Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not For The Faint of Heart

I just added this to the Shikoku Henro web site, but since not everyone looks at that regularly, decided to post it here as well:

Let's suppose that you show up at one of the temples and you have a very, very special favor to ask of either the Daishi or the deity enshrined as the Honzon. I don't mean your garden variety, "if it's possible, could you help me with..." type of wish, but your "Daishi-sama (Yakushi-sama, etc.), i really, really, need help with this and i don't know who else to turn to. I've tried everything i could think of, but i can not do this alone" type of problem.

What's a henro to do? Well, there is a solution available. If you have ever spent any time watching Japanese TV drama shows that are set in the olden, samurai days, you've probably seen the scenes where the heroine needs exactly this type of help so she heads to the local temple to make her request. First she goes through the usual routine of making the request in front of the door, in sight of the altar, but then she heads back out into the yard.

After walking a short ways away from the front of the temple, she touches a stone marker, turns around and runs back to the temple, prays, runs back to the stone marker, touches it, runs back to the temple, prays, back to the marker, touches it, back to the temple,.... well, you get the idea. 100 times!!

This is done 100 times, no more, no less. And for this reason, the stone markers are called "One Hundred Times Stones," Hyakudo Ishi. You can clearly see the kanji in the picture just below. They can still be found at most of the temples on the henro trail. I don't know if i should say "all" the temples because i have never gone out of my way to look for them, but certainly i would think it is fair to say "most" of the temples still have them.

They can be as fancy as this new(ish) one, with counters that give
you the ability to keep track of what number you are on:

Or, they can be as small and old as this one:

So, keep these Hyakudo Ishi in mind if things aren't going well and you think you need help getting around the island. Don't try this in hiking boots, though, you'll do serious damage to your legs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Henroroku 3

遍路録 3


The Prologue
The foundation stone is now in place.

It couldn't be any closer. You and I will never, ever, see it, but it is seen at all times by one and all.

The Main Case
"You're a monk walking the henro trail, i'm a farmer clearing weeds. Where is the confusion?" "Everything is my family." At first puzzled, slowly Mōsō's eyes opened wider.

"Could it..." he started to ask himself, then stopped.

Rushing back to the rice field he found the old woman still at work on the edge of her field. "What did you mean when you said..." he started...

Cutting him off in mid-sentence, the old woman shot her question at him, "Have you seen the Daishi at Tairyūji?"

Startled into silence, Mōsō replied, "Yes, I saw him."

"Then walk to Byōdōji," the woman replied and turned around to continue working.

Suddenly, Mōsō saw the opening. Bowing almost to the ground as tears of gratitude ran from his eyes, he also turned around, and started walking to Temple 22.

The Capping Verse
Ready for picking
The fruit drops with just a touch
The right time is now


Mōsō (妄想) wanted this so, so badly. Maybe too badly. He was willing to look anywhere for the answers to the questions that Master Chie (知恵) asked him continuously, ever since he had become his disciple many years ago.

There were days where he could almost taste it, as if there was a hint of a flavor on the tip of his tongue, daring him to open his mouth and swallow, but when he looked, he saw nothing new, nothing different.

"STOP!," his master would shout at him. "Stop looking for something new, something different. Stop looking for something! Just open your mouth and swallow." But he wasn't able to do that, and he ached inside from the desire to see.

Then, coming down from Tairyūji, he met the old woman in the rice field and something about the way she looked at him brought that taste to his mouth. She didn't look at him as much as she seemed to look right through him, as if she was seeing something in him that even he didn't see.

"You're a monk walking the henro trail, i'm a farmer clearing weeds. Where is the confusion?" That's what she had said. Where was his confusion?, he thought. Where? Then he remembered her other words, "Everyone in town is my family. Every henro that passes by is my family. The birds on the mountain you just descended are my family. This rice paddy is my family. What isn't my family?"

"What isn't my family?" "You're a monk, i'm a farmer."

And then that taste grew stronger. It was there, so strong it made his mouth water. He could see that the answer was there and he needed to ask the old woman one more question.

Rushing back to the rice field he found the old woman still at work on the edge of her field. "What did you mean when you said..." he started...

But the woman didn't let him finish, she shot out, straight for his jugular. Cutting him off in mid-sentence, she asked him, "Have you seen the Daishi at Tairyūji?"

