This is still very much a work in progress and subject to change.
Full name: Sohei (Which means warrior monks).
Organization: Divided into different sects called Temples
Leader: No concise leader, Temples are often commanded by their own leaders. The Enlightened One is seen as the progenitor of the order.
They are a group of monks who combine the tenants of religion with considerable warrior skill.
The sōhei shared many similarities with the Western lay brothers, members of a monastic order who might not have been ordained. Much like the Teutonic Knights, the warrior monks of Germany, and the crusading orders, sōhei did not operate as individuals, or even as members of small, individual temples, but rather as warriors in a large extended brotherhood or monastic order. The 'home temple' of a sōhei monastic order might have had several, if not dozens or a hundred, smaller monasteries, training halls, and subordinate temples connected to it.
It is most assumed that the Sōhei were founded in Yamato, although this is the matter of debate. Some think that they may have been founded in the Oriental coastlands and spread to Yamato, wherein they gained more political power amongst the stratified classes of the people. However, others believe it may have originated in Yamato while some followers spread the teachings of the Enlightened One to the Oriental Coastlands.
While each Sōhei temple or sect often has their own teachings, they are all essentially united in the fundamentals - the Sōhei was founded by a sage known as The Enlightened One. (Their appearance, true name, and even their gender is unknown, and a subject of debate.) The Enlightened One was said to have traveled the world and saw it for what it really was, and attempted to teach others of what they themselves saw. An important thing to note is that the Enlightened One may be interpreted as a deity by those unfamiliar with the Sōhei philosophy, the Sōhei do not actually worship the Enlightened One as a deity, but instead hold the Enlightened One up as an example of what they can become, of one who has seen the truth of the world, of life, of the Four Truths, of combat, and more.
Many members of the Sōhei are peasants - one of the teachings that appeals to the others is their rather egalitarian view of the world. One of the most common teachings is a small story:
"A noble entered battle, accompanied by three of his retainers. Their opponents proved too strong for them, and they were quickly overwhelmed. All four of them were killed in battle, their bodies left to feed the carrion. Eventually, the noble's wife came to search for the body to reclaim him. She looked up, and saw three more accompanying her. They were a father. A child. And a mother. All had come to claim the bodies of their loved ones. The noble's wife brought them with her once they found the site of the battle. The Noble's Wife then saw what the Enlightened One did, just as the father, the child, and the mother. They did not see the rank of the four dead, a status that they perceived of them in life. All they saw was that four lives had been extinguished, leaving four wounds in the lives of others, who perceived them as they all did. So they learned of the social status… how others were affected by their perceptions in life, and how in death, they were all the same."
The story teaches how one's "Social class" is an artificial construct. Within the group, you are seen as equal to everyone else, earning more respect based upon your experience, knowledge, and skills.
Usually, Sōhei are treated as their own social class in society - they are not seen as "above" or "Below" anyone (depending who you ask), but "separate". Many people view the cloth wearing warriors as polite ones, although this politeness is not always enforced within their order. (As they are mostly loose coalitions of people following teachings.)
One of the more surprising aspects of the Sōhei is the fact that many sects also allow women in their numbers. Some sects are a little different about this - some insist that there must be a balance of men and women, while some believe this is not important. A few temples have even been built that only allow women to join, contrasting a few that only allow men to join. These gender-restricted temples are typically seen of as the most peaceful branches of the Sōhei, mostly because they embrace the shelter teachings, only fighting in self defense and taking in orphans, the abused, and the homeless. (These temples were known to be among the only safe places, and war campaigns were often fought to keep away from them.)
In contrast, there are some sects that aren't as devoted to a less offensive lifestyle… some lords have a disdain for the Sōhei because of the actions of a few sects. Many sects are open to their own rules and interpretations, and some are even seen of as "Sōhei in name only". Stories of people wearing the cloth robbing others and disrupting trade routes are common in some areas of the land - and in fact, are plausible. Several bandits have donned the cloth of the Sōhei as a shield - since it is seen as a particularly violent and disrespectful move for a military campaign to siege a Sōhei temple.