般若波羅蜜多心経~~~~

10/2/11   –   23:55

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my homework on the living room floor when my host-mom looked up from the paper and asked me if I wanted to go to Shikoku to do a pilgrimage. Apparently this is a common thing to do in Japan. There was a package deal where you could go on a bus for a day and see 6 temples on the Shikoku Henro 「四国お遍路・八十八ヶ所」for like 4000 yen, all meals included.

Seeing as:

a) I am enrolled in a class that studies Pilgrimage in Japan exclusively

and

b) I wanted to get out and see the Japanese countryside anyway,

How could I have said no?

And so, this morning, I got woken up way too early and my host-mom and I made our way to the station. By the way, it’s October now! This also means it’s freezing. Do note that I mean South Floridian “freezing,” which is basically anything below room temperature.

We got on the bus and settled in with the rest of the troops which really means a whole bunch of retirees. I was easily 40 years younger than the majority of the people on that bus, barring the perky tour guide and my host-mom. And there I was, living the dream. I was on a genuine Japanese tour-bus packed with Japanese people toting cameras. Except when we got off the bus, we wouldn’t be in New York City or Miami Beach, we’d be smack-dab in the middle of nowheresville, Japan, paying respects at temples on one of the nation’s oldest pilgrimage routes.

The island of Shikoku is very mountainous and nature-y and you have to cross two bridges to get there. One from the city of Kobe to Awaji Island and another from Awaji to Tokushima Prefecture.

At the first temple, we were prepped for the day with a fancy stack of papers and what I like to call the “pilgrimage pack.” On each paper, there is a space to write your name and address and from what I could read of the Kanji [like most Buddhist things, it was all kanji ;_;], it was an offering to honor your ancestors. Later, we would send up two papers at each temple we visited. The handy-dandy pilgrimage pack included a set of candles and three bundles of incense to be used at each temple.

A lot of other people decided to go all out [with all the money they saved over the course of… their lives] and bought pilgrimage attire, which includes white robes with fancy calligraphy on them, pilgrim staffs, and pilgrimage books where you get the temples you visit to put their seals in. Mind you, if you bought everything it amounted to more than 10,000 yen [~$120], so I just chilled in the other room.

This mannequin model is showing off the latest in centuries-old pilgrimage attire. In my mind, she is saying, “Well, now I’m not really a pilgrimage kind of gal, but when I do pilgrimage, I choose this get-up.”

I already introduced you a little to shinto practices in the Fushimi Inari Taisha post, but I haven’t gone over Buddhist practices. As far as I could tell from what we did at each temple, it goes something like this:

[Approach 本堂 main building]

Step 1) Light a candle and place it on the … apparatus. [candelabra?] ::optional prayer::

Step 2) Take three sticks of incense and place it in the … apparatus. [incense pit/bowl/tray?] ::optional prayer::

Step 3) Take your I

Step 4) ::optional ringing of gong in ceiling via long rope thingy::

Step 5) Everyone gather round and chant!

a) General opening prayer

b) Recitation of the Heart Sutra

c) Prayer to the temple’s Buddha of choice

d) General closing prayer

Step 6) Repeat steps 1-5 at the building dedicated to Kobodaishi 「弘法大師」

Note: No clapping [like in Shinto shrines] and No 訓読み [because this is Buddhism]

Now how did I feel participating in the Buddhist temple practices?

– I like the idea of sending up prayers via incense and fire.

– I don’t believe in salvation by Buddhas, but I prayed like I did.

– Chanting the heart sutra was more a game of how fast I could read hiragana because I really don’t understand anything that it says. But then again, it’s all actually in Classical Chinese, so a lot of Japanese people don’t even know what it says. It’s comforting to chant in a group though. I got lost in the drone almost every time.

– These temples are beautiful.

– This tree is six times as old as the United States of America.

– Oh, and all the babes love Jizo-bosatsu

Like I told my host-mom afterwards, it was a very 貴重な経験. A worthwhile experience. And I added a whole bunch of useful terms to add to my everyday vocabulary:

– お線香 [osenkou] (n.) – incense

– 般若心経 [hannya shingyou] (n.) – The Heart Sutra

– 蓮の花 [hasu no hana] (n.) – lotus flower

Buddhism seems like a more “serious” religion where people are all in it to honor ancestors and achieve enlightenment/salvation. Shinto seems like more of a “please help me with my every-day life” sort of thing. Personally, I enjoy the latter, but I can and do still appreciate Buddhist art and practice.

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