Finish Line?

This week I visited the final three temples on the pilgrimage. I “got it done”, so to speak. It was a very nice morning when I headed out, and this time I did not go with the tour group. I got up in the morning, had a quick breakfast, jumped in my car and was at temple number 3 (Konsenji) in Tokushima within about an hour. Simply beautiful. No one was there yet and it was quiet, and peaceful, and perfect. After that I zipped down the road to number 2 (Gokurakuji) and that was nice too. The final visit to number 1 (Ryouzenji) was met with a lot of people, tour buses, and foreign visitors too. I was surprised as to the contrast between number 3 and 1. Of course, it is understandable that at the very first temple people need some kind of orientation, places to buy their ohenro gear, and to get the whole process started, but it was surprising how busy it was, and how the energy seems a bit nervous and unsure as groups lumbered in and out.

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But I “cleared it”. My “noukyouchou” (temple stamp book) was complete, I performed my final sutras (for this trip) and I was done.

Was there an epiphany? Was there a moment of satori (Buddhist enlightenment)? Was there the movement of clouds above while the light of heaven shone down upon my upward beaming (and unshaven) face?

Nope. None of that. But I did feel something, or maybe I just thought something. I can’t be sure. I felt that I had done the thing I was supposed to do. I felt that now that I finished my first pilgrimage around the whole of Shikoku, I was ready to get back to my life.

I felt compelled to leave. I felt like I was given something that I needed and that I now needed to do what I could in my work and my everyday moving about to be of use and purpose for those around me.

Even a few days later I still have the same feeling. So, there are few things to get done.

  1. Keep working on this website and fill in as many gaps as possible. Promote this website and invite other to contribute where they can. The pilgrimage is something that is best shared, and although many have private feelings and reasons for doing it, there is something of a communal experience that occurs and needs celebrating.
  2. Keep doing the job I am doing in building and growing our language schools for kids. I am lucky to have a job where the results of “giving” to others can have very quick and tangible results. Teaching is a noble and important job. I am delighted to work with a great team of teachers in building our schools and serving our community. There is much more to do, so I need to get back to doing it.

The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is in a circle. The metaphor is not lost on me. You finish the circle, but you could easily go through again and again and find more to learn and discover. I appreciate that, and I find it beautiful and attractive. I can see why there are people who are dedicated ohenro and why they walk this path for as long as they can put one foot in front of the other.

But for me, I am perhaps not designed to be in a circle only. I come from a culture where linear movement has its own value and place. In a circle you can let the situations and circumstance “be” while you move through them, and you are changed in ways you do not realize or fully understand. A linear movement is more like a rocket trajectory perhaps. I feel compelled to move in this way, for now.

My work, our schools, the students who need our help and service wait. If I am to remain in the circle they would not be there by the time I went around again. For me, it is time to come out of the circle and to use what I have in my mind and heart to do what I can to get kids better in English. I have a privileged position in this world, and I intend of leveraging my abilities for these kids. They need it and deserve it.

After the trajectory of these years to come may falter and slip, I will need to come out of the linear world again perhaps when I am forced to retire. I know where there is a circle where I can walk and think and reflect on the person I am, and how I may participate in the world around me. I know where I could start, and the path stretches out ahead, like an old friend who is inviting you to come along for the walk of your life.

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Sleeping with the People Who Sleep with Fishes

I am a member of a Facebook “Ohenro” group and there are some very nice people on that list. Several of them have reviews of their websites here, and it is very clear from their participation that they are passionate and thoughtful about their pilgrimage experiences.

There was one recent posting to the group admonishing, in some vague manner, about how to “behave” in Japan. Typically, I find such kinds of admonishments stiff and condescending. They are usually proffered by someone who has been in Japan for several years, has a good mastery of the language, but somehow and someway kind of lost their own identity in the search of being more “personally acceptable” to an imaginary Japanese “standard” of what is passable to the “typical” Japanese person.

Wow. That is a lot of apostrophes for one paragraph.

Part of the irritation I experience, at times, is the self-aggrandizing passive aggressiveness of these typical pieces of advice. They are well-meaning, I suppose, but they are coupled with a superiority complex that is hard not to see. They often begin with a phrase like, “The Japanese people are ….”, as if one person can understand how an entire nation thinks…. or “In Japanese culture you must …”, followed with a series of instructions you need to follow, lest you bring great shame upon yourself, your family, the Emperor, and all civilized people. Usually, it is all a bit much.

For me, having been around a bit myself for the last couple of decades in Japan, I tend to tune out such advice. It is often dull and uninspired, humorless and preachy.  I hope you can take it from me that there is really only one thing that you need to do, well, maybe two.

