Final Days on the Henro for Now…

Misty moisty morning in the middle of “nowhere”,

wild pigs’ diggings.


Moments of beauty
a catch of breath,
a twinge of ache,


Temple Nandina berries bagged. Sacred indeed.


Our days of wearing the white oizuru over jacket are coming to an end, there is sadness, and joy in all that has been. Although we decided not to wear the sugegasa sedge hat inscribed “we two travelling/practising together”, we have very often had a sense of being cared for…


What has become our daily round is passing away… bowing towards hendo main temple, cleansing ritual, ring bell, light incense, ring smaller bell to announce arrival, name slip and any offering, then hands in gassho prayer position for Heart Sutra. Repeat at Daishi temple. Then to the nokyosho Office to get our calligraphy “stamp” and osugata (paper image of deity (the calligraphy can become a family heirloom or be put in the coffin when you die). Bowing as we leave, walking up/in on the left and out/down on right. Joining our hearts with other pilgrims’ oblations has a sense of rightness, participating in their way of faith not just looking on.


Paul writes “Somewhere in ” The Divine Comedy”, I am pretty sure, Dante says Man’s underlying sin from which arise all other sins is IMPATIENCE. This is a big call I know but as far as I am concerned he is dead right and it was on the HENRO walk that I was given a great opportunity to face this sin of impatience face to face.

“As you, who have been following this blog will know, Judi took a fall fairly close to the beginning of our walk and it was me thereafter who was responsible for helping her to do up zips, buttons and the tiny clasp on her necklace not to mention applying several creams, make up and deodorant and helping with the many little tasks that need two hands.

“For me who is an extremely impatient person, this at first was extremely irritating and very frustrating but this was what the HENRO offered. As the days passed and as I got the shock of seeing how mean spirited I was there arose in me the insight that this perhaps was a gift and maybe if I could adapt to Judi’s needs and let go of my habitual impatience that I could make a real progress with the “Sin” that has long been my stumbling block.

“While I definitely can’t claim total eradication of the said “Sin” I can say I started to even delight in doing the above mentioned tasks. My fellow pilgrims who are much more patient people than me also helped model for me ways of caring for Judi that I could never have imagined and so the broken wrist came to be my way of salvation.

“My work with my impatience and its outward manifestations also helped me see the importance of patience during my times of meditation. It is such a simple lesson but its ramifications are potentially enormous and so I am now looking for ways to keep this inner work alive, like slowing down how I eat and not getting frustrated when standing behind someone on a queue who seems to be taking unnecessarily too long with the hotel receptionist. The list is endless and thanks to Dante and the HENRO I am at least on the way.”


Walking these days we are aware of the early days of Bonnevaux post getting the keys, the vision incarnating. Bonnevaux, south west of Paris is the new home of The World Community for Christian Meditation As we go to the temples, places of peace, we dream of Bonnevaux being such a place offering stillness and hope and a vision of what could be. And we wonder about the part pilgrimage could play in it all. A time of spaciousness, an opportunity to be free of the regular ways we use our time, simplicity in refining what we essentially need, openness to what comes and reflecting on its meaning for us. And more.

Henriette’s reflection on her recent walk on Il Cammino Di San Benedetto has much resonance for us and perhaps for future pilgrims coming to Bonnevaux “Having the health and the strength to walk a pilgrimage is already a blessing. And I received many more! The weather was fantastic, to emerge in the beauty of nature, to wonder and marvel the depth of history, the unexpected and elevating encounters with people, growing deeper in solitude, silence and simplicity. It was very special to receive your support and encouragement.”


We each have a version of Paul’s reflection on what the time held, mine was around letting go, each day further surrender was needed it seemed, having committed to make this effort, I kept trying and wonderfully a place of acceptance and freedom opens up. How could this translate to daily life?

