Encountering Inari: A Guided Meditation

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This is a guided meditation to help the individual deepen their spiritual connection with the deity Inari Okamisama, and to gain mental and spiritual well-being. It should not be viewed as a way to “summon” Inari – rather, it is a method of relaxation and visualisation to encourage deep contemplation of Inari, as well as to offer one’s respect and prayers. The meditation can be memorised, or you can ask a friend to read it out loud slowly and quietly as you meditate, or you can read and record it and play it back. 

Preparation: Shintoists may wish to purify themselves before performing the meditation, either by simply washing their hands and mouth or by taking a shower or bath. If you have a kamidana in your house, it would be appropriate to place an offering there before you begin, and to perform the meditation in the same room as the kamidana if possible. To enhance the meditative atmosphere, you can light candles, burn incense (Japanese stick incense would be the most appropriate) and play soft background music – again, traditional Japanese music would be fitting, but any music that is evocative of mountains and forests (such as bird song) would be fine. It’s best if the room is darkened.

When you have prepared yourself and your meditative space, making sure you will not be interrupted, sit or lie down comfortably and close your eyes. Relax your body and mind and gradually feel your mind slip gently into a meditative state. You can use breathing techniques or chanting to help you. When you are ready, begin the guided meditation.

Your consciousness emerges deep in the Japanese countryside, in a place lost in time and space. You are walking on a path surrounded by lush, green rice paddies, The sun is shining down gently upon you; it is fairly low in the sky, telling you it is late afternoon.

Take a deep breath of the clean air around you. It is deliciously moist and carries the scent of the vegetation around you; the smell of damp earth tells you that it has rained recently, cooling and cleansing the earth. The air around you feels warm and fresh against your skin.

Listen. You can hear the songs of birds. A gentle breeze rustling the rice plants. The soft chirping of grasshoppers. The occasional croak of a frog from the rain-soaked rice paddies. The murmur of a small stream running beside the path. This is all you can hear. All is very still and peaceful.

Your gaze follows the stream up the path and ahead of you, where you now realise there is an enormous mountain. It is covered all over with dense forests of trees and bamboo, with leaves of many hues. Some of the leaves are beginning to turn a beautiful bright red or orange, or a sombre purple-brown; you realise from this that it is early autumn. Much of the mountain is covered in silvery mist that has risen from the fallen rain.

Slowly follow the path towards the mountain, taking time to enjoy and appreciate the serenity of the countryside around you.

At the foot of the mountain, there is a large, stone torii gate. It is weathered and moss grows here and there on its surface; you realise it must be very old. The torii is flanked on either side by two large, stone kitsune statues – Inari’s guardian foxes. From this, you understand that this mountain must be a sacred place of the great kami, Inari.

Make a low bow, then pass under the torii and begin your ascent of the mountain.

You walk slowly up the mountain under a canopy of trees; the mountain is heavily forested. The calm light of late afternoon falls dappled through the branches. Leaves are beginning to fall from some of the trees, and occasionally, drops of water from the recent rainfall. You can hear birds flapping from tree to tree and singing their beautiful songs. Every now and then, a large, beautiful butterfly flies past. A thin mist too drifts all around you, and the ground before you seems to have a slight silver shimmer.

The path is lined with old stone lanterns, many green with moss, and now and then you spy tiny statues of foxes at the foot of some of the larger trees, among the roots, ferns and fallen leaves. Most are accompanied by an offering of salt, sake or a burning candle beside them.

The path follows the route of a river flowing down the mountain. Take a moment to look into the river. Its calm rushing sound and motion calms your spirit, and every now and then, you spot a small fish swimming by.

As you follow the path, the river becomes larger and more powerful, and eventually, you reach a pool with a small waterfall rushing through. A large stone near the centre of the pool with kanji characters carved into it indicates that the pool is sacred to Suijin, the god of water. You notice that candles have been placed on some of the rocks by the pool, and you can also smell the aroma of burning incense intermingling with the cool scent of the river.

You decide to purify yourself in this waterfall. How you wish to do this is up to you; you may simply wish to wash your hands in the water, or wash your face and mouth, or even immerse your whole body in the water. Whatever you decide to do, do it slowly and contemplatively. As you cleanse yourself physically, feel yourself also being purified mentally and spiritually. The cool water washes away all your worries, your concerns, your fatigue. The more you wash yourself, the more relaxed and serene you feel.

Once you have purified yourself, continue further on the path up the mountain – the air is still warm and you will dry off quickly from your ablutions. The light is gradually beginning to fade now, and you can hear birds calling as they come in to roost. Their calls are hauntingly beautiful. As the sunlight dies, the stone lanterns around you begin to glow mysteriously. You feel that something powerful yet benevolent is awakening in the mountain.

You now pass through a row of red torii gates, each one with a glowing lantern suspended underneath. Continue on through these torii until you arrive at a small shrine to Inari. The shrine is surrounded with bags of rice and bottles of sake – the blessings of Inari. There are also a number of hokora – miniature shrines – each surrounded with little fox statues and offerings of sake, flowers and sakaki branches. As you explore the area, you also find a “fox hole” shrine in the hollow of a mound, filled with glowing candles, sweet incense and numerous ceramic foxes. You may wish to spend some time in meditation within the fox hole.

