Day 43 – Visiting Two Temples By The Source Of The Mighty Kuma River, The Temple Of A Ghost Cat And Reflections On The Mortality Of Earthly Life, The Kyushu 108 Temple Pilgrimage, Japan

Day 43 – Visiting Two Temples By The Source Of The Mighty Kuma River, The Temple Of A Ghost Cat And Reflections On The Mortality Of Earthly Life, The Kyushu 108 Temple Pilgrimage, Japan

I was awakened this morning by the beautiful colors of the sunrise, coloring the sky over the Kuma River.
I made myself some green tea and drank it on the veranda while Jules continued sleeping.
Looking at the sun rising, I decided to have a soak in our private hot springs bath on the open veranda.

Jules was awake by the time I finished, and we dressed up and left without having breakfast.
We had booked our room without meals, which were very pricy in our hotel and not a good idea for people like us, who often eat so little.
We thought that we can have tea in our room, and eat something small on the road.

It was a very rainy day, so we covered our day packs and wrapped everything inside them with plastic bags.
Because of the rain, we decided to do things in reverse.
Instead of walking to the two temples east of Hitoyoshi, we decided to take the bus to the first temple, then walk to the second temple, and then walk back to Hitoyoshi.

Temple #98, Shozen-in, is known as the Cat Temple.
Located at the foot of Senko-zan mountain, Seizin-in Temple was founded in 1625 by Nagamiko Sagara, the lord of the Hitoyoshi Domain.
The lord assigned as head priest a monk called Seiyo Hoin, from Fumon-ji Temple, which has a few temple branches all around Kyushu.

The priest was later killed by the same Sagara lord, because Sagara suspected that the priest knew about a rebellion against him.
After the priest was killed, his mother, Kuzuki Yoshimiko, killed herself.

According to legend, Kuzuki Yoshimiko, the mother of Seiyo Hoin, grieved over the death of her son and cursed lord Sagara, then threw herself into the Yuyama river gorge, along with her beloved cat “Tatamage”.

After that, it is said that the ghost of the cat started haunting the dreams of lord Sagara, who built a hall in Seizen-in Temple as a memorial for this cat.
Since those ancient times, over 350 years ago, Seizen-in Temple is commonly known as the “Cat Temple”.

The main hall contains an Amida Nyorai, which was enshrined in memory of the unfairly prosecuted priest Seiyo Hoin, and a thousand arm Kannon, enshrined in memory of his mother Kuzuki Yoshimiko.

Nobody was around the old temple when we arrived.
We walked around saying hello, but nobody came out.
We took off our shoes and entered the main hall.
The doors and walls were decorated with images of cats, and a cat doll dressed in royal clothing sat on a chair.

It looked like the temple was set up for pilgrims to stamp their own books, so we sat down on the tatami floor and did our own stamping.
We left the stamp money in a small box, chanted and lit a candle, which we promptly snuffed out when we left the main hall.

We left through the main gate, which had statues of black guardian cats, instead of the customary ferocious looking Nio Guardians.

My map showed that our only option for food nearby was a tiny cafe which served a grilled cheese toast.
We made our way there by the old and no longer running train tracks.
Along the way we saw signs for the “Cat Route” and later found out that the neighborhood had started a bicycle route which included visiting places along the way that have statues of cats, or places selling cat shaped cookies.
Our temple was included on this route.

We asked the friendly woman at the cafe to make us a grilled cheese toast without the bacon, and she happily agreed.
We took shelter from the rain and enjoyed our toast.
Then we put up our umbrellas and left to walk towards our next temple.

We walked in the rain for two hours, consoling ourselves by the fact that this was day 43 and we have had such an unbelievable stretch of good weather to walk in, and the fact that we have an awesome Onsen and a great room to return to at the end of the day.

To rest our feet, we stopped at a small shrine, to have a cup of tea and a break from the rain.
It was just a wooden structure in the woods, but it had a sheltering roof and a balcony that was like a bench to sit on.

