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.
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.
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.
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.
The conflict between good and evil is also an important part of the Shinto tradition and is presented as purity and pollution.
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.
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.
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.
The internal struggle between the lower and higher self takes place in the heart.
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.
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).
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.
This rope can be seen in all esoteric traditions and is called the rope of God.
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 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.
All the holy places of all religions symbolize that part in a man that can awaken the god within: the heart.
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.
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.
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.
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.