Sumo wrestling

A sumo ceremony at a Shinto shrine

Sumo wrestling has it's origin in the Shinto religion and all ceremonies in Sumo are related to purification. Historians agree that the origins of sumo date back 2000 years. At certain Shinto shrines, forms of ritual dance where a human is said to wrestle with a kami (a Shinto divine spirit) are still carried out today. Sumo only began to flourish as a spectator sport in the early 1600's. The Sumo bout has an inner meaning which has been lost over time. All religious symbols, myths and ceremonies have an inner, psychological meaning related to the awakening the Higher Self in man.

Confusion of literal and symbolic understanding is an endemic problem in organized religion, when the original inspiration has been replaced by imitation. For this reason, the revelation of symbolic meaning in scripture, the restoration of mythology to psychology, is one of the specialities of the original teachings of Zen. This internalization of meaning is the key to Zen expression in all the arts. -- Zen master Takuan

The revelation of symbolic meaning in scripture and the restoration of mythology and religious ceremony to psychology is not only one of the specialities of the original teachings of Zen, it is the speciality all esoteric traditions' teachings. Sumo ceremonies for purification symbolize internal purification through which a man gets rid of those aspects of his psychology, that obstruct the presence of his Higher Self. The sumo bout symbolizes the internal struggle between the part in a person striving for awakening called steward, and the lower self, in which the steward tries to purify the heart so Divine Presence can manifest itself.

A Sumo bout

Our Lord has taught us how we must practice our wrestling against the spirits of evil. -- Hesychios of Jerusalem, The Philokalia
Mind wrestles with mind – our minds with the mind of the enemy. -- Silouan the Athonite, The Philokalia
If a man lives without inner struggle, if everything happens in him without opposition, if he goes wherever he is drawn or wherever the wind blows, he will remain such as he is. -- Gurdjieff (20th c. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)

All religious texts have passages describing war. These passages also symbolize the internal war or struggle between the steward and the lower self. The greatest combat is the combat to control one`s lower self.

There is a war that opens the doors of heaven. Happy the warriors whose fate is to fight such war.
-- Bhagavad Gita (Hindu text)
The best jihad is to fight against the desires and temptations of the lower self. -- Mohammed (founder of Islam)
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.-- Christ, The Bible, Matthew, 10:34

The conflict between good and evil is the most common theme in myths, fairytales and literature, and is a universal part of the human condition, because man is made up of a lower self and a Higher Self.

A hero, symbolizing the steward, struggling
with a serpent (a symbol for the lower self).
Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi, 1797-1861)




I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. -- William Shakespeare, Othello
Man was composed of two natures, the animal or lower self and the spiritual or higher self, and this because the former is necessary to the development of the latter. -- Kabbalah, Zohar




The conflict between good and evil is also an important part of the Shinto tradition and is presented as purity and pollution.

The essence of Shinto concerns the relationship between good and evil as represented by pollution and purity. Such impurities and evil are removed through ritual purification. -- 'With God on their side', by Tara Magdalinsky
If a man understands that he is asleep and if he wishes to awake, then everything that helps him to awake will be good and everything that hinders him, everything that prolongs his sleep, will be evil. -- Gurdjieff
Good and evil come to a person only from himself. By good I mean what is in consonance with his aim, in harmony with his nature and disposition, and by evil what is contrary to his aim and in conflict with his nature and disposition. -- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher)

Takanonhana, performing the Shiko ceremony

Before the sumo bout the wrestler performs the leg-stomping shiko ceremony to drive evil spirits from the dohyō. Evil spirits represent thoughts and emotions that take away one`s attention from efforts to be present.

The origin of all demons is in mind itself. When awareness holds on and embraces any outer object, it is in the hold of a demon. -- Machig Labdrön, 11th c. Tibetan Yogini

A former wrestler said, The dohyo is a sacred place where gods descend. It isn’t just a ring. All places that are sacred for the Shinto traditions are marked with a Shimenawa (a plaited rope) and signify a Yorishiro. A yorishiro is a place, an object or a person, that can be inhabited by a spirit or a god. The circle and square in the dohyo is made of straw and can also be seen as a Shimenawa. The dohyo symbolizes the psychological place where the struggle between the gods and demons takes place; the heart. Gods and also Angels also have an inner meaning, referring to sacred reminders to be present, which descend into our heart.

