Losing My Religion

Just reading that title makes me want to break out into Michael Stipes mode, but for the sake of my neighbour’s sensibilities, and desire to not be serenaded, I shall refrain. This blog and website has been an on-again-off-again affair over the past year, partly because I am pretty busy with our company, and there are lots of things and people that need my attention. The other part, is that I have needed some time to figure out a few things for myself, and to find my own comfort level of how I can express the fact that I have given up my previously held religious beliefs. The thing is, to what degree I have abandoned them, and if there is something remaining, what is it, and for what reason or purpose to I hold onto them, is still not fully determined. I suppose that my ambivalence may be a healthy thing. After all, it is not an easy task to have everything decided in your mind how the universe should be, who is God, and what is the purpose of human existence. There is much to discuss and explore.

Calvin-Nice-ThingsI have several dear friends who are outright atheists, and when I was a kid that would be like shaking hands with Lucifer himself. I don’t believe in devils or demons plotting our downfall. I like the book by C.S. Lewis entitled, “The Screwtape Letters”, a set of correspondence of one senior devil advising his pupil as how to entirely corrupt the unsuspecting host with hedonism, secularism, and justifications to leave the church community. But, I am not convinced our reality is a reflection of that book, and I know that the great C.S. Lewis had misgivings about that book himself. As for other C.S. Lewis books I like, I enjoyed “The Great Divorce”, “Surprised by Joy”, and “Mere Christianity”. There is cohesion and empathy and compassion throughout, and while I think that the views may be tempered in light of scientific advancement and more rigorous exposure to different viewpoints available today, these are good reads.

Coming through one time on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage was a good experience for me, but I found it more to be an intellectual and cultural study than a spiritual experience. The hurried pace from one temple to the next by tour bus is not the best way to be at peace, and calm, and to let something come to your mind. I recognize that and hope to do the actual walk itself in the next few years. My goal is to see if I can get away when I am 50 for a couple of months and do it. Might be a bit tight, considering how much I am still needed daily for our company. But we will see!

Calvinism-Some-Lives-MatterBack to the topic at hand. I am not sure if I mentioned it, but I grew up in a rather staunch and rigid Calvinist upbringing. My parents came to Canada from Holland, and while the Netherlands are all things liberal and progressive, the Calvinists of Holland are anything but. There are lots of good people in those pews, for sure, but I have grown surprisingly weary of how wretched it was to be forced to sit through endless dull sermons, attend catechism classes, and feel like I was being brainwashed.

I went to a Christian school from kindergarten all the way through my first undergraduate degree. College had some great bright spots, but even so, I felt hedged in by the tribe, by the church-going religiosity and “justified by faith” crowd. It wasn’t until I spent a year away in China, then three years in Japan, and then graduate school at the University of Alberta, that I started to make the mental and psychological shift away from all the things that had been formative in my growing up.

calvinism-when-thinking-youre-better-than-everyone-else-just-isnt-enoughIt wasn’t all bad, I must confess. I had a pretty sharp education and I developed powers of rote memorization that have been useful. Being forced to memorize chunks of Bible verses has been helpful, and some of the Bible is quite beautiful and profound, so I am not yet keen to throw all the babies out with all the bath water.

Another element of my need to lose my religion was my own very fractured, and now lifeless, relationship with my own parents. There was much Bible pounding, and kid pounding, going on in our household. And I needed to get away from that, perhaps that is what has sent me away from Canada for so many years. At least that is a part of it.

I think that my story about my departure from organized religion is hardly original. Lots of people lose their faith, and lose their church memberships. It might be part of growing up. It might be part of recognizing the beauty and significance in others and experiences defined outside the walls of church. Nature, other countries, travel, new friends, and falling in love on the other side of the world can change a person a lot. Is it an abandonment? An evolution? Or just a steady pace on the path of living one’s own life?

Some parts of each again, perhaps.