I am in wonder to sense the resonance of the dadirri reading we have one day with what we experience around us… “In the way of dadirri we wait, nothing is more important than what we are attending to” … daily we see our impatience and need to control…” everything must be done in the proper way. Careful preparations must be made. We don’t mind waiting because we want things to be done with care. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep inner listening and quiet still awareness) God’s way will be clear”. A way to live to be sure.


After we finished walking, we visited the Ibaraki Church of Light designed by Todao Ando… it was an ambitious project, we thought of Bonnevaux…Todao Ando said at the “dedicational ceremony” …construction of the building was tough. At the beginning Mr H. Miyamoto and Minister Karukome came to our office to commission us for a design. They explained about their conditions. First, they had incredibly limited funds at hand. Second, they wanted to build a new chapel in addition to the existing wooden building which they were using as a church at that time. After I heard their explanation about their conditions, I said that it would be impossible to realise this plan. I thought that it would not be completed to the end. The more I met them and listened to their plan, the more I felt desperate. But I came to the conclusion that I would challenge this very tough project because the church people’s passion and eagerness gave me hope. I undertook the work knowing that there would be many difficulties…”

we join our hearts to those of many others in faith and hope and love.

It is now a week since we farewelled our fellow pilgrims, we’ve been in Kyoto, on Naoshima and Teshima the art islands and leaving today for home from Hiroshima. We are grateful to find ourselves attuned to the places, the edgy art, the Shinto shrines and Zen temples and to this place of peace where the A bomb was dropped 70+ years ago. To find attention and presence and reverence and stillness and compassion. We give thanks for these gracious people who have so cared for us as they live daily amidst tsunami towers, details of what to do when there’s an earthquake and in recent weeks, an alert on their phones that North Korea has fired a missile across Japan. We will hold you in our hearts, arigato goziamas.



Physicality on the Henro

Immediate difference… shoes outside, slippers (“shuffles”) inside (changing into toilet slippers) until  we come to the tatami mats in the sleeping areas…no slippers allowed, where we roll out futons at night, closer to the ground and less padding than we are used to, small “Zen” rice-filled pillows, no sheets mostly… not good not bad open mind…

Our food prepared with care, beautifully presented on a tray in “sets”, an almost complete change of diet with rice at each meal and few of the usual grains. We drink Matcha tea, no alcohol thus far.

Some challenging climbs, yesterday in the rain (“Pilgrim Washer”) except for the one who succumbed to the “Pilgrim Tumbler”… a taxi and on-the-flat walk for me as it cleared. Always how to attend to the mind’s tendency to comment and define what is happening.

Our daily readings we 6 selected weeks ago before we departed, fit beautifully into what is unfolding, great food for the day’s journey…Emptiness and empty mind…listening to the second music below…chewing the words as we go, sharing our reflections in the evening after meditation, a joy and richness in the simplicity of this way.

Mary Oliver again provides nourishment

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would say almost that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
In which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

The evening bath, very hot, so wonderfully soaking away the exertion of the day, such a local ritual, women’s and men’s all in, public ones, others as part of the shukubo temple or ryokan accommodation, and at times onsen (we think those that are fed by natural springs).

The unfamiliarity of the written language discombobulates from the time of making bookings months ago, a sort of fog of unknowing where after a certain point, trust is needed that all is and will be well. A wonderful opportunity to practise trust in so many things, the joy and liberation of this way.

This letting go fits well into the search for empty mind and for presence, being in each step up or down or on the flat, on roads or forest paths. The musicality of the spoken Japanese and it being phonetic, encourages us to try the place names… Tokushima, Katsura, Imabari, Goshikidai and beyond, profuse arigato being our most used phrase and attitude, often with bowing.

Flying to Osaka, we see the pilots bow before entering the plane, as do the cable car attendants and just now the ticket collectors before entering the carriage and as they leave. Bowing is constant and a wonderful way for us to physically signal our gratitude and delight.

