Practice of harmonization: the Shikoku pilgrimage

- through Francois Leclercq

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The view from temple 32. Photo by the author

I wrote the first part of my series of essays on the Shikoku pilgrimage about six weeks ago in Kōchi. As I mentioned in this essay, the pilgrimage is divided into four sections corresponding to the four prefectures of the pilgrimage route (Henri Michi) crosses – the “the dojo: » to “awaken the mind” (hoshin), of “self-culture” (shugyo), of “wisdom and enlightenment” (bodai), and of " nirvana"(Néhan). Kōchi Prefecture is “the dojo of self-culture.

In this essay, I would like to focus on what we practice on this pilgrimage. I will use the concept of attunement that my advisor Shigenori Nagatomo introduced in his captivating monograph. Harmonization throughout the body.

Kōchi Prefecture, like most of Shikoku, is home to immense natural beauty. This also contrasts with Kochi City's busy city life and extremely isolated areas. Among pilgrims, Kōchi Prefecture is known as the part of the pilgrimage route that has the longest stretches between temples and, more importantly, without any accommodation for pilgrims (yado), the most famous stretches between temples 23 and 24, between temples 37 and 38, and between 38 and 39. Temple 38, located at Cape Ashizuri, for example, offers a breathtaking reward for the approximately 80 kilometers (2 at 3 days ) trek from temple 37. It is therefore obvious that the pilgrimage combines physical exercise, extreme hiking in forest-covered hills/mountains between 200 and 900 meters above sea level – with an incredible number of steep slopes and stairs – and spiritual practice. to chant sūtras and mantras as well as devotional and memorial rituals at the altars.

But what do we practice here? At the basic level, we practice many daily life skills and routines. The daily routine of succumbing to the often rigid schedule of yado owners – bath at 17 p.m., dinner at 18 p.m., breakfast at 6 a.m. – plan the next day, get up early, take care of physical ailments, pack efficiently and sparingly, reduce your luggage to the bare essentials (for some people this means a single set of clothes that are washed each evening while the pilgrim takes a bath and then waits for his laundry in a yukata (summer kimono or bathrobe)), find and follow the myriad of signs on the pilgrims' path, ranging from simple road signs to small red arrows stuck on poles, houses, vending machines, street boards and the road, ensuring always having access to liquids, accepting gifts and hospitality (set or) and offering kindness towards the people we meet, and living with nature: blazing sun, storms, steep and sometimes treacherous forest paths, but also hikes by the sea, snakes and wild boars. Pilgrims also practice the basic ritual of pilgrimage as well as the chanting of sūtras and mantras. But above all, we practice self-reflection. Walking 8 to 10 hours a day, most of the time alone, confronts us with ourselves. As a small sign at the foot of temple 60 reminds passing pilgrims: “Meetings passing through, meeting yourself” (deai o tooshite, jibun ni water).

Temple 36. Photo by the author
Temple 45. Photo by the author

I believe that pilgrimage facilitates the same type of cognitive transformation as the practice of meditation. The Japanese Zen master Dōgen (1200-1253) described Buddhist practices in the Shōbōgenzō genjōkōan, as I explained in a previous essay, as follows: "To study the way of the Buddha is to study the self, to study the self is to forget oneself, to forget oneself is to to be actualized by the 10 dharmas, to be actualized by the 000 dharmas, is to shed the body and mind of oneself and others. In another test, the Shōbōgenzō zazengi, Dōgen describes the mental practice of meditation as “thinking about non-thinking” by means of “non-thinking”. In one sense, “thinking” identifies the mental activity described as “self-study”; “not to think”, “to forget oneself”; and “no-thought,” “being actualized by 10 dharmas,” and “getting rid of the body and mind of self and others.” Through the practice of walking, singing, and living a ritualized daily routine, our self-understanding changes, ideas about ourselves that we believed to be true disappear, and we open up to the world around us; the sun, the mountains, fellow pilgrims and even snakes and wild boars.

Meeting with yourself. Photo of the author
No mind. Photo of the author

Our daily life is imbued with dichotomies and tensions: what we want to to do and what we peut TO DO; who we think we are and who we really are; where we want to be and where we are; literally and metaphorically. To understand the cognitive transformation facilitated by meditation and pilgrimage practices, the terminology developed by Shigenori Nagatomo is very useful. In his Harmonization throughout the body, he developed a phenomenology of self-culture to apply Dōgen's terminology to today's languages ​​and discourses. I believe that his interpretative schemes “can also be applied to the practice of pilgrimages”.

Nagatomo uses the terms: ““tensionality”, the activity consisting of attending to aelf-consciously to the body; “detensionality”, the activity of attending to”oneself-consciously” to the body; and "non-tensionality", the modality that "includes both explicit and implicit modes of knowing" to describe the three central stages of the practice of self-cultivation, whether meditation or pilgrimage. In other words, repeated physical exercise, essential to self-cultivation practices such as meditation and pilgrimage, diverts our attention from the mind, which some Zen Buddhists call "monkey mind" (Ch: xinyuanJp: Shin'en), to the body. Through these repeated practices, the mind and body come into harmony and the cognitive dichotomies and dissonances of our daily life recede into the background until they disappear. Our existence is filled with compassion for the “10 dharmas”, including snakes and wild boars.

Temple 38. Photo by the author

Although I never went much beyond the "tensionality" modality, except for an occasional foray into "detensionality", walking for hours and completing ritualized chanting in temples, I I have certainly tasted this existential opening of the heart and mind. attitude. Since they push us into nature and facilitate encounters with humans and other beings, sentient and non-sentient, I believe that pilgrimages have the potential not only to help us in the aforementioned life practices, but also to facilitate the cognitive transformation that many Buddhist thinkers and practitioners believe fills us with wisdom (prajna) and compassion (Karuna). This is the heart of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Pages in a nōkyōchō, a book to collect the stamps and seals of the 88 temples. Photo of the author

Religion as practice: the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan (BDG)
Who Am I — Self-Discovery in Japanese Zen Practice (BDG)
Ōkubo, Dōshū, ed. 1969-70. Dogen Zenji Zenshū (Complete works of Zen master Dōgen). Two volumes. Ed. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō. (Abbreviation DZZ), 1:7.
DZZ 1:89.
Gereon Kopf, “Considering multicultural and multidisciplinary engagement: lessons learned from images of the meeting of the twelve wolves”, Culture and dialogue Flight. 10, no. 1 (July 2022), 60-94, 89. Shigenori Nagatomo, Harmonization throughout the body. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992, 224-49.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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