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Temples 71-75
(Thu., Nov. 8, 2001)

 Thursday, November 8th, 2001
See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage


I spent the day in Kukai country. Sure, the whole pilgrimage is haunted by the man who became Kobo Daishi, but today every temple I went to had strong connections of one kind or another--because I was on his boyhood turf.

I also spent the day in pre-Kukai country. You may recall that Temple Numbers 1 through 10 were a pilgrimage before the Daishi came along, a route that led to the mountain where Number 10 is located, a mountain sacred to the dead. Today I began at a mountain sacred to the dead, and from there to Number 77 I will be walking a pre-Kukai pilgrimage backwards. Or so they say. But I have my doubts about this tradition; read to the end to see why.

I left Kanonji town this morning and took a train to Tadotsu, where I stashed my bag in a station locker. Backtracking two stations to Takuma, I took a cab out to Number 71. The taxi driver said something that opened up new understanding for me. As usually happens, he had expressed sympathy for the tragedy in America. I said yes, I was wondering what it was going to be like to return to a country whose climate had changed so dramatically.

He then reminded me of the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways, and said there was a time when the Japanese--even here in remote Shikoku--were in fear of riding trains. Aha! This may be one key to why there is so much sympathy for how Americans are feeling; I have been almost overwhelmed by the sincerity of the concern expressed, and realizing that we have this in common may help account for why.

Temple #71: Iyadani-ji (弥谷寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Eight Valleys
  • Location: Mitoyo, Kagawa; 34.229722,133.724261 (map)
  • Sect: Zentsuji-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu
  • Mantra: On-ba-sa-ra-ta-ra-ma-ki-ri-ku!
  • Goeika:

As mentioned above, the mountain on which this temple is located has long been considered a place for the repose of the dead. It is riddled with caves, and is heavily carved with holy figures in the rock.

Unfortunately I was only able to see a few of these, as I was warned not to take the trail around to the top of the mountain alone; it apparently has been badly damaged by the recent rains. Nevertheless, I saw enough to quench my soul. I also had a truly life-changing experience. Not bad for a day's walk.

The entrance to a small cave...

...with a natural stone altar inside

Another cave entrance; note the Sanskrit letter carved in the circle on the left

A trinity in stone

The arrangement of the Daishido here is peculiar. The Daishi came to this mountain to perform ascetic exercises in a cave now known as Shishi no Gankutsu, or "The Lion's Cave." The Daishido is arranged in front of it, and the approach by stairs pretty much prohibits any meaningful photo from being taken.

One stands inside the hall and says one's prayers in front of the Daishi. Then, walking around the altar to the left, one encounters the cave directly behind the altar. It's impossible to know where hall ends and cave begins.

A life-changing experience: I read that it was here that the Daishi vowed to spread the Buddhist teachings. And so, on this mountain, standing before the Daishi, I too solemnly swore to spend the rest of my life teaching. Not English (though that may be part of it). I have come, through many years, to believe that there is only one thing worth teaching: how to have a full, rich, human life. This may or may not involve the explicitly "religious"; but I vow to dedicate myself to teaching the Perennial Philosophy in its various forms as a way for people of various faiths and cultures to discover their common humanity.

You'll read more about that in the coming weeks.

Did I mention that the climb to the hondo at this temple was arduous, involving hundreds of steps? But the walk down the mountain path toward Number 72 was one of the most enjoyable I've had in days.

Along the way I encountered a large pond, and saw something odd: the pond is a driving range! The shed roof in the foreground is where the golfers stand, and they aim for those big "green"-sized baskets out in the pond.

I also saw a man using this small hand-fed thresher. I have been seeing the drying stalks of grain for weeks, but I didn't know how they were processed. Here the man is lifting them from the drying rack and feeding them into the thresher. The grain falls into the sacks in the center, and the "chaff" is expelled off the back onto the ground. This one photo captures the entire process--lucky angle.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall
[It was blocked, remember?]

Temple #72: Mandara-ji (曼荼羅寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Mandalas
  • Location: Zentsuji, Kagawa; 34.219389,133.750278 (map)
  • Sect: Zentsuji-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Dainichi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-a-bi-ra-un-ken-ba-za-ra-da-to-ban!
  • Goeika:

This is a pretty, small temple with one spectacular feature: a pine tree allegedly (and probably) planted by the Daishi. This was certainly the ancestral temple of his mother's family, and he rebuilt it and housed two mandalas here. (The mandala is my favorite symbol, by the way, especially in its simplest form: the quartered circle. It signifies everything from the earth to the soul, the macrocosm to the microcosm.)

Two of my guidebooks state unequivocally that he planted the pine; Statler adds "they say." It is magnificent, a round mound, not high but over fifty feet wide through years of careful tending. It is called the Furo-no-matsu, the "Ageless Pine." Statler records that the poet/priest Saigyo stayed here, and wrote this poem after finding a pilgrim's hat hanging on a pine--perhaps this one--in the yard:
Long-living pine,
Of you I ask: everlasting
Mourning for me and
Cover for my corpse; here is no
Human to think of me when I am gone.
Is it the voice of the pilgrim? I imagine so.

Within sight of Number 72 is the next temple:


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #73: Shusshaka-ji (出釈迦寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Shakyamuni Buddha's Appearance
  • Location: Zentsuji, Kagawa; 34.223306,133.750219 (map)
  • Sect: Omuro-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Shaka Nyorai
  • Mantra: No-ma-ku-san-man-da-bo-da-nan-ba-ku!
  • Goeika:

A couple of hundred years ago this temple was moved down from the heights above it; even then they were trying to make the pilgrimage easier! On the mountain is a stone altar where wandering holy men, the spiritual sons of En no Gyoja, the first yamabushi, used to practice their discipline.