Cranes abound, the paper ones ++, the out the train window ones also, in flight so elegant, to witness so comforting somehow. Birdsong as we walk, cranes perhaps…

We begin to appreciate the anti-ageing and indeed awakening benefits of pilgrimage, to upset my assumptions and habits and find all is ok…the morning showers I thought I couldn’t start the day without have become a thing of the past with only afternoon baths on offer. “No old age and death and also no ending of old age and death” (Heart sutra)

My daily 10am coffee is most often enjoyed at one of the temples “Temple coffee” has come into our vernacular, hot sweet tins of milky coffee from vending machines in the temple carparks.


Travelling with our group of 6 is a great daily blessing, having Phil the haiku writer also a doctor, to monitor my sore wrist, such a gift. The morning after I fell we needed an X-ray, just mentioning this to our most kind host and a rescue ambulance was sent to “watch my condition”. I reassured them I would be fine on the bus to Tokushima where the young lady in the tourist office graciously made several calls to find a hospital able to take an X-ray on Sunday.

After a 3 minute walk, they received us so graciously. 30 or so minutes later, Barton fracture diagnosed, cast and sling on “ok to pay on Tuesday when you’re back this way”. We were all so touched by the compassionate, non-bureaucratic, efficient and as it turns out, inexpensive, medical treatment. Angels abounding.


I am so grateful for the constant kindness of so many…Paul rubbing in my creams each morning, all my fellow pilgrims doing up my shoes zippers, getting me tea and so much more, and the team of “Tupac’s” who generously carried my pack til we could consolidate into a single one. Peiying, a beautiful young woman from Taiwan, joined with us for several days, including for meditation and end/of-day reflection, and very much wanted to contribute.


So much grace in being able to stay in the moment, sensing the foot on the ground. Anthony de Mello tells of the Buddha describing what makes a person holy, total presence in the now, tomorrow is not real, the person over whom the future has lost its grip.

On The Henro Trail

Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in this present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

We are delighting in being back walking, the joy of leaving our extra things and simply carrying our daily needs. We observe the henro-san following the 88 Temple pilgrimage, seem very connected to its spiritual purpose; we are becoming familiar with the sonorous tones of “Namo Kobo Daishi Henzo Congo” and the chanting of the heart sutra which describes the experience of liberation, the realisation of sunyata, the fundamental emptiness of all phenomena.


Phil’s Phil’s haiku-like verses speak to us all
Strings of Persimmons.                                   Bright enough to Light our Path.                     Autumn on the O Henro


Beate is “enjoying an opportunity to create more space in my life. Learning to do nothing and letting go. Blue sky, wonderful autumn colours, a little hotspot on my small toe, a blister, kindness from my Pilgrim friends to nurse and care for my blister. Lost reading glasses, learning to let go and then having them returned to me by a kind stranger. Blessings all around.”

Almost all pilgrims we see are Japanese. Kobo Daishi is revered throughout, why are we on the henro trail? We love to walk under the sky, nature so beautiful at every turn. We are people of faith, at home with others similarly inclined, the devotion we see about us daily encourages our practice and our efforts at paying attention each day. We have been told and sense our being on the henro is an honour, the osettai continue and some days we encounter so many angels, we think we may be in heaven.

On Saturday we walked the hardest part of the henro, 20kms thru 1400m, beginning at 7am. A challenging and wonderful walk, we stopped each 30 minutes to have water or a snack or on one occasion our reading for the day “that one small step is tremendously large”.


My spirit soars with the hawks.                       High above Fujidera.
Shriek with joy.
Clear winds to Shosanji

In the late afternoon, close to “home”, light fading, legs a bit jelly/like, moisture making the ground more slippery, I fell and hurt my wrist.


Our words/verses, our artworks and photos, our efforts to express something of this time… with our love and blessings

Early days

Lots of impressions… being moved by the beauty of attention to detail in so many aspects and the hilarity of elaborate toilet “menus” (and recalling Clive James speaking of them at length some years ago).

