When I first began this blog it was my intention to write about what makes Buddhist practice in the wilderness unique. Early on I became side tracked with other matters as I mastered the technical skills necessary to make a presentable web site. But I think now is a good time to return to my original goal. Bear with me as I explain my change in direction.
A few years ago I began walking for my health. I found I enjoyed it very much and before long it was a confirmed habit. Many times as I walked I would pass the time listening to audiobooks. Quite by chance I found one on Buddhism and thought it would be interesting. My curiosity about Buddhism was just that. I was not seeking any answers or searching for new meaning in my life. One sunny spring morning as I walked in the woods I listened to the Four Noble Truths. The experience of hearing those words defies my ability to describe, but in an instant my life changed drastically. Over the following weeks I would walk in the forest listening and learning about Buddhism.
By another seemingly random circumstance I learned from a friend that a mutual acquaintance was a practicing Buddhist. Before long we spoke about my new interest. In fact he turned out to be much more than a practicing Buddhist; he is an ordained priest in the Tendai tradition whose knowledge and wisdom is very deep indeed. And so I had a sensei.
In the months that followed I continued to use the time I spent walking to think about the many things I was learning about the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. As I walked I began to understand impermanence, not-self and much more. The woods became my temple and my university.
My sensei was aware of the role walking had in my life. So he told me about the kaihogyo, a practice unique to Tendai Buddhism. I learned about the monks in Japan who walk thousands of miles in a kind of pilgrimage, performing amazing physical feats of endurance over a seven year period.
As time went on I continued walking but the focus of my practice shifted to the time honored and essential methods of meditation, study and ritual. As these became more settled in me I began to understand that my time in the forest was when I was most likely to find new insight, deepen my understanding, renew my energy and confirm my patience.
So it was in the past few weeks that I formed the hope to more systematically integrate walking into my daily practice following the inspiration of the kaihogyo. With the encouragement of my sensei I have set out to do this in an initial period of one hundred days.
In kaihogyo the monks walk 30 km (18.6 mi) a day for 100 days in their first three years. I would like to duplicate that achievement but I must be realistic and acknowledge that at the age of 61 I may not be able to do so. So I have set a goal of walking 1,000 miles (1,609 km) in 100 hundred days.
It is important to understand that the distances are not the practice. The distance needs to be long enough to present a significant physical challenge. But that is analogous to using the correct posture while meditating. The heart of the practice is what goes on while meeting that challenge. While walking I will recite various mantras that invoke the presence of different Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Guardians. Along the path I will stop at a number of locations which strongly evoke the Buddha nature that is found in all things. At these places I will venerate that Buddha nature in a manner which arises spontaneously within me.
It is in this last element of the practice that the advantage of being in the wilderness has its greatest effect. Quite simply, in a purely natural setting there are more places where Buddha nature is apparent because there is less to distract one from seeing it.
Today is the 16th day of my practice. I hope to write about what happens in the coming 84 days and share at least some of my experiences with you who read this. Quite honestly, I am not sure what to expect. I anticipate that much of what happens will be diffiuclt if not impossible to describe for you, but I promise you my best effort.
While I am tempted to call my practice kaihogyo, it would be wrong to do so. Our Jushoku (abbot), Monshin Paul Naamon, has designated the name kokorodo which means Path of the Heart. I feel a strong affinity with the sentiment he has created with this name and I embrace it.
I would be most pleased if you would come to this site from time to time and share some of this experience with me.