It is on the way to Compostela that Shikoku presented himself to us in the form of a sticker posted in the hall of a gîte. We were all the more intrigued because among the groups we met, we had come across two Japanese, including a woman, who were walking alone and in meditation. The idea thrilled us to set off again for sixty days together, a nod to our sixty years. Our knowledge of Buddhism was quite vague. “For me, says Anne-Sophie, who teaches religions – Islam, Judaism, Christianity – I saw it as a form of personal asceticism, a detachment to escape suffering. And we did not seek to explore Buddhism or even the school of Shingon, whose founder Kobo-Daishi – also called Kukaï – is at the origin of this pilgrimage initiated in the XNUMXth century, at the same time as that of Compostela. With our rudiments of Japanese, learned before departure, we thought we would find explanations on the spot, in the temples, with the monks. From that perspective, we were frustrated. But in a way, this silence put us on the path of letting go to live what we had to live. It wasn't until we got back that we dug into this tradition, Stanislas subscribing to all of the Instagram sites on Shikoku and podcasts on Buddhism. »
Pilgrims to the end
“Only 5% of pilgrims connect the 88 temples on foot. We were among those, meeting mainly Japanese people, men between 65 and 70 years old, very collected. The few to whom we were able to speak in English carried sufferings, sometimes heavy, which they came to offer to Kobo-Daishi. We were impressed by their dedication to completing the path, performing all the rituals in each temple. The prostrations, the incense, the candles, the purification of the hands echoed our Christian practices, radiating an atmosphere of appeasement. In the temples where the signs of prayer abound, in the form of an accumulation of knotted paper, colored threads or wooden plates, it was moving to find physical traces of praying humans. And then, we were struck by the hospitality reserved for the pilgrims, recognizable by their white clothing and their conical hat. In each village, strangers offered us gifts (“osettai” in Japanese), a coffee, an orange, an origami. This attention paid to the other on such a rough path was for us a magnificent proof of universal love and compassion. »
Each pilgrimage is unique
"Unlike Compostela where you walk towards a goal, towards a promised land, Shikoku is a circular pilgrimage that you can repeat indefinitely like a spiral (the one who holds the record has accomplished it 150 times!) . The message is that there is no end point. It is a spiral journey. Moreover, when one reaches the 88th temple, it is customary to start again at the first. In this return to square one, we experienced something different. It is a path of transformation, of deepening, which reminds us that nothing lasts, that everything is conditional. The moments of discouragement as of exaltation are ephemeral there. This impermanence was engraved on our hats with a calligraphic phrase: "Is there a North?" Is there a South? Is there an East? Is there a West? »
“Such an impregnation of Buddhist spirituality allows me today to write the Fifth Gospel, the one that each one makes of his own life. " Stanislas
The mountainous road is not particularly attractive or rural. One night when we were about to cross a tunnel, through which trucks were speeding, we complained to a couple of Europeans crossed in the opposite direction on the asphalt. One of them said, “Don't you see what the lesson of this road is? It's the exit of the tunnel! "We understood with great humility that this metaphor was a key to life: we have the freedom to draw a lesson of hope from what is happening to us," explains Anne-Sophie.
"You were Kukai for me"
“What marked me, me, says Stanislas, it is this waltz with three times. We refocus by walking 7 hours a day, including five in silence, as the language barrier makes communication with the locals difficult. We decenter, to meet another, so different, that we will never see again, and for whom this meeting owes nothing to chance. As if each were for the other an emissary of the monk Kukaï. Thus, when you greet or come to the aid of a walker, he thanks you by saying: "You were Kukai for me". Finally, we "over-center" ourselves by walking in the footsteps of pilgrims of more than a thousand years ago, realizing in this communion that we are a link in the chain of humanity. I also felt in this camera for two, how the discovery of my wife is infinite and always deeper.
“In these highly contrasting landscapes, where factories and fields, highways and paths intertwine in an anarchic fashion, there is always something to focus your gaze on beauty. In the same way, in our lives, we have this freedom to bring out the best. " Anne Sophie
On the road, I was moved by these flowery cemeteries, crossed in each village, which, over there, have no walls and which harmoniously mix life and death. And then everywhere these Jizô Buddhas, with bibs and red caps, who protect travelers and children who died early. Legend has it that these children in limbo erected heaps of stones as a comfort to their parents, immediately destroyed at night by evil spirits. This is why the pilgrims come to their aid by building small heaps of stones here and there. We lost a son, Alban, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That is to say how much I found these symbolic pebbles. Such an impregnation of Buddhist spirituality allows me today to write the Fifth Gospel, the one that each one makes of his own life. »
Focus on beauty, bring out the best
“For my part, adds Anne-Sophie, I observe to what extent this pilgrimage broadens my own faith, enriching it with a more contemplative practice. Since I tasted meditation in the temples, I allow myself daily moments of meditation, of emptiness, of “not-doing”. Moments when I give thanks for what is, quite simply. I was also struck, in Shikoku, by the attention paid to details, to objects, to the respectful way of picking them up and putting them down, which inspires me today with the same delicacy. I marveled at the taste for aesthetics and nature. In these highly contrasting landscapes, where factories and fields, highways and paths intertwine in an anarchic fashion, there is always something to focus your gaze on beauty. In the same way, in our lives, we have this freedom to bring out the best. In this regard, my husband Stanislas willingly quotes this sentence from Victor Hugo: “In the night, there is darkness and the stars. I choose the stars. »