I am going to update this blog, from time to time, with ideas and things I have written about my departure from Calvinism, and from much of the quiet hatred I have seen and lived through within. I hope that does not deter you from reading all the other pages here as well. I think that the reasoning for this expansion in this blog is that a pilgrimage, a journey of your mind and soul, takes a lot of different forms. I want to explore that, and share some of the things I have been thinking and writing, or the books I have read that I think are helpful.

Thanks for your patience in advance as I fumble about, and if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to zap me here, or by email at: mark.a.groenewold@gmail.com

Travel safe fellow pilgrims,

Mark

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Gaijin Snub

The other day I was out picking up some lunch from a convenience store. It is still surprising to me how it is possible to find several things that are actually edible in a convenience store. In my home country of Canada, I would not expect much. Maybe there are some donuts and coffee to grab with gas, but I have long been wary of those plastic covered sandwiches in the white bread. Or the hotdogs…. I just have to give it a pass.

But Japan is pretty good. I can buy spaghetti in meat sauce, sushi, rice balls, and even oden (a kind of broth that can have meats and vegetables, like a stew, kind of). Anyway, I am in the shop getting my purchases together and a foreign ohenro comes in. I look up from my orange basket and look in his direction. He sees me. I smile. I raise my hand to wave and say hi….. and then that guy turns to his right and just walks away…

ignoreMaybe he didn’t see me. Maybe he did not see the tall 6’3 guy with the goofy smile waving to him in a small convenience store. He did have sunglasses on after all…. I turned and saw him at the end of the aisle, and I could sense, maybe, just maybe with his hunched up shoulders and his feet purposefully pointing in the opposite direction that he did not want to interact with me at all.

Maybe it is me. Did I smell. Maybe… I did bathe this morning, and deodorant… yes, okay, check! Bad breath? Hmm… I did have a mint just a few moments ago.. Probably okay… Maybe it is the “cut of my jib”. Maybe I give off a bad vibe. Maybe ….

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, I have seen this kind of behaviour a whole bunch of times over the past 20 years here in Japan. I even have a clever name for it. I call it, “gaijin snub”.

RUDEGaijin snub is when you meet a fellow non-Japanese person and when you say hi, or make eye contact, or wave, you get blown off, and just flatly ignored. The other person may even sigh, or roll their eyes, or mutter something under their breath as they pass by. In all cases, you have become beneath their notice. You have been gaijin snubbed.

Gaijin snubbing is different than regular snubbing. Gaijin snubbing is when you are offended that other non-Japanese people are actually in Japan and somehow, in someway, interfering with what should have been YOUR cultural experience. Other foreigners get in your way. They want to say hi, probably in English. They smile. You hate smiles. They wave. How un-Japanese and insensitive. You hate them. You hate them because they intrude in what should be your pure Japanese experience. You are like that guy in the book “Shogun”, and here those other nasty foreigners are, cluttering up your mossy landscape. Irritating….

I don’t know how you guys cope with this, or if you even care. For my part, I have been in Japan for a pretty long time, and whenever I see ANYONE who is obviously not from around here I try to say hi, or make friendly contact. Being an expat in Japan can be rough, and sometimes you need a friend. Over the years I have been able to help out a few people along the way. There was a woman who couldn’t get to the airport because her English school bosses screwed her out of her last month’s salary. I could put her on the bus. There was a guy who needed someone to help him talk to the police. I could do that for him. There have been a lot of people who were just lost on the street and I could point them in a good direction. And I made some friends along the way too.

I am not terribly offended at the gaijin snub. I think it says more of the snubber than the snubbed (that would be me). I am not diminished in my willingness to say hi, or ask how can I help. That’s just how I am built. But if you are coming to Japan for the first time, or getting out to travel outside your country, I hope you will refrain from the gaijin snub. It is kind of a jerk move, and you never know who you might meet on your path.

rude-personIt could be someone who may change your life. It may be someone who becomes a friend. It may be someone who gives you information that you need. It may be just someone who you can be kind to, civil to, and normal towards. You just do not know who you will meet on the road.

