Jul 31, 2009

End of the semester

Today I worked relatively hard and finished my grading so tomorrow after I put them in the mail I will be officially on vacation until September 8th when I will begin two weeks with two classes on Tuesday afternoons and one Thursday evenings. The rest of the two weeks will still be vacation.

My wife is leaving on Sunday to take care of my grandson for about three weeks. During that time I will be home alone. I am planning to do a lot of drawing, meditate every day, and go for long walks. I also plan to catch up on my reading. I am looking forward to a good summer. That is, if the rainy season ever ends. They are now saying that it will last at least for the first week of August - usually it is over by early July. This year it is so late that the price of fresh vegetables is going up.

Jul 29, 2009

Day 7 - more walking

Back in the river valley again, we walked along a one lane road. We did not meet any cars but I wondered what would have happened in a car had come from each direction.
The same road but closer to the long bridge what we had to cross. The road kept crossing the river because a cliff came right down to the water's edge, but I changed sides as the river meandered through the valley.
This was a large Shinto Shrine in the middle of nowhere. It was well kept up and looked like it might be the home of a cult of some kind. We did not see anyone in the area, so it was not possible to ask about it.
This old weather-worn building beside the road was very picturesque. At some point in the near future I plan to use it as the basis of a drawing.
The Henro Trail frequently left the public roads and followed the old footpaths through the hills, providing some of the most pleasant but also the most physically demanding walking.

Jul 27, 2009

Day 7 - Into the woods again

A memorial to a supporter of Buddhism in the form of a book. We found this beside the building in the last entry with photos.
This building was sitting by itself. Each upright on the fence has the name of a person who donated money for the construction of the site. It is assume that such donations will earn the person merit that will benefit them in either this life or a future life. I find the idea of rebirths a bit hard to swallow (reincarnation is different and not a Buddhist thought). However, I am apparently in good company. A recent survey of Buddhist priests in Japan found that something like 80% of them did not accept the idea of rebirth.
A little building beside a steep down slope that we almost slid down, without the stairs we probably would have slid all the way to the bottom. Sorry for the fuzziness! I think the lens was wet.
I don't remember whether we were coming down or going up this slope, however, we were still descending from the temple toward the valley floor so it was probably down, but there plenty of places where we had to go up before going down.
As usual the picture does not convey the steepness of the slope, but this was one of the steeper places. After walking down the stairs for 30 minutes or more, my legs became so tired that they were quivering. I don't know which was worse - going up or coming down again.

Weather Watch

Today's weather forecast says that we are going to have rain from this afternoon until August. The rainy season is still in full force. Yuck.

Jul 23, 2009

Day 7 - on the temple grounds

The pagoda

This is on the temple grounds. The Chinese character is mu and it indicates nothingness, non-existence, or simply no or not. This character appears often in Zen dialogs, particularly as a response to questions. It also appears in the Heart Sutra a great number of times (considering the length of the sutra) and is used to negate common conceptions.

A pleasant little corner of the grounds.

A statue of a crane beside one of the halls.

The main hall where we chanted the Heart Sutra. That is Ian's arm and waist on the left side of the picture.

Jul 21, 2009

A narrative poem and a haiku

The other I was reading a translation of something that Kukai had written a thousand years ago and it contained a poem that was used as a dedication and engraved on a large stone at Nikko. As I finished reading the following poem popped into my head in almost exactly the form that it is copied below. I sent it to my poet friend David Gilbey. He kindly sent some comments and a haiku that he said was inspired by reading my poem. If you want, you can read my poem and then David's below. I should note that mine is actually broken up into groups of five lines, but I can not get this blog to accept the blank spaces.

The title of the poem is the Japanese rendition of the mantra that appears near the end of the Heart Sutra (the one we chanted at each of the Henro Pilgrimage temples). Edward Conze translates it as Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all hail! It is this going that forms the narrative of my poem.

Gyatei Gyatei Haragyatei Harasougyatei Bojisowaka


A Buddhist Pilgrimage

By Charles Adamson

Across the empty ocean

Waves of phenomena

Break on the distant shore

Flashes of wisdom

Illuminate the great beyond

On this shore, obscurity and light

Mask ultimate reality

Flocks of illusion play in the surf

False views abound

As one, greed and compassion walk the beach

Wise men and fools are indistinguishable

Things and memes arise and die

Chaos, pain, and suffering are

The fate of everything

Is there no escape?

