Apr 30, 2009

Day 2 Continued Again

As we got down into the farming area along the river, we looked back and could just see Temple #10 (in the middle, just about the line of trees and to the right of the center telephone pole).

After passing through a wooded area on some low hills, the Henro Trail arrived at a house. Ian is standing behind a pile of ashes that were right in the middle of the trail. If we had arrived while the trash was burning we might not have been able to continue until the fire cooled down. The trail went around the side of the house (on Ian's right, your left) and continued along the side of the building. Once past the building, we came to the parking lot associated with the temple and then entered the grounds. The buildings were old looking and the temple did not look prosperous nor commercial like some of the others, Temple #7 in particular.

This was one of the side building that we passed as we walked up to the main building to do the usual ritual.

The main building is straight ahead and the side building in the previous picture can be just seen on the left.

After completing the chanting of the Heart Sutra, we walked about three more kilometers to the business hotel where we had made reservations for the next three nights. If we had been able to book accommodations, we would have been on our way to Temple #12 on day 3. However, we would have to wait until day 5 before climbing the mountain. After a lot of thought and discussion, we decided to use day 3 to visit Temples #17 to #12 in reverse order, then rest and do some shopping on day 4, before starting up the mountain early on day 5.

Apr 27, 2009

Day 2 Continued

During the day we continued walking on relatively flat roads that followed the river valley inland from Tokushima city. Temple #8, where the college students had interviewed us, had been up in the foothills but it was at an altitude of only 120 meters and the approach road had been relative long so it was not a particularly hard walk. Temple #9 was in the middle of a large flat area, but things changed when we arrived at the entry road to Temple #10. It was only a little higher than Temple #8, being at an altitude of 150 meters, however, the approach road was a long flight of stairs. Ian counted them and got to just over 300, just as the sign had announced. The following picture shows Ian at the top of the stairs.

The temple was quite nice and worth the climb. Immediately behind the main building was a very picturesque pagoda.

After leaving Temple #10 we proceded directly across the valley to Temple #11 which was in the foothills of the tall mountains to the south of the river. The Yoshino River was very pretty and provided a strong contrast with the down slope that we had been following. Although you can not see it in the picture, there was a ferris wheel off to the east that frequently showed itself above the other scenery. We used it as a land mark to estimate the distance that we traveled and to help maintain our spacial orientation. Also the first hint of the mountains began to break through the rain clouds.

As we started up the incline on the south side of the Yoshino River we discovered a series of signs beside the road. They had apparently been set up by a local farmer and were directed at the Ohenro-san, admonishing us to be careful of the traffic on the road. This group of signs says Ohenro-san Ogenki de which means something like Honorable Mr or Ms Henro, please be healthy and full of vitality. It certainly loses a lot in direct translation but most pithy Japanese does.
At point we found a truly amazing sight - what must be the world's smallest torii, the gate that appears at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. We searched around a bit but were unable to find a shrine to go with the torii. We were never able to find out the story behind this. It almost seemed like part of a miniture dollhouse or the scenery to go with someone's HO railroad model.

Apr 23, 2009

Day 2

After breakfast we left Temple #7 and headed off toward Temple #8. This picture shows the main gate into the temple grounds. Notice on the left side of the gate there is a fenced in space that forms the upright for the left side. Inside this space, behind the fence, there is a man-like figure. Many temple gates, but not all, have these figures. They are statues of fierce warrior-kings, whose duty is to protect the temple from evil of all kinds.
I guess the fence is to keep out the evil people who would damage or steal the statue. The following picture shows the warrior-king in more detail.
Here we see the actual entrance into the temple grounds. Ian is the man in red. The posts on the left have the names of people who donated money to the temple engraved on them.
This is another shot of the students who interviewed us for their school project. We met them a number of times after this. The last time we saw them, a day later, they invited us to go with them for lunch but we did not have the time - we had to get to our accommodations for the night before they decided we were not coming and gave the space to someone else.