In my case, I had a situation where my company was in need of hiring some new teachers. One applicant contacted me and we met at a coffee shop. I recognized him as a guy who had gaijin snubbed me some time before. I am sure he did not recognize me. But I knew who he was. And while he was very kind and thoughtful and pleasant for our interview, I did not hire him. He was a guy who snubbed people who could not obviously benefit him in any perceivable way. I can’t put that kind of guy in front of our students. I didn’t snub him, and I gave him our standard gentle refusal, but we hired someone much better instead.

You never know who you meet.

So while you are on your ohenro route, walking the miles, I hope you will be kind to, and greet every person you meet. Be pleasant. Be of good cheer. It can open some doors you never imagined.4385543669_bb3d0d7315_b

You Should Know Better

I am a member of a very nice Facebook Group. It is all about Ohenro and there are some truly lovely and interesting people there. They walk the path of Kukai, they compare notes, they give kind and helpful suggestions to fellow pilgrims, and they offer encouragements to others who struggle. You’d think that such a on-line Nirvana would be a place of continue self-affirmation, support, good vibes, and inspired support. It usually is, but there was an unhappy interaction surrounding a situation that should have been a no-brainer. Allow me a few lines here to let you in on it.

One of the members is a very kind, very thoughtful, and very generous bilingual woman who lives in Tokushima. She works as a volunteer to help clear and clean the Ohenro path in her area. She is involved with her community. She is also much like a patron saint to wayward foreigners who have no place to stay, or who get lost, or who don’t have a clue. Speaking and writing flawless English she sometimes sees foreign travellers resting in front of a local convenience store. If they are strapped for a place to stay she makes arrangements for them. She makes phone calls on their behalf and just helps out where she can. There is nothing she asks for from them. She just offers a helping hand to people who are on the road. She does not intrude. She just asks them how far they plan to continue on and if they have already arranged for a place to rest at night. If conditions are good, and if she can, she often helps out, even going so far to take them in her car. For people who walk the many miles on the Ohenro path to meet such a helpful, kind, and deeply resourceful person is like receiving manna from heaven.

Ok, so at any rate, this volunteer (did I mention she is a good person?) puts a notice up and voices her frustration that people are etching their names, and writing nonsense, into the moss covered walls around her community. I think that we can all, in good normal human sense, understand that these acts of brazen narcissism are tremendously stupid, and ugly.

Just take a look and see for yourself.

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Some Western participants took her objection to be some kind of racially charged attack on Western ohenro who suffer so much (I guess more so than regular ohenro). Comments such as, “the walls are ugly anyway”, were equally ridiculous and childish. So, this kind soul was somewhat taken aback and feels very unappreciated for both her quiet service and support to foreign ohenro on the path, as well as her admonishments for these acts of vandalism. I thought that the whole discussion ran way out into left field and I sent a private message to the author telling her that I am grateful for the initial posting in the group, thankful as an expat here in Shikoku for the unblinking selfless support of non-Japanese speaking ohenro, and encouraged her to not let the childishness of others distract her from her message and request.

Let’s see if we can look at this particular issue in a different cultural context. Do you think it would be okay for you to go to any public accessible museum in France and write your name on that property? Do you think you can do that in any country you are visiting or vacationing in? Do you think it is okay to touch someone’s private property as you pass by and do visible damage to the plants attached to that person’s home? Even if you think that their wall is not so attractive?

Of course not. You know better. And if you don’t, shame on you. And yes, you are a dork.

You do not have to be deeply Buddhist to know that you do not do harm as you pass through. Do no harm to others. Do no harm to other people’s feelings. Do no harm.

The author of the initial post said that she knew the old man that lives in this place. He is elderly. He struggled long and hard to provide this home for his family. How should he feel about his home? He should be proud. He should be glad that he could, as a man and breadwinner, provide for his family despite trouble and hard times. And then some chowderheads come through and disrespect his home.

How should he feel? Should he apologize that his walls were not less unattractive so that others would not feel the need to vandalize them? Should he just take it like he “deserved it” or something?

Again, of course not. Yet, we still have some ohenro-wannabees who suffer from “privilege”. And yes, once again, they have their own apologists. It is tiresome to hear how they rattle on….

