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My Prayer Routine

[One of the guiding ideas behind my pilgrimage was that I was representing the needs and wishes of others. You can read more about this on my page, "A Mission to the Gods."]

As I travel, I am offering up daily prayers for my friends (and at every one of Shikoku's 88 temples). All of the prayers may be found below.

My Tokaido and Yamato Prayer Routine

On the first two stages, my prayer routine was as follows. These were prayers that I chose because I liked them so much.

Routine as written in my "prayer book"
My Shikoku Prayer Routine

In the third stage of the Aki Meguri, I used a sort of holy guidebook which was written for pilgrims by Bishop Taisen Miyata of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. He first did the pilgrimage--on foot--in 1955, the year I was born. He has since led several tours by bus.

I bought this book in the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Little Tokyo several years ago. I had not seen it in Japan--until I reached Koyasan, and have since seen it in virtually every little collection of books for sale at temples. So if you're planning to do the pilgrimage, you can definitely get a copy on Shikoku.

My prayer routine comes straight out of Miyata. Until reaching Shikoku I used the system above, which was self-designed. But on Shikoku I used the litany "prescribed" by the Bishop. (Read more background below.)

So here is the Shikoku prayer routine:

First, we reverence the nio (two kings) at the gate, if any, with a simple bow. Then we wash mouth and hands at the washing pavilion before proceeding to the hondo.

At the hondo (main hall):
Then we move to the Daishido, the hall where Kobo Daishi is enshrined.

At the Daishido:
  • The deposit of one name slip in the box in the Daishido
  • One Hannya Shingyo
  • Twenty-one repetitions of the Gohogo Shingon, which praises Kobo Daishi
  • One Kigan mon
  • One goeika. This is a prayer written specifically for each temple. It's in the form of a waka, a kind of long haiku, with five lines containing this syllable count: 5-7-5-7-7. I really wish I had translations of these. (Any volunteers?)
Then I do something not prescribed by the Bish. I pray for those on my growing list. I pondered between saying these prayers here or at the hondo, but the Daishi won out, as the patron of this pilgrimage. (I still love Kannon-sama, though, so when I walk and chant I split my time between Kobo Daishi's Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo and Kannon-sama's Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu.)

Finally, I get my temple book signed and my shirt stamped. [Later, I started doing this first, having almost missed closing time at one temple.]

That's it. You can see the possibly-flawed texts of these prayers on the Prayers page. I have read some of them from the hiragana characters, so they may be incorrect.


Using a formal prayer service is controversial. One of the interesting things about religion in Japan is that--in a country of group-thinking people--religion is a very individual matter. How, when, where, and what you pray is a matter of personal choice. So why have I chosen to harness myself to a prescribed routine?

Like Tevye, I can answer in one word: tradition. Even though I am a lone pilgrim, I am also participating in an adventure shared by thousands or millions over the centuries. So I want to do something in my prayer life that ties me to those people. I'm sure that Bishop Miyata's service isn't the one that's been used by all pilgrims; but that it has been used by many is enough for me. At least I'm not doing something totally free form.

There is still an individual element, and that is that I haven't been trained in the proper way to chant these prayers. Here is where the lone pilgrim mentality comes into play.

I remembered today [when was that?] a great story by Tolstoy (I think). Not the name, the details, or possibly even the correct author, but here's the gist of it:

On his rounds, a (Christian) bishop visited a group of three hermits living on an island. They had never met any officials of the church, and so had never received "proper" instruction.

So the bishop asked them how they prayed. And the brothers said (I'm pretty sure of the wording here): "Thee are three, we are three, God have mercy upon us."

Well, the bishop was aghast. This wouldn't do at all. So he began teaching them to pray: "Our Father, who art in heaven..." After hours of work, they seemed to have it, and the bishop left them with his blessing.

As his boat was leaving the island, night fell, and the bishop went to sleep. Around midnight, a boatman woke him with the report of a strange light off the stern. "What could it be?" they asked in fear. "Let's wait and see," said the bishop.

And sure enough, the light came closer, until it was revealed to be: the three hermits running across the water!

Astonished, the bishop asked, "What is it you want?"

"Well," one of them replied, "We forgot that prayer you taught us. Could you teach it to us again?"

Pondering, the bishop answered, "No, I don't think you need it. Just return home and pray as you always have."

(Apologies to Count Tolstoy or whoever wrote that if I screwed it up badly.)

Anyway, get my point? I'm praying the best way I can. I hope it will be efficacious, even if it's not perfectly "orthodox."

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