Sunday, November 23, 2008


Paulo Coelho wrote a book about his walk of the Camino pilgrimage in Spain sometime back in the late '80s. Appropriately titled The Pilgrimage, it outlines not only the physical walk, but his mental and emotional progression from an individual walking the trail to a true henro. At the start of his journey, Coelho was simply walking in order to find a ceremonial sword he needed for advancement in an organization he belonged to. Near the end of his walk, however, he came to a wonderful new understanding of why he was really there.

"And the secret of my sword, like the secret of any conquest we make in our lives, was the simplest thing in the world: it was what I should do with the sword. I had never thought in these terms. Throughout our time on the Strange Road to Santiago, the only thing I had wanted to know was where it was hidden. I had never asked myself why I wanted to find it or what I needed it for. All of my efforts had been bent on reward; I had not understood that when we want something, we have to have a clear purpose in mind for the thing that we want. The only reason for seeking a reward is to know what to do with that reward. And this was the secret of my sword."

I could be wrong, but my guess is that a great many first time henro on Shikoku also start their walk focused solely on a reward. What am 'I' going to get out of this? What am 'I' going to gain? And that's where they stop. Rarely, i think, do they take it to the next level and ask themselves what they will do with those gains once they receive them, what they will do with the benefits that accrue over the course of the two months it takes to walk the henro trail. And because they don't take that next step, after the walk is over and they return home all of the gains and benefits dissipate.

The reason this happens is because it is 'I' that makes that first walk. It is your ego in those sweaty boots looking for a reward, and you let it, without an understanding of what you want those rewards for, without an understanding of what those rewards can be used for, without an understanding of how to use those rewards to reduce 'I' and bring out you.

I'm not suggesting that ego is an entirely bad thing. Without our egos, we would all still be living like cavemen and women. Without our egos, we would all still be living short and relatively unhealthy lives. Without our egos, civilization would not progress. Ego is a good thing. But, ego should be no different than the suit you put on to go to work. It should be recognized for what it is — the outer clothes that you put on to differentiate yourself from others as you interact with the rest of the world. The real you is underneath those clothes.

The real you isn't concerned with progress, success, fame, fortune, and all of that, even if the ego is completely addicted to it. The real you isn't worried about tomorrow even if the ego can think of nothing else. The real you can't hate anyone because the real you is everyone. The real you isn't thinking about the next temple, the next night's lodging, being a good henro, or whether or not you'll even finish the walk. The real you, that man behind the mask, that woman inside the suit, is only concerned with one thing — and there's no word for it. The real you simply is, step-by-step, breath-by-breath, from the moment you leave Temple 1 until the moment you return.

So, i ask you, why do you want whatever you happen to be seeking at the current moment? Why do you want to become whatever it is you are trying to become at the current moment? What are you grasping for in your life? What do you intend to do with it once you find it? It's not enough just to want it, you have to understand what you want it for. You have to know what you will do with it once you get it.

And then i'll ask, why do you want to become a henro? What do you intend to do with yourself once you become one? Somewhere along the trail, most of you will find yourself on the side of another road and realize that I has been missing for the last hour; you will find yourself climbing a steep trail to another temple and I will be so tired it shuts up and the real you will peek out from behind the curtain. What will you do with that wonderful opportunity?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who Aren't You?

If anyone ever tells you that someone isn't a henro just because they walked the henro trail for the simple enjoyment of walking and didn't spend days on end in introspection, tell them to get a life. Tell them to mind their own business. Tell them to judge themselves, and to leave others lives to the care of those other people.

What nonsense to think that one person has the right to use his standards of what a henro ought to be to judge another person's actions. Poppycock! If someone even starts down this road with you, cut them off and tell them you don't want to hear it. Tell them that's not a road you have any intention of following. That the scenery along that road is of no interest to you.

Then, very slowly, and with as much patience as you can, try and get them to see it from another point of view. A henro is anyone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to spend some amount of time on all, or part of, the henro trail. If you walk all of it, you're a henro. If you walk from temple one to temple two and stop there, you were a henro for the amount of time it took to visit temple one, go to temple two, and visit there. If you travel on foot you're a henro. If you use a bicycle you're a henro. If you use a car, motorbike, taxi, bus, helicopter, or any other form of transportation — you are a henro. If you spend any amount of time on the henro trail you are a henro.

And why is that? Because the henro isn't the egoic person with two smelly feet laced inside a pair of boots, the person called Dave, or Fred, or Mary, or Sue, it's Life itself, using that person as a vehicle to get around. And since Life currently manifests itself through over six billion different human forms, each with its own distinct egoic filtering system, of course each time it walks the henro trail, it will appear to do so with different motives, different expectations, different experiences, different outcomes.