Proceed to the main shrine, which has a large bell and rope in front of it. Bow deeply before the bell, and then ring it, and bow twice more. On the second bow, clap your hands slowly twice, then keep your hands clasped as you pray to Inari. In your heart, express your gratitude to Inari for letting you visit this divine place and for guiding your way. Let Inari know that your heart is open to whatever teachings he may have for you. Take this time to make any other prayers you may have. You may take as long as you wish.

When you have finished your prayers, bow twice again and quietly leave the shrine to continue your path up the mountain, into the trees.

It is night time now, and a hush has fallen in the forest. All you can hear is the gentle breeze through the trees. You are not afraid of losing your way – the lanterns hanging from the torii and lining the path light the way with their gentle glow. Night’s darkness casts a deep spell upon the mountain; you can feel the presence of something otherworldly all around you.

After a while, you hear a rustle in by the path. Turning in the direction of the noise, you see a fox emerging from the path, watching you. Then you catch sight of another, and then another, all coming out as if to greet you. Some of them walk along beside you; others chase and play with each other; others sit quietly, enjoying the night air. And now, you begin to hear a distant, rhythmic drumming, and the high-pitched trill of a flute. Head towards the direction of the music; as you do so, more and more foxes appear. You see that many of the foxes seem slimmer and paler – a glowing, ghostly white, even –  with very pointed faces, just like the many statues of foxes you have seen on your journey. As the foxes turn and bow their heads towards you, you realise that these must be Myobu – the spirit fox messengers of Inari. Return their bow respectfully, and let them lead the way.

The foxes take you to a large, ancient shrine right at the top of the mountain. The music, played by unseen musicians, reaches its peak. Lining the way to the shrine are a row of white foxes, all welcoming you with a bow which you return. You walk up to the shrine – and there, waiting for you beneath a torii, is an incarnation of the great kami Inari.

Only you know how Inari appears to you. Perhaps he appears as an old man, with a kind yet mischievous spark in his eyes. Perhaps she appears as a beautiful, kindly yet strong young woman, with long black hair. Perhaps he a handsome young man in traditional, aristocratic Japanese clothing, with long red hair and heavy red and white face paint. Perhaps she is a fox, a snake, a dragon, a ball of fiery light, or something else entirely. How Inari appears is unique to you, and only you.

Inari gestures for you to approach, and you do so. When you are before him, bow down low and respectfully. You may feel worried that you have nothing to offer as a tribute, but there is no need. All Inari would like from you at this moment is your presence.

You now see there is a low table before Inari, illuminated by candles and laden with an exquisite meal. Inari indicates for you to sit down on the soft cushions beside the table; you do so and you can see that there is rice, fried tofu, sweet black beans covered in gold leaf, soup, fruit and many other delicious things too – see them all in your mind’s eye. There is also a bottle of sake on the table, and two cups: one for Inari, and yourself. If your path does not include the consumption of alcohol, do not worry – it is instead amazake, which does not contain alcohol. In the Japanese tradition, pour a cup of sake for Inari and allow one of his fox attendants to pour one for you. Inari raises her cup in a toast, and you do so likewise. You sip the sake; it is exquisite and washes away any of the nerves you may feel about being in this divine presence.

When Inari indicates that you may do so, begin the meal. It is delicious beyond compare, satisfying you both physically and spiritually. Inari is delighted to see you enjoy the meal.

Now is the perfect time to speak with Inari. Do not be afraid to speak your mind; Inari already knows what is in your heart. You may wish to ask Inari questions, or tell him what your are feeling, or ask her for her blessings for yourself or others, or simply express your joy and gratitude for sharing this moment with him. This is your time with Inari, and yours alone. You may spend as long as you like talking with Inari; he will not get bored or tired of your presence. Listen to what Inari has to say to you too. You may not understand exactly what she says to you, but keep it in your mind – the meaning will be revealed in time.

When the time is right, you will find that the meal is over, and finally you are both served a sweet and a single, large cup of green tea. Eat the sweet, and let Inari take the first sip of tea. When Inari passes the tea cup to you, accept it with a low bow, turn it once in your palm, and take a sip too. This tea ceremony allows you to share in Inari’s spirit in quiet contemplation. Feel and enjoy the stillness and the silence.

Relaxed, full and completely content, you find yourself feeling drowsy. Inari rises, and announces that it is time for this encounter to end. Bow once more, deeply, and thank Inari profoundly. Inari turns and walks away, through the torii gate, and gradually disappears from sight. You now feel so drowsy that you decide to lie down on the cushions and close your eyes. The last thing you sense is the cool air around you, the hypnotic rhythm around you, and a feeling of deep spiritual contentment.

When you are ready, open your eyes and awaken now, here, in your meditative space. The meditation is over, but you take with you the spiritual serenity and wisdom that Inari has given to you. Treasure it always.

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2 Comments

Filed under Art & Expression, Nature & Environment, Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion

2 responses to “Encountering Inari: A Guided Meditation

  1. Pingback: Reflections on “Hedge Witch: A Guide to Solitary Witchcraft,” Rae Beth | Trellia's Mirror Book

  2. Pingback: Pilgrimage by Proxy to Fushimi Inari Shrine | Trellia's Mirror Book

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