Startled, Mōsō's head went silent. Everything just came to a stop. "Yes, I saw him," he replied without even thinking. He wasn't bewildered, just open, completely open. Her sudden question had shut him up and ripped his heart wide open.

Seeing that her first shot had just skinned the surface, she shot a second arrow. Ripping skin wasn't what he needed, he needed a deep flesh wound. "Then walk to Byōdōji." And with that, she had done all she could. She had inflicted the wound, it was now up to the monk to inspect the wound. With that, she went back to work.

And the second shot had, in fact, hit the mark. Mōsō had taken the arrow right in the chest and his legs wobbled. The old woman had shaken him awake, or at least shaken his eyes open. It was only a glimpse, but he had seen. I'm a monk, she's a farmer, what isn't my family. Oh so clear.

And with that, Mōsō did the only thing he could do, the only thing he should do: he turned around and began the walk to Byōdōji.

And there is the million dollar question, what had Mōsō seen? What had become "oh so clear?" He had finally been able to swallow, yet it hadn't been done with his mouth. Or his eyes. Or his ears or nose. It had been done, but not by any particular sense. In fact, nothing had been done... yet something was accomplished.

As a hint, there are two ways to look at the old woman's final, fatal shot, "Then walk to Byōdōji." Walking is our practice on the henro trail. We visit one temple and then move on and walk to the next. After worshiping at Tairyūji the natural and obvious thing to do is to begin walking to Byōdōji. Don't think about it, don't analyze it, don't look forward to it or dread it; just do it, with no further thought. That's our practice as henro. Just walk.

However, "Just walk" is also all there is to the buddhadharma. That's it. Just walk. When you stop at the convenience store to buy your bento for lunch, just buy. Open your can of Aquarius and then just drink. That's it: “Just.” Everything is included, nothing is left out. The entirety of your life is nothing but “just walk.” That is all there is to the Buddha's teachings, visiting Tairyūji, walking, eating, talking, sleeping. That's it. That's everything and nothing, but it's the entire story.

The Journey, like this walk of 1,400 km, is not about finding something, it's about letting go of everything so you can see clearly what you already are. And, to accomplish that requires a new level of acceptance that most people aren't used to. Acceptance of yourself as you are, acceptance of "what is," as it is, and acceptance of the daily routine of “just walking” day in, day out, day after day, with no though of reward or accomplishment. No thought of pain or pleasure, No thought of gain or loss, No though of fame or slander. Just walking.

Nothing happens without acceptance as your first offering. Offer you opinions, beliefs, preconceived notions, ideologies, religion, and politics. Offer everything you ever believed yourself to be, everything you ever believed everything else to be. Offer everything you have and everything you are. Offer your belief in dualities and accept nothing in return. Only then, as Mōsō found out, are you open enough to receive that nothing, which you will do, believe it or not, with open arms and a broad smile.

There is nothing to be found on this walk, nothing that can be revealed, because there is nothing hidden. Open your eyes and see, but stop looking for something! See that nothing.

As Mōsō continued his walk to Byōdōji, and then on to Yakuōji and Bangai 4, Saba Daishi, his world was different. Now out of the mountains the walk was easy. Along the beaches life was pleasant. Now he realized there never had been any mountains, there aren't any beaches. There is no highway, no henro, no temples. There was no old woman any more than there was a monk. How could he not have seen that before?

Without putting words to it, Mōsō now knew that "Reality" was nothing but a projection of his thoughts. The world, in the grandest sense of that word, has no meaning outside of his mind's experience and interpretation of it. He understood that if he changed the meaning he assigned to anything he changed the experience of it. And by changing the experience, he actually changed reality, he changed the world.

Mōsō "saw" that of the millions and millions of sights that appeared to his eyes throughout the day, he had been mentally selecting only those that had, for whatever reason, interested him and thus forced him to acknowledge and record them. And the same with the millions of sounds that reached his ears, smells and tastes that accosted his nose and tongue, and the millions of tactile sensations that touched his body, whether the touch of his shirt and pants, his back pack, the wind, the heat of the sun or the chill of the shade, a bug, an itch. He continuously received sensations yet was selecting which one's to acknowledge based on the filters that he had built in his mind over the years.

