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Temple 21 and a Bangai
(Sun., Oct. 21, 2001)

 Sunday October 21st, 2001
See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage


When I awoke this morning, I faced a decision: make the climb up to Number 21, as I did with Number 12 and Number 20? Or take the ropeway, the easy way? When I looked out the window and could barely see my beloved ichou tree because of the rain, the decision was made for me: ropeway!

I knew I would have to return to Minami-Komatsushima (home of the world's dirtiest youth hostel) in order to make a bus connection. But because I was dragging around my big bag, and because I was uncertain how close the bus approached to Number 21, I thought I might have to go all the way back to Tokushima--just to find a coin locker.

The landlady at the minshuku put my fears rest. She assured me that there were lockers at the ropeway to Number 21. But, I asked, wouldn't I have to walk quite far--7 or 8 kilometers--to reach the ropeway? No, she was sure the bus went very near. Reflecting, she said she wasn't so sure about the lockers, though, but there was certainly some kind of system there for visitors' bags.

Trusting this total stranger, I went back to Minami-Komatsushima and made the change of buses there, saving myself at least an hour by not backtracking to Tokushima. The bus driver assured me that the bus would go right near the ropeway.

And it did--about 700 meters from it. I walked over to the office, where the young lady told me that no, they didn't have lockers, but she would be glad to keep the bag in the office until I returned. I said thanks, turned over the bag, and watched her struggle into the office with it--hoping she wouldn't drop it, since my computer was in it.

She then came back out to sell me my ropeway ticket, and reflexively asked me if that would be one way or roundtrip? Well, I said, because my bag is here... She laughed in embarrassment and sold me a roundtrip ticket.

Ten minutes later I was on "the longest ropeway in western Japan"--2775 meters long, to be exact. That's nearly 3 kilometers. It goes up over a mountain, then back down to the site of temple Number 21.

Temple #21: Tairyu-ji (太龍寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Great Dragon
  • Location: Anan, Tokushima; 33.882528,134.521889 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Kokuzo Bosatsu
  • Mantra: Nou-bou-a-kya-sha-kya-ra-ba-ya-on-a-ri-kya-ma-ri-bo-ri-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

Arriving at the "top," you are at the base of a stairway that leads up to the hondo of Number 21. I climbed the stairs, said my prayers, then backtracked to the Daishido and the stamp office. But where, I wondered, is the Niomon--the Two Kings' Gate?

In fact, we had entered the temple from the back way. The usual visitor drives up the other side, and walks up about a kilometer from the parking lot to the temple. So I walked down to the gate, then up again.

There was one more feature I had to see. At this temple, at the age of 19, the Daishi attempted to break past the mental barriers and achieve enlightenment by performing a Gomon-ji Ho (Morning Star Meditation) ceremony, which involves repeating a mantra one million times. He invoked the name of Kokuzo Bosatsu, the honzon of this temple, in his bid for satori.

He failed. It was later, at Number 24, that he finally succeeded.

Nevertheless, the attempt--and the place where it happened--are commemorated here. It's about a kilometer out to the site, climbing most of the way. Imagine my disappointment when I reached the place and discovered that the promontory itself is "off limits."

We could see the statue of the Daishi seated there when we passed over it in the ropeway. But from the trail that leads to it, we can only see the back of his head. There's a distinct gap between his pile of rock and the main mass of the mountain, and it's clearly roped off.


This temple too, like Number 12, has a dragon legend (hence the name), and it's virtually the same as the first one: the dragon is sealed in a cave. Why, I wonder? Did the snake cult--as mentioned at Number 12--go "underground"? Or is this a way of talking about the "grounding" of powers, taking cosmic energy and concentrating it into one locus? To hear such a legend once is strange; twice compounds it. But I heard of the Daishi doing the same thing even as far north as Ibaraki prefecture, above Tokyo! What magic did he work that is so widely celebrated in these tales? Perhaps we'll never know.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Leaving Number 21, I returned to the ropeway office at the base of the mountain, picked up my bag, and had lunch. I then pushed off toward Saba Daishi, a Bangai temple past Number 23, and my last temple in Tokushima prefecture.

On the ropeway headed down, I took this view of the terrain.

Also, there was a "window" in the floor of the gondola; these kids were enjoying the view--straight down.

Saba Daishi is located very near a station called Sabase, which is one stop past Mugi on the Mugi Line. Most trains stop at Mugi, and you need to transfer to go on to Sabase. Reaching Mugi at about 2:50, I discovered that the next train was at--FOUR O'CLOCK! So I waited an hour and ten minutes for a train to take me another 4.6 kilometers. If it hadn't been pouring buckets--and I hadn't been carrying my big bag--I would have walked it. Instead, I sat down, got out my computer (one of the benefits of carrying the big bag is that everything is with me) and typed everything you see up to this point.

Bangai: Yasakaji (八坂寺), known as Saba Daishi
  • Meaning: Eight Slope Temple
  • Nickname: Saba Daishi Honbo (鯖大師本坊), or "Mackerel Daishi"
  • Location: Kaiyo, Tokushima; 33.647806, 134.385167 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Kobo Daishi
  • Mantra: Na-mu-dai-shi-hen-jo-kon-go!
  • Goeika:

Before I denigrate this temple--which I will--let's talk about the idea of bangai. It means "extra number," and it is an unnumbered temple included in a pilgrimage. Depending on who's counting, the number is different for each pilgrimage. Ed Readicker-Henderson doesn't include any in his book for the Shikoku 88; the Bishop lists seven; Oliver Statler has 52--one for every week in the year!

