When I stood at the bottom of the mountain leading to Shosanji temple (temple 12), I thought to myself:
“This does not look like a serious climb…. Living in Colorado has given us a different definition of what a mountain is.
This one looks more like the mountains surrounding our house in Sweetwater, Colorado, and those are not even considered tall enough to be given names…. I am SURE that we will be able to do it easily…. It will surely be much easier than a Sunday hike on Vail or Beaver Creek mountains.”
But the mountain humbled me….
Actually, there were three mountain peaks, followed by long stony descents, before we got to the temple, and then there were two more hours of walking before we made it to our accommodation for the night.
After giving so much thought to what to bring on the trip and how to pack light, I have made a few last minute cut backs and eliminated a few more of the things I had intended to bring with me on the pilgrimage.
The major thing I have left behind is my hiking pole.
In this pilgrimage, the pole is very significant.
People buy a wooden pole that is engraved with the name of Kobo Daishi and a slogan that says: “We walk together! Dogyo Ninin!”
At the end of the day, a pilgrim is supposed to wash the bottom of his pole, before attending to his or her own feet.
When I told Jules that I do not intend to bring my pole, he objected and said that this is why we bought a pair of collapsible hiking poles that weigh only 250 grams, and that I might need one on muddy slippery slopes.
I told him that I do not need a crutch and that I want to skip up and down the mountain, not walk with crutches like some people I see who hike with two poles, one in each hand.
Besides…. I reasoned, I can always find a wooden stick and use it for a specific part of the hike if I need one.
Or someone will leave a walking stick for me to use and then I will leave it behind for the next pilgrim, I am sure of it…. The Universe ALWAYS provides….
I was right.
At the beginning of this mountain hike, we came upon a shed and on the outside of it leaned a few hand-made hiking poles, free for anyone who needed them.
I did not take any of them but was happy to see them ready for me.
We left most of our things in storage at the hotel we have been staying at while in Tokushima, since we will be returning to it before we start walking south along the coast.
We started our climb at 7:00 in the morning.
We brought with us a change of clothes, two bottles of water, some Onigiris (rice balls) filled with pickled plums, some nuts, raisins, dried prunes and of course all of the Henro paraphernalia that we carry around from temple to temple.
The estimates we have gotten of how long the hike should take us, range from 6 hours to 12 hours.
Other Japanese Henros have told us that they expect to get to the top in 8 hours and then either camp or go down to the village where accommodations are available, an extra 1.5-2 hours of walk.
The hike was beautiful.
The old forest was filled with tall Japanese cedar trees and rock formations, birds and butterflies.
The light filtered through the trees in the most magical ways!
Other pilgrims said that in some places, the path gets very narrow, and past Henros had fallen while carrying their heavy packs.
I did not feel that there was ANY part of the path that was dangerous.
In fact, I even saw a Japanese woman who had run the whole way to the temple and back, in one day, skipping on the roads like an agile mountain goat.
But I do think that she was an exceptional superwoman.
Most people, even the strongest looking guys, were pretty spent by the time they reached the top of the third peak, the entrance to Shosanji.
Along the way we met a friendly Japanese man who told us that he walked up the mountain for his daily exercise.
He does not go all the way up, just for a few hours of hiking.
He said that he was seventy, and that some of his friends who are as much as 94 years old, climb all the way to Shosanji temple a few times a year, going up and down all three peaks.
Jules told him in Japanese that today was his birthday, and the man utterly rejoiced that he had met us on such an auspicious day.
It is the third time that we will be celebrating Jules’s birthday with a hard hike.
For most of the hike, I enjoyed myself and was enchanted by the beauty around me.
But there were parts when my legs hurt and my feet throbbed.
I asked the Universe to help me by giving me some insights to carry me easily across the mountain passes.
In front of me a big forest bug was fluttering his wings like a hummingbird.
I stood there looking at it and listening to whatever crossed my mind.
An inner voice instructed me to notice how it flips its wings at least a hundred times per minute, and its wings do not “hurt,” “throb,” or “get tired.”
My inner voice said that my leg and feet only hurt because I separate them from my whole being which is full of light and energy.
If a bug can move its wings ceaselessly and effortlessly, why does it hurt to move my legs?
I must learn to move energy through my body with ease and without creating any blockages.
I must not separate my legs from the rest of my energy field which is so strong and cheerful.
In fact, I must not even see my body as separated from the forest, or the fields that I walk through.
My body is one with the air and the sun, the waterfalls running through the mountain and the birds flying in the sky.
Skin and bones cannot separate me nor make a barrier between myself and the living breathing Universe that is inside and all around me….
How silly it is to claim only the small space that my body occupies as “mine”….
I am ONE with everything and everyone…. One consciousness that manifests in many forms….
It manifests as Tali as well as all the trees, the rocks and the valleys that I seem to pass through….
When we finally got to our accommodation for the night, we were shown to a dingy room with musty futons on the floor and with sheets that smelled like they had not been washed despite being used by many hikers.
The couple who owns the place were very friendly to us.
When we arrived, the woman was preparing dinner for the eight Henros who were staying the night.
She was very bent over, with a spine that left her standing at an almost ninety degree angle, parallel to the floor of her shop/kitchen/dining room.
She offered us a can of locally made orange juice and an ice cream.
After leaving our backpacks in our room, her husband took us to a nearby Onsen in his tiny car.