I know pretty much how I would feel if people walking by vandalized my home, just because they could. I think that I would be a volcanic magma spewing fount of pure rage and that my anger would burn like a thousand suns. I am working on personal growth, and managing anger, but that is how I would feel about that. How about you?

In discussing the contents of this blog with the original author, she would like me to pass on that her admonishments were not just about these particular walls that belong to a local resident, but also about any walls or places where people put up graffiti. No one wants to see it, and it is a very ugly and unhappy thing to see ANYWHERE along the ohenro route. The route is long, and it is beautiful, so it would be great if the entirety of the ohenro route could be treated properly and with the respect that it deserves.

I am bringing this particular issue to your eyes today not to shame you, or make you feel unworthy or culturally inferior, or any of that nonsense. I believe that if you are reading these lines you are likely not a moss-vandalizing person of any sort. Thanks for that. But I hope to let you in a little bit that there are people who have walked this path before you, and they behaved like idiots, and they damaged someone’s home, and they were not kind, and they did not pass through kindly.

As a long-term expat living here in Shikoku there are lots of other foreign guys running around in the bars, chasing women, throwing up, getting into fights, committing crimes, and doing all sorts of stupid. They dirty the pond, and they do influence how I am treated in a very oblique way. The do not show foreigners in a good light. Some of that is unfortunate and some of that is undeserved. I suppose I could lament about it, but there is only a few possible cures for hate and stupidity, and those are kindness and knowledge.

Travel well friends. Be kind. Be smart. Keep your hands off other people’s moss.

Thanks for reading this.

 

Mark

In A Flash

This week has been a little rough. I got a phone call from a dear friend of mine who lives in Ishikawa. His name is Gart. His voice on the phone wasn’t his normal exuberant self. Something was clearly wrong.

“Mark is gone.”

Mark E. was our friend. In many ways, he was the glue that held a lot of people together. He was an instigator in gathering different people and being the host to a lot of lunches, hanging out, game playing, and just being silly together. And then, in a flash, he was gone. He had a heart attack while at the hospital for an unrelated treatment. He was only 55 years old.

I met Mark E. a little more than 25 years ago. I was very new in Japan, just a couple of weeks in. I spoke almost zero Japanese and I was just starting the adventure of being here. I had time off and I could explore the area of Terai town, complete with its endless rice fields, hills and mountains, and little roads that went into neighbourhoods. A new friend of mine, Michael, called me up. He was a couple years my senior for living in Japan. He knew the ropes a bit and he wanted to introduce his friend to me. He said, “You’ll like my friend Mark E. He is very cool and has been here for seven years already. He knows everything! Let’s meet and have lunch together at this eel restaurant in Komatsu.”

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Sounded great. I never had eel before and I thought it would be a new adventure in dining. I hopped on the motorcycle which was left behind by my job placement predecessor and scooted off in the direction of Komatsu.

On the way down you need to travel on a main road, called Route 8. It is pretty busy with cars so you need to be a bit careful. I was getting to the intersection I needed to turn and slowed down, making sure to signal. I then heard a groaning of tires on asphalt behind me. I looked in the little rearview mirror on my right handlebar. I saw the grill of a truck.

The only thought that came to my mind was, “I’m dead.”

Then there was impact.

I was thrown from the bike forward and was sailing upside down. My helmeted head hit the road first and then I spun. My knees hit the highway next and I skidded a little. Denim melted away and I rolled a little further until I came to a full stop. I was lying on the busy road looking up.

I’m not dead.

“GET UP!” my brain yelled. So I got up.

Ahead of me, trailing up the front of the truck that struck me, were many fragments of motorcycle lying in a stream of gas. It was a marvellous thing to see. It was marvellous because I was still there to see it. I wasn’t dead. I was, in fact, standing.

iStock-180812046I pulled off my helmet, and sure enough there was a pretty good crack right going from the front edge to the top. A man, shaking jumped down from his truck. In one smooth motion he pulls out his wallet and opens it. He is gesticulating to me to take the money inside. I look at the mess on the road. I look at my bloody knees. I realize that I have no idea what to do next. But I am alive, and I am grateful for that.