The distant shore beckons me

The emptiness echoing across my mind

Urging me to set out on a pilgrimage

An unmoving trip from here to there

And back again

I construct a transcendental raft

To sail across the void

With a hull of planks from the Sacred Fig Tree

Bound by chains of suffering

And powered by a sail of lotus petals

The completed raft is rough and unfinished

But it needs only to carry me across

I push off into the wild waves

Mindfully, I enter the motionless maelstrom

Intent on reaching the far shore

On the sea the wind blows me one way

The tides propel me in another

At times returning to the near shore

Later seeing the Blue Cliffs of the other

My unmoving mind becomes part of the chaos

In the middle of the void

The Naga snakes arise and offer me knowledge

Kings and Princes offer gold and jewels

Celestial maidens offer themselves

But I press on into wisdom and idiocy

After an infinity of time

Flowing rapidly through the present

The raft grounds on reality

Beaches on the quicksands of immortality

I disembark, leaving my dual mind behind

No need to cling anymore

I leave the raft to drift away

Return is now impossible

The only way is forward

Following the path of men and madmen

My journey is almost over

Or maybe it has just begun

Here on the far shore, the mountains call

High above the final clouds

I climb toward the sun, the ultimate light

Advancing into a mental wilderness

I find the tiger's cave

And by the door sits a sage

A hoary old arhat with a long white beard

He seems to meditate, or is he dead?

Returning from his trip to infinity

He opens his dagger-like eyes

And stabs me with a question

Who are you?

I used to know - I respond

What is the answer - I inquire

With long grey eyebrows all aquiver

He ponders and expounds - mu, or was it mew

A bodhisattva or Schrödinger’s cat?

He could be either - or neither

Numerous footprints enter that tiger lair

But not a single trace of leaving

Multitudes must wait inside

But on entering the cavern

I find it dark and empty

Exiting the doorless void

I find the path again

It is clearer now

The goal's in sight, I feel it near

All ignorance and fear have fled

Finally, I've obtained the peak, I see the light

The brilliance blinds me for a moment

Then my vision clears

And I discover my Zennish outcome

Everything is still the same ... but different

A Haiku by David Gilbey
Alone in Sendai

Charles looks for the infinite
And finds it at home.

Day 7 - ever onward

We finally reached the gate of the temple. As we entered a fairly large group of people came out. There must be something symbolic here but I fail to see it.
A small shrine on the temple grounds. I did not actually look inside but I am sure that there would have been a small statue of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva.
Almost all of the temples that are high in the mountains have fantastic views like this from the grounds. We, of course, had climbed up from the valley floor, way off to the left.
This person was unidentified, but he is holding what appears to be a vajra in his left hand. Usually this have five prongs at each end and are quite complex. This seems to be an abstraction that just keeps the general form. The beads would be used when chanting to keep track of the cycles, like Catholics use a Rosary.
I really liked this little building with the pagoda and statue in the background. There was a statue inside and the oblong shape just inside the door is for alms.

Jul 17, 2009

Day 7 - a hard trail

The mountain trail went up and up with these stairs and extremely steep drop offs on the outside. At this point, if you fell off the trail and did not latch onto one of the tree trunks you would go down at least a hundred meters before stopping.
More of the same.
Here the trail was steps cut out living rock.
We finally reach a road, but just crossed it and started up through the woods again. The road goes up to the temple but, because it keeps the gradiant down to something that a car in first gear can handle, going that way would take almost twice the time, even considering all the rest stops that I had to take.
This is looking back down at that town we left a couple of posts ago. You can get a sense of how high we have gotten without going too far horizontally.

Jul 16, 2009

Day 7 - continuing

As you can see from Ian's face, this was a really tough day. We were on the road for a full eleven hours and climbed two high mountains since temples #21 and #22 were on different mountain tops. One of the unsolved problems of my photo-taking was that I was unable to find angles that showed the true steepness of the roads and trails. Although this was paved, each step was a struggle and I had to stop and rest about every 50 meters.
It was tough going but the rustic scenery was quite nice, when I had the energy to look at it.
About half way up the mountain trail to Temple #21 we found a nice little shrine. If we had had the time, I would have liked to make a drawing at this spot - probably from a different angle but here.
This is looking back down the trail. The steepness shows a bit here but the photo does not do justice to the real thing.
As the dirt trail got steeper, there were steps made by placing logs across the trail. I do not remember which these were, and I can't tell for sure from the photo, but in some places the logs were real and in others they were made from concrete.