Apr 19, 2009

Day 1 Maybe the last entry for the day

This is the gate into Temple #7 where we stayed the night. It was more like a hotel or a ryokan than a temple. We shared a room and the meals were in the basement, where we sat in chairs at tables. The food was typical except that we all ate huge quantities of rice. Many people drank beer or sake, even though it is actually prohibited if you are doing the whole Buddhist thing. Ian and I had decided to follow tradition and obey the 10 rules of conduct. I will tell you about them some time later.

Many of the temples had groups of small statues like this. As you can see, most of them are wearing clothes, gifts from pilgrims or others. The little thing (left of center) that looks like a building is a box for monetary gifts. Giving gifts is an integral part of Buddhism so you find these boxes everywhere. Most of them are full of one yen coins.

The man in the picture is lighting incense before going up to the main building on the left.

This is Ian approaching the same building. I, of course, was right behind him.

This little statue was so covered with strings of beads that you could not see the statue itself. I assume that it was a Bodhisattva of some kind.

During the day we received a lot settai. The gifts gave us a kind of warm glow, even though we knew that they were not really for us, but instead were for the Buddha or the Bodhisattva of the local temple.

Between the first and second temples, a woman came running out of a house and gave us each a can of tea and a handmade coin purse.

Later, between four and five a group of us were debating whether or not to go into a little shop and have udon (noodles), when the waitress (owner most likely) came out and invited us in, saying that if we did not want to eat, we could just come in and rest, sitting down and drinking free tea. We declined because it was still to early to eat and also the place was already crowded. Instead Ian and I went next door and bought anmanju (dumplings full of sweet beanpaste). After we had paid, the woman reached into one of the shelves and brought out a large steamed sweet potato for each of us. Together there was so much that we used them for our lunch.

When we were between temples five and six, our map showed a post office just of the route and, since Ian needed to go and get some cash, we turned in that direction. We both had postal savings accounts that allowed us to withdraw money at any post office. As we walked toward the post office, we met a couple of other pilgrims that we had seen during the day. They said that there was a coffee shop between where we were and the P.O., so I decided to have coffee while we waited for Ian. When we reached the coffee shop, we found that it was the one day a week when it was regularly closed. However, they had placed a picnic table and benchs on the sidewalk. There was a big sign saying that Ohenro-san were welcome and to take anything that we liked. There was tea, a big bowl of various kinds of candy, coin purses, and kairo packs (bags of chemicals that heat up when you shake them). A sign on the table indicated that all of it was offered as settai.

In the evening, we ran into our first problem. We started calling ahead to reserve rooms and when Ian called Temple #12, which is at the top of the highest mountain in the area and has absolutely nothing but nature around it, we found that they were full on the day that we wanted to stay and on the day after. We made a reservation for the third day and decided that we would worry about it in the morning. Ian snored that night but I barely noticed during the 10 hours that we slept.

Apr 16, 2009

Day 1 Continued further

As I mentioned before, because of the start of school, I just do not have time to sort out which temple is which. This is the only day with the problem because we visited seven temples. On other days it was only one or two, many times even none.

This is the entrance gate to a very small temple that did not seem very prosperous even though it is one of the 88 and has large numbers of people stopping there.

This was a red Buddha on a porch at the side of a small building. The red color has all sorts of symbolism associated with it - too much to go into here. The purple cloth contains the names of four people in the bottom left and the writing in the center is about some organization having some thing on a specific day. I can't see enough of it to understand and at the time it did note impress me enough to make notes or photograph it.
This is one of the buildings associated with a temple. Notice the figure at the top. It is very unusual and I did not see anything else resembling it at any of the other temples. If we had had more time, I would have tried to find out about it.

The gate of another of the temples. The main hall is directly inside and the grounds were fairly small and very old looking, at least the part that we could get into. There obviously were some newer building at the back of the compound and we could see them as we approached (see the next photo). The vertical boards in the fence have the names of people who donated money to the temple written on them.

We came out of a path through the low hills and found that we were at the rear of the temple. On the right you can see a grave yard and the temple building are on the left. The gate in the above picture was reached by following the path and making a left at the last building. I am not sure but I had the impression that there may have been a number of monks living here.

