made with agarwood or sandalwood, but countless other fragrances are particularly pleasing to one spirit or another.

Food and drink are also very commonly offered. Ancestors maintain the same preferences they did in life, while other spirits prefer foods more for their symbolic properties than for their flavours; Ebisu, for example, favors grain for its link to bounty and fertility.

Other offerings are often linked to the domain of the God or Fortune intended to receive them, such as fine tools tied to their associated duties, or artistic depictions of their domains or their deeds.

Air Kami
Customary offerings include incense and other burnt offerings which produce a fragrant smoke, colourful feathers, bright, light ribbons and scarves, and high, light music, particularly from instruments that must be blown to play.

Earth Kami
Customary offerings include carved stone and wood, worked metal, and aged, preserved foods, particularly those grown underground.

Water Kami
Customary offerings include fine inks or liquors, pure salts, tea leaves, and floating objects with which they might play, such as paper boats or fresh flowers.

Fire Kami
Customary offerings include flammable materials of high quality or obscure provenance, such as expensive oils or rare woods. Objects which take great care to create are also appreciated, such as ritual candles or small items of burnable art.

Void Kami
Unlike other kami, spirits of the Void are rarely pleased by offerings.

Meditative Practices

Meditative practices are intended to unite mind and spirit through internal refinement and contemplation. They are divided into two schools, one focusing on the Void and one on the Elements.

Mediation on the Void relies on silence and stillness. The practitioner focuses inwards, learning to filter out external stimulus and inner turmoil, seeking to enter a state of no-thought and inner peace.

Meditation on the Elements is more active, making use of visualisation techniques, repetitive mantras and sutras, and rhythmic, cyclical motion to enter a state of unity with the universe. Sound and smell, such as bells or incense, are sometimes used to direct the senses, but are not necessarily required.

The Canon of Righteous Works

There are countless texts in the Canon, but some notable ones are presented below.

Manual for the Divine Prince, by Kaibansō
Recorded conversations between Kaibansō and the gods, with the premise of gathering advice for Waheiji, Kagayaki and Senkō’s child, from his aunts and uncles to present as a gift for the newborn. All but the very earliest editions also include conversations between Kaibansō and Waheiji himself once he had ascended the throne, and copies of the original are incredibly rare. The text includes parables and stories from all of the gods alongside Kaibansō’s own observations about life before and during the Dawn of the Empire.

To Command, by Naibuki
The foundation of Bushidō, this text presents philosophical precepts for honorable behavior, establishing the seven Virtues that guide right action. It also includes some extensive analysis of military strategy and of the role of warrior nobility in society.

Two Swords Under Heaven, by Hirin, collated and concluded by Hirin’s son
Seminal treatise on swordsmanship in the two sword style, includes a great deal of pragmatic advice for daily living, as well as some philosophical digressions, and an early form of the mind-without-mind principle.

Swordsmanship, by Hakato
Seminal treatise on swordsmanship in the single sword style, including an expansion on the mind-without-mind principle and a response to much of Hirin’s writing. Also includes a great deal of writing on the nature of art and beauty, as well as some original poetry.

On Government and Bureaucracy, by Kuraikoe Jama
An examination of the nature of administration, the strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracy, and of the necessary and desirable qualities civil servants should cultivate. Includes a great deal of political thought, and outlines many of the offices and ministries necessary for a government to function. Popularised the “Gentleman Scholar” as a template for miyabito.

Service, by Zaikufuu Chihiro
A personal journal kept by Zaikufuu’s daughter throughout her apprenticeship to her father, then her time as a smith, a battlefield commander, and finally, as the Zaikufuu Daimyo. Alongside the mundane accounts of the day-to-day of her life, her writing focuses on the nature of Duty— to one’s family, one’s sensei, one’s lord, one’s comrades, one’s retainers… The journal explores self-sacrifice and extoles service to something greater.

Three-Generations Correspondence, by various Negurakori
A lengthy collection of letters between three successive pairs of Daimyo of the Itsumaru and Nareha families, beginning with their founders and continuing with their children and grandchildren. These letters include countless observations on the nature and behavior of spirits and the nature of the elements and spirit realms, alongside theoretical religious argument and debate, and spiritual and practical advice back and forth from daimyo to daimyo.

On Command, by Komoretsu
A response to Naibuki’s text, Komoretsu’s treatise establishes a system of behavior that methodically circumvents or outright ignores Bushidō, and extols the benefits of doing so. Particularly, he writes extensively of how the honorable may be led by the nose, comparing them to well-trained dogs. Those that include this text in the Canon of Righteous Works consider it a cautionary treatise written from an assumed position, rather than as a sincere guide on how to act.

Ekikyō, by Kaze
A treatise written by a wandering monk in the third century, Ekikyō is the result of Kaze’s lifetime of observation of the patterns of life across the breadth of the Empire. Over the course of his travels, he recorded everything he saw, and attempted to classify events and phenomena into a structured framework of everything that was possible between Heaven and Earth. His book derives from the vast experience of life a limited group of key influences mundane and spiritual which he called Roots, which he believed could be combined to represent every situation. By understanding what the true nature of a situation was through this analysis, one could better understand how to act in the world. His book, Ekikyou, describes 64 Roots, and offers a few words of advice on how to behave in relation to each. After his death, the practice of using his book as a divinatory aid began to appear; this practice focuses on allowing fate to reveal a number of Roots by which to gather omens, which may then be deciphered through the Ekikyou text. Typically, Roots are selected by throwing yarrow sticks printed with their symbols and observing which lie faceup, and in what relation to each other.

Departure, by Urada
A collected series of letters sent by Urada to his niece, Saiu Umaru, during the lead up to the Yorukuusai's departure from the Empire. Urada recounts details of the extensive preparations made in the months before the massive expedition, including much of historical interest. He also writes extensively on the topic of advice for his niece in her new married life, and experiments with an early form of what would later become the classic Yorukuusai poetic style. The final version of the text is annotated by Umaru, who comments on the nature of diligence, both in the Yorukuusai's preparations for departure and in the content of her uncle's advice to her. Her notes also include some original poetry in response to Urada's work, contrasting the already well-established tanka style with his new proto-travel poetry.

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