The Onsen had many different hot baths and was a refreshing and relaxing break after our long hot day of hiking.
The weather was perfect with no rain.
On the hiking trail, we met an American Henro from Portland Oregon who plans to hike some of the pilgrimage trail, because he works in advertising and does not have as much free time as we do.
He said he plans to do 30 days of the pilgrimage.
Dinner was fine.
We ate at the kitchen table of the mini convenience shop that the owners operate.
She served us a salad, cooked greens, cold tofu, some cooked root vegetables, miso soup, pickles and steamed rice.
The husband came to join us while we ate.
His bent over wife served him the exact same food as we ate.
He ate with his eyes closed, opening them only to pick up a morsel of food and then closing them again.
At night Jules and I laughed so hard, we rolled on the floor of our room.
We had a small heater which made our room very toasty.
The toilet was in the building across from our room.
You had to take off your shoes and walk down the corridor filled with the owners jackets and clothes, to the toilet.
I wished Jules good night and a happy birthday and I was happy to see that his spirit was bright and that he did not feel any self pity, for having such a humble birthday.
Despite the dirty rooms, the mosquitos and the bed bugs, we did not get one single bite and slept pretty well.
I remembered the story of Yogananda, who said that while he was studying with his Guru, Lahiri Mahashai, his Guru told him that if he rises above the “mosquito consciousness” the mosquitos will not bite him.
I noticed that in the past few days we have hiked through rice fields with swarms of mosquitos and we did not get a single bite.
I am having a great time on this pilgrimage!
It is so much fun!
I get to examine my mind and see the “Ten Thousand States Of Mind” that fluctuate through my consciousness daily.
Each state of mind corresponds to a dominant feeling that one is experiencing, such as anger, jealousy, greed, and so on.
In Christianity, they believe that you must be “Born Again.”
Jesus said that you must die, in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
He was not talking about the “After Life,” since there is no such thing.
Life is eternal, one continual play of infinity.
What he meant to say is that with our lower-human consciousness, we cannot enter Heaven or reach enlightenment.
We must “die” to our lower identity and become more light filled and spiritual, before we can experience higher, light-filled truths.
In Buddhism, they speak about the fact that you must “die a thousand times per day,”
which means that if you are devoted to your spiritual growth, you must let go of all your self-definitions and accept new states of mind continually, that will change you completely.
On top of Shosanji mountain, we were interviewed by a roving crew from NHK, the international Japanese TV channel.
They asked us why we are doing the pilgrimage and what motivated us to come here.
I hope our answers did not go over the heads of the viewers…
The next day we had an early breakfast, at 6am, with all the other men who stayed in the guest house.
Most of them were doing the pilgrimage counterclockwise, meaning they had started at temple 88, and are going backwards to temple 1.
A friend of ours who visited Shikoku island right before we arrived here, emailed me to say that this specific year, it is considered more fortuitous to do the pilgrimage counterclockwise instead of clockwise.
At first, I thought to myself that I must listen to her advice and that we should start in Takamatsu, by temple 88.
After all, it is an omen which must not be ignored….
Most people we know do not even know where Shikoku island is, so how likely is it that a friend of ours would visit Shikoku island and email me this information…. Maybe we MUST Follow this omen?…..
But I had already booked our hotel in Tokushima, close to temple 1, and I also heard that most of the red signs and red arrows that were put to help guide the Henros to find the walking path, were pointing from temples 1-88, so we chose the easier way of knowing where to walk, instead of the harder way of figuring things out ourselves.
The walk from our humble guest house to Dainichiji temple (temple 13,) was a beautiful one.
After crossing a steep but fairly short pass, we walked through mountain forests and quiet rural villages, rice fields and fruit orchards.
It seems like on the days that we have hiked thus far, we were mostly alone, crossing paths with only a handful of other walking Henros here and there.
Most all of the Henros that we have met were at the temples, as they were traveling by bus, taxi, car or camper van along the Pilgrimage Path.
Their white Henro jackets and pants are so gleamingly bright, as there’s no opportunity for them to become stained with sweat or dirt.
We passed by a charming village in a very rural, quiet green valley that is known as the “Valley Of The Dolls.”
A creative woman who used to live there, moved to a big city to live, and then returned to the village after many years, was saddened to see that so many of the villagers had left the village to live in the bigger cities and that many of the older people had passed away.
She decided to create life-sized dolls to “replace” the people who had passed on or who had left the village.
Nobody commissioned her to do this art project, it was at her own initiative.
The dolls are all human-sized and have faces made of stockings filled with cotton.
She has to replace the dolls every three years since they do not last longer than that, standing in the sun and the rain.
I had such a sense of childhood delight as I photographed each one of them.
That night we stayed in a nice guest house (Minshuku Kadoya) which was really like a nice Ryokan.
The dinner they served us in the room was great, the room was super clean as were the futons and the bedding.
I scrubbed in the shower and enjoyed soaking my tired body in the hot Ofuru.
I have to say that my body is doing AWESOME and I feel so grateful and excited for the adventure ahead…..
Day 4 (May 12th 2016)
12. Shōzanji (焼山寺) –Temple of the Burning Mountain – A Nansho Temple, located on top of a tall mountain
Active walking 7:25 hours
Active day 13 hours
Day 5 (May 13th 2016)
13. Dainichiji (大日寺) –Temple of Dainichi
Active walking 6:08 hours
Active day 9 hours
To see a short movie about the Valley Of The Dolls: