Matsushita Naoyuki: Visiting the Sacred Sites of Kukai

Deciding to come to Shikoku to walk the path of Kukai, and visit the 88 temples on the trail is a serious undertaking. One does not simply walk around Shikoku. One must be prepared. One must read well. One must most certainly get this book. Don’t worry, on Kindle it is super cheap. It’ll cost you less than a single bento lunch. And it will be super worth-it.

Matsushita Naoyuki (with kind assistance of David Moreton) bring this MUST-READ book to light. It is called “Visiting the Sacred Sites of Kukai”. Understated in the title, but invaluable in content, you really must read this book through and through, take the notes you need to, and prepare what you need for the trek of your life. I cannot recommend this book more. Go to Amazon and order henceforth:

While the style of the book is not super engaging there is a ton of very helpful hints and advice, as well as highly useful information with details on all the things that will make your pilgrimage effective, worthwhile, and enriching. Don’t let that stop you for a moment. Remember that the author’s native tongue is not English, and just be grateful that this book is out there to help you get ready for an event that may change you forever. When visiting a temple on the route, say a quiet word of thanks, and drop a coin in the temple box, as you make your way around Shikoku. Remember everything here that Matsushita-san is teaching you.

And of course, travel safe!

Website To Check Out!

The summer is pretty hot here in sunny Kagawa. I’m hiding out inside the house for a few hours during mid-day to stay out of the sun. I suppose I could complain about it, but then again, what’s the point? It’s hot. It’s Japan. It’s Kagawa, and I still get to live in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

But looking forward to the next season of Shikoku Pilgrimage ohenro (pilgrims) it’s time to start recommending sources of information so that when you come out this way you have all the tools and information you need to make your experience on Kukai’s trail unbelievable, well-organized, and fulfilling.

The first website I want to recommend you take a look at is:

http://wwwtb.mlit.go.jp/shikoku/88navi/en/

This website is a storehouse of great information for getting around. It shows exactly what train lines get to Shikoku, what gets you around Shikoku, supplies sample itineraries, and has great visuals to show you how far to walk from transportation hubs to the temples. Check it out, take careful notes, and plan accordingly. Lots of great photos throughout too!

The Heart Sutra

I had been putting this blog off for quite some time. Attempting to write about The Heart Sutra, presenting it on this blog, seems like such a disservice to the spiritual, aesthetic, and cultural significance of this artifact. I feel completely inadequate trying to put it out here for readers and to attempt to explain or represent.

But here we are anyway.

I want to apologize for any errors in misrepresentation that occur from here on out. I very much would like to see more visitors to Shikoku, and to our home prefecture, Kagawa. There are some amazing and surprising things to see and hear when you explore these surroundings.

First time visitors to Shikoku, particularly those who venture out to visit any of the 88 temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage will inevitably see the Ohenro dressed in white, hear the sound of walking sticks tapping stone, the jangling of bells. And then they will hear the chanting of … something. Something deep and beautiful and reverent.

What you are likely hearing is the Heart Sutra:

Kan ji zai bo satsu. Gyo jin han nya hara mita ji. Sho ken.  Go on kai ku. Do issai ku yaku. Sha ri shi. Shiki fu i ku. Ku fu i shiki. Shiki soku ze ku. Ku soku ze shiki. Ju so gyo shiki. Yaku bu nyo ze. Shari shi. Ze sho ho ku so. Fu sho fu metsu. Fu ku fu jo. Fu zo fu gen. Ze ko ku chu. Mu shiki mu ju so gyo shiki. Mu gen ni bi ze shin i. Mu shiki sho ko mi soku ho. Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai. Mu mu myo yaku mu mu myo jin. Nai shi mu ro shi. Yaku mu ro shi jin. Mu ku shu metsu do. Mu chi yaku mu toku. I mu sho toku ko. Bodai sat ta e hannya haramita. Ko shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko. Mu u ku fu. On ri issai ten do mu so. Ku gyo ne han. San ze sho butsu. E hannya haramita. Ko toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bodai. Ko chi hannya haramita.  Ze dai jin shu. Ze dai myo shu. Ze mu jo shu. Ze mu to do shu. No jo issai ku. Shin jitsu fu ko ko setsu hannya haramita shu. Soku setsu shu watsu. Gya tei, gya tei, ha ra gya tei. Hara so gya tei.  Bo ji so waka. Hannya Shingyo.

Here is a very  nice modern performed version of the Heart Sutra. The priest in this video is Yakushiji Kanji who is an active priest in Ehime prefecture. You may very well meet him on your pilgrimage here.

Below is the translation of the Japanese. It does not flow so gently, but you can gather the meaning of the sutra itself.

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, was deep through the Perfection of Wisdom, saw clearly that the five aggregates of human existence are empty, and so released himself from suffering.

“Sariputra! Form is nothing more than emptiness, emptiness is nothing more than Form. Form is exactly emptiness, and emptiness is exactly Form. The other four aggregates of human existence — feeling, thought, will, and consciousness — are also nothing more than emptiness.”

“Sariputra! All things are empty: Nothing is born, nothing dies, nothing is pure, nothing is stained, nothing increases and nothing decreases. So, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no thought, no will, no consciousness. There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. There is no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no imagining. No plane of sight, no plane of thought. There is no ignorance, and no end to ignorance. There is no old age and death, and no end to old age and death. There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no end to suffering, no path to suffering. There is no attainment of wisdom, and no wisdom to attain.”

The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, their hearts without delusions; they have no reason for delusion, no fear within, abandoning their confused thoughts, finally experiencing Nirvana.