Jul 15, 2009

Day 7 - starting out

In the first built up areas that we came to, they were holding an annual Hina Matsuri, a tradition festival for girls in which dolls or little figurines representing the traditional royal family dressed in their finest, retainers, and various household goods are set up on shelves in the home. In this town the festival involved the public display of the figures. Every little shop, most homes, and many companies had the figures on display. The picture shows two company cars out side the factory with the figures arranged inside.
On the approach from the main road to the mountain path to the temple an embankment had fallen and was being repaired. Auto traffic was being rerouted by we were allowed through because we were on foot.
The temple is actually just visible on the skyline at the left, just to the right of the highest point. I was not looking forward to another climb up a steep mountain side, but I put on my best Buddhist face and started taking one step at a time, with frequent rests to catch my breath. You can just see where the road starts to get really steep after it goes around the bend.
Top center there is a farm hanging on the mountainside and below and to the left is a grave yard. The trees are not yet in bloom but the buds have given the picture a purple cast.
Tired of looking at the road going up and up in front of my, I turned around and took this picture of the last town that we had passed through. We had climbed about a hundred meters at this point.

Jul 14, 2009

Brockton - the old homestead

I have just gotten in touch (through Facebook) with one of the kids who lived just down the street from us. He took these two pictures for me. The first is the house that my father built and that I lived in until I went off to college, but it did not have the large garage attached to it at the time. The second is next door where my aunt, uncle and cousins lived. It has not changed to much, but you would expect that of a house that was built around the time of the Civil War.

Jul 12, 2009

Day 6 - some final comments based on my journal

First, I am sorry that I have not posted much this week but I have been terribly busy. One of my universities scheduled the final Friday classes on Saturday. Both universities that I work at on Thursdays canceled classes this week so I theoretically had a day off, but a friend of the family had some translation that he wanted me to do for his lab. I spend the morning working with him and then in the afternoon I had to make some exams and lessons. Also I spend the time between classes - 2 and a half hours on Fridays - correcting exams. Today is Sunday and, except for going food shopping, sending a few emails, and writing this, I am just relaxing. Starting tomorrow I will have classes until Thursday evening. Then on Friday Masayo will be back for a little more than a week. When she leaves again, I will only have seven more classes, spread over three days, and then it will be summer vacation. I will be completely free once I finish grading exams and giving students final grades, but that can be done at a leisurely rate.

Now on to my comments about Day 6: In the morning when we went down for breakfast, we had a treat. The place we said, Kadoya, was actually more like a hotel. Breakfast was served in a coffee shop on the first floor. The treat was that for the first time since starting the Pilgrimage we were able to get coffee. It cost us 400 yen (about US$4) a cup and we each drank two cups but it was worth it. Starting out each morning would have been much easier, if we had been able to have coffee every day.

Also I had an embarassing little mishap. There was an egg on the tray and I thought it was hard boiled, like the egg had been the day before. However, when I broke the shell on the counter, a lot of egg spilled on the counter top. It was a raw egg. During the trip, we were served both hard boild and raw eggs. The hard boiled egg was just removed from the shell and eaten. The raw eggs were broken onto a bowl of rice. The egg and the hot rice mixed together and eaten with chopsticks. Actually it is quite good, but it is difficult to decide which kind of egg you have been given.

I think I mentioned it before, but during the day we had a lot of trouble finding our way. The last revision to the book of maps that we used was two years old. In the area that we traveled through on Day 6, they had obviously spent those two years building new roads and tearing up old ones. Many of the roads on our map were just not there and we walked on many roads that were missing from our charts.

A few posts ago there was a picture of Ian and I that was out of focus and then one that was in focus. The reason was moisture on the lens. The pictures were taken by a young man that was traveling with a couple that were closer to our age. He came over to us and volunteered in English to take the pictures. When we left the temple, we walked with him and the couple for a few kilometers. We thought that he was their son, or at least a close relative, but it turned out that he had only some loose connection to them. He lived in the local area and had come out to walk a little way with them. Although I am not sure, I got the impression that he was a college friend of their son.

At Temple #18 Ian and I notice a pretty young lady who was standing around looking extremely bored, which was a very unusual scene within the temple grounds. Ian and I talked about her and how most people in a temple are rapt with interest but she looked like this was the most boring thing she had ever done. We figured out that she was an assistant with one of the bus tour groups. We lost track of her as we moved around the temple grounds, but as her group was leaving we passed very close to her. Because of this, we were able to hear one of the women in the group go up to her and tell her that the two strange-looking foreigners had been watching her. She never even turned around to look at us, but a few minutes later her bus passed us and she looked out the window and with a big smile waved at us.

We had planned to walk 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. However, we were discovering that with this scheme our legs tended to tighten up, so we decided to try taking a 5 minute break every 30 minutes. That worked fine in terms of our legs, but the 5 minutes tended to stretch out into 10 or 15 minutes, which slowed down our average walking speed quite a bit.

