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The Way of the 88 Temples

The Way of the 88 Temples: Journeys on the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Robert C. Sibley
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Way of the 88 Temples
    Book Description:

    Compelled to seek something more than what modern society has to offer, Robert Sibley turned to an ancient setting for help in recovering what has been lost. The Henro Michi is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. It consists of a circuit of eighty-eight temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Every henro, or pilgrim, is said to follow in the footsteps of Kōbō Daishi, the ninth-century ascetic who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Over the course of two months, the author walked this 1,400-kilometer route (roughly 870 miles), visiting the sacred sites and performing their prescribed rituals.Although himself a gaijin, or foreigner, Sibley saw no other pilgrim on the trail who was not Japanese. Some of the people he met became not only close companions but also ardent teachers of the language and culture. These fellow pilgrims' own stories add to the author's narrative in unexpected and powerful ways. Sibley's descriptions of the natural surroundings, the customs and etiquette, the temples and guesthouses will inspire any reader who has longed to escape the confines of everyday life and to embrace the emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of a pilgrimage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3473-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Bells
    (pp. 1-25)

    I stumbled up the bell tower steps, grasped the rope, and hauled the long wooden pole back as far as possible in its cradle. Then I swung the rope forward and slammed the pole against the bronze bell. A loudbongechoed through the courtyard of Shōsanji temple and across the mountain valley. It was, I thought, a satisfying way to announce my presence to the presiding deities and, presumably, scare away any evil spirits lurking in the surrounding forest. As it was, I flushed a flock of pigeons from the temple roof, sending them flapping into the drizzling sky....

  6. 2 Companions
    (pp. 26-47)

    I was in the foyer of the Shōsanji temple lodge by six the next morning, trying to jam my feet into a pair of outdoor slippers for a pre-breakfast stroll to the coffee machine, when I saw Jun and his father approaching.

    “You walk with us?” Jun asked.

    “We would like that—to walk together,” Niwano-san said. “Please, you call me Shūji. That is my given name.”

    “I will be your Japanese teacher,” said Jun.

    The Japanese tend to be very formal with strangers. Unlike North Americans, they don’t presume the intimacy of using someone’s first name unless invited to...

  7. 3 Blessings
    (pp. 48-70)

    I was parked on a bench beneath thesakura,or cherry trees, at Yakuōji temple, admiring my ugly new shoes, when a man carrying a little girl in his arms approached. He said something in Japanese that I didn’t catch, but with a camera in hand, the child in the crook of his arm, and the cherry trees in bloom, it wasn’t hard to figure out what he wanted.

    “Gomen nasai. Nihongo wa sukoshi shika dekimasen. Wakarimashita,” I said, employing my minimalist Japanese. “I’m sorry. I speak only a little Japanese. I understand.”

    I snapped pictures of them posing beneath...

  8. 4 Spirits
    (pp. 71-95)

    I’d been lying on Katsurahama Beach, absorbed in the grating wash of the Pacific Ocean along the gravel shoreline, when Shūji crouched beside me. He held out his arms and opened his hands to reveal a stone in each palm.

    “Please, which one do you like?” he asked.

    I sat up, wondering if this was some kind of Japanese game. I studied the stones for a moment. Each was the size of a large egg. The one in Shūji’s left hand was light gray and ovoid. His right hand held a darker, slightly elongated stone with glints of mica. My...

  9. 5 Dreams
    (pp. 96-116)

    I draped the wet cloth on my head, closed my eyes, and lay back to let theKami no Yu,the Water of the God, soothe me. Hot water lapped across my chest as I rested the back of my head against the rim of the pool. My sigh of pleasure must have been audible to the half-dozen other bathers in the Dōgo Onsen. I’d learned the pleasures of Japanese bathhouses a month earlier, and now, with fifty-one of the Henro Michi’s eighty-eight official temples visited, I was no longer self-conscious about sharing an oversized bathtub with a bunch of...

  10. 6 Enchantments
    (pp. 117-142)

    Tanaka-san taught me how to pray properly as we stood between the pillars at the entrance to Emmyōji, Temple Fifty-Three. Inside the temple, facing out toward us, was the gilded and cloth-draped statue of Amida Nyorai, the temple’shonzon,or deity. I tried to ignore the feeling that I looked foolish as Tanaka-san showed me how to make thegasshō,or prayer mudra, with my hands positioned palm to palm and my head bowed.¹ Then I tried to imitate him as he chanted the Heart Sutra.

    After five weeks on the Henro Michi, I was attempting to be more diligent...

  11. 7 Blossoms
    (pp. 143-168)

    I wandered among Buddhas. There were hundreds of them: life-size figures lining the maze of paths around Unpenji, clustering in groups in the corners of the courtyard, lurking half-hidden in the forest, standing in phalanxes near the pagodas and prayer shrines, and peering out from a copse of mist-shrouded cedar trees. There was something spooky about the massed ranks of statuary, large and small. At 1,000 meters above sea level, Temple Sixty-Six is the highest temple on the circuit, offering a mountaintop view in all directions toward three of Shikoku’s four prefectures: Tokushima, Ehime, and Kagawa. The Temple of the...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 169-172)

    It had rained in the night, and I stepped carefully as the winding path descended through a copse of dripping cedars. Rounding a curve in the trail, I spotted the red bench half-hidden in a cavern of sumac on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I sat for a few minutes to absorb the view of the sun-sparkled water and the long stretch of the coastline of Washington state’s Olympic peninsula across the strait. I tried to recall the last time I’d been here—was it really three decades ago?—before I continued along...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 173-182)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-186)
  15. Index
    (pp. 187-192)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-196)