Mōsō had come to realize that the world was completely his construction — his and his alone. Everyone he talked to, everything he said, everything he did, everything he thought, … everything... was of his making. There were no exceptions. And each and everyone of us does the same, in our own way, with our own thoughts, driven by our own beliefs, produced by our own experiences from the moment we were born. Each and every one of us inhabits a different world.

And yet, and yet, we all inhabit the same world. Or, a little more accurately, we don't. No one inhabits anything because there is only this and we are that, each and every one of us. There is no world, there is no me that inhabits it, nor is there a you. There is no world. There is just this. And for us henro, that this is the Henro Trail.

Once you commit to walking the trail, as Mōsō did, you do so with that attitude of acceptance. And while acceptance is the first step, this must be accompanied by internal generosity. External generosity, the willingness to share, to give, to offer what you once might have considered as yours, is the the opposite of selfishness The opposite of internal generosity, though, is self-centeredness, or self-cherishing. It is for this reason that attaining the stage where you can be generous to yourself is such a liberating feeling — you are allowing yourself freedom; free to be all that you can be, free to exceed any previous limitations you put on your own potential, free to be anything, free to be everything. Free to Be, which is what you really are at the deepest level, at the very core of you. External generosity is a freedom to give of yourself.; internal generosity is a freedom to be yourself. Do you see the difference? Even selfish people have the freedom to give, anyone can do that. But, very few people realize the freedom to Be. The freedom to let go and become everything. The freedom to blossom as a cherry blossom in the spring and to enchant people's lives as the multi-colored momiji in the hills of Arashiyama in the fall.

This is why the Perfection of Generosity is one of the most important of the paramitas. Without generosity, both external and internal, the path is blocked. So, once on the henro trail you first open your heart to external generosity, sharing yourself with everyone you meet. With just a little time, though, you begin to be generous with yourself, allowing yourself to be yourself, allowing yourself to be what you are, with all the bumps and wrinkles that includes.

Which brings us back to Mōsō. In his new world, he was no longer a henro and special. Everyone was a henro. There were no more difficult sections of the trail to walk. No more easy sections to walk. There was no trail or not-trail. There was just walking. There was no more farmer in her field or monk walking. And as he continued walking through the last of this first prefecture, tears filled his eyes in gratitude to his teacher and that old woman in the field.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012



If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Monday, February 20, 2012


Will Sakura bloom  
Sighing with each thought of spring  
No henro this year

Just finished watching part 2 of a four-part series on NHK World TV, Japan's public service station, documenting a woman's trip around the henro trail. Sigggghhhhh.... How can a goofy old man be homesick for an island he has never even lived on?

Aware every step
Adds Life to this bag of skin
On the henro trail

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And You Thought You Had Secrets?

A very, very interesting article in the New York Times called How Companies Learn Your Secrets.

A few take-aways:

  • We all know "they" are collecting data on us all the time, but it is still frightening to read what they can know about us when that collection is manipulated by statisticians.

  • "...habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day..." Amazing! I knew it was a high percentage, but half??!!

  • We can learn to retrain our subconscious mind.

  • Mathematics is sexy now! Maybe i should stop tutoring young kids in math each week and start tutoring adults.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Selling Distractions

Snow was falling very lightly this morning and that, for reasons unknown, led me to thoughts of Dōgen living at Eiheiji deep in the mountains of Echizen Province, now Fukui Prefecture.

I visited there once, many years ago, and to ensure that i was in the right frame of mind for the visit, i walked up the road from the valley instead of taking the train. It was a long walk, but the weather was beautiful, the sky clear, and the sight of the train working it's way up the valley, along the base of the mountains, on the other side of the rice paddies that filled the valley... was intoxicating. Picturesque doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

Like all large temple complexes in Japan, the area outside the temple was filled with mom-and-pop stores selling every kind of souvenir imaginable. I understand why they are there, but always chuckle to myself as i window shop my way through the stores on the way up to a temple. It just presents such an incongruous message to what the mountain is all about. Outside the gate materialism and accumulation not only prevail, but are touted as indispensable. You can't go home without something. Inside the gate, trainees work day and night to see through that message. They come to see that when you go home you do so with nothing; wrapped up to look like something, like everything, but nothing none-the-less.

