On day 8 I took the ferry from Wakayama to Shikoku and the city of Tokushima. I’ve adopted a strategy of easy stages so my goal for the day was to make the crossing and get set up for the night. I decided the agenda for day 9 would involve taking the train to the little station near temple 1, find the temple and there purchase the items that a pilgrim should wear and carry. Then I would return to Tokushima and begin the pilgrimage on day 10.
I found the right train to take from Tokushima station, a one car local train that was more like a bus on rails than a train. It wasn’t the technological wonder of the Shinkansen, but like it was very clean and ran on time. After about 10 minutes it reached Bando station which was little more than a shelter alongside the track. Using Google maps on my phone (another marvel of modern technology that has been utterly invaluable on this trip) I made my way to Ryozenji (Temple 1). I had seen photographs and video of the place before and as I approached the emotions began to rise in me. I had thought and planned and wondered about this place for so long and here I was. I bowed at the gate.
As I entered the temple grounds I was surrounded by the sounds of pilgrims praying, the smell of incense burning and so much activity I wasn’t able to take it all in. Yet, for the first time since coming to Japan I was in a situation that felt familiar to me. What people were doing here, practicing Buddhism, is what I do at home. Only at home I either practice alone or with just a few other people. I had never been among so many people doing this at once.
I wandered a bit, confused. I had long ago read of the devotions and prayers a pilgrim makes at a temple so I climbed the steps to the Hondo, put my hands together, bowed and recited my prayers. Among them was the Heart Sutra which I had spent the last few months memorizing in Japanese. On this occasion I was so caught up in what was going on that I messed it up. No matter. The intention is what counts.
I went to the store in the temple and bought the pilgrim items which I will write about in another post. I donned the pilgrim’s robe and put on the stole, called a wagesa, that I wear at home and which identifies me as an ordained Tendai monk. I had a brief encounter with the priest in charge of the temple who asked where I was from. We spoke as best we could with our language limitations about Tendai and Shingon (the Buddhist school that runs this temple). I imagine she was somewhat curious about a head shaven, blue eyed, large sized, obviously western monk with a Tendai wagesa. I can’t speak for her, but I felt a connection.
There aren’t many days in one’s life when you are allowed to reach an important goal. This was one of them. It was very important to me. I felt emotions I’ve never had before and will always cherish. I had stepped into the transformation stage of pilgrimage.
After I left the temple and was walking back to the train station I stopped at a store to buy something to eat and drink. I went outside and toward the rear of the store out of the way of the people coming and going. As stood there an older couple pulled in with their truck and parked next to me. The woman got out and went to a little bowl on the ground next to the building and filled it with cat food. I could tell this was part of her daily routine. She smiled at me and could see I had a pilgrim’s staff. She started talking and I heard her say “Ohenrosan” or pilgrim. I told her “Hai” or yes. She asked if I was from America and I said yes. Was I doing the pilgrimage by car. No, I replied, I am walking. We continued for a few minutes in very enjoyable fashion. And then she said “Gambatte kudasai” or please do your best. I was a henro at last. I then went in the store to throw away my garbage from my snack. She followed me in and showed me where to do this and then pressed a coin in my hand as “ossetai”, the material support people on Shikoku give henro. Transformation indeed.
When I returned to Tokushima as I left the station a henro was standing by the sidewalk with a begging bowl. I went to him and placed a coin in the bowl and bowed deeply to him. No difference between us. Two together.