We arrived at Temple #51, Henshozan kandai-ji.
It is a beautiful temple in the hills at the lower slopes of Hensho-zan mountain.

Temple #51, Henshozan Kandai-ji, is located in the beautiful rural landscape of Okukuma, near the source of the Kuma River.
The Kuma River has the third strongest rapids in Japan.

The temple was established in the middle of the Kamakura period, (the 12th century) and has flourished as a prayer place for the Sagara family.

The principal image of worship is the Hibutsu Eleven Faced Kannon Bosatsu.
The temple also has a life-size image of the ascetic monk Kobo Daishi, a Yakushi Nyorai, a Peacock Fudo Myoo, and on the grounds there are stone statues of the twelve Zo guardians and many others.

After walking around the grounds of the beautiful temple, I finally knocked on the door of the house.
A very old woman opened the door, accompanied by her very old husband.
I explained that we had come for the Goshuin stamps, and handed them our book and scroll.
They invited me in for tea, but I said that we first would like to pray in the main hall.
They pointed to the main hall and said it was open.

We took off our shoes and entered the main hall.
We chanted and said a prayer for the old couple running the temple.
I asked that these wonderful people would awaken from the dream of mortality, sickness and death, and come to realize our eternal nature…

When I came to collect our book, they invited us in for tea.
Tea was already set up on a low table with snacks and a bag of clementines from their gardens.
We sat on cushions on the tatami mat and chatted.

Their lovely and caring daughter gave us more clementines and mochi cakes and wrapped everything in a bag for us to take with us.

The old priest had calm wrinkle lines on his face, the face of a man who had lived through a lot, seen a lot, and had learned to honor life, instead of fighting with waves of the Ocean of life.
His daughter said he cannot hear well.

The mother still had the face and body of a beautiful woman, who had lived a life of kindness towards others and service to her community.
She must have comforted many grieving people who had lost loved ones, and ministered to many by the side of her husband, the priest.
She now had some motor problems and seemed not to be able to control her limbs.

But when we talked, she reminisced about her trip to the USA, where she had visited the Grand Canyon, New York City, and Washington DC.
The priest talked about the recent flooding of the Kuma river, and how the temple survived because it was at a higher elevation, but the local fields were all flooded and the people of the village suffered loss.

As we walked in the rain away from those lovely people and their beautiful Buddhist temple, I reflected about the nature of life in the physical form.
I thought about the newborn baby that we had met only yesterday, and how today we had met a very old couple, probably nearing the end of their lives.

The temporary nature of the life of illusions that we seem to live on this earth, hit me with the force of a hurricane.
As we walked in the rain, it seemed that the gods were crying with me.
Such an injustice… to come here like fluttering butterflies, to spread our beautiful wings for a season, and then to shrivel and die of old age… so soon… so full of wisdom and potential for more…

I felt the heaviness of the whole world on my shoulders….
I felt a sadness as deep as the Grand Canyon….

As we walked, I continued to take photos of images that I thought represented sadness.
Instead of overlooking the sadness, I wanted to feel it… maybe it would help me heal…or at least understand…

I photographed old ruined houses with broken windows and roofs that had caved in.
These house were once beloved and cherished by the people who had built them and lived there, given birth and raised children, sent them to school and celebrated their achievements and coming of age…

People like you and me lived there, people who cherished life and had dreams of travel, of love, of careers, of making a difference..

Buddhism teaches us that life in the physical form is full of suffering, therefore we should detach from it, and become like a mountain, calm and serene, rising above all the swirls of despair and excitement that follow hopes, dreams and earthly achievements.

Can I really become like a mountain?
Tall, calm and serene….

Sending you love and light,

Stats: 28,436 steps
Today’s walk: 17 km
Kilometers walked to date: 718
Temples visited:
Temple #98 Shozen-in (Cat Temple) (Senkozan, Shozenin)
Temple #51 Henshozan Kandai-ji

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