Like Number 21, this temple has a tradition that the boy Mao--who became Kukai, who became the Daishi--threw himself off the cliff here, declaring that if his life was to be of value the Buddha would save him.

He did; I believe it because they have a picture of it posted in the yard! You can see the cliff from the precincts, but the weather was beginning to change this afternoon, and my photos don't do it justice.

While I was there a pilgrim I had seen days ago arrived. I said the Japanese phrase often translated "long time no see," and he reached into his pack and pulled out a notebook. Flipping through it, he announced the numbers of the temples where he had seen me. We had never spoken before, and yet he had entered me in his diary! I guess foreigners are a rare sight on the circuit.

It's a half-hour's walk to Number 74. Along the way there is a perfect view of the hill next to which the temple is located. It's called "Helmet Mountain" because of its shape. Ed Readicker-Henderson says that here is the site where the boy Mao--in legend, at least--made Buddhas out of mud when he played. (Statler places it elsewhere nearby.) All agree that--being 20 minutes' walk from his home, having a helmet's shape, and standing alone on the plain--the boy must have been attracted to this site.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #74: Koyama-ji (甲山寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Armor Mountain
  • Location: Zentsuji, Kagawa; 34.233194,133.765764 (map)
  • Sect: Zentsuji-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-ko-ro-ko-ro-sen-da-ri-ma-tou-gi-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

Back in the early part of the trip, I said I would be visiting a lake which history--not legend--records was created by the Daishi. Live and learn: I didn't know that it was over 15 miles off the course! But this temple is the jumping-off point to get there. One legend says that the Daishi took his payment from the government for building the levee and used it to build this temple; another says he built it because an old man emerged here from a cave and promised protection if Kukai would build a temple here. Considering the shape of the mountain--a helmet, remember--he perceived the old man to be Bishamonten, a warrior amongst the Shichifukujin (Seven Lucky Gods), and carved an image of him in stone here.

The temple may be protected by Bishamonten, but his helmet isn't. It's being quarried away. The view I showed you above was one side; here's the other. The temple roofs can just be seen at the right end of the hill.

Finally, a short walk leads to one of the two possible birthplaces of the Daishi.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #75: Zentsu-ji (善通寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Right Path
  • Location: Zentsuji, Kagawa; 34.225111,133.774139 (map)
  • Sect: Zentsuji-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-ko-ro-ko-ro-sen-da-ri-ma-tou-gi-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

This is the first-ever Shingon temple. After he returned from his studies in China, the Daishi received this--his boyhood home--from his father as a temple site. I find this touching. The name of the temple is even a play on his father's name, Yoshimichi.

The camphor tree shown here is one he loved as a boy, and still stands on the grounds. If I understand the (English) sign correctly, it was planted at his birth.

There is a pond on the grounds where the boy Mao looked at his reflection and drew his own portrait; this portrait is still kept in the Miedo (御影堂; this temple's Daishido). In the pond now are four statues: one of the Daishi at age 31; in front of it a bodhisattva; and flanking them these two statues of his parents.

The temple itself is impressive, so much so that the Bishop calls it "the largest and biggest temple on Shikoku." I guess he got carried away.

But it is these homey touches--his parents, his birth tree--that I connect to, more than the grandeur.

There is a dark tunnel under the Daishido (Miedo); I arrived too late to walk it. I also missed the grave of the boy's dog. I regret this more than missing the tunnel!

Under the 88 statues around this statue of the Daishi is sand from each of the 88 temples of Shikoku. This statue was erected in 1934, on the 1100th anniversary of his death.

And under one of the buildings (one guidebook says the hondo, another says the Miedo) is sand collected from the eight places in India associated with the Buddha's life.

I find a recurrence of eights. The eight sons of Emon Saburo, the eight petals of a lotus (and the eight peaks around Koyasan), temples with names like "Eight Valleys" and "Eight Slopes." Could it all trace back to these eight sites in India? Or is the significance of "eight" older? There are eight corners on a cube, defining its three dimensions: is eight the number of spatial reality?

Number 75 is "one of the two possible birthplaces of the Daishi." It's certainly his boyhood home. But his birthplace is referred to as Byobugaura, indicating a beach location. In those days, a woman didn't give birth at home--it was considered ritually unclean. So one tradition says his mother came to the seaside, not far from her parents' house, to give birth.

I'm there now. I'm staying in a youth hostel at the bangai called Kaiganji, the other contender for birthplace of the Daishi. I arrived well after dark, after picking up my bag at Tadotsu, so I haven't had a chance to check it out. I'll tell you more tomorrow.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Another Ancient Pilgrimage?

At the beginning I said that I had some doubts about the tradition claiming that Numbers 77 to 71 constituted a pilgrimage older than the Daishi. Now you can see why.

While the path may have been used before him, the seven temples could not have been, for the simple reason that Number 75 (which would have been Number 3 of that old seven-temple pilgrimage) was certainly built by the Daishi on the site of his boyhood home! It wasn't a temple at all until he came along. Likewise Number 74 is supposed to be on a site where he made mud Buddhas as a boy; he was playing in a temple? Also, though the legends differ, there is agreement that he built this temple himself.

There was something in this area. The stone altar on the mountain above Number 73 was a site for ascetics, and Number 71 certainly could have been a goal, with its superior height.

But overall, I think Statler may have overstated the case when he wrote, "...they visited seven temples, beginning at Number Seventy-seven and ending here at Seventy-one. Like the ten-temple pilgrimage to Temple Ten, this ancient seven-temple pilgrimage became a link in the pilgrimage to the Eighty-eight." Since at least one of those temples didn't exist before Kukai, they could only have visited six (unless there was another elsewhere); the "ancient seven-temple pilgrimage" could not have included all seven of the temples we visit today.

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Posted October 18, 2019

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