I am thinking that I might be late for lunch. So, I figure, I may as well go and eat some eels. I wave the guy off and say the one word I think he will understand, “Go.”

He is startled and unsure what to do. I repeat myself and gesture down the road for him to go ahead. He turns and gets back in his truck and takes off. I don’t even look to see where he goes. Slowly, I pick up the biggest pieces of motorcycle and drag them to the side of the road.

Then I go for lunch.

It was great to meet Mark E. He is kind and thoughtful and generous. I am very much enjoying the time with my new friends Michael and Mark. But then the adrenalin starts to wear off and I start to feel achey and woozy. Maybe it was the eel. Or maybe the beer. But I need to call it a day. I told Mark and Michael about my recent adventure and they take it all in. Mark gives me a ride home in his cool Toyota Sera. I felt guilty about being such a mess in his snazzy car. He didn’t seem to mind. I sat in the tub and checked out all my new purple spots up and down my back and on my arms.

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It was an adventurous way to start my time in Japan.

Mark and I remained friends for the next 25 years. There were gaps in our connection, due to graduate studies, my unravelling marriage and then divorce, and all kinds of other similar nonsense. But each time we reconnected it was great, and there was no feeling of “Why did you wait so long to get in touch?” None of that. It was a very mature and fun relationship we shared. Mark’s politics and opinions about everything were highly informed, biased, and irritating at times, but he was the kind of man who always separated the person from the opinion. Happy to debate and discuss all matters of things, and would listen when you were persistent. But under it all, deeply compassionate and kind to others, often over-extending himself to accommodate people around him, and fiercely loyal.

I was shocked to hear of my friend’s passing. I surprised myself as I burst into tears. I hadn’t wept even when my own father passed, but Mark touched my life in a very unique and important way. He was a mentor to me, and a guide. He was always quick to laugh, and was ever thoughtful of his friends. He read endlessly and widely. He loved his wife and son deeply. He was a teacher to many students over the years, and despite all kinds of pressure from many quarters often did only what he wanted to do in the first place. He made me laugh, a lot.

He will be missed. And while I mourn his passing, I am also cognizant of something under all of that. I am grateful. I am deeply grateful for a good friend. I am grateful for a friendship that lasted over 25 years. I am grateful to have had the times together that we did. I am grateful to know what real friendship looks like.

Thank you, Mark.

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Overdue with Updates

Hello friends and neighbors!

Once again I find myself in the position of needing to apologize for being so slow in updating this site. As mentioned elsewhere, I am the head honcho of a group of language schools here, and the Japanese school year ends in March and fires up again in April. As a result, my wife and I spend many many late nights working like crazed ferrets on fire (not quite the metaphor you had in mind, but you get the picture! LOL)!

Anyway, we are now in GOLDEN WEEK (a bit of a misnomer as it lasts less than seven days), and we have some free time to sleep late a few days and let the dust settle.

On the school-side of things, I have the great satisfaction of being able to upgrade our staff substantially. As a young company we made some mis-hires in the past and have made all the necessary adjustments to attract and keep some extraordinary talent. It is nice to go to work with pleasant, kind, thoughtful, selfless, professional, people again. And my faith in humanity has been restored.

This project is hardly forgotten, in fact it has made such an deep and profound mark on my life that I am completely committed to seeing it through as far as I can. There is much work to do, and there is much I can do in the unique position I am privileged to hold. I wonder what I can do to be of service to you as you travel here to Shikoku, and how I can be of good cheer and company to you as you walk the miles. I am keenly interested in learning of your experiences and thoughts, so please do not hesitate to let me know.

There are miles to go before we sleep.

More updates to the individual temples are in the works, and I hope to have the base of this site rounded out so that it reads better, and has a good feel to it.

In the meantime, stay between the ditches, and travel safe.

Yours,

Mark

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The Invitation

At this time we are in the process of getting things formalized for inviting tour groups to come to Kagawa to experience the incredible Shikoku Pilgrimage. We have worked very hard this last year and things are coming together nicely.