This is the gate into another of the temples. The large stone in the middle of the road is typically Japanese. Either there will be something carved into stone (the name of a Buddha or famous person, a poem, or part of a sutra, for example) or there will be some legend about the stone or something that happened near it. In this case there will usually be a sign board explaining, as there is in this case. However, we did not have time to spot and read, let alone followup with notes.

This picture is typical of the sort of roads that we walked on the first day. As you can see, it is an actual road but a back road with little or no traffic.

We saw these red berries and stopped to look at them. Two other Ohenro-san also stopped and there was a fruitless debate about the name of the plant. After everyone had taken pictures we all went our separate ways. But as frequently happened, Ian and I stopped for lunch at a udon (noodle) shop and found the other two already there. The discussion about the name spread to all the customers and finally the waitress went into the back and came out with a plant identification book. I don't remember the name - it was Japanese anyway and would not mean anything - but the berries certainly were pretty.

Apr 14, 2009

Day 1 Continued

This is me on one of the paths through the very low hills between some of first day temples.

This is the approach to Temple #3 with the formal gate in the center. As we went through these gates, we stopped and bowed. Also it is customary, although not everyone follows the custom, to enter on the left side and exit on the right side. Many people, however, did the reverse and some paid no attention whatsoever. The idea is that the middle is left free for Kobo Daishi and the Emperor.
Many of the temples have hexagonal buildings like this. Sometime in the future, I hope to discover what their significance is - probably an esoteric meaning related to the shape. Also I am not sure what they are used for, although I surmise that they would be used for meditation and rites.

The grounds of most of the temples, especially the more popular ones, are full of statuary. Some in prominent positions and others hidden in nooks and crannies. One of the things that bothered me about our fixed schedule (requiring us to constantly hurry on to the next temple) was that we were unable to explore the temple grounds. An idea pilgrimage would be one in which at least a day was available at each temple. This would allow exploration, photography, drawing and meditation.

Almost every one of the temples has a pagoda located somewhere on the grounds. The pagoda has all sorts of esoteric meanings attached to it, but in the very earliest times it represented the grave of Sakamuni, the historical Buddha. The little building in front of the pagoda is the fountain for washing your hands before you proceed up the stairs to the main building.

I do not have time today to work out which temple this was, but it may have been #4. To know for sure, I would have to compare the time that the photo was taken to our route for the day, but I have started classes again and must prepare for my two classes later today. This garden was beautiful and well care for, a joy to behold.

This may have been Temple #4 or #5. One of the problems in knowing is that on this day we visited seven temples with only about a half hour walk between each pair. As you can see, even though it was March 2nd, the bushes in front of the temple were beginning to flower.

Ian standing in front of the main building on one of the temples. This is the area in which we gave the 100 yen, putting it in the brown box behind Ian, and the osamefuda when int he grey box on the right (with writing on the front). Then we chanted the Heart Sutra. Sometimes we stood where Ian is standing, at some temples we stood on the stairs, and at other temples we stood at the bottom of the stairs, even off to the side occasionally. It depended on how many other people were there at the time. We tried to avoid being in anyone else's way.

More poetry

Vast expanses of pastel greens and browns are broken by explosions of white and pink. It is cherry blossom time again in Sendai. This year is particularly impressive, the winter temperatures and precipitation causing a riot of blossom, which this week are in full bloom. People are partying in the parks and traffic slows to a crawl along roads lined with cherry trees. People are fascinated by the symbolism of the cherry blossom. They are dependent upon the conditions during the previous winter - directly reflecting the Buddhist ideas of dependent creation. And more importantly, although beautiful, their lives are short and end in decay - reflecting the human condition and the Buddhist ideas on non-permanence and constant change.

Pink cherry blossoms
Beautiful but too soon passing

Apr 12, 2009

Day 1

We left Temple #2 and walked slightly more than a kilometer to Temple #1, where we finished our shopping.

This is me all dressed up in my new Henro outfit and standing in front of the gate between the store and the temple itself. Once inside the temple grounds, we went to the main hall and did the 9-step rite for the first time.

9-Step Rite:
1. Bow at temple gate
2. Wash hands
3. Ring the bell
4. Give Osamefuda
5. Light a candle
6. Light three incense sticks
7. Put 100 yen in the donation box
8. Recite the Heart Sutra
9. Get the stamps and calligraphy in the book.

