Many of you aren’t familiar with the clothing and other items pilgrims bring with them on their path. So here’s a short description.
A white vest is worn called a hakui. The white color is significant since in Japan it is the color associated with death. The pilgrim undertakes the journey leaving behind everyday life and its routine concerns. It can also be thought of as a commitment to the pilgrimage even if it means death. I think this is expressed in a western idiom as giving the pilgrimage everything you’ve got. On the back is the name of Kobo Daishi who established the pilgrimage and most of the temples it visits, along with the Sanskrit letter A which is associated with some of the esoteric practices that Kobo Daishi promoted in his life time.
In addition to the vest, many pilgrims wear a conical shaped sedge hat which I can’t offer a picture of since I haven’t as yet bought one. I expect to be buying one soon and will post a picture for you then.
The pilgrim also carries a book, called a nokyocho, which is presented at each temple office where a unique vermillion stamp is placed on a blank page and calligraphy identifying the temple is written over the stamp. Since I was able to visit a few temples already I have some stamps in my book. This is the main keepsake of the pilgrimage and traditionally it is buried with the pilgrim’s body when he or she dies.
Another important item is the staff or kongozue. This is thought to embody Kobo Daishi himself and is treated with the utmost care and respect. When a pilgrim arrives at lodging for the night it is customary for the bottom of the staff to be washed in water (the feet of Kobo Daishi) before anything else. Most of the staffs have the words Dogyo Ninin written on them which means “We two practice together”. A pilgrim with the staff always has Kobo Daishi with him or her. The one I bought has the text of the Heart Sutra written in Japanese on it. I chose this because the Heart Sutra is an important part of my practice and will be throughout the pilgrimage. A small bell is attached to the head of the staff to warn small sentient beings that someone is coming so they won’t be stepped upon. Finally, the pilgrim while practicing in the temple wears a stole called a wagesa and a “rosary” called a juzu. These two items I brought with me. The wagesa I will wear is meant to identify me as an ordained Tendai practitioner. The juzu I brought was a generous gift made to me by my Dharma Brother Doko O’Brien last summer when we were training together.