I pulled Steven Heine's book The Zen Poetry of Dōgen off the shelf to see what Dōgen might think of that and found this nice poem:

Petals of the peach blossom
Unfolding in the spring breeze,
Sweeping aside all doubts
Amid the distractions of
Leaves and branches.

"Amid the distractions of leaves and branches." That's the definition of our normal life outside the gate. Noise, requests for this and that, demands, crowds, phones, email, bosses, co-workers, friends, schedules, deadlines... and on and on. The distractions in our lives can be overwhelming.

Yet, beneath all of that, there lies a calmness, a vast world of certainty, where peach trees blossom when spring arrives, where spring arrives when peach blossoms appear, where amidst all the distractions of the world, the blossoms gently unfold in a spring breeze.

We can live that life too if you are willing to climb the mountain and walk past the vendor's shops. The message is there, just past the gate, ready and waiting. All you have to do is look past the distractions and you'll see it. Sitting tall, yet settling down, you may still see all the noise floating past, flying this way and that. You may notice thoughts of the distractions come and go, but let them do what they want to do. Let the noise and distractions play their game, while you simply sit in the certainty of being. There is no need to look for it, it is right where it is supposed to be.

Shopping at Walmart
Every shelf displays the truth
Paint is in hardware

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Just thinking aloud today...

I have gotten so completely off track in my readings over the past year. I'm not sure how it started, but it might have been two decisions. First, i decided to spend three years with the Bhagavad Gita, something i last read way back in the 80s. What i decided to do is to spend 2011 reading a commentary on the Gita by Venkatesananda. That was the second time to read it, the first being in 2010; but that first time was just a once through over the course of a week. Last year i actually followed the daily reading plan as he lays it out in the commentary.

From there things got completely out of hand and i decided to read Chinmayananda's commentary this year, following the same daily plan that Venkatesananda laid out. I also decided that next year i will read Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, by Prabhupada following the same plan. After that, i will put the Gita away and move on. Three years is enough for any one book, no matter how good its message. (Except for the Shōbōgenzō, that is. Sheepish grin.)

The second decision was when i got curious about James Swartz's teachings on Vedanta. I actually like a lot of what he says and writes and spend a fair amount of time with him of late. But, my hope is to set him aside this summer as well and spend only occasional time with him after that.

It's funny, but i have noticed this feeling lately that i hear other people talk about when they travel a lot. "Nothing's wrong, everything is going well, but i just want to go home and sleep in my own bed." I don't get that feeling, no matter how long i am on the road, so i can't say i understand it all that well, but i'm getting that feeling for the books and commentary from my standard Zen authors and teachers.

I even want to put down the books on Tibetan Buddhism, as much as i absolutely love the message and teachings of the Dalai Lama and the path laid out in the Lamrim teachings. They are magnificent. But my heart seems to be saying, "Enough with magnificent, enough with lofty ideas, just go home, curl up on the sofa with simplicity and truth, and be that. It's time for a break."

Having said all that, this comes from Krishnananda's Philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, and i was reminded of it after rereading Katagiri's writings from yesterday. You may not see the connection between them, but it is there for me.

"The difficulties mentioned, in a few words, in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita are not ordinary jokes or mere stories told to us for our cajolement. These things are the difficulties of human nature as such. It is not just my difficulty or your difficulty. Anyone who is human shall have to pass through these stages.

"Who can ever gainsay that one does not think in terms of gains and losses, in the light of one’s relationship with the world outside and human society externally. We love and hate and have our ways in this complex of relationship in the world and in all human affairs. Where does God come in here into this picture? The notion of God has also been a frightening factor many a time in the history of human thought. And there have been as many ideas of God as there are people in this world. There are those who denied the very existence of such a thing as God, because of the fact that there are no proofs adequate enough to convince us of God’s existence. All our arguments are sensory in the end, the logic of philosophy is a phenomenal argument and it can not touch what we imagine to be the noumenon, or a transcendent Being, because the substantiation of the existence of anything transcendent cannot be achieved through the instrument of phenomenal reason. There are people who have been totally agnostic. God may be, or may not be. Even if He is there, it is all something impossible for us to understand with the faculties with which we are endowed at present.

