Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Nehan no Dōjō (v1)

And finally, the last 20 year rememberance...

Nehan no Dōjō
The Dōjō of Nirvana
(Temples 66 to 88)

If you find yourself spending any time as you enter this last prefecture thinking about nehan and whether or not you're about there, then you had better just get on a bus, go back to Temple 1, and start all over again.

Remember those blisters back in the first few weeks? Nehan. Remember those freezing mornings in Tokushima-ken? Nehan. Remember those trucks that almost ran you off the road? Or, those long, polluted, and noisy tunnels you had to walk through? Nehan. By the same token, you were also there when you visited with that wonderful minshuku owner late into the night over tea, and when that lady on the side of the road gave you oranges as settai, and when that man offered you a ride while it was raining, and when that shop owner didn't charge you for the ramen you had for lunch. Nehan, nehan, and more nehan. Stop searching and wondering. Stop trying to put it in a place. Stop trying to make it something.

Kagawa Prefecture has been three prefectures in one for me on several occasions. As i enter the prefecture on the way down from Temple 66, it is exciting — i'm finally nearing the end; i'm about to succeed in this huge goal. Then on the other hand, as i leave Temple 87, it starts to sink in that at the next temple this journey will be over. Yes, of course i have to walk back to Temple 1 to complete the circle, but the journey to all 88 temples will very soon be finished.

Finally, during the day and a half walk back to Temple 1, all becomes intensely quiet inside. Even more quiet than on the best days on the rest of the walk. I attribute this to the fact that that planning, organizing, and comparing corner of my mind no longer has a job to do; temporarily it is completely out of a job, so it simply shuts down; goes to sleep. And my world gets very beautifully quiet. There's nothing i need to plan, nothing i need to prepare for, nothing i need to think about or analyze, no schedule to look at, no maps to pour over, no temples to get to. There is absolutely nothing to do except walk and my body can do that on autopilot.

This is a beautiful way to be. I find it more alluring than 'being' on my zafu. On the cushion, life is reduced to nothing more than Life, Being in its most basic aspect. But in my hiking boots i can find that same place, while at the same time being fully aware that i am alive, fully aware that that part of me called Dave (or Lao Bendan, if you will) isn't an accidental afterthought — he is also a part of who i am.

I think that is the lesson i want people to take away from this fourth dōjō: This search for emptiness that we will look at as we make the turn at Temple 1 and begin again doesn't mean, or entail, giving up that personality that brought you to the island in the first place. In other places i have talked about tucking that personality in your back pocket as you begin the walk, not throwing it away, or leaving it behind. You'll need that personality to function as you make your way around the island, you'll need that personality to successfully interact with everyone you meet. But, you can easily pull it out of your back pocket whenever you need it, and then stick it back in when you are done using it.

When we get back to Temple 1, take some time to celebrate, grab a cold beer at dinner wherever you spend the night. Revel your peers and hosts with stories of everything you've done and seen while doing the walk. Enjoy the accomplishment. Then get a good nights sleep.

But keep in mind everything we talked about as we made the first circuit. This is a walk of the mind. In fact, what we just finished could be called Mind Control 101; now we move up to Mind Control 201. This is a walk where we are learning to control our mind and how we use it. Is the thinking, labeling, judging mind relentlessly spinning, churning out useless nonsense? Or, have you learned to notice what it is up to and made some progress in letting it settle down. Letting it settle into stillness.

As we make that final final stretch back to the starting point, take some time to look inside. Pull that ego out of your back pocket and look long and hard at it. Is it something permanent, always abiding? Or, is it something that only comes into existence when you act, think, or speak? And if you perform no actions (doing, thinking, or speaking) is that ego anywhere to be found? If you look long and hard enough you will see that with no actions there is nothing you can call a mind, and with no mind, there is no ego, no you anywhere to be found.

That doesn't mean you'll disappear, or fall over dead, but it does mean that the you that brought you here isn't the you that has to do this walk. Once you see that, stick it back in your pocket, smile at the sun, and head down the trail.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

World Cup 2019

Another good win today vs Mexico. Go USWNT!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Bodai no Dōjō (v1)

Oh boy (rubbing my hands together excitedly)....now we're talking 'pilgrimage.' 😀 Here's what i thought about 20 years ago as i entered the third prefecture.


Bodai no Dōjō
The Dōjō of Enligntenment
(Temples 40 to 65)

Half way. You have now passed Cape Ashizuri and find yourself on the southwest coast and heading northward — heading home. From here on each day will bring you closer to your destination and not further away from your starting point.

Then again, aren't your starting point and destination one and the same? You may realize that there is no difference when you stop analyzing and forget the labels that you attached when you set off on day 1. And while we're at it, is there any difference between today in the Dōjō of Enlightenment and yesterday in the Dōjō of Religious Discipline? Today? Yesterday? Now? Then? Birth? Death? Those pesky labels.

