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Saturday, June 14, 2008

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Pilgrimages done on the run


Welcome to the hood: the Buddhahood. Some sects of Buddhism believe you can attain Buddhahood by chanting certain purification chants over and over. Others, such as Shingon, use pilgrimage as a method of achieving divine enlightenment and understanding of the world.

As a matter of fact, the Shingon sect do pilgrimages for almost everything: compassion, the search for enlightenment, relief from sickness, and even sometimes as a passageway into the afterlife. It seems that long ago, going on pilgrimages would have been a full-time job for those opting for the highway to enlightenment.

"Therefore, wander!" scream the Vedas. We do seem to be built for traveling and I am not one to deny this. Especially in springtime I feel the urge to wander. And I have to admit that pilgrimages are not just a hobby, but have become a lifestyle. I go on pilgrimages three times a week during the springtime, take a break during the hot summer months, then start up again in the fall. No wonder sometimes it seems my life is going in circles.

Taking a pilgrimage is a form of walking meditation and I use it to get in touch with the earth, myself and the space between. And what better place to do this than in the mountains, home of the supernatural, where the gods and spirits dwell.

But more important than religious or spiritual incentive is proper footwear. Pilgrimages are meant to be a challenge and most are arduous. You will climb up steep pathways, over rocks, and over piles of slippery leaves. You will travel across mountaintops and along rocky beaches.

As someone who did the Shiraishi Pilgrimage with me the other day pointed out, "There is not a flat spot on this pilgrimage!" I had never really thought about it. I guess I never expected pilgrimages to be easily sauntered. A pilgrimage insists you achieve.

I've taken to jogging pilgrimages because if you walk through in deep meditation, you'll never finish them. Pilgrimages take time, anywhere from half a day to six weeks. Most will take at least an entire day or two to finish. Therefore, jog!

I started this "pilgrathon" technique years ago with the aim of completing the pilgrimages rather than leaving them half finished and having to return at a later date to complete them.

There is nothing wrong with jogging a pilgrimage that I can see except that it brings a bit of the Baptist revival element to it. When jogging by each shrine, I raise my hands and clap as I pass while singing out a chant. After a while, I really get into a rhythm. But certainly jogging is better than doing pilgrimages by tourist bus, the way so many people do the Shikoku 88-Temple Pilgrimage these days.

One thing you can be assured of on any 88-temple pilgrimage is that Kobo Daishi is constantly present. Kobo Daishi is the founder of this 88-temple style of pilgrimage. We are told that he is always with us during our entire pilgrimage. Since I usually jog them, I hope he's in pretty good shape.

Although it appears that I go out looking for pilgrimages, I rarely do. On the contrary, they seem to find me. I am usually doing something else when, by chance, I see a deity peeking through the leaves at me. If, upon careful examination, I see a number on the shrine, I tend to look around for more shrines and am thus drawn into the circle.

It seems that almost all the islands in the Inland Sea have a pilgrimage, called a meguri, which means to go around, since most pilgrimages end up where they start. They're like large-scale mandalas. Most islands have small populations, each living their own microcosm of life, so I suppose it is logical to have a pilgrimage. Small populations, not much to do: Therefore, wander!

Being so surrounded by pilgrimages, I sometimes wonder if I am not in the middle of some kind of Buddhism based on concentric pilgrimages. Even on Shiraishi Island where I live, we have three different pilgrimages sharing the same center. One of the pilgrimages is actually part of one on an entirely different island. Forgive me for feeling a bit dizzy at times.

Although I haven't achieved Buddhahood yet, nor enlightenment, this is all the more reason to: Jog on!



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