At Koyasan and most recently here on Shikoku the devotion of the henro pilgrims, and the joyful generosity so many shower on us. We hear osettai is the practice of taking care of pilgrims which bestows blessings on the giver. We are touched by the pure sincerity of their human kindness.

The joy of an old woman we women had shared a bath with, when one of our fellas accidentally came into our bathroom, lots of laughter and a thumbs up!  Her concern that we might get lost and a gift from her shop of a book of maps.

The woman on the (empty) train yesterday who alerted us that it was about to be busy and to put our packs up in the luggage rack and then stayed to talk and made us cranes and gave a lesson in how to, inscribed with the Japanese proverb “treasure every meeting for it will not recur”.

And today stopping for a coffee in a remote spot, and being bought boiled eggs and cake and chocolate and persimmons with our coffee and cold tea as well, such gracious generosity – and karaoke as well!

A lady sitting on the porch of her house with a thermos of tea and persimmons peeled and cut up, something about peeled fruit we all agree, a childhood memory of great care.

A long day on public transport yesterday, longer than anticipated as the railway line had been taken out in several places by typhoons in recent weeks… a wonderful manifestation of the spirit of letting go and consensus decision-making as new possibilities arose.

We have been offered a wonderful variety of food often vegan, as the monks eat, usually included with our accommodation and delicious, allowing us to playfully combine tastes and dishes with the ever present rice. This may contravene what we are realising are the rules about many things, which perhaps includes what food is to be eaten in what order and in which combinations.

Our times of meditation morning and evening, our readings for each day including Ken Wilber, the Bhagavadgita and the Tao of Pooh, chewing on them as we go and sharing our reflections each evening with the graced moments of the day, and the times of challenge.

Holding so many family and friends in our hearts, as we walk, as we ring the temple bells to say we’re here, as we make our different offerings and sit in silence in the beautiful gardens surrounding the temples.

Mary Oliver’s “Praying” speaks to me as I walk

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris. It could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones, just
pay attention then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the door way open into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.


The Silent Path…Shikoku Pilgrimage

Final preparations…

Tomorrow evening we fly to Tokyo and onto Osaka en route to Mt Koya (Koyasan) and the O’henro pilgrimage trail on Shikoku. We plan to visit about 22 of the 88 temples it covers . This walk is in a sense a continuation of our camino in Spain 2 years ago and is in all ways part of the journey of our lives. As then, we will walk with Beate and Derek, and this time as well, with Beate’s sister Gina and her partner Phil.

Much of the preparation has been simplified by our experience on the camino, our gear list is very similar, it’s autumn again, maybe a bit colder…a shorter walk this time, about 120 km’s over 10 days with some public transport to cover the distances between the temples. And although we were in the Cantabrian mountains on the camino primitivo, this walk will include more elevation, temples tend to be built in high places…”challenging” some guide books say, we recall the grimaces and thigh slapping in the villages when we spoke of walking the primitivo. The beauty of the natural surroundings and of the temples promise to sustain us and the onsen the traditional baths in the evening, becomes a delightful prospect.


The temples are largely Shingon Buddhist, where, it is said its much-loved founder Kobo Daishi (Kukai) (774-835) performed ascetic religious practices. Many of the temples offer shukubo accommodation for pilgrims, we will stay at 4 or 5. There is quite some ritual around what to wear, how to approach the temple and other aspects which we will no doubt discover as we go, also an invitation seems to be there often to join the monks for prayer early morning.


For us again, our times of meditation will be the bookends of our days, with each of us preparing readings to share…and again we will have times of silence as we walk, and sharing our day’s efforts and reflection each evening. We loved these times on the camino and look forward to their continuing. Our pilgrim prayer from Joyce Rupp and Tom Pfeffer will begin each day’s walk


Guardian of my soul,

guide me on my way this day.

Keep me safe from harm.

Deepen my relationship with you,

your Earth, and all your family.

Strengthen your love within me

that I may be a presence of your peace

in our world.