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If you are new to this site, and are here to find our more about what the Shikoku Pilgrimage is about, I hope you will take some time to look through some of these pages. There are a few caveats I need to give you right away.

  1. This website is far from complete. Last year I finished the 88 temple pilgrimage and I am still updating information on the site. Last year was a “gyaku-uchi” year, so we traveled the pilgrimage in reverse starting at the last temple, number 88. So, if you are looking for my own journey, please start there. I have been updating the information as I have been going along and I am down now to the early 30’s. I hope to get this all updated as soon as possible. The pages all have photos, just no explanations or history–YET.
  2. I am not a tour guide operator, but I work closely with a group of business people and one of our members is a tour operator. If you are a travel agency, please contact me via email (cometokagawa@gmail.com or englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com) and I promise to respond in a timely manner.
  3. Should you decide to come to Shikoku, we believe you are going to have an unbelievable experience. Coming to Japan is a marvelous thing in itself, and you will surely enjoy the great sites of Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka. I love all those places myself. But coming here you will find a certain closeness and “hands-on” experience that you will not get in the more high traffic tourist places.

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There are also a few things I want to tell you about our great Come to Kagawa project as well. Some of it is pretty cool so I can start to let the cat out of the bag early on. We have been in conversation with several people who are masters or artisans in their specific fields and each is very interested and keen to share their knowledge and passion for art with groups that will come.

Our team of artists and experts are in the following fields:

–tea ceremony

–calligraphy

–zen meditation

–Shintoism

–udon making

–bonsai gardening

–kimono wearing

We are absolutely blown away with the intensity of interest these artists have in their desire to share their knowledge and passion with visitors. Many have said the same thing, that they have a certain “urgency” to share with others. They have the knowledge of art in their hearts and minds and just want to share that passion with others so that their art will continue beyond them.

These would be things that visitors could surely enjoy and participate in, in addition to the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage itself. We think that we are cooking up a very unique and supremely fun experience here. So, if you have received an invitation to come to our fair prefecture of Kagawa, and if you are interested in talking about the specifics, please get in touch with us. We are very much looking forward to talking with you soon.

Yours truly,

Mark

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year! One year ago I decided to start the Shikoku Pilgrimage and I managed to get it all completed in one year. I look back fondly on the experience and I am glad that I did it. Each day out on the Ohenro path was unique and interesting and very special. I have to say that I feel very lucky to live in a place such as Kagawa.

So that leads me to the next thing. Now that I hhappy-new-year-2017-hd-wallpaper-gold.jpgave completed the pilgrimage, what is in store for 2017? As I mentioned before, I never felt comfortable in an existence of continually moving in a circle, not at this time in my life anyway. I feel that there is much for me to do this year, and I have been given something, some knowledge and experience that I need to use to be of good service to others.

One very important thing to do is to get the pages for each temple updated and complete. Well, not “complete”, but in shape enough for visitors to read and to enjoy. There are quite a few (temples 1-52) that still need text and editing done on them. I will work hard to get it done in the days and weeks to come.

The next thing is for us to work aggressively in developing our connections with overseas tourist agencies and local business to be able o host and support overseas visitors to the pilgrimage. Meetings are scheduled for next week and beyond to meet with local business leaders, so I think that we will be able to make some progress this year.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster. It is my year. It is the year of my astrological sign and I am turning 48 this year. I am full of life, of energy, and a passion to bring this project to a greater stage. I welcome you to come along, to advise and suggest what we should do to make this site better, and how we can, as a group and a collective of pilgrims, to make the Shikoku Ohenro something that can serve others and push us forward to the next thing, and to help us carry on, moving forward.

All the best for 2017! Let’s make it good.

Yours,
Mark

Better Late Than Never

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201701030006.html

The above link is a story in the Asahi Shimbun about an elderly couple who completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage recently. This is just another in a long list of heart-warming stories of people who have traveled long and hard on the path of Kukai.

I suppose that it is never too late to do it. But also, maybe the other side of the statement is don’t wait too long before you do it yourself.

Welcome to Shikoku! Koubou Daishi is waiting for you on the path!

 

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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