Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Folly of Seeking

Someone recently asked me if i was really, as in really, finished with the henro trail. I was shocked by the question but realized later that what i've written could lead people to believe that my love of the Henro has worn off.

Not true.

As i sit here tonight and reflect on my life as a henro, on the relationship that has developed over the past 17 years between Dave and that henro who walks the streets and trails on Shikoku, i get occasional glimpses through the mist and see a bit of where i stand.

T.S. Eliot, in the Four Quartets, wrote:
    Do not let me hear
    Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
    Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
    Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
    The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
    Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

In the exact same vein as Basho's extraordinarily to the point,
    Do not search for the masters of old,
    Search for what they sought.

Eliot points out that it is a futile waste of your time on the trail to look for The Daishi; where he lived, where he studied, where he was known to have visited. If you are on the henro trail as a pilgrim, as a spiritual seeker, as as an open heart accepting life as it arrives with each step, what you should be looking for are The Daishi's follies and fears.

When Kūkai dropped out of the university he was not the man he was when he died 40 years later; he was not Kōbō Daishi. As i walked the trail this past spring i often wondered about what had gone through his mind during that time on Shikoku between his university years and when he left for China.

What were his fears? Uncertainty? Failure? The unknown? He certainly had an aversion to possessions and showed unquestionable aversion to becoming just another possession of the State and to the current religions of the State.

Whatever follies showed up in his life, his wisdom must have been in his humility. His willingness to admit that he did not know. His willingness to admit that he did not have the answers. That the answers had to be found, not by seeking more information from others, but by looking inside. Deep inside. Over long periods of time.

I've come to accept that to truly understand the henro trail, one has to throw away the legends, lore, and myth that surrounds The Daishi. While it is true that he is walking with each and every henro (Dōgyō Ninin) the only way to understand what he found on the island is to live each and every moment on the trail inside his humility.

Surrender is considered a horrible word here in the West, but surrender is what needs to happen if you hope to find the same truths that The Daishi found. Inside surrender is the humility, the love, and the acceptance that pulls away the veil, that blows away the mist that separates who you think you are and who you truly are. Inside this surrender lies the peace and joy that many henro find so addicting on Shikoku.

Am i done? No. But i want to share what i've seen with others more than i want to go and look at it by myself again. So, as i wrote in an earlier post, maybe i've walked the trail for the last time as a lone henro, but i doubt that i've finished sharing the Henro with the rest of the world.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day 36: Temple 6 to Temple 1

The end. The final day of walking for this Henro is now complete. It's been a wonderful experience.

Left the templle lodging at Anrakuji, Temple 6, after breakfast and was at Ryozenji, Temple 1, a little after 10:00.

The main gate: 


A statue of the bodhisattva Jizo just inside the main gate. Jizo is the protector of children and travellers, and kept his eye out for me all around the island.


But for this pilgrimage, this is the man that tradition says makes sure that everything runs smoothly. This is the Daishi Hall at Temple 1, so this is where you tell him that you are setting out and this is where you tell him that you are back, and have finished successfully.


And once you have finished, this is the first thing to do --- get out of those hiking boots and let the feet feel free again. I can't complain about these boots, though, they have been very, very kind to me over the past few years. They have carried me over a great many kilometers of trail, road, and street, all without one blister or the need for even one band-aid or piece of tape. Boots, i am in debt to you. Thanks for your help, patience, and care.


I know i've said it before, but i just don't see how a month and a half have passed already. No matter how hard i try, i can't make it feel as if i have been on the trail for 36 days. Plus the two tours that i helped guide before that. It just doesn't seem possible.

I still do think, though, that this was my last personal walk of the entire trail. My gut tells me that four times is enough. My gut tells me that what i needed to see, what i needed to do, what i needed to experience has been seen, done, and experienced.

Tomorrow and Thursday i have no plans other than to take it easy. I'll stay here in Tokushima tomorrow and move to an, as yet undecided, hotel in Osaka on Thursday.

On Friday i plan to spend the day in Kyoto exploring the three temples that Kobo Daishi, or Kukai, as he was known then, was associated with while he was alive. When he returned from China he was kept on Kyushu for a few years. When finally given permission to return to Kyoto he lived in Otokuniji for some time. After that he moved to Takaosanji. While he didn't live at Toji, the government gave the temple to him and allowed him to make it a temple dedicated to training only Shingon buddhist monks.

On Saturday i'll go to Mt. Koya and The Daishi's mausoleum. On Sunday i return to Chicago.

Another wonderdul spring on the island of Shikoku.....


Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 35: Temple 88 to Temple 6

A 30 km walk, but it went by quickly---probably because i'm on my way back to Trmple 1.

The first 20 km of the walk  is beautiful as you work your way out of the valley that T88 is located in and back down into the Yoshono River valley, where T1-11 are located. The second half of the day, the remaining 10 km, is another day of walking on back roads and residential streets; the same streets we walk on during the first two days of the pilgrimage.

We got lucky today. It was supposed to start raining around noon,but it held off until 4:00, just after we checked in to the temple lodging at T6 for the night.

The evening service here at T6 has gotten quite complex over the years. It used to be a simple talk in the Hondō, but now it is a multi-stage procedure that includes the talk and several other stops in other rooms to worship other deities, to offer prayers for your ancestors, znd to submit a request/wish for yourself.