Strictly speaking number 9 is not part of the Buddhist rite but, since we did it at every temple and it is an accepted part of the Henro Pilgrimage, it certain felt like part of the rite.

I must say that our chanting of the Heart Sutra left a lot to be desired. As you saw previously, the sutra is written in Chinese with the Japanese readings indicated in kana. Ian was reading from a paper where he had written out the transliteration in English letters. We found that there were a number of differences between his paper and my book. Although we got gradually better at chanting, we never could do it as fast and as smoothly as the Japanese. However, with the exception of one lady you will hear about later, the people we talked to said that our chanting in Japanese was a compliment and that they felt that we honored them, Buddhism, and the temple.

This is the main gate into Temple #1. Ian is standing just to the left of the opening. He was arranging his luggage, which was sometimes a problem, but one that we soon mastered from simple repetition.

After we had finish the 9-step rite, we returned to the shop and had books stamped.
The man doing this is a monk who lives in the temple and spends at least part of the day writting the calligraphy in people's books.

We had now officially started the Pilgrimage, but we had no time to waste because we had to visit seven temples during the day and still return to Temple #6 where we were staying the night.

Apr 11, 2009

Day 0 Coming to the end

After bringing our purchases back to our room, large enough to sleep at least 10 people, , we were directed to a small dinning room and served a meal, mainly vegetarian but with fish (which I gave to Ian). After eating we returned to our room, opened the curtains for the first time, and found a little garden with a cave and a statue of a frog.

Notice that the frog is carrying a baby frog on its back. As I recall this has some deep meaning, but it escapes me at the moment. The room contained a variety of artwork, much of it decorated with the Heart Sutra. However, my favorite was a semi-abstract statue of an Ohenro-san.

In the morning we awoke early and followed the priest through a hallway that went up the hill to the main room of the temple itself. The priest indicated two chairs in the back left corner of the room and made motions for us to sit. He then took his place at the center of the room. At this point I realized that there was another person in the room, sitting in front and to the right of the priest, who had his back to us. After some chants in a voice low enough so that we could not hear, the priest and this other person began chanting. The only thing I recognized was the Heart Sutra somewhere in the middle. The atmosphere was incredible. The lighting was a few candles, barely illuminating a statue at the front and an altar area in front of the priest. Clouds of incense smoke drifted through the air and the chanting, accompanied by the rhythmic beating of a gong, filled our ears. We were not invited to join in any way, so we just sat and took it all in.

Once the service was finished, the priest guided us back to the dinning room where he served us breakfast and then left us alone to eat. Later the woman who had served us the previous night, brought more food and then gave us settai, change purses to carry the coins that we would need at each temple. I was very surprised because these were on sale for 500 yen in the shop. After we finished the meal, we returned to our room and got ready to leave for Temple #1 where we planned to finish our shopping and begin the actual Pilgrimage.

Just a closing note: For the purposes of this blog, I am going to begin my recounting of each day at the point where we started walking. Thus, my days will begin and end around 7 or 8 in the morning.

Apr 10, 2009

End of vacation

Yesterday I had my first class of the new academic year. Today I have two more and then next week I have a full schedule - 11 classes at three different universities. The soft life is over. For the next 15 weeks I will have to prepare lesson plans, write and grade quizzes and tests, and keep up with the administrative work. This means that I will have less time for this blog, but I will continue adding to it. I expect that I will be able to make three or four entries a week. Tomorrow I plan to finish my comments about Day 0 of my Henro Pilgrimage and expect that I will be able to start on Day 1 on the following day, Sunday.

Apr 7, 2009

Day 0 Continued Yet Again

In addition to the candles and incense, there are a few other necessities. In fact these other items are the most important in many senses. The two books in the following picture are the heart of the Henro equipment.

The red book on the left is a copy of the chants that are performed at the temple and the orange book is where you receive the stamps and calligraphy from the temple after performing the rites.

