Sunday, January 1, 2012

Henroroku 1

遍路録 1
(Henro Records 1)

Aspirations & Setting out

The Prologue
Setting out it's like a dream, so real yet hardly understood. From the time we arrive until the time we depart it's one breath after another, until near the end we realize that what we once took for certain about that insignificant act might not be all we thought.

The Main Case
Master Chie sat fanning himself in his quarters when Monk Mōsō approached and said, "I am setting out to undertake the Shikoku Henro. Do you have any advice."

Master Chie continued to fan himself.

Monk Mōsō, not understanding, asked again, "Can you give me any advice master."

Master Chie stopped fanning long enough to say, "Who is going?," and then began to fan himself again.

Again completely blind to his master's generosity, Monk Mōsō said, "I am, master."

"The weeds are thick and the moon will be covered as you set out. With luck you will get lost countless times. Aren't you afraid you will disappear?"

"No master, there are a great many sign posts along the trail in all four prefectures."

"There is only one, who speaks of four?"

"Master, you have lived here all your life. How can you ask such a question?"

"Get out you fool."

Monk Mōsō bowed, and in confusion set out on his journey.

The Capping Verse
Setting out who seeks
Which mind aspires to see it
From where do you leave


However long it took to plan, however far you traveled to get here, you now find yourself at the niōmon of Ryōzenji, Temple 1. This is where the henro starts for most people; and where it will also end some months later, but that's a story for much further down the road.

Your first action, while bowing in respect as you prepare to pass through the niōmon, should be to say goodbye to a loved one, the person who brought you here. That person is the one you saw in the mirror the last time you looked. That person is the one on the photo ID that you used to board the airplane to Japan. That person is the person you normally call 'you' when discussing your life.

Once you pass through the niōmon at Temple 1, you will begin a new relationship with that 'you.' Don't be rude, that 'you' is important and helps you in countless ways, day in and day out, to get you through your conventional life. It's simply that for what you are about to do, another 'you' is more appropriate, more important, and that 'you' is the real you.

Throughout the days and weeks to come, you will constantly see the phrase Dōgyō Ninin, Two Pilgrims, Walking Together. And while that universally means that you and Kōbō Daishi will be walking together, it could also be taken to mean that two sides of you, yourself, will be walking together.

With effort, over the course of the next 1,400 km the real you will be uncovered and a new working relationship will be established between that person you really are and that 'you' that lives on your ID card. It will take persistence, patience, and a resolve unlike most other projects you have undertaken.

This is the reason that Tokushima Prefecture, the first prefecture you walk through during your Henro, is called the Hosshin No Dōjō; The Dōjō of Awakening Faith. It is here, before that niōmon at Temple 1, that you resolve to work diligently, to do whatever it takes, to awaken to enlightenment, to awaken to who you really are underneath the person society has trained you to be.

Throughout this struggle, throughout the upcoming 1,400 km, your faith will be tested. But, as the prefectural name implies, Hosshin no Dōjō is a commitment, a resolution to maintain your faith — in Kōbō Daishi's willingness to help, in yourself, in your ability to complete what you are about to start, in your ability to persist and endure, and in your ability to open up enough to learn from the island, the temples, the people, and the experience as you walk day after day for the next several months.

Let's make this perfectly clear even before your first step: that which you will be seeking, that which you are devoting every ounce of your mental and physical strength to find, is already in your possession. You are not going to find something outside of yourself during this walk, you already have it — you simply need to learn how to open your hand and let the old, conventional 'you' fall away. This trip is not about gaining anything, but about letting go.

Dōgen makes this clear in his famous quote from the Genjōkoan chapter of his Shōbōgenzō”

"To learn the Buddhist Way is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self and others. When you have reached this stage you will be detached even from enlightenment but will practice it continually without thinking about it."

To understand who you really are, who and what we all really are, you have to study yourself. Not original texts, commentaries, mandalas, rituals, or anything else outside of yourself. You have to study yourself. And as contrary as it may sound, that means forgetting yourself, that 'you' that lives on your ID card, that 'you' you have grown up with, that 'you' that has undergone countless days of training and conditioning to be as it is.

This is why you need to say goodbye to that 'you' as you begin your walk. You don't leave it behind, but you stick it in your backpack, or in the bag that holds your sutra book, candles, and incense, keeping it ever ready in case you need it, but out of the way so the real you has the chance to appear.

As Mōsō gets ready to set out he stopped to get any last minute advice from the master of his temple, Master Chie. Being the compassionate and generous master that he is, he tried to point out these issues to Monk Mōsō, but to no avail. At this point Mōsō is blind; he knows he is supposed to walk, but he has no other questions and without those questions, he is oblivious to any answers that are offered.

Master Chie has very generously given Mōsō the questions he will need to carry with him during his walk but they flew right over his head. But Mōsō has one thing going for him — he is resolved to figure out what happened. He has faith that Master Chie didn't call him a fool unthinkingly. His faith and resolve are alive and well.

And so begins his Henro.

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