Some of the trail coming down from T88.


Some henro who didn't quite make it to the end of the walk.


The Hondō here at T6.


The pagoda as well.


Tomorrow off to T1. Should be there by noon. I'm still in shock that this walk will finish tomorrow morning. I just don't know where the time has gone.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Day 34: Temple 88

Intentionally got a very late start today. Didn't leave the lodging until just after 7:00, and then went to Temple 87 and hung around until almost 8:00.

From there i headed to the convenience store for a donut and OJ before finally setting off for the henro museum on the way to Temple 88. Got there in an hour.

I had to wait until 10:30 for a friend to arrive so i sat around and chatted with whoever would listen. Tom showed up on time and finally at 11:00 we were on the road to T88.

Four hours later we arrived and for the most part i am now finished. Here i am at the top of Mt. Nyotai before starting to long drop into T88.


It's hard to believe that i've done this walk over Mt. Nyotai three times this year. 

Once down the other side, here's the Hondō at T88.

And me, one last time, posing as a Henro completing his pilgrimage.


Tomorrow morning we're off to Temple 6, where we'll spend the night. That's about 30 km from here. Then on Tuesday morning we'll get back to T1 and my henro will officially be complete.

Have had a good string of nice weather recently. Tomorrow the rain is supposed to start around 3:00. Can i get to T6 before it starts??


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day 33: Takamatsu to Sanuki City

...and then you fall asleep, and when you wale up and turn the page you find yourself in a new chapter.

Matsushita-san met me at the hotel at 7:30 and we set off for the climb to Temple 85. After getting there and visiting the Hondō a Daishidō, we went to the cable car station and asked them to watch my backpack while we "walked around."

Matsushita-san didn't want to tell anyone where we were going because they would all freak out and say it was too dangerous. No one wants a foreigner getting injured or killing himself at their temple.

From near the hondo we headed up to the Shugendō trails that visited the five peaks (Gokensan) behind the temple.

Here's one section; notice the little shrine at the far right, you'll get a better picture later.


M-san climbing some ropes to get to the first ladder.


Another view of that little shrine but from a peak above.


M-san getting ready to start down on some more ropes.


A look back at one set of ladders we had to go down to get to a saddle so we could climb to the next peak.


Finally getting to that shrine.


And a selfie next to it.


A look back into Takamatsu from atop. The hill to the right is where T84 is located.


An incredibly good day. Best day of this henro by far. 

From there, we walked to T86, had some lunch, then he headed to a bus stop and i headed to T87, where i'm spending the night.

Tomorrow i walk to T88. Will spend the night there, then walk back to T1 over a day and a half.

I find it impossible to believe that i get to T88 tomorrow. Impossible. Where did 33 days go?



Friday, May 13, 2016

Day 32: Takamatsu City

Took one picture all day. The gate going into Temple 84.


That's it.

A long boring day going from the west side of the city, to the south side, then a hot walk along the citiy's back roads and allys to get to the east side.

Matsushita-san is back and wants to take me out on some back trails tomorrow before i head down to Temple 87 in the afternoon. 



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Day 31: Kokubunji to Takamatsu City

Walked about 18 km today, but on paper it doesn't look like i went very far. Climbed to Temples 81 & 82, and am staying at lodging at the foot of the mountain T82 is located on, just around the corner from where i stayed last night. 

In the list of firsts here on Shikoku, i have another to add to the list. After checking in, they called me and told me it was my turn to take a bath about 4:15. Seemed a little early, but it's not unheard of.

After my bath i was laying in my room reading when someone showed up at my door at 4:45. With a large tray containing my dinner. A quarter to five! Dinner. I was told that i had an hour to eat, at which time they would be back for the tray.

From the sounds of it, they have rented out the dining room downstairs to a large group. I hope their food is better than what i got; mine was barely eatable. For the first time ever i had sashimi that you couldn't just put in your mouth and eat---part of each slice was too tough to chew. Tempura, but no tempura sauce. Rice that had been cooked either a couple hours ago or with too little water. I left half the food on the tray.

Had a wonderful surprise today. On the trail from T81 to T82, i saw a foreigner headed my way. Turned out to be a Canadian that had been in the tour group i helped guide in April. We walked together for a few hours and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.



Some other pictures from today.

The view of the hills i had to climb today as i set out at 6:40, after breakfast.


Some of the trail up.


A view back down to where i had started from, from about halfway up.


The view from the other side of the hills, looking down on Takamatsu City and port, from about half way down.


The place where they put the temple stamp in your stamp book at T82.


A small pagoda at T81.


And, another sign, going into T81, telling visiters that they have to dismount here and walk the rest of the way. (The tall statue in the middle)



Met a woman at a convenience store this afternoon who was driving a brand new 2016 VW Golf. I told her i drive a 2004 model and we chatted for a while.

Two features her car has that mine doesn't: When she's backing up, the VW emblem on the hatchback flips up and a camera shows her what's behind on a screen in the dashboard. Also, if she gets too close to the car in front of her she'll get beeped at. If she doesn't slow down and increase the gap, the car will automatically brake to do it for her. The size of gap that is allowed depends on how fast you happen to be driving.

I'm staying at a hotel near T84 tomorrow. Two minshukus told me they were full and another said they were no longer in business. Will visit Temples 83 & 84 and call it a day. Should be about 25 km.