Ian was carrying so much stuff that he had a bag in his hands all the time. Also I found that I had things that I was obviously not going to need any more - heavy clothes, for example. So during one of our breaks we searched our maps for a post office, and discovered that we would be able to send some things home during the morning of the next day.

We were getting smoother with our chanting of the Heart Sutra and were no longer embarassed. Also we noticed that the version of the Heart Sutra that they gave us during the Shingon service at Temple #19 was different from the one we brought with us. In some places the Japanese phonetic readings of the Chinese were different. This was one of the problems that Ian and I had been having. We thought we were out of sequence but in reality the texts we were reading were different.

That reminds me, we spent the night at Temple #19 and went to a 5 pm service. We arrived early enough that we were able to bathe before the service. This temple had a huge bath, big enough that six or seven men could be in it at the same time. I do not know if the women's bath was as big or not. The size of our bath meant that we could soak as long as we wanted and not interfer with other people who also wanted to bath. It was a wonderful feeling to just relax in the hot water.

There were quite a few people there, in a big shrine room with huge lighted mandalas hanging both to the left and to the right of the altar. The priest bragged about the mandalas and, after the service, asked us to move around a look at them carefully. I was extremely surprised when I got up close and discovered that they were photographs - about 3 by 4 meters, but photographs. Actually they were transparencies. I am not sure where the originals were.

I can sum up my progress best with a quote from my journal, " Walking is getting more and more pleasing in spite of the pain. My inner voice is getting quieter and quieter, or it is concentrated on the moment. Fewer things from the world are intruding."

There is an old tradition that, if the Pilgrim is not mentally prepared to continue on the Buddhist path to enlightenment as represented by the Henro Trail, something will happen at Temple #19 so that the Pilgrim goes no farther. There are a number of stories about people who had mundane or miraculous things happen that prevented them from passing beyond Temple #19, until they were ready. Maybe some day I will try to write some of these in English.

We spend this day walking alone sidewalks beside busy roads, but the next day we knew that we would be heading into the hills again, so we asked for breakfast at 6 a.m. and went to bed early.

Jul 7, 2009

Day 6 - on to the end

Another picture of Ian and I. On the right another Ohenro-san is washing his hands in preparation for going up to the main hall and on the left there is a statue of Kobo Daishi.
This is temple #19, I think. I do not have time to check my records. This is the end of the semester and I am writing and grading exams. As soon as they are over I will spend a little more time on this and get it all straightened out.
Every temple has a shop of like the one on the right. They sell souvenirs, knick-knacks, and stuff that the Ohenro-san needs.
This is a very nice pagoda. I am sure that, if I had had more time to search around, I could have found a better angle to shot from, one without the other buildings crowding in.
This was our room for the night. Ian is getting his stuff organized so that we can get an early start in the morning - early meaning as soon after breakfast as we can.

Jul 5, 2009

Day 6 - even more at the temple

Part way up the stairs to the main hall we found this statue with all the little ones behind it. I later found a notice that said that for, I think it was, 60,000 yen you could have a little statue dedicated to you.
This is a close up of the statues. Actually many of the temples had something similar to this. Something that was set up in your name, often with your name on it (if I remember correctly, these have the names engraved around the base - in those white dots below the feet). This is one way for the temples to get some income.
On the other side of the stairway was a row of statues - all wearing nice little bibs. People who live in the area frequently put various items of clothing on the statues.

Some people chanting the Heart Sutra at the main hall.
It is not necessary to actually be on, or even in, the hall. Many people stand outside or below it. In this picture you can see that the man with the cloth around his head is actually standing behind the shelter for the candles (on the extreme right).

Jul 1, 2009

Day 6 - still at the temple

Here is a couple of pictures of a group that came by bus. They are chanting the Heart Sutra and some other stuff. In addition to the Heart Sutra each temple has a set of things that members of that subsect of Shingon chant in front of each of the buildings that contain an alter.

The fountain where you wash your hands is on the right and on the left is a statue, I think it is Kobo Daishi. Notice the small pagoda behind the fountain and the lamp in the foreground.
This is the little building where you place a lighted candle as part of the preparation for chanting the Heart Sutra. The walls are glass to protect the candles from the wind but allow them to be seen, and the panels on the front slide so that you can put you candle inside.
A young man that we met took this out of focus picture with me cell phone camera. I am including it here because it acurately represents the way we were beginning to feel - all fuzzy and somehow no longer a part of the world that we came from.

He tried three times and the last one finally turned out okay. The problem was that the lens was covered with moisture from the rain that we had had earlier.