On August 16th, I visited Mt. Koya in order to complete my Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Okunoin Temple on Mt. Koya is the exact site where the body of Kobo Daishi was buried, and where he continues to rest in the state of Samadhi (eternal resting) inside the shrine of the temple. After delivering his last will at the age of 62, Kobo Daishi went into eternal meditation on March 21, 835 – as he predicted his last day on earth would be. Pilgrims who have completed the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage are required to make a benedictory report to the Daishi, thus marking the end of their journey. However, it is not uncommon for pilgrims to return to do the pilgrimage again. When asked, ‘why do the pilgrimage so many times?’ Most answer the same way, ‘there is unlimited joy in the life of a Henro, because the Savior Odaishi-san (Kobo Daishi) is still alive here saving us, and with us on Shikoku Island.’ Kobo Daishi is believed to be living at Okunoin Temple, tirelessly striving to give aid to all beings, offering hope for sacrifice.
“After I am no more,
My home is still on Mt. Koya.
While my mind will be eased in the Tusita Heaven,
I will check your devotional faith.
Without ceasing my appearance on earth,
Especially at the Sacred Places:
Where I was born… took esoteric discipline…
Attained enlightenment… and where I entered to the Samadhi”
— Kobo Daishi
This past Sunday, I completed my nearly 4-year journey of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage! This journey took me over 1400 km (over 900 miles) to complete and required several visits to the remote corners and mountains of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa prefectures. It is written in Japanese literature that human beings have always had a fascination with nature, the unknown country and the mystical encounter of a great savior. The people of Japan believe there is no better place where one can travel along the island in such isolation and fulfill these inner curiosities than by visiting the historical temples and following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, the founder of 88 Temple Pilgrimage and Japanese Buddhism. For over 1000 years, pilgrims have made this journey around Shikoku Island in hopes of achieving everlasting enlightenment. Embarking on this journey I believe takes you back in time to a more quiet, ancient ambiance of an old country often lost in the modern day image of Japan. There are many reasons why people attempt to do the pilgrimage and can vary depending on one’s individual incentive, desire, and wishes. There are several types of inner motivations involved in the Shikoku pilgrimage: first of all, sightseeing among natural scenic wonders such as whirlpools, the Inland Sea, stalactite caves, deep gorges, soaring mountain cliffs, and panoramic views of the coastline; secondly, praying for the quick recovery from a prolonged illness; thirdly, memorial prayer for the eternal peace of a passed family member; fourthly, liberation from the bondage of family and business struggles; fifthly, seeking enlightenment through the knowledge of the Shingon esoteric tradition. My personal motivation includes some of these elements, but moreover, I believe my placement on this island was more than just random luck. Being a Tibetan-American and placed on an island, home to the most famous Japanese buddhist pilgrimage – this was a sign I felt necessary to appreciate. Although I have completed my visit to all 88 Temples, the journey is unfulfilled until a visit is made to Okunoin Temple on Mt. Koya in Wakayama. This is the place where Kobo Daishi went into eternal meditation and where all pilgrims are required to pay respect before concluding their pilgrimage. I plan to make this trip this summer. Until then, this chapter in MY LIFE AND TIMES IN JAPAN is not fully concluded…
Note: Picture of me standing in front of Okuboji Temple, number 88 – the last temple on the pilgrimage.
Yesterday I returned from an exhausting day on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in which I visited temples 72-82. This day trip to 11 temples included three meals of Sanuki udon, the local udon of Kagawa ken which is famous in Japan. I plan to write a blog specifically devoted to these noodles that I have come to love another time, but for now let me update you where I officially stand on my pilgrimage journey. Having completed all the temples in Tokushima, Kochi and Ehime; I am now circling back east in Kagawa towards the end of my nearly four year journey. Kagawa is located north of Tokushima and my day’s starting point from temple 72 took about 1 and half hours to reach by car yesterday morning. In order to complete the pilgrimage, it will require one more day trip, which I plan to do soon! Yesterday’s trip was highlighted by a visit to Zentsuji Temple (The Temple of Right Path), number 75 on the pilgrimage. Zentsuji marks the birth place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Japanese Buddhism and the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Born June 15, 774 A.D. to the son of the local ruler, the temple’s name derives from his father’s name, Yoshimichi, which literally means Right Path. Zentsuji is the largest and biggest temple on Shikoku Island.
Note: Picture of me standing in front of Zetsuji Temple.
This past week in Japan was Golden Week, a string of Japanese national holidays from April 28th to May 6th. Last Thursday I made my way back on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, continuing from temple no. 52 in Ehime prefecture. Ehime prefecture is home to 31 of the Shikoku 88 Temples and is known as The Dojo/Land of Enlightenment, the third of four phases on the pilgrimage. By the end of this Golden Week, I completed all the temples in Ehime prefecture and began The Dojo of Entering Nirvana, the name of the final phase of the pilgrimage. The Dojo of Entering Nirvana in Kagawa prefecture begins with Upenji Temple (No. 66), the highest elevated temple on the pilgrimage at 916 meters above sea level (over 3000 feet). Having woven through the remote towns and mountains of Tokushima, Kochi, and Ehime prefectures, I have now completed temples 1-71, which leaves me 17 temples short of completing Japan’s most famous Buddhist pilgrimage. To celebrate this last phase, I will be making three volumes of videos allowing you join me as I travel around Kagawa prefecture and ultimately end with a visit to Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture, where Kobo Daishi was buried. The first installment is now complete and includes video of temples 66 to 71. Check out Vol. 1 below! But before I end this blog, let me reflect upon my most memorable temples in Ehime prefecture:
- No. 45: Iwayaji Temple (The Temple of Rocky Cave) – This temple is located on a rocky mountain, surrounded by a huge bluff and gorges. Why I remember this temple is because the necessity for all pilgrims to walk up sharply sloping steps for 30-minutes. Although some temples require minimal walking even with a car, this temple was clearly the biggest challenge for those not anticipating having to do any serious hiking. I still remember the tour bus folks with big proud smiles on their faces, saying “konichiwa” to by passers, and I believe thinking privately, “Look at me… I’m really doing it now…” 🙂
- No. 51: Ishiteji Temple (The Temple of the Stone Hand) – Located in Matsuyama City, the largest populated city on Shikoku, this temple is located near the famous Dogo Onsen (hot spring), Japan’s oldest and most historic onsen. In addition to the temple itself, the grounds include a temple museum, various booths displaying/selling gift items, a memorial monument of Haiku poems, and much more.
- No. 60: Yokomineji Temple (The Temple of Side Summit/Peak) – at 700 meters (2340 feet), this temple is the third highest elevated temple on the pilgrimage. Like myself, most people drive up the mountain to the isolated temple, however, there are those with the time and energy to walk up the mountain which takes approximately 3-hours round-trip. Yokomineji is considered the most difficult temple to reach if walking, because of its perilous, unpaved steep path. Several pilgrims have died attempting to reach this temple.
Again, it’s been a long time since I last posted a blog and I find myself continuing to play catch-up writing about the past events of MY LIFE AND TIMES IN JAPAN. One of the most significant highlights that I have yet to write about is my journey back on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Back in the first week of May, during Japan’s string of national holidays known as Golden Week, I spent 2-nights and 4-days on the rigorous trail towards enlightenment. I have now officially visited temples 1-51, which puts me past the half-way mark towards completing my journey. This particular trip was probably the most challenging thus far, because my continuing point was probably the furthest I’ve had to travel to from Tokushima. Heading to the opposite corner of Shikoku Island, I completed the Dojo of Religious Disciple phase and later entered the Dojo of Enlightenment, the third of four phases on the pilgrimage. Having now visited all 17 temples in the Dojo of Religious Disciple (24-39), I’ll take this opportunity to reflect on my most memorable temple visits in Kochi prefecture.
No. 24: Hotsu-Misakiji Temple (The Temple f Cape Muroto) – Located on the western tip of Shikoku, the temple provides a beautiful panoramic view of Cape Muruto. It was at this temple, where Kobo-Daishi made his great determination to become a Buddist monk and seek enlightenment for the salvation all mankind through the esoteric Gumonji practice at the age of 19. Thus the temple occupies an important place in the religious history of Japan and has always enjoyed the patronage of the Imperial family.
No. 38: Kongo-Fukuji Temple (The Temple of Everlasting Happness) – Located on the southern tip of Shikoku at the center of Cape Ashizuri, the temple is surrounded by Ashizuri National Park. Since the time of Emperor Saga, the temple has enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats, warriors, and noble clans. Of interest in Ashizuri National Park is a light-house located on the edge of a cliff, famous for suicides. See pictures below of Kongo-Fukuji Temple and around Ashizuri National Park.
This past Sunday morning, I started at 8am on a trip down the beautiful Tokushima and Kochi coastline in order to visit 88 Temples, 24-27 in Kochi. However, this trip wasn’t as scenic as I had hoped due to a storm we headed right into. With strong wind and rain coming from a southerly direction, this Spring storm I hope is a sign that the beautiful blossoming of Cherry Flowers in Japan are on the horizon. But for this day, it was necessary to persevere in the wind and rain as Kobo Daishi was clearly intent on testing our "Religious Discipline." My fellow Henro (a term used to describe a person attempting the pilgrimage), Nishiyama sensei and I drove all the way down to Cape Muroto (Muruto-misaki), known to be one of Shikoku’s two great capes that jut out into the Pacific. Cape Muruto was pounded by huge waves on our visit, a resounding demonstration of the ocean’s power. Probably not the best of ideas under the circumstances, we made our way up to Cape Muruto’s outdoor observatory. With an umbrella doing more harm than good, I looked out at the Pacific Ocean and I took a moment to reflect. As a child growing up, I once lived 30-minutes from Seaside, Oregon and a view of the Pacific Ocean. Looking back in the opposite direction from Japan was surreal. I think the World has truly become a smaller place for me.