"But more serious difficulties are those which faced Arjuna’s mind, and which gradually creep into our own minds, and keep us inwardly insecure and anxious. The anxiety of a spiritual seeker is due to doubts as to the possibility of success in the spiritual path, doubts concerning the correctness of the approach which one has launched, doubts as regards the duties one owes to the world and to human society, and, finally, doubts even concerning what will happen to oneself, taking for granted that this realisation takes place. These doubts are not ordinary ones. They are present, perhaps, in every one of us, in some measure, in some proportion.

"And nothing can be more frightening to the ego of the human being than to be told that God is All-Power and the experience of God means an abolition of individuality. No one expects this, and one keeps that situation as far away from oneself as possible, postpones it to an indefinite future and closes one’s eyes to such a possibility at all. What can be a greater fear than that of losing oneself, even if it be in the ocean of God Himself. We would not want to be drowned even if it be in a sea of nectar."

Philosophy of The Bhagavad Gita

Lastly, speaking of Katagiri's words from yesterday, i'd like to make one point. When talking about the Bodhisattva Vows, he lists one of them as "We vow to taste the truth." Now, the vows as i have always know them list that one as something like "The afflictions/desires (jp, bonnou) are innumerable, i vow to put an end to them."

I like it how Katagiri focuses on the positive side of that equation. Yes, the only way to taste the truth is to eliminate all the other bad tastes that cover it up, but our vow shouldn't be focused on getting rid of the bad, but on the good that we are striving toward. Sort of like, i vow to run and complete this years Chicago Marathon. I don't vow to train and suffer all summer long so that i can run it, i vow to participate in the race, knowing full-well everything that includes and everything i will have to do to get there. Our vow should be on the positive side. I like that. A lot.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Practical Profundity

"What is your life? It's very complicated. Your intellect compels you to understand, but there is no perfect answer. All you can do is entrust yourself to the life that is given to you now. Live your own life as it really is. But entrusting yourself to your life doesn't mean just accepting  it blindly. It means accepting a profound awareness of something that is greater than the intellectual world. It means accepting it and digesting it though your everyday life.

"To digest means to take care of your everyday life by totally accepting that there is something greater than the intellectual world. How do you do this? Through everyday life that is impermanent, you have to actually touch something deep that is eternal. By making your body and mind calm, you can go deeply into the human world and touch your life profoundly. Then you can feel what is eternal, not in an intellectual or philosophical way, but in a practical and realistic way."


"To study Buddha's teaching is not just to learn something intellectually or to have a particular knowledge of spiritual practice. Spiritual life requires the practice of vow. We vow to taste the truth, to save all beings, to master the teachings, or to accomplish the Buddha Way. We don't understand these vows exactly, but spiritual life requires the practice of living in vow. Your heart and mind must totally accept all sentient beings―past, present, and future―as they truly are. That is called tolerance. Be generous and magnanimous. It isn't a big deal. It's very simple, but it isn't easy, so most people give up."

Each Moment Is The Universe
Dainin Katagiri

Sunday, February 5, 2012


This very nice story comes from Donna Farhi's book, Bringing Yoga To Life.

"There is an amusing story about two monks and the power of intention. Both avid smokers, one day they found themselves discussing whether it was right to smoke while praying.

"They decided to go to the abbot and put the questions to him. The next day the one monk related that the abbot had enthusiastically endorsed his smoking habit and congratulated him on the depth of his faith, while the other had been told it was absolutely forbidden and was further chastised for desecrating the holiness of prayer.

" 'Well, what did you ask him?' questioned the one.

" 'I asked him if it was okay to pray while smoking. What did you ask?'

" 'I asked him if it was okay to smoke while praying.' "

I imagine that there comes a moment in time in everyone's life when they feel compelled to ask themselves what it's all about.

When that time comes, know that there is a second question that needs asking at the same time.

Are you asking your question from the heart of your intention? Or, are you just asking about your intention because that's still not clear in your heart?

You have to be clear if you want the right answer. The answer that is right for you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Love Blossoms In Winter

I've was expecting her to show up sometime this week, so you can imagine my happiness when i opened the door the other day and found her on the front porch. I am so hopelessly in love that it's almost shameful for a man my age — especially since she is sooo much younger than i am.

Physically she's very, very beautiful. Describing her as fast would be calling her slow; she is lightning quick. And nimble doesn't even begin to describe her athleticism. She's so flexible that she bends almost in half without the least bit of discomfort. Emotionally, she's warm and gentle and just a pleasure to hold.

