Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shikoku 7th Day

Well, internet services have been sporadic at best on Shikoku, and it is usually found in hotels that require you to plug into their LAN service with a CAT 15 much for the legendary Japanese advanced technology. Of course, anyone with any understanding of how the Japanese mind works won't think much about this paradox. On the one hand the country has the most advanced toilets in the world...but on the other, they also have one of the crudest sewage systems as well. I don't think Rome during Julius Caesar's time had the same, shall we say "ambiance", as modern day Japanese countryside.

On our arrival in Japan, I realized what an undertaking this was going to be when faced with the prospects of spending 16 days with members mixed in with complete strangers. Just when you thought you had seen it all, believe me you haven't.

The first day proved how daunting this entire journey was going to be. While visiting each of these temples has become less of a epic journey that may very well have you tumbling off the side of a mountain trail, it is no less dangerous. The possibility of being tossed over a roadway with no guardrails into a ravine a good thousand feet deep is very real. And this scenario played itself over several temples that required us to leave our gigantic tour bus behind to board individual cabs and microbuses to shuttle us up winding, VERY winding trails up to these temples on the mountain tops. Every time our little microbus filled with our overfed Hawaiian bodies would come across another vehicle on our one lane trail, it would stop and each driver would then wait each other out until one reversed down the road (or up) until they could pull over the side and allow the other vehicle to pass. Visions of Travel Channel's episode, "The World's Deadliest Highway" kept popping into my head. Speaking of our tour bus, imagine if you will a Robert's Hawaii tour bus...then magnify the thing by 25%, then you sort of get how big the tour bus we are on is. So we have this young driver, really, really young, and he drives like his age. This is not to say he isn't a good driver, on the contrary, he is fantastic. I don't know how he can pull to the side of what I would laughingly call a road, to allow a little NisHondaToyoSuzuki pass us with barely six inches between the edge of the gigantic tires of his charge and the shoga field on either side of the road. I really imagined that the road would give way under the weight of our leviathan.
The adventure did not reserve itself to conveyances with four wheels alone. No sirree! We also had to get aboard a ropeway car. If you don't know what this is, think of what we would call in the states a cable car. This one goes over TWO mountain peaks and has the alarming tendency to rock back and forth after mounting each of the two towers that connect point a to point b over these mountain peaks. To make matters worse? The floor of the car has a grate that is three feet by three feet and open to the air. So you can look down as you rock to and fro, dangling from a line stretched taut. Of course finding out that several persons in your group are afraid of heights (yourself being secretly one of them) just makes for a fun situation.
There are so many other things I have to cover. For instance, the food. Presentation is fantastic, and the amount of fresh seafood available on Shikoku is astounding. While I do not eat raw fish, or shellfish, I cannot deny that the meals were beautiful to look at and a seafood lover's paradise. Our tour guide who happens to be the grandson of former Bishop of our temple Uyehara, made it a point to change our menus when he found out that I didn't eat seafood, despite my urges for him not to make accommodations on my behalf. I explained that I was not on this pilgrimage to eat and be entertained, but he resolutely refused and made the changes anyway saying that I shouldn't have to worry about what I am going to have for my meals. So while I thought this would be a great opportunity to lose some weight, I face the very real prospect that I may have actually gained some because of the prodigious amounts of pork, beef, and chicken that have been ordered on my behalf. Well to be truthful, on many different peoples behalf, because you would be surprised how many people actually don't like seafood that are from Hawaii!
The first day of our journey actually happened to have a memorable moment as we were allowed to perform the okyo on the daishi-do altar of the third temple. To say this was a "chicken skin" moment is an understatement. It was quite an honor to be asked, as well as having our members pass to offer incense in front of the newly restored statue of Kobo Daishi. There is a lot more to tell, but I need to get some rest. I have been told by our guide that the first temple on our list for tomorrow also happens to be the most difficult temple of the entire pilgrimage! Given the kind of temples that we have already had to suffer through, it makes me scared to think of what this "difficult" temple is like!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Three Days and Counting!!!

