Monday, August 6, 2012


Just got back from pedaling my bike to the post office where i mailed yet another copy of the Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide. All the way there and back home again the only thing i could think about was the question "What is a henro."

I've wanted to add a page to the Henro website answering just that question for a long time but have yet to figure out what i want to write so it remains undone. It's not as easy a question to answer as many would think in my opinion.

If we threw away the "cool" Japanese word henro and in its place used the English translation pilgrim most of the problems would disappear, but very few people are willing to do that. OHenro is just too attractive. "I'm a henro." "I just got back from 8 weeks on the henro trail." "Ahhh, my dream is to be a henro as soon as i can save enough money. Maybe in a couple of years."

But what if did we use "pilgrim" instead? How many people would tell their friends that they dream of becoming a pilgrim next summer. How many people would tell everyone they just walked a pilgrimage? How many would identify themselves as pilgrims as they walked around the trail? How many really consider themselves pilgrims? I think the answer to all of these questions lies somewhere between almost none and an insignificant number of people.

Don't get me wrong, the henro trail is a marvelous tourist destination. It is a great place to spend a few months walking some spring. It is one of the best places on earth to "get away" and get your head straight. There are a great, great number of positive things that can be said about the henro trail.

But, and this is a big but, the "henro" trial is, when push comes to shove, when it's time to put your cards on the table, when the truth is told, a pilgrim's trail — a pilgrimage. And that's that's the first difficulty of adding a "What is a henro?" page to the website. How to write it without offending all those people who want to call themselves henro even though they aren't.

The second difficulty, though, is even more, well.... difficult. Even if everyone accepted that they were pilgrims, walking a pilgrimage, while on the trail, to answer the question "what is a henro?" would be to assign a meaning and purpose to your walk. And there are as many meanings and purposes as there are henro. How to write one or two pages that could possibly include and summarize all of those meanings, all of those purposes? It's seems impossible to me, but i still hope to write it someday.

For me personally, though, the answer is very simple and straight forward. The henro trail is a place and a time where i am able to lose the individual into the universal for hours and hours on end, while still, simultaneously, noticing that the universal is continually acting through my individual self.

For me, the henro trail is two months of walking meditation. Dave no longer exists, he has been subsumed into Ohenro. Time no longer exists; the only thing that is done is walking, eating, and sleeping. There is no need for clocks or calendars. The support system is in place, the maps are provided, people will watch out for you — all that has to be done is to progress from one step to another, day after day, week after week, from one month to the next. And when one of those steps lands me back in the compound of Temple 1, i tell OHenro thank you and welcome Dave back home.

Being a henro is balancing on that very narrow, infinitely wide line called Here and Now. Being a henro is learning to see that Here and Now is both calculable and unimaginable at the same time. Being a henro is learning to be, here and now, and to be Here and Now, simultaneously.

For me personally, being a henro is an opportunity to stuff Dave in the back pocket (close at hand if needed in an emergency but out of sight otherwise) and allow you to walk in Dave's shoes.

But how do i write all that on the website??

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