Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Is A Henro?

I know i'll step on some toes with this post because there are a lot of people who have walked the henro trail on Shikoku and, therefore, call themselves "henro" even though i would say they are only tourists. If you are one of those people, this is not meant as a disparaging put-down; nor a judgement of the value of your walk as compared to mine. It is only my thoughts on the difference between these two groups of walkers: henro & tourists.

The easy way to start is to say what a henro is not. As long as you think that the goal of this walk is to visit each of the 88 (108) temples, you are a tourist. As long as you think that the goal has anything to do with the "form" of the pilgrimage, you are not a henro.

You become a henro only when you see that the goal is found in the "emptiness" of the pilgrimage, in what is not there, what can not be grasped and held onto, what can not be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. Only when you understand that each step on the path, by itself, is the goal do you become a henro. When you realize that the goal is nothing more than to take each step, one after another, with no further thoughts of attainment, then and only then, does the tourist disappear and the henro arrives on the scene.

Each step is the goal and the goal is each step. These are equivalent. Not the same, but not different. Just as form and emptiness. Just as life and death. Just as words and silence.

Malcolm Bosse in his novel The Warlord, made it very clear when he had one of his characters point out that:

Whoever or whatever it is that gives such things gives us our essence at birth.
That essence then begins to unfold.
To watch it unfold is to live.
To watch it unfold with confidence and good humor is to follow the Way.

It's hard to improve on that. As you take your first steps away from Temple One, an experience of the henro trail begins to unfold. To watch it unfold as you walk is to live. To watch it without judgement, without desire, without preference for one or another kind of experience, letting it unfold as it will ... with confidence and good humor ... is to follow the Way.

Lao Tsu also talked about this distinction when, in the 11th chapter of the Tao Te Ching, he says:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

All maps of the pilgrimage show 88 (108) temples, 4 prefectures, thousands of mile/kilometer markers. Focusing on these material way-points will bring you benefit: health benefits, psychologoial benefits, maybe even spiritual benefits. But none of this is what makes the henro trail useful.

Lao Tsu tries to point to the usefulness as he continues into the 14th chapter.

Look, it cannot be seen — it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard — it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held — it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.

Stand before it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the ancient Tao,
Move with the present.

Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.

The usefulness of the henro trail is it's unending willingness to point the henro towards what the above words are trying to show us. Standing at the sanmon of Temple One, there is no beginning. Follow the henro trail and there is no end. Stay with each step, one at a time; never stray. Move with the present. This is the essence of the henro.

In the Ceaseless Practice chapter of his Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen says: "Ceaseless practice which manifests ceaseless practice is nothing other than ceaseless practice of the present. Ceaseless practice of the present is not the ceaseless practice of the original self, nor does it come and go, exit and enter. 'In the present' does not mean 'existing prior to ceaseless practice.' It refers to the time ceaseless practice emerges. Therefore, that is why the ceaseless practice of one day is the seed of all the Buddhas. Through ceaseless practice, all Buddhas are manifest and their ceaseless practice occurs."

Being a true henro means dedicating each step of the walk to nothing more than an investigation of this "ceaseless practice of the present."

Of course, having said all of that, you'll know you are a henro when you know that there really is no goal in this walk — there is only being and walking. What will come will come. What will go will go. What will occur will occur. As a henro, you understand that your only responsibility is to accept, and move on. One step at a time.

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