Today it's sunny. Tomorrow, rain. One day you walk with a monk. Another day you walk with an irrational woman. One day you're happy. Another day you're angry. Ahhh... life on the henro trail.


This afternoon i was at my local golden arches drinking a cup of coffee when i met a guy that had tattoos from the crown of his head, across all four sides of his head, both arms and hands, and i assume all the way down to his feet. Even the whites of his eyes had been tattooed black. It was amazing.

I struck up a conversation with him and told him of the time i met a yakuza in a public bath at a hotel on the henro trail. I tell the story frequently for some reason. As i always point out, the hardest part of the conversation was just getting over the idea that i was standing there talking to a butt naked guy about the tattoos all over his body. He had a full body suit tattoo, with the only untattooed parts of his body being above the neck, and below the wrists and ankles. Once i got over the nervousness about talking to the guy, he turned out to be quite interesting, and eager to describe his "works of art." As was the guy i talked to today.

This really has nothing to do with my thoughts on entering the third prefecture on the henro trail, but after talking to him it did seem appropriate to mention it. People like the man i met today are so very easily labeled and relegated to good or bad categories, depending on your views of tattoos. Earlier in my life i would have done it as well. But if you sit and wonder about that process of categorization and how unconsciously it's done, it should make you stop and think about everything else in your life that you label and categorize for no useful purpose; it's done unconsciously and habitually, faster than a blink of an eye, without you ever knowing that you did it.

If you did your job while walking through Kōchi Prefecture over that past couple of weeks, you've spent a great deal of time learning to notice what it means to be alive. You've spent increasing amounts of time outside of your head, outside of that incessant steam of thoughts you're used to living in. You've begun to spend more and more time noticing what's going on around you as you walk — in more and more detail. And, you've begun to notice how your mind works, how it takes in sensory input, how it chooses what inputs to notice and which to ignore, how it chooses to interact with those inputs, and how it pieces all of this into what you would call "experiences."

The beauty of walking the henro trail is that your life slows down to the same speed as your fingernails grow. And as your life slows down, your thinking slows down, giving you the chance to notice more of the individual thoughts that float past the back of your eyeballs and through your brain.

Then, with greater levels of attention, and greater ability to notice individual thoughts as they come and go, you finally get to the point where you might get to see yourself attach labels to the sensory inputs almost as soon as they come in, long, long before your mind has a chance to actively and consciously process what you just perceived. And when you reach that stage, WOW. That's just about all i can say. Wow. Did i just do that? Did i just label that guy with the tattoos after having only seen him a half a thought ago? Did i just label that driver who splashed water on me as she drove past? Did i just label this entire day based on that one first raindrop?

And here's the kicker, the worst of them all....Did i just label myself as a (your choice of word) for having done that again?

Wow. Did you see that? Did you see yourself completely change reality with one thought? So simply done. No effort required. Talk about God power.

That's your homework as we spend the next couple of weeks walking through Ehime Prefecture. It's my least favorite section of the walk and i know i have to fight the labeling process each and every step as i walk through. But, while you walk notice your abuse of your superpowers, your ability to change reality, completely and utterly change the entire world with each successive thought and label. Learn to spot it as it happens. Learn to reverse it when you can. Learn to stop the process if possible.

This is terribly hard work, i'm not suggesting it is easy. But it is doable, and with time it does get easier. And as you get better at it you will slowly start to notice changes in your reality, in how reality appears to you, in how reality manifests. With work, with constant, persistent, and never ending practice, the person who steps into the next prefecture in a few weeks will not be the same person who enters Ehime Prefecture today.

That should make you smile and dance a little jig in happiness. Just knowing that you are powerful enough to change reality should send shivers up your spine.

Have fun.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Shūgyō no Dōjō (v1)

As we enter Kōchi Prefecture, i remind myself of what i wrote twenty years ago:


Shūgyō no Dōjō
The Dōjō of Religious Discipline
(Temples 24 to 39)

By now, whether you intended it or not, you are awake. By the time you reach the border of Kōchi Prefecture you are aware that something is happening to you. You are more aware of what you are doing. More aware of the people you are meeting. More aware of living. Not just existing, not just being. But living. And this awareness is probably making a difference in your life.

The Dōjō of Religious Discipline. It is a little hard to imagine what the holy men and women of old went through as they walked this trail if you stay in a warm and dry room every night. If you are guaranteed dinner each night and breakfast each morning. It is hard to imagine as you put on the high-tech rain suit each time the rain starts to fall. Hard to imagine as you stop in another coffee shop just to get out of the weather or cold.

But, even with all of the luxury it is possible to discipline yourself. Some important and interesting changes have occurred in your mind as you walked from temple to temple over the past week. By now you realize that you are alive. Maybe you have come to realize that, just like there is more to this pilgrimage than just walking from temple to temple, there is more to life than just getting from day to day. Being alive isn't what life is about — living is what life is about.

You now have an entire prefecture to walk through while you contemplate this, and several weeks to reinforce what you have realized.