Why are there bangai? Because ideas change, as you'll see below. Some important places--like the Daishi's birthplace--were not included in the original count. Local promoters create new sites. Places of minor importance become major. But since the count of temples is fixed, you can't just add temples, so you add bangai temples.

I had decided to follow the Bishop on this, as I have in many other matters (such as my manner of prayer). Now I'm wondering if I made the right choice.

First, I'll give you the legend. Kobo Daishi was here (naturally) and asked a seller of dried mackerel for a handout. The peddler refused. As he walked away, his horse stumbled and fell, suddenly sick with colic. Realizing his error, the peddler rushed back, begged forgiveness (like Emon Saburo) and the Daishi healed his horse.

Topping himself, the Daishi then asked for one of the dried-and-salted mackerels, and brought it back to life.

Now, Oliver Statler is my kind of guy. He waxes rhapsodic over the smallest things. But in this case, he was downright cynical.

After all the trouble I had getting to this temple, I finally sat down and read what Statler had to say about it, and I was really put off. He devotes three pages to deconstructing the mystique of this place; I'm tempted to type it all out for you. Instead, let me give you the key points:

  • No "mackerel miracle" was done here
  • What was done here was done by Gyogi, not the Daishi; he cursed and healed a horse, and received a mackerel, as in the legend; but he didn't bring the mackerel back to life
  • The Daishi did do a "mackerel miracle," but not here--on Mount Koya
  • This temple was founded in 1945; before that it was merely a chapel
  • The founding priest--who told Statler all this personally--basically made up the legend

Statler goes on to point out that this is an ideal location, near the highway and a convenient stop on the long stretch between Number 23 and Number 24.

The hondo at Fishy Daishi

Another hall with the fish in question out front

Now, I'm not naive; one of my favorite studies as I've pursued various pilgrimages is the relationship between government, religion, and business in promoting pilgrimage/travel. But this is sheer quackery. This guy "blended" a couple of legends in order to promote his business. If someone did that 500 years ago, the mere weight of age makes it seem OK somehow; but that this happened 10 years before I was born makes it too--fishy.

Even the honzon is a fake. A figure holds a fish in one hand, and beads in the other. This figure is said to be the Daishi. It used to be Gyogi. And the Daishido used to be called the Gyogido. I had a hard time praying Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo knowing it was to the wrong guy!

Well, I struggled through the experience, and headed back to the station in time to see my train leaving.

My train leaving??!! Yup. Seems the train that left Mugi at 4:00 returns here at 4:32. Next train: 6:01, too late to make my connection at Mugi and get to Hiwasa at a decent hour.

Never fear: walking down to the highway (the highway and the railway run near each other all along this wild coast) I discovered that a bus was coming at 5:04. Magic.

I had time to stroll across the street and take these shots...

...of the beautiful bay on which this scurrilous temple is located.

So I made it back to Hiwasa, near Number 23, which I visited a couple of days ago. Had I known that Saba Daishi was going to be such a bust, I could have been in Kochi prefecture by now. Live and learn.


Kochi prefecture: I'm officially finished in Tokushima prefecture (the former Awa-no-kuni) which is known in the parlance of the pilgrimage as "The Dojo (training room) of Awakening Faith." It's the place where the rhythm of the exercise first gets its hooks into you.

I must say, something is definitely happening to me. I'm more sensitive, as I described regarding my sansai udon lunch on Monday the 15th. There are lots of other indications in my thoughts and feelings.

But the strangest effect has to do with my dreams. I have long been a believer in the importance of dreams. There need not be anything supernatural about this; I think we all recognize that we are divided people, with a "daylight" half and a "nighttime" half. Call it "mind" and "spirit" or "conscious" and "unconscious"; the terms don't matter.

Well, I believe (and this is pure Jung) that the "nighttime" side communicates with the "daylight" side via dreams. Dreams are a way for the non-verbal, a-rational, deepest parts of ourselves to let the "brain" know what we need. Are we afraid of something? It will manifest in dreams. Carrying a secret torch for someone? Dreams will tell it.

I have studied my dreams carefully, and have become fairly comfortable with interpreting and applying their messages to my life. Back in the States, I often had friends ask me to help them with their dreams.
But now... now... My dreams are totally incomprehensible to me. The people in them are speaking strange languages. I can't figure out what the situation is in which the conversations take place. There are objects in my dreams I can't identify, and there are tasks to be performed that I can't even discern the point of, let alone figure out how to do them.

I feel like my interior is being completely demolished. Meta-interpretation: this is a good thing. The wrecking crew is at work, tearing down the old and making way for the new. Although I'm distinctly uncomfortable, I am also quite excited about this.

So tomorrow, it's on to Kochi prefecture, formerly Tosa-no-kuni, and the bane of olden pilgrims. It's "The Dojo of Religious Discipline," where the hard work of spiritual growth begins to take place.

On the advice of many, I will return to Tokushima and take a train to Kochi City, whence I will continue the campaign. From where I am now, near Number 23, to Cape Muroto, the site of Number 24, is over 80 kilometers. That's four days' walking. The train line stops not too far past Saba Daishi, and the buses are all locals--no through buses, so lots of weird little connections. Better to go back around and approach the Cape from the other direction.

And maybe, just maybe, be able to publish the last two days' pages, which I haven't been able to do for lack of uplink!

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Posted October 12, 2019

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