The Buddhas, past, present, and future, rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, and live in full enlightenment. The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra. It is the wisest mantra, the highest mantra, the mantra of the rest. Remove all suffering. This is truth that cannot be falsity. The reason of the Perfection of Wisdom Mantra, The Mantra is thus: Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté. Bodhi! Svaha!

I want to leave this blog at that. The Heart Sutra and all its metaphysical implications is heavy material. You may want to think on this for yourself and see how it applies to who you are, where you are, what you want to do, and how you want to live. No lectures or “insights” from me.

Travel well. Travel safe.

All the best.

TV Asahi reports on foreign pilgrims in Japan

This report is a couple of years old, but still very relevant. There are more and more people from overseas who are discovering the Shikoku Pilgrimage. There is so much that is attractive and unique about the experience. Check out this video to see a little of what it is like to walk the path of Kukai:

Did you notice the incredible calm that these foreign visitors have? The safe environment, the kindness and humanity of people around them, and the time and space to explore and enjoy the day walking from temple to temple is simply beyond riches. Wonderful. Thanks to TV Asahi for putting this together!!

Sacred Journeys with the BBC

A few years back, the PBS made a great video about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It is very nicely put together and very much worth watching right through to the end. Brilliantly narrated and explained the video does a tremendous job of giving you enough information, and certainly enough inspiration, to get out on the road and see where it takes you. David Moreton, featured elsewhere in this blog, accompanies the group as guide, expert, and support throughout. Check this out:

Giddy Up

Hello again.

It has been awhile. But it has been for good reason and there is purpose and happenstance, so allow me a few lines here to explain what that means.

I started this website a few years ago. The primary purpose was to bring some exposure to the Ohenro experience and to put more information out there about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was also a way for me to spread out my own brief experiences in the pilgrimage and to see them one by one, perhaps looking for strings of meaning through the route.

I live here in Shikoku, in Kagawa, in Takamatsu city, and my wife Kazuyo and I run our schools here. While we are often busy with our work, we do so in the backdrop and context of this pilgrimage which rings Shikoku. The local culture, the people, the geography, and the spirit of the place is inextricably linked to everything we see and touch every day. But often in way in ways that are difficult to explain, or articulate well.

We noticed that there is a groundswell of activity around us in local businesses and government for “inbound tourism” and we have been approached almost daily for assistance and counsel about how to make various events, attractions, transportation services, restaurants, and tour experiences more attractive for incoming guests and to do so while maintaining the integrity of the experiences.

So we started an experiment from last year October and developed a website to highlight various places and cultural activities for incoming guests to explore and enjoy. I made a sister web site called “Come to Kagawa” (www.cometokagawa.com) and in a few short months the traffic has been booming. We had initially wanted to simply make a public service site to help stimulate interest in Kagawa, but had no idea what would happen next.

This was completely unexpected and the response was very nice. We were noticed by JR Shikoku, the 114 Economic Advisory Board, Kagawa University, Takamatsu City, and a good number of business owners who work in the hospitality industry. We have been working closely with many members in these groups in their various projects and some intense planning has been going on (in the shadows, behind the scenes, in quiet whispered tones….). No, no… not really. Nothing so dramatic. But it has been a wonderful experience to meet some very creative and interesting people, and also to discover for myself more how we can be of service to new friends and inbound colleagues (co-conspirators).

In short, we’ve been able to accomplish a few significant things. First, we have established strong links with JR Shikoku and the local 114 Economic Advisory Board. We have plans in motion to set up “concierge” services for inbound guests. The format is being set up right now, but what that means for incoming visitors is that there will be an active robust resource of information of:

  1. How to get to Shikoku
  2. How to travel around Shikoku
  3. What events, festivals, cultural activities are available and when.
  4. Accessible accommodations from luxury hotels, to rustic inns in the mountains, to guest houses.
  5. Information on each and every temple on the Shikoku Pilgrimage
  6. Information on cultural and historical places to access and see
  7. Information on the Setouchi Experience with art, and islands, and food and drink
  8. Information on rental car services
  9. Recommended Shikoku experiences ranging from weekend stays to the full-on 2 month Ohenro trekking experience, and many between.

Our goal is to make clear a lot of information that is floating out there, and to work cooperatively with people who are “in the know” about so many of these things, to work cooperatively and collectively together to make a good thing.

We understand that Inbound Tourism brings with it two sides of a coin. One is the good: where people can come, explore, discover things, enjoy, dine, relax, and in doing so bolster and support local economy. We like this a lot, and as parents who have kids growing up in Shikoku we want to work like crazy to do our best for their future here. The other is the bad: where people come, make a mess, throw their trash in the street, carve their initials into temple walls, get inebriated on the street, demand to know why ketchup is not on everything they eat, and forget all their manners because they are “on vacation”.

I think that we can manage this situation, or at least do the best we can to accentuating the good and reducing the bad. And it comes by doing what we always do–creating and providing information about these places in Shikoku, telling the stories of people who live here, inviting people to enjoy things in a way that will give them a uniquely deep Japanese cultural experience, and developing a community of people who have come to love this land, this Pure Land, this beautiful and marvellous Shikoku.

More updates will come in rapid fire about the concierge services and how to access the format in the weeks to come. Much planning has been going on in the last several months, but now we feel like we have our feet in the starting blocks, and are really ready now to start this race in earnest.

I warmly and cordially and whole-heartedly invite you along with us, to contribute your experiences and insights, to share your perspective, and to help us develop this community.

Watch this site for details! In the meantime, thanks for reading, and have a great day.

Yours,
Mark Groenewold

cometokagawa@gmail.com

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

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

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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