Angels are the powers hidden in the faculties and organs of man. -- Ibn Arabi

Even if a man is dedicated to awakening, because he is engrossed in his daily activities, he will forget to make the effort to be present, hence the need to be reminded again and again. Being present means that the Higher Self, which is normally asleep during a man`s life, remembers to be present, remembers to be awake.

This is a strange repose, to be asleep with eyes wide open; standing, speaking, moving, and yet so fast asleep. -- Shakespeare, The Tempest
Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies. -- Gurdjieff (20th c. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)

The internal struggle between the lower and higher self takes place in the heart.

The most important work in spiritual struggle is to enter the heart and there to wage war with Satan;
to fight Satan by opposing his thoughts. -- The Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

The Sumo dohyo

Coin water basin, Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto














The shape of the sumo dohyo is square with a circle inside. The waterbasin above is round with a square inside. The four characters mean that when the Higher Self is present, it knows only contentment. For an explanation on the circle and square see: The Circle, Square and Triangle.

Remember that the ruling faculty is invincible, when self-collected it is satisfied with itself. -- Marcus Aurelius (2nd c. Roman Emperor)

When performing ceremonies at Shinto shrines and during their entrance ceremonies to denote their rank, the Yokozuna (grand champion) wears a shimenawa around his waist. This is because the Yokozuna is seen as a living yorishiro ( a person, that can be inhabited by a spirit or god). Once the yorishiro is inhabited by a god, he is called a Shintai (神体 — the body of a god).

A Yokozuna performing a ceremony at a Shinto shrine

A Yokozuna performing a ceremony at a Shinto shrine















The rope forms a circle on the back of the wrestler. The Yokozuna inhabited by a god, symbolizes that the Higher Self has awakened. This is the reason that the Yokozuna`s behavior, also outside the dohyo is subject to strict rules. It symbolizes that certain behavior exludes the presence of the Higher Self in a person. A Shimenawa can be seen in Shinto shrines, around trees or rocks and is also used as a new year`s decoration.

'Shimenawa' at the entrance of a home, at the Grand Shrine of Ise, around a tree and between 'Wedded rocks"

This rope can be seen in all esoteric traditions and is called the rope of God.

I fasten a rope to the sacred tree. I twist it in eight folds, so that I, a magician, may ascend to the magical house. -- Sacred Nahua Hymns (Aztec text)

Egyptian image of six men holding a cord, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Separation of God is like a well; remembrance of Him is the rope. -- Shams (13th c. Persian Muslim)
Hold fast to the rope of God, all of you,
and do not split up. -- Koran


In the above image, six men are pulling the boat of Ra, the Sun-God, with a rope. They are pulling the boat through the Amduat — the underworld or the night, symbolizing the state of psychological sleep — to enable Ra to shine again, during the day (the state of presence). The rope of god or a shimenawa, symbolizes an uninterrupted effort to wake up the god within, one`s Higher Self. The lower self tries to interrupt one`s awareness of the present at every breath one takes. Therefore, when one tries to be present, one must watch every breath one takes.

The body is the house of God. That is why it is said, ‘Man know thyself.’ -- Temple Aphorisms from Luxor

Japanese characters for shimenawa

The left character for Shimenawa means attention or concentrate on. The middle character means to connect, while the right character means rope. One can translate Shimenawa as a rope to connect one`s attention. When focussing one`s attention on waking up the god within, one tries to not allow other thoughts to interrupt one`s attention on the present.

Women are not allowed to enter the Sumo dohyo. In many of the world's religions, women are not allowed to enter holy places, although in modern times this practice is gradually diminishing. For instance, until 1863, women were not allowed to climb mount Fuji, one of Japan`s sacred mountains.

It is a shame for women to speak in the Church. -- The Bible, I Corinthians 14:35
Do not take a woman's words to your heart. A woman is a disease who does not leave the tree (of Life) without having destroyed it. -- Egyptian Texts

All the holy places of all religions symbolize that part in a man that can awaken the god within: the heart.