Practice. Like it or not, everything in life comes down to this one simple truth — if you want to get good at something you have to practice. If you want to master something you have to practice that something A LOT. And Buddhism is no different. It's not good enough to simply read book after book about Buddhism. It's not good enough to simply go listen to teachers babble on about the subject. The books and teachers can only tell you about their experience of the path and pass on what their teachers told them.

But to actually walk the path, to actually make your life the path, to someday come to the understanding that your life is nothing but the path......then you need to practice. You need the Dōjō of Religious Discipline.

It doesn't matter if you start with the Buddhist Precepts, the Yoga Yamas and Niyamas, or any other school's admonitions, but by this point of our walk we understand that we are not isolated individuals, moving around the island encapsulated in shells that no one can penetrate. We are part and parcel of everyone we meet and everything we see. Our pilgrimage isn't just the physical walk around the island, but that plus all the experiences we have from moment to moment, with everyone we meet day after day. And to facilitate the smoothness of our constant interactions with this whole, we practice non-violence, truthfulness, and the other admonitions.

We now see that just existing was never a satisfying way to lead a life. Living is what this game is about. Even if you lock yourself in a monastery and meditate half of every day, your main goal is still living. If you think enlightenment or liberations is other than that, then, well,......i hope you have a huge store of good zafu, because you're going to be sitting there for a long time until you figure it out. Living is the activity we are trying to perfect, not sitting.

There is one quote in Minoru Kiyota's Shingon Buddhism that i have always loved. At first blush it seems too simple to even highlight, so obvious that you read right over it without a single notice. But when completely understood and integrated, it changes the way you practice. "...[W]e must remind ourselves that though practice...specifically refers to the practice to eliminate one's own klesa, the elimination of klesa (e.g. hate) cannot be accomplished only through a realization of a new conceptual horizon (e.g. non-hate). Mental state does indeed shape action but action in turn shapes mental state. The perfection of a state of non-hate requires not only the elimination of the notion of hate but also the practice of non-hate."
(my underline)

That's what this prefecture is for: advancing past the intellectual ideas about our practice and into the non-intellectual arena of practice itself. This means working with the mind, and as we spend more and more time coming to an understanding of what our mind is and how it works, there will come a day when the buddha-state will manifest itself in your life.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Hosshin No Dōjō (v1)

Standing in front of Temple 1 for the very first time it’s difficult to imagine what you are getting yourself into as you contemplate your plans to walk all day, every day, for the next month and a half. Try as you might, if you've never been here before it is almost impossible to know what this will be like.

To simplify the process, try wrapping your head around only the first prefecture and the first 23 temples, leaving all the others until you get to Temple 23 in a little over a week.

Regarding the first prefecture, this is what i wrote when i first put this web site together 20 years ago…


Hosshin No Dōjō
The Dōjō of Awakening Faith

The first step of a four-step process — the awakening of faith. Some henro are devout Buddhists and for them having faith is a given. There is nothing to awaken. Other henro consider Buddhism an integral part of their culture but may have no religious leanings. For these henro, faith may be something that needs to be shaken awake, but it won't take much effort as the faith is already there, lying dormant just below the surface of their everyday superficial lives.

Then there are henro like myself. Buddhism isn't a part of my culture. I was raised in a country where Buddhism is considered different, where not believing in God is considered just about as bad as not believing in Money. For us outsiders, this first step is a look inside. A time to ask 'Awakening the faith in what?’

Are the next 1,400 km about faith in Kōbō Daishi? Or, about faith in ourselves. Faith in our ability to complete what we are about to start? Faith in our ability to persist and endure? Faith in our ability to open up enough to learn from the island, the temples, the people, and the experience as we walk day after day for the next several months?

I wish they had simply called this province the Dōjō of Awakening. This is the key, in my opinion. Simply being awake. Most of us aren't when we first get here. And, you can't proceed to the second step until you have at least awakened. Awakened to the possibility of doing something different. Awakened to the possibility of learning something different. Awakened to the possibility of possibilities.


I still think this is a reasonable way to look at what you are about to undertake — if this is your first time around the island. As we'll see by the time we get back here again for our second time around, though, this will only be like dipping your toes in the water. With a little more investigation, we'll see that the water is really much deeper than we think.

So, you’ve already visited Temple 1, your first attempt at the routine at the Hondō and Daishidō is under your belt and your first stamp is in your nōkyōchō.

Let's set out, keeping in mind that right now, our goal is to open ourselves to the possibilities of what may unfold for us as we walk. We may have very fixed ideas about what we are attempting to do, what we think we will find, what we think our daily experiences will be like; but with these first steps, remind yourself that you don't really know. What you think you know are only assumptions; only thoughts based on nothing more that you past, the history you bring with you to the trail. As we take these first steps, let all of that go, let all of that fall to the wayside. Accept that the possibilities are endless. As your first step hits the ground after passing back out through the salmon of Temple 1, say aloud, "I don't know what is coming, but i am open to everything."