  1. Be nice.
  2. Don’t be a jerk

That’s it. Just like back home, wherever home might have been before you came here. You know what good manners are, and you know what bad manners are. Figure it out. Use the golden rule. Recall you girl scout or boy scout code of conduct. Be friendly. Be yourself. That should keep you in good shape.

But… the aforementioned posting by one of the members did in fact have one thing that he mentioned that really stood out. And that guy was totally correct. He had heard through friends of his on the ohenro trail that some foreign travelers were, and get this, SLEEPING IN A CEMETERY. 

Great Scott.

That one is a new one on me. That is pretty stunning I think.

I had no idea that there were actually people out there on the ohenro trail who thought that sleeping in a cemetery in a country not their own would be a good idea. Do we really have to tell people NOT to sleep in the cemetery? Really? I mean, how dumb can someone be? That is pretty rude, and to some, very serious behavior.

To the people who thought that it might be okay to sleep in a Japanese cemetery, “What the hell were you possibly thinking?” Were you tired? Did you have a long day walking? Big deal. Everyone has those. Did you not plan your trip properly? That is your fault. Don’t foist your crap on someone else. Didn’t you think that some people visit their loved ones at the cemetery regularly, and that to them it is holy ground? Don’t you think that for them, finding your lazy carcass sprawled out next to their dead family members might be a problem?

Frankly speaking, I think that sleeping in any cemetery, in any country around the world is  not a good idea. Really. What kind of person sleeps in a cemetery? Are you some kind of zombie? Don’t you have any common sense?

I guess my own two pieces of advice, be nice and don’t be a jerk, needs one more. Here it is:

3. Don’t be an idiot by sleeping in a graveyard.

Walking and exploring the ohenro trail should be a good experience. It should be good for you. It should be enriching and expansive for your soul. It should be good for people you meet on the way. How can we be of benefit to those we meet? How can we serve or uplift our fellow humans? This nonsense of sleeping on someone’s family grave just feels wrong,  because it is. That behavior comes from a spirit of “taking”, whether the people doing it are aware or not. There comes from some people an immature feeling of “getting something” or “taking something” wherever you go. “What can I get?” and “How much for me?” is the underscoring tone. If you feel sleepy or tired, get yourself further down the road to a place you know you can stop at. If you have to pay for a bed, do it. If you have to slog on, keep going. That is just how it has to be. That is the world of responsible adults. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

I think that these feelings of greed and entitlement need to be turned around. You don’t need to give all your worldly possessions away and live like a beggar, but when you meet someone, when you meet anyone, the thought of “What can I do for this person?” is simply a better, and happier, way to live.

So, that is my rant for today in its entirety. For those chowderheads sleeping on graves, knock it off. For the rest of you kind friends and neighbors, have a great day and travel safe.

 

Mark

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Down To The Single Digits

Wow.

It has been a very busy year so far. Yesterday I got back home after the last pilgrimage installment. There are only three more temples to visit, and then I will have been to all 88. When I think about that it is pretty amazing, and also I am so grateful that I have been able to update this website throughout the year as I went along. There is so much to see, and so many temples to learn things about and explore. By laying things out here, page by page, I can clearly explore and remember each more clearly. It is also my great hope that this site and blog will be of good help to visitors as well.

I just uploaded the photos up to temple 4, down from 88, so that is a start. There is still much to do for including information, background, history, highlights, and folklore for each. I will keep puttering around with it until it is done.

I am also working on a close reading of the Heart Sutra, and hopefully a helpful guide to reading it aloud, and a mild dissection of each part so that you can understand more and enjoy more of this beautiful thing. I have to admit that I am enjoying pondering the ideas and expressions within the sutra. Like many westerners, I grew up where linear logic is praised, and where clear lines of discussion and argument can be expressed and debated. The Heart Sutra is having none of that, so this is quite interesting.

But I promise also not to go off on all kinds of esoteric tangents that serve more to confuse, than to explore together. That would just be plain…. rude.

My last impression of the most recent journey is that the pace of the pilgrimage is a bit overwhelming. It is hard to put everything in careful perspective when so many temples and countryside is whizzing by. At Kirihataji (temple 10) I met two very nice French visitors. We did not have a chance to talk much, but they sure seemed interesting. They are only here for a short visit, to see a handful of temples, but they could both speak very passable Japanese. Years ago, as students, they used to live in Japan and are now back for a visit. I would have liked to talk more, but the road called them forward and our tour bus took us onward. I  liked that they chose to do fewer, rather than more. They wanted to enjoy and know more of what they were doing, rather than racing to a  finish line to “get it done”.

In the same way, I feel that about this site. This is the first time through, but it feels like preparing the background of a picture I am making on canvas. The first pass needs bold lines and blocky shaded areas. The forms will take shape over time. They will have their own hues and tone. Then the details, slowly and meticulously will fill the finer gaps within. Who knows what it will look like later.

Something entirely unexpected I suppose…