She's completely fluent in kanji and can stay focused for hours. She can focus to a point, staying focused to one hair's width for as long as necessary, yet is perfectly willing to broaden out to vast broad strokes when breadth is more interesting or important than focus. She's amazingly well versed.

Sigggghhhhh.... i am so hopelessly in love.

Akashiya Bamboo Body Brush Pen @

(The only problem is, my Kuretake pen is now getting jealous of all the attention i give her. But the Kuretaki is going on 10 years old...)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Blossoms

Spring tries to beckon
Thoughts drift to change and new growth
Those unborn blossoms

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chicago Marathon

I'm not taking chances again and delaying, so just registered for this year's Chicago Marathon. I'll stick with my NordicTrack exercise bike until the end of the month and then, weather permitting, move back to running shoes in March. Then, the long, slow process of hard work will begin.

Henroroku 2

遍路録 2

Facing Hardship — Questions Appear

The Prologue
Who's to say that the scenery in the mountains is different from the scenery before you start the climb? Finding happiness and generosity amidst hardship is only the first step on the trail. After that step, taking one step after another may be the only way to walk it but the only way to see the entire henro trail is to stop.

The Main Case
Coming down from Tairyūji, Monk Mōsō was elated. The first test had been overcome and he had successfully climbed to Bangai 1 and 3, Temples 12 and 20, and now Temple 21, the last mountain temple for a week, at least. It had been difficult, but the hard work was over for a while.

As Mōsō walked passed a rice paddy, he met an old lady clearing weeds along its banks. Stopping to take a short break he greeted her enthusiastically.

“Good afternoon, grandma. Beautiful day, isn't it.”

Looking him over, the old lady responded, “Yes, another beautiful day. You're a monk? Where are you from?”

“I just came from Tairyūji.” Noticing that the old lady frowned at that answer, he quickly added, “I'm walking the henro trail.”

“Is that so.” the old lady responded, with another frown. “If so, where did you spend your time this morning?”

“I told you, i'm walking the henro trail, grandma, so i have been walking.”

“You must have gotten lost many times, its not easy to stay on the trail.”

“No, i'm very good at following the markers,” replied Mōsō, but not certain he was sure what the old lady was really saying, he tried to change the subject. “Have you lived your whole life here, grandma? Do you have family here?”

“Of course. Everyone in town is my family. Every henro that passes by is my family. The birds on the mountain you just descended are my family. This rice paddy is my family. What isn't my family?”

Now suddenly angry, Mōsō shot back, “I'm a monk, don't try and lecture to me about the dharma.”

“What do you think i am?”

“A confused old woman,” he retorted.

“How can you call yourself a monk?” the old lady calmly replied, looking deeply into his eyes.

“Listen, grandma, don't confuse the dharma with your nonsense.”

“I'm not confusing the dharma.”

“How is what you said not confusing the dharma?”

“You're a monk walking the henro trail, i'm a farmer clearing weeds. Where is the confusion?”

Bewildered, but aware that he needed to think, Mōsō simply bowed his head silently, turned around, and resumed his walk towards Temple 22.

The Capping Verse
Dark clouds blanket all
In the pitch black who can see
One moon shines on all


Monk Mōsō had made good progress so far since setting out on the henro trail. He had covered a lot of territory in his first week of walking and managed all the mountain temples with no major physical problems. Now, coming down from the last of those in the first prefecture, he was almost giddy with happiness and pride.

In a good mood and wanting to take a short break, he stopped to great an old woman working in her rice paddy beside the road. And while the conversation had started simply enough, like the last conversation with his master before setting out, he soon realized that something was wrong. But that was his master and this was an old woman. And a farmer! How dare she try and lecture him.

But this walk had given him a lot of time to think each day, and as he headed towards Temple 22, he wondered. Why had the old lady assumed he had gotten lost many times? And for that matter, why had Master Chie also said he would get lost “countless times?” That was his words, countless times. Did they think he was too stupid to follow the trail markers? That couldn't be it, could it? The markers were everywhere and easy to spot. Well, most of the time anyhow.

And that nonsense about everyone and everything being her family? That was nonsense, certainly. ? But Master Chie has also ridiculed him for mentioning “four” prefectures, saying that there was only one. What was that weird comment all about? What was he missing?

