Today was light, a 10 mile walk from near Temple 81 down the mountain to Temple 83. As I entered the trail, a warning sign was posted to be aware of wild boars in the area. Other than the friendly heads-up, I could not read about what to do if I faced one of these beasties. I had to rely on Kukai’s protection.
Although we were in Spring, the foliage seemed like Fall with an array of colors. The mountainside was beautiful and put my mind in a state of self-reflection.
I’ll wait until after the end of the pilgrimage to offer my thoughts on how I will respond to the young Australian policeman’s statement about how ohenro restored his faith in mankind.
For the moment, you might want to know what pilgrims do when they are at a temple and what I do as a secular person who respects other people’s beliefs but is not religious but spiritual.
Most people when they enter a temple at the sanmon (main temple gate) bow to recognize that they are entering a holy place. I do too. Indeed, these temples and the path of the ohenro have been in place for over 1200 years. Even though much of the flat parts of the course is covered in asphalt or concrete, the roads are those that pilgrims walked in the past and for some died along the way.
If a bell is available, many take the opportunity to strike the bell. Most of time, I do too especially vigorously if the climb up was challenging. There is a certain satisfaction in hearing a very loud and enduring gong.
The next step is to cleanse one’s hands and some worshippers wash their mouths. I follow the hand washing part of the ritual.
Here is where we significantly differ. Buddhists and many other non-Buddhists light candles and incense sticks and then chant the heart sutra at the hondo.
I put my hands together, bow my head and think the following. I am grateful that I am healthy in mind and body to have walked to this temple (83 so far). I am grateful to my grandparents who had the courage to leave Japan for whatever reason and who endured in a new land. I am grateful to my parents who nurtured me even though at times I rebelled. I am grateful to have Sharon as my wife and partner who has shared my life and supported me on this trip. I am grateful for my friends who I know have helped me and will help me again when needed. I am grateful for all of my girl cats and Sherman who purr and give unequivocal love. I am grateful to all of the people who have given me acts of kindness. For those fellow pilgrims and for those performing osettai whom I will never meet again, Ichigo, Ichie (in one lifetime, one meeting), thank you.