Shikoku Japan 88 Temples Foot Pilgrimage; Climbing Mountain Passes From Kuma Kogen To Iwayaji Temple (Temple 45) And Back
Today was a LONG day of walking, including climbing up and down two mountain passes- twice.
Our plan was to stay another night at our lodge in Kuma Kogen, to walk to temple 45, and then turn around and walk back, a total of just under 30 km.
In the morning when we woke up, it was pouring rain.
By the time we had finished breakfast and were ready to go, the rain had eased a little and we dressed up in our rain pants and rain jackets, took a bag of dried orange peels and nuts, and started to walk.
After just a few kilometers of walking, we entered the nearby mountains, which were wonderful, full of beautiful trees, birds, wildflowers, butterflies and cool air.
We passed by small, quiet and very remote villages.
There were two steep mountain passes, but because we were walking without our heavy backpacks, the steep climbing felt so easy and light.
Do you know how you can walk on air?
Start by walking for many weeks with a heavy backpack on your back, and then take it off.
You will feel like you are skipping and gliding…
The area we were walking through has a famous rock formation that is called “Furuiwaya Rock.”
It is 100 meters tall and is porous, with many natural caves.
In a rest area, we stopped to eat some nuts and dried orange peels that I had bought in a farmers market shop.
After we continued walking, I realized that I had left my collapsible water bottle behind somewhere.
Luckily, because we had to walk back the same way, it was still waiting for me on the same bench where I had left it, hours before.
After several hours of climbing up and down the mountains, we reached Iwayaji temple.
It is a breathtaking climb up the steep hill to the temple.
Flags were lined on both sides of the path and we saw ancient tall trees covered in moss.
At the foot of the temple, there is a small village with a few shops selling candy and pilgrim’s souvenirs.
Jules adds: “The closest that the buses carrying Henros can get to the temple is below this village, at the side of the main road.
The path up to the temple is quite a steep one, and it is quite long.
As it goes higher, the stones and pavement of the path get quite slippery if it has rained recently.
It was impressive to see the hundreds of bus Henros, many of whom were older and not that nimble on their feet, making this climb up to the Temple in such good spirits. Once they reached the top of the mountain, where Iwayaji’s Hondo and Daishido were perched, their guides quickly got them organized to begin chanting the Heart Sutra. Their many voices rung out clear and strong, resonating through the surrounding buildings and overhanging rock walls.”
Iwayaji temple is built into the tall rocks above it.
It is a most beautiful and unique mountain temple, that reminded us of some of the hermitage monasteries that we saw in Bhutan and in Northern India.
Kōbō Daishi carved two statues of Fudō, one in stone that was kept in a cave at the rear of the temple, and the other in wood that was enshrined in the Hondō (main hall).
This temple is one of the Nanshos (a title recognizing the difficulty involved in reaching it) of Ehime Prefecture, and is one of the sites where mountain recluses and wandering holy men once performed their religious disciplines.
Legends say that the temple was donated to Kōbō Daishi by a Shamaness female recluse who was well advanced in Buddhist training, named Hokke-Sennin.
The name Hokke-Sennin is actually a description or a title of a Buddhist ascetic master, who went into the mountain to practice and to discover the esoteric nature of reality beyond illusions.
Those Masters went deep into the mountains seeking to discover the secrets of life and to practice to achieve immortality (Sennin 仙人).
Their aspiration was to reach a full and complete enlightenment.
It was believed that if a person practicing the Dharma lives alone in a very quiet place where not a single human voice is heard, but still she reads the Dharma, recites the Sutras, practices meditation, lets go the illusion of time, and eats a light diet of herbs, greens, fruits and nuts, she will see a pure radiant light and realize great truths.
This woman entered the forests in the mountains and became an immortal.
As I gazed into the cliffs above the temple, I imagined her still there…. Chewing on a piece of tree bark…. Seeing dots of white light as all of us pilgrims, prayed and offered our love and good wishes to the world and everyone in it….
The walk back felt long and we had to climb the steep mountain passes again, but in reverse this time.
There were hardly places to rest, and it was getting late.
Back in our hotel, we showered and went straight to dinner.
The owner made us a delicious vegetarian dinner and we finished every dish.
There was cooked Daikon with sweet miso and black sesame seeds, a tempura of mixed root vegetables, tofu cooked with ginger and scallions, miso soup, Hijiki Seaweed in a sweet Mirin and soy sauce, steamed rice, pickles and a small salad.
In our room, we laid down on our futons and listened to the thunder and lightning.
The weather roared around us, and the walls of the lodge shook with each clap of thunder.
I rubbed my tired feet and wondered how we would walk tomorrow into Matsuyama in this thundering storm…… the weather forecast is predicting that the rain will last for another week….
The life of a pilgrim is not laced with comforts and luxuries….
I have realized how often we try to make ourselves comfortable.
We choose the best chair in a cafe, put on a sweater or a hat to feel more comfortable, sit down to rest, buy comfortable shoes, and make all sort of choices to make ourselves content and more comfortable.
I have not felt real comfort since we started this pilgrimage.
Something always hurts or could feel more comfortable….
If it is not my feet, then it is my back, or my shoulders, or my toes, or the sun, or the rain, or the heavy backpack, or the gravel pillow, or the hard mattress…
So this is why I stopped looking to be comfortable.
And after I made the decision to stop trying to be comfortable all the time, the aches no longer mattered or disappeared.
Whatever occurs, I accept!
I accept it all without preferences.
I accept whatever is happening now with much gratitude!
Day 42 (June 19th 2016)
Our Location On The Earth:
33°39′26.84″N 132°58′42.26″E – Iwayaji Temple location
33°39′52.25″N 132°53′49.47″E – Our hotel in Kuma Kogen
T45 – Iwayaji (岩屋寺) –Temple of Rocky Cave
Overnight at Yasuragi-No-Yado Denko in Kuma-Kogen
Active walking 6:20 hours
Active day 8 hours
Walking grand total: 899 km