So on the very precipice of our leaving, only then can passports go missing, people with hyperthyroidism can give me the news that they are no longer on their maintenance medication, and the finance wizards in Japan can boldly announce that the yen will prove stronger against the dollar and should settle somewhere around 50 yen to the buck. The shugyo literally begins before the actual journey of the 88 temples. However, it can't be as nerve wracking as Kobo Daishi awaiting word if he was going to China along with the Fujiwara embassy, and I tell myself this.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 23rd, 2009

So the Shikoku trip is really just right around the corner. Plane tickets have been secured, and now we are gathering information and orders from the travelers, regarding the items they want to have when we arrive to start the 88 Temple tour. There are many, many details that need to be sorted out, and continued worries about the condition of the dollar against the yen. My faith is really, really being tested. Tomorrow is the prayer day for Ojizo Bosatsu, so maybe my need to write in my blog is somehow guided by the Buddhas.

The temple received a call a couple of days from an elderly lady who wanted a priest to pray for her. Andrew answered the call and asked what the matter was, and the response was like so many that we seem to be receiving nowadays: strange. According to this woman, the smell of papayas from her neighbors yard was bothering her so she wanted a priest to pray that the smell stops or the trees die. This request is not the first time something odd was asked for. I have heard from people who wanted us to pray that their pot smoking neighbors would stop their habit, as the fumes were entering their bedrooms (a valid complaint mind you, but quite beyond the power of Kobo Daishi, or any spiritual figure or deity frankly); and my favorite, to stop the shadows of the neighbors because the individual felt that the shadows held evil. This is not to say that nothing is something is VERY wrong, but it may not be the neighbor. I could be mercenary and tell these people that I can pray and do something about it. But is that really true? I can pray with a person and they will feel good about it, but it may not actually materially solve the problem. Yet we get call after call, and there are priests that will convince the person that they must come, get blessings, pass over an envelope with money, and the cleansing will have been successful. I want to know when I go on this pilgrimage, is that all there is?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Start My Circle...

In five weeks, I am going to embark on a pilgrimage with a group of my temple members. We travel to Shikoku to follow the path of Kobo Daishi, and countless thousands of pilgrims, visiting 88 temples around a somewhat circular path of around 900 miles.

The pilgrimage could not come at a better time for me personally. I find myself at a crossroads and at my age, verging on 42 in a couple of months, I feel that I am at a significant moment. Theoretically, and according to all of the medical journals I am somewhat at the halfway point of my life if I am so blessed with that many years. Thoughts of the future, and many of the past swirl like a storm in my mind. Regrets at this point? Many. Blessings? Many.

More importantly I also find myself more and more curious about my religion and my role in it. As a Shingon practitioner, I could of course make many claims about my connection with the Buddha and the many incarnations of the Buddha, and begin a life of personal blessings, "readings", and consultations. Is that really practicing Shingon Buddhism? Moreover, what qualifies me to give out consultation to anyone? Sometimes I wonder how I get up in the morning, and how it is a minor miracle in itself that the weight of other peoples' problems and desires do not crush any kind of feelings of happiness I want to express. Coupled with a realization that I am all to human and the road to enlightenment is truly a long one, I don't feel that I am anymore capable of telling someone how to save their crumbling marriage, or collapsing business than the average joe off the street. Personally I feel that relating my own mistakes and wrong decisions serve as a better road map for people to follow, or perhaps in a sense avoid.

I am director of a temple that also employs a priest from Japan. There are many of the older generation at the temple who do not like the idea of Hawaii born and trained ministers. The priest from Japan serves their needs. Frankly I tolerate it as a necessary anachronism. Without the necessary language skills, and drive, it is difficult for a priest that was trained, and raised in the very cloistered environment of Japanese temple life to adopt and adapt to a western style of worship and faith. So when all else fails, play the psychic card. Therein lies the problem. I am wondering if that is all our religion is about. I intend to find out, and along the way hopefully find myself. 88 Temples in 16 days. We aren't walking it, I think that for the first time, it may be for the best to be bussed around. Will I find Kobo Daishi? Let's find out together.