The heart is the secluded shrine of God. -- Al-Din Razi (13th c. Persian sufi)
In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. -- Rabia (8th c, female Sufi mystic and poet)

Even if a man is dedicated to awakening his Higher Self, only a small part in him, is interested in it. This part in him is also called the heart and is the only part in a human being that is interested in being present. 'Women' symbolize emotions, such as joy, anger, sadness, happiness and desire for worldly things, that obstruct the presence of the god within. Of course both men and women have these emotions.

A ‘woman’ represents someone who is slave to his desires and unable to consider anything or anyone except himself. -- Ibn Arabi

These emotions are in fact, taking one`s attention away from efforts to remember oneself. In the story of Alice in Wonderland, a character called the Queen of Hearts repeatedly decides that a person she is discontented with should be beheaded. This symbolizes negative emotions from the emotional part of the emotional center. The King of Hearts, however, follows her and pardons each person, representing the intellectual part of the emotional center controlling the queen of hearts. When the emotional part of a center is active, one is in a state of fascination, like the woman in this picture. All her attention is directed to the conversation. Apparently she`s experiencing some difficulty, and her identity (her experience of 'I') is completely absorbed in the conversation. This state happens exactly the same way in men and has nothing to do with being male or female. I`s from the queens of centers are controlling one, the intellectual parts of centers are not functioning, and the desire to be present is absent. As a result, one lives one`s life in a state of sleep, controlled by any 'I' that comes along.

But whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding: he that does it destroys his own soul.
-- The Bible, Proverbs 6:32

The job of the steward is to wake up the Higher Self within one. In the fairytale Sleeping Beauty, the prince symbolizing the steward, is trying to wake up Sleeping Beauty (the higher Self). To do this the mind or steward, must connect to the desire to be present, the heart. If the mind has relations with other parts of the lower centers, it is called adultery and Sleeping Beauty stays asleep. In Sufi literature, the steward is called the lover and the state of presence or (also symbolized by the Shinto Goddes Amaterasu), is called the Beloved.

You have left your Beloved and are thinking of others, and this is why all your work is in vain.
-- Kabir (15th c. Indian mystic poet)

The state of being present is opposite to the state that the woman in the picture is experiencing. She is completely absorbed in her emotions, which doesn`t leave any room for self-awareness. When one is aware of oneself in the moment, there is a sense of separation between the part that is acting and the part that is observing.

A sumo wrestler, especially a Yokozuna, enjoys less personal freedoms than athletes in other sports and lives the most restricted life of all athletes. In public, a sumo wrestler is expected to be self-effacing, modest and soft-spoken. In other words, his emotional expression must be balanced and not extreme. Their daily lives are defined by austerity and strict rules, symbolizing the steward controlling the lower self. The life of a Sumo wrestler is exemplified by the word ganbaru. A Japanese phrase that is often used is ganbatte kudasai. It means something like please do your best or try your hardest. In certain situations where a Japanese says ganbatte kudasai, an English speaker would say good luck in English instead. This reflects a deeply rooted attitude in Japanese people that shows an understanding for the need to make efforts. In Japan making efforts itself is valued, while in the West only results are valued. The inner meaning is that when one makes efforts to be present one must not look at the result, only the effort is important. -- Ganbaru can also be translated as never give up. In relation to the struggle to awaken the Higher Self, this is a necessary attitude. However, without the effort to be present, any effort made in the state of sleep, ultimately doesn`t have any value.

There is one thing in this world, which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everythingelse, but did not forget that, then there would be no cause to worry. Whereas if you performed and remembered and did not forget every single thing, but forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.
-- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
Human life in the world has a mission, which alone is important; with this direction there is life, without it there is death. If one cannot find happiness in this mission, this direction, this order, everything else is empty and false. That to which heaven directs humanity is only good; if one can find happiness in that command, then this is obeying heaven. Having the direction of heaven is the greatest of possessions. -- Liu Yiming , The Taoist I Ching, Hexagram #14 Great Possesion
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