However, there is only one henro. Life. Life living through you, me, Fred, Mary, Sue, and all of the other people out there on the trail. It's not the egoic person who chose to do the walk. Life is using that person as another vehicle to work its way around the henro trail. Even if it's doing nothing more than simply enjoying the scenery, enjoying meeting people, enjoying drinking beer and telling stories at the minshuku each night, life is just doing what it does — living. And at that particular time, it happens to be doing it on the henro trail.

Looking at life through through your ego's eyes you separate yourself from everyone and everything else. Letting Life look at life through it's own eyes, the ones that happen to be located in your head, you would see that you aren't separate from others. You couldn't be separate from others. If you ever took the time to look into the eyes of someone else, deeply and with no thoughts, you'd be surprised to see that it was only you (i.e., Life) looking back at you smiling. As if you were looking in a mirror. But it shouldn't surprise you because you are Life, the other person is Life, everyone is nothing more, or less, than Life; each of us is nothing less than everything, manifesting in a different human body.

So, if one person spends all of her time on the henro trail in deep introspection, examining who and what she is, and someone else spends all of his time on the henro trail drinking beer and whooping it up ... what's the difference? Life is just doing what it needs to do at the time it needs doing and in the way it needs doing. But, in each case, Life is still the henro.

No, don't fall for those stories from people who try to say one henro is better than another because they follow a certain prescribed ritual on the trail. When you hear it, just tell yourself to shut up, plant your behind on your zafu, and let Life explain yourself to you. As many times as it takes to hear the message.

(...another point of view...)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Who are you?

I want to be short and to the point today. Just because you walked the henro trail does not mean that you are a henro anymore than having visited all 88 Buddhist temples means that you are a Buddhist. There are henro and there are tourists. There are Buddhists and there are spiritual tourists. Enter and look around here, run off and look around over there, then run off again and look around somewhere else, and on and on.

Being a henro is not something physical. It is psychological. It is emotional. It is spiritual. Being a henro means more than just doing the walk — anyone can accomplish this physical task. It means you also take on the mental task of examining your life, examining who you are, who it is that is walking in your boots, who it is that is so very happy on some days and so very frustrated on others, who it is that doesn't notice time for a week and then can't do anything but watch the clock when you're waiting for the cash station to open, who it is that walks in the rain for days without even noticing it and then gets angry when the waitress spills your water. Who is this person? Who are you?

Being a henro means making the effort to notice the gaps between your thoughts and trying to peek through to see what's on the other side. Being open to the vast expanse that appears when you do get a glimpse and instead of backing off in surprise, going back again and again and again for longer and longer looks. Until, after thousands of steps and hundreds of kilometers, you begin to feel more comfortable there than in the steady stream of irrelevant thoughts that used to stream through your mind all day, day after day. Until you feel happier in that expanse looking back out through the gaps than you were outside looking in. Who are you?

Being a henro means making the effort to notice the emotions that have habitually ruled your life. Noticing how they come and go of their own whim, without the slightest effort on your part to call them up or send them away. Coming to see that they are a hindrance to your efforts, an impediment to a full life, a life full of generosity, compassion, and love. A deterrent to hope, realized potential, and success. It means coming to understand that emotions can be controlled, can be trained. Who is that person?

A short but great book is The Holy Man by Susan Trott. I first wrote about it in my Shikoku journal back in 2001, two years after i walked the henro trail for the first time. The story line, as i wrote back then, is:

The Holy Man lives on the top of a mountain at the end of a single 10 mile trail. Every spring and summer thousands of people from all over the world trek up the mountain for the chance to meet him. Because of the overwhelming number of people making the trek up one single trail, though, they inevitably end up forming a line covering the entire length of the trail and find themselves standing in the line for a month or more before getting to the top and getting their chance to meet him.

Once a pilgrim reaches the head of the line the procedure is as quick as it is consistent. They knock on the front door, a man in simple robes answers and asks what he can do for them, at which point they answer "I've come to see the Holy Man."

Upon hearing this, the man asks them to follow him and leads them along a straight corridor directly to the back of the house, opens the back door, and tells them goodbye. Flabbergasted and shocked, almost every pilgrim stutters a reminder that they have come to see the Holy Man — at which point the Holy Man says "You have seen me" ... and closes the door.

As you walk the henro trail, are you aware that the Holy Man is with you each step of the way, each breath of the way? Or, do you find yourself asking for him again and again at each temple when you stop to get your Nōkyōchō stamped and signed? As you make your way up yet another mountain trail, do you hear the Holy Man speaking to you? As the wind blows through the trees in the bamboo grove, as the waves roll up on the beach, as the kite swoops down to eat something only it can see, as the sun claws its way over the horizon in the morning, as the moon slowly sets each night, ....... in every instant of every day, do you hear the Holy Man offering his teachings? Do you see him showing you who and what you are?

Who are you? Are you a henro?