Book Report: The Way of the 88 Temples by Robert Sibley

This is a book that I have really come to love, for a bunch of reasons. The author is articulate and intelligent. His writing is very much “present” and “in the moment”. He is a Canadian. He is a writer steeping in philosophy, and continually learning and growing. He comes from Alberta, which is where I grew up. He traveled around Shikoku at a time I didn’t even know he was in the area. He could have walked right by my house.

And then there is this book. Compared to a lot of traveler accounts of “the road not taken” he stands head and shoulders above most. But as you read this book it is important that you are reading more about the pilgrim’s experience than temple information. Most certainly, there is a LOT of great background and snippets of culture, language, Buddhism, folklore, and personalities throughout, but they are all intrinsically linked to the immediate experience of Sibley. This certainly does not take anything away from the book. In fact, it serves to make the reading more intimate and intense. This is a book that inspires and touches, rather than lecture and expound.

There may be critics who claim that the book is light on data and information about the temples. This is not a guide book. This is Robert’s book, and his story. And he tells it well.

Highly recommended. I loved it. And he made me laugh out loud several times.

He also surprised me with a few moments that were particularly touching.

Thank you, Robert! When you come again, please drop me a line. Dinner and beers are my settai waiting for you here in Kagawa!

Robert Sibley has written a few other books as well, including one on the Camino. Please check out his site: http://www.rumourofgod.com/index.html

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.