Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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?

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