This is the red book opened to the pages that contain the beginning of the Heart Sutra. As you can see, it is written in Chinese, but contains hiragana to tell the reader how to pronounce each character. Therefore, what the Pilgrim chants is actually Chinese but spoken as the characters are pronounced in Japanese. The grammar and structure is Chinese and makes no sense in Japanese, but the characters have similar meanings so it is possible to more or less understand. I have had Japanese tell me that they can understand 60% to 80% without having any direct knowledge of Chinese. I bought this one but at two of the temples where I attended services I received copies containing that particular temple's chants, so I have three and they are all different. When I have time, I hope to compare them to get a better understanding of Shingon, but I have a lot of studying to do before making the attempt.

This in the orange book showing the pages for temples #14 and #15. Each temple puts in three red stamps and three columns of calligraphy. The top right stamp gives the temple's number, the middle shows the Buddha or Bodhisatva enshrined in the temple, and the bottom left is the official seal of the temple (like a signature). I can read very little of the calligraphy, but I can tell that the middle column starts with the Sanskrit character for the that temple and then the temple's mantra and the leftmost column shows the name of the temple.

After completing the rites, the Pilgrim goes to the temple office where a priest or nun completes the page for that temple. The Pilgrim pays 300 yen (about US$3.00) at each temple. As there are hundreds of thousands of Pilgrims each year - most arrive by bus - the official 88 temples have a very high income and are thus kept in good condition.

After you pay and get your book back, the priest hands you a slip of paper that contains an image of the enshrined Buddha or Bodhisatva. The picture below shows some representative examples.

There is one more thing that we bought: 100 slips of printed paper called Osamefuda.

These are about 5 inches long. The picture at the top is Kobo Daishi and the writing down the middle is a slogan, ending in dogyo ninin, stating that it is an offering related to the 88 temples. There is a space on the right for the Pilgrim to write the date. On the left the Pilgrim writes his or her name and address. Some versions also have a space for the Pilgrim's age.

Osamefuda are deposited in special boxes at each temple and also are theoretically given to anyone who gives you settai. However, the reality is that people do not want them. If you offer one after they give you settai, they will tell you to deposit it at the next temple. Oh, yes, there are special rest stops for Pilgrims that are run and supported by volunteers. These usually have a box for Osamefuda, but they also have a book where you can write the information and a note of thanks.

Apr 6, 2009

Day 0 Continued again

After exploring the rest of the grounds of Temple #2, Ian and I went to the store and purchased our Henro equipment. You have seen this picture before in relation to settai, but here please focus on the counter in front of the woman. She is wrapping the things that I purchased.

Although it is possible to spend a lot of money and buy many items, the clerks suggested that we buy the minimum - a hat, a walking stick, a bag, candles, incense, and a book in which we could collect the calligraphy from each temple.
Actually we waited and bought our hats at Temple #1 the next day, but they are all basically the same. At the bottom (which is actually the front of the hat) there is a Sanskrit character, the same one that is on the bag and which I discussed in a previous entry. At the back in Japanese, it says dogyo ninin (meaning: two walking together), just as on the bag. The other sections have slogans, which I will not discuss here.
To get a sense of the length of this walking stick, look back at the first picture. You can see it leaning against the counter. The main purpose of the cover is to allow you to distinguish your stick from those of others when you leave them in the designated place in the temple or at your hotel. The covers range from very ornate to very simple; mine is one of the simplest. Some people use only the stick without any cover. The bell's main purpose is to help you concentrate on walking, rather than daydreaming. I thought that I was going to learn to hate the constant ringing, but found that it became a constant companion and now, when I walk around Sendai, I miss the pleasant tinkling. The bell also serves as a warning to wild animals that there is a human walking through the woods. Apparently there are bears in the mountains. Again there is Sanskrit and Japanese. The Japanese is like a prayer and contains dogyo ninin at the end.
I have discussed the bag before so I will simply post the picture to remind you of it.
The candles and incense are used during the rites at each temple. Before chanting the Heart Sutra, the Pilgrim lights a candle and places it in a special glassed-in box and then lights three sticks of incense and places them in a special container that is like a large bowl. I have included the pen at the bottom to give you an idea of the size.

I will describe the remainder of the items we bought in my next post.