When Fu Leng first came forth from the Shadowlands, destroying all in his path, the kami found themselves helpless against his evil power. Their armies were scattered to the winds and the land of Rokugan was at the mercy of the Dark One's foul taint. Then, a simple man appeared and taught the kami what they must do to fight back. Thus were the first Seven Thunders banded together, and Fu Leng locked away for a thousand years. This simple man's name was Shinsei, and the wisdom he shared with Hantei and his siblings has since become known as the Tao.
The Brotherhood of Shinsei have since followed the teachings of the first monk, protecting Rokugan from darkness wherever they might find it and providing the spiritual and religious backbone of Rokugan. During the Shadow Wars, they served the armies as medics and chaplains, often fighting alongside samurai at the front lines.
Never have the monks of the Brotherhood of Shinsei sought for power of fame for themselves. Always, their role has been to help others, to protect, and to wait. They are the keepers of the greatest wisdom in Rokugan, and the protectors of its most noble though most humble bloodline. The bloodline of Shinsei.
Since the Shadow Wars, religion has waned in importance for many Rokugani. The foundation of the popular Shinsei Channel has kept the Tao in the minds, if not the hearts of many Rokugani, but still, many questions remain regarding the truth of Shinse's legend. No Shinsei came forth to save the Empire as in legends, so many began to conclude that tales of the Day of Thunder and the Fall of the Kami were nothing more than that: legends. The monks are not so certain themselves anymore. Doubt over their position in the celestial order has led to infighting among the Brotherhood, and their once pure and united order has since splintered.
Now these monastic orders each seek enlightenment in their own way, independent of their so-called brothers. Each seeks to unlock the secrets of the universe in their own fashion, interpreting the Tao through their own sensibilities. There has even been a rather unheard of uprising in Rokugani faith, as many have abandoned the teachings of Shinsei for the popular new Church of the Shadow Samurai (a bizarre fringe cult that worships a samurai named Hida Sukune, who reputedly returned from the dead on the Day of Thunder). Meanwhile, the order of Karasu holds the darkest secret of all...
Monastic Orders of Shinsei
Hoshi (Order of the Dragon) this group maintains a rather militant translation of the Tao of Shinsei, descended from the time of Toturi the First, when the order was first founded. The Monks of Hoshi rarely leave Rokugan, seeking enlightenment within their own dojos and monasteries. If they must wander, they do so within the Empire. "To find the world, one must not travel far," is a popular aphorism among the monks of Hoshi. The current leader of the order, Hoshi Jack, breaks this mold in almost every way. He is not particularly militant, advocating peace and understanding above all else. He is known to travel often, and is in fact himself half gaijin. He is also eager to learn as much as he can about other schools of thought, and invites theological argument whenever possible. Also, unlike the other reclusive Hoshi monks, Jack is the host of the popular Hour of the Tao, flagship televsion program of the Shinsei Channel. Though he is a bit of an anomaly, the Brothers of Hoshi support their charismatic leader without question. The Order of the Dragon dress in robes of saffron.
Suzume (Order of the Sparrow) evolved from what was once a minor clan of samurai. The Suzume interpretation of the Tao embraces poverty and eschews material positions. To this end, any and all who wish to embrace the Suzume path of enlightenment are invited to come and live on the rather large Suzume Communal Farm, which is located in the old Sparrow territories. The leader of the Suzume, Suzume Fumihiko, collects the money and possessions of all who come to live on the commune, using them to "improve the state of the Brotherhood." The actual monks of Suzume are few in number, and are generally quite fat and well-to-do despite their supposed vows of poverty. Most of the other orders of Shinsei despise the Sparrow, thinking them the worst kind of hypocrites, but their wealth and political power surpasses that of many minor clans, and without their generous contributions the Shinsei Channel would not exist. The Order of the Sparrow dress in robes of silver and white.
Aokekesu (Order of the Jay) are worldy monks with no true home monastery to call their own. Their temple is all of Rokugan, and their congregation is all of nature. The Monks of the Jay shake their heads and laugh at modern denial of the legends of Shinsei. Such legends are allegories, they claim. The Day of Thunder is a parable to be learned from, not a play by play recitals of true events, they say. Aokekesu monks are good humored and friendly, taking everything on faith. They all swear vows of poverty (true vows of poverty, not Sparrow hypocrisy) but want for nothing. The Order of the Jay is popular with the common folk, and travelling monk can be almost guaranteed to find room and board wherever he may be, in return for a few tales of Shinsei or a simple blessing. The Aokekesu are fairly independent, but if any could be said to lead them it would certainly be Aokekesu Go, the so called Laughing Monk. He is an old monk who is actually much older than one might guess, and his cheerful good humor is said to be matched only by his prowess with a bo staff. The monks of the Jay dress in robes of white, with deep blue capes and hoods.
Washi (Order of the Eagle) more militant even than the monks of Hoshi, the monks of the Eagle are anything but pacifists. They are sacred guardians, protectors of Rokugan, spirit warriors in the battle for enlightenment. Their task is to protect the Empire from the remnants of the Shadow. Their monasteries are always in out of the way areas, difficult to reach and impossible to penetrate. Within, they guard over the most powerful weapons of black magic confiscated by the Seekers and the Phoenix. The most deadly maho-tsukai criminals, those whom the seekers could not execute and the Phoenix could not rehabilitate, are bound in chains of jade and given over to the Washi. The Washi are unflagging in their devotion to their cause. They cannot be bought. They cannot be reasoned with. They protect their charges unto the death, relinquishing them to no one (not even those who gave them over originally: only the most deadly and destructive weapons and criminals are abandoned to the Washi.) All Washi swear a vow of silence, speaking only through a complex series of hands signals understood only by the monks and a few Crab go-betweens. The Monks of the Eagle seldom leave their monasteries, and when they do, it is for very good reason: either escape or theft of one of their charges. The Washi are deadly masters of hand to hand combat, and it is believed that several of the martial art instructers at the Hida Seeker Academy are actually Washi monks. This is unconfirmed. The leader of the Washi is Washi Takao, perhaps the greatest martial artist in all of the Empire. The Monks of the Eagle dress in robes of black, with golden capes and hoods.
Karasu (Order of the Crow) taking the traditional symbol of Shinsei, the Monks of the Crow have embraced the words of their Tao to heart in a most literal fashion. They believe that the battle with Fu Leng and the Day of Thunder happened exactly as recorded. They believe Shinsei was a man of flesh and blood who walked among us. The Karasu monks look down on all other Orders of Shinsei. They feel that the Hoshi are unfocused, the Washi are too driven, the Aokekesu are too flighty, and the Suzume are mere opportunists. As the original heart of the Brotherhood, the Karasu have seniority over all other Orders of Shinsei, and though it sits poorly with many members of the other orders, all monks must answer to the commands of the Crow. Their leader, Karasu Nobuyoshi, is a very devout, if domineering old man, who has little time to listen to interpretations of the Tao besides his own. Lately, the Monks of the Crow have become increasingly reclusive, withdrawing from the political machinations and theological debates which consume the Brotherhood. Many monks are relieved that they have begun to reduce the amount of meddling they usually partake in, though many more are worried. What is causing the Karasu to become so silent? The answer is simple: the Karasu are the protectors of the bloodline of Shinsei. Recently, the Monks of the Crow performed a sacred, nearly forgotten ritual among all of their membership, a ritual designed to name the current descendant of Shinsei. They have refused to discuss the outcome of this ritual.