Victor Turner, in his writings on pilgrimage, talks about liminality, that time between intentionally stepping out of your previous life and that time when your pilgrimage is finished and you reintegrate into your old community, internally changed, but physically back again. Somewhere in this stretch of the trail between Temples 1 and 21 is where most make that leap from the known and certain into the unknown and uncertain, where they cross over from being hikers to being henro walking the henro trail.

During the first stage of this walk most people are cocky. They are certain of all too many things: who they are, what they are doing, and worse, what they will find during the walk, and even what they will experience. This certainty kills any questions that could be, should be, at the front of their mind.

But, when the door to those questions finally opens, the question that drives this leap into liminality may be the question of motive. Why are you here? Why are you putting yourself through the sometimes agonizing climbs and descents? What is the purpose of all of this. At first it seemed simple, either someone told you that you should walk the trail or you felt compelled, for some unknown reason, to see what it was about. But, by now, as much as you want to simply relax and walk, that question of motive has taken hold and remains agonizingly present.

Mōsō was no different, he now constantly wondered if there was more to this than he had originally assumed. He was here only because Master Chie had strongly suggested that he should do the walk, and in that last conversation had hinted that he wasn't looking in the right direction for answers. And now this old lady. Grandma's words seemed harmless enough, and she didn't seem to be the type to lecture passersby, but...

But what? What was it he was missing? And why had he gotten angry all of the sudden? He hadn't been angry or lost his patience since he started the walk. It was subtle, but he noticed himself changing as each day passed. He was becoming calmer and, and.... what?

That was it,... he suddenly realized that he had become much more open to others and much less concerned with himself over this past week. It was bizarre, in a way; just a week ago he was very much living his life in the first person, to both his and his master's chagrin. Everything he did was confined by and filtered through his own experience.

Lately, however, he had noticed that he derived infinitely more happiness by intentionally trying to step out of his experience and into that of others: noticing and interacting with people he met, listening to other henro's stories, and by trying to see the henro trail through their eyes. He was happiest when he stopped to talk to people on the side of the trail, like the old lady today.

What made him even happier, though, was the chance to make others smile: to give candy and omamori to the children he met, to tell jokes with the old men in the paddies and watch them laugh, to sit around the table at dinner each night offering what advice he could while everyone ate, laughed, and enjoyed themselves.

Yes, that was it. It had started soon after setting out when he began to notice the ever present generosity of others. And as the days passed, he found himself beginning to spontaneously offer generosity to others in return. And he found that he had never been happier in his life. It was then that he vowed to be as generous as he could, on every occasion that he could, each and every day. Generosity would become a daily practice.

Then why had he gotten mad at the old lady? He had resolved to be generous with everyone. He had resolved to he happy all the time, to offer only happiness and uplifting thoughts to all that he met. Yet the old lady had shattered his resolve in less than three minutes. Why?

The truth is, the old lady had just kicked Mōsō over the line, from the comfortable life he was used to into that new, unknown, and uncertain world that is known as Henro. We all, Mōsō included, have the habit of postponing life instead of living it. We don't live now, we live dreams of tomorrow. We may find trinkets of happiness along the road to that tomorrow, but our habit is very definitely to postpone our lives as we look down the road for answers instead of directly under our feet.

Likewise, as we start our henro we are only looking to get to the next temple; we're not living in each step of the journey between the temples. Yet it is there, in each step, that the henro lies.

Practicing generosity continuously, offering happiness always, doesn't just require mental training, it is mental training. As the lojong sayings state: you are well trained if you can practice even when distracted. And that had been his problem, Mōsō saw that clearly now. He had been distracted. His fixation on himself had started to diminish, but his mind still wandered throughout the day, he frequently found himself walking kilometer after kilometer only to realize that he never saw one blade of grass on the trail. He was always looking for the next temple.

Could that have been what the old lady was asking when she asked where he had spent his time that morning? Could that have been what she was pointing to when she accused him of getting lost? Had Master Chie been pointing to the same thing? Could he have been confused about their questions and still be too self-centered to see?

The whole world was her family, she had said, yet she then added “You're a monk walking the henro trail, i'm a farmer clearing weeds. Where is the confusion?”

Yes, indeed, is confusion the issue?