Category Archives: Pilgrimage 2005

Pilgrimage 2005 Revisited

At the site of Kojō Zenji’s memorial in Tokyo – Iain with Edera beside me.

It’s just over fifteen years since I went to East Asia. The months leading up to setting off were so challenging there is no doubt about that. I was prior at Edmonton Buddhist Priory in Alberta Canada at the time and along with the daily life of running the priory, I was going half crazy planning this trip. I needed a map of China! I needed a map of Japan! Simple, fundamental tasks were deeply challenging, for the most part, because I had to face my fears. Constantly. On a practical level, I just wasn’t that easy to get such maps, let alone book hotel rooms. Thankfully I had the, now late, Iain Robinson in Japan with Japanese wife Edera to help us both plan this trip. Without Edera we would have been sunk before we ‘set sail’.

I wrote this piece, A Pilgrimage to East Asia for the Order Journal and the text was published in April 2005 on this blog. Today I found out the post was not rendering correctly so I worked on republishing it this afternoon. I’m so glad to republish it now complete with macrons, Mugō has a macron over the o and now I am able to write Kōhō Zenji correctly. Magic!

With a current discussion about ‘next steps’ and dealing with challenging questions like for example, ‘why am I doing this’? I thought it timely to point to the post A Pilgrimage to East Asia. Here below is an extract.

If you are encouraged and inspired by what you read here, that is good. If you are poised at the brink of a next step, as I am, then raise your foot and the road will appear before you. Be willing to not know where that step will lead.

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Eiheiji 2005

These two senior monks were so kind and showed us another, less formal, side to the monastic life in the temple. Even though we look kinda formal.

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Inside Eiheiji

In 2005 I was witness to the training going on here at Eiheiji. We, the late Iain Robinson and I were escorted everywhere and left in no doubt as to where and what was expected of us. Interesting, informative, educational, and stressful! The highlight for me was being invited to offer incense at the main altar during Morning Service. All very formal, we survived! I thought readers would want to view this ‘window’ on how young monks are trained to be priests in Japan.

Eiheiji is a world-famous Zen monastery located in the mountains 200 kilometers northeast of Kyoto. As the temple’s founder Dogen prescribed, the core practice is zazen: simply sitting to calm the mind and examine one’s self. Most of the 150 monks are in their 20’s. They live at the temple, devoting themselves to uninterrupted Zen practice. With unprecedented access inside this remarkable temple, where Dogen’s teachings have been practiced unchanged for over 770 years, the program follows the monks’ lives over the course of 6 months.

Update May 2021 – the video referred to above is no longer available. There are however a number of films showing the training going on at Eiheiji.

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Goodmorning China!

First published May 11, 2005. Reading this now I am amazed all over again at where (the late) Iain Robinson and I found ourselves while in China. Being in the abbots quarters at Tiantong Temple where Zen Master Dogen met with his master and then next morning being the first female, ever, to enter the dining room at Tiantong were moments never to be forgotten. Under categories in the left hand side bar you will find Pilgramage 2005 where you can find all the posts and photographs from that East Asia trip.

Five days after arriving in Shanghai I am just about getting the hang of it all. It would take more time than I have at the moment to communicate what has happened these past days…and perhaps it is not possible to adequately convey to you. There will be photos so you will get a sense of what things look like.

From what I have seen and picked up from talking to monks and others along the way Buddhism is alive and well and growing. We were very fortunate to stay one night at Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. We joined in the daily practice with the 100 plus male monks, met the Abbot and even joined a formal breakfast. Doing that was a first for a female western monk, and probably a first for a male western lay person too. You should have heard the silent gasp as we walked in!

We were very fortunate to be traveling along with a novice monk from the Tiantong Temple for three days while we have been here. He escorted us to Puto Shan which is an island one hour ferry ride from the mainland and a major pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists. Ru Xian Shi, the monk, was both an inspiration and a doorway into a China we would not otherwise have known.

There is much to say about these days however I see the clock ticking away. Today we travel by bus, the train line having been closed, to our next destination. Thankfully Ru Xian has written our hotel name in Chinese script as well as instructions to taxi drivers to get us to the bus station here in Ningbo. It cannot be over stated how difficult it can be to travel in China when you don’t speak or write the language.

The pavement where ‘anything goes’ and most things do!

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Pilgrimage Revisited

Wind, water, sky – together.

Back in 2005 when I was about to fly to East Asia on Pilgrimage I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper while out walking in Vancouver, Canada. The underlying message behind what I wrote was let go and trust – continuously. When in mental, physical, emotional extremity, as I was then, basic teachings take on a renewed meaning, and urgency. During the trip my advice to myself proved in practical every-day ways to be both a life saver and a very good thing! Circumstances and conditions repeatedly came together in near miraculous ways and we, my traveling companion Iain and me, were ushered into places and meeting people it would not have been possible to plan for in advance. Travel stress was a constant and I guess trust/faith must have been there.

Over the next few days I’ll be revisiting and reflecting upon my poem with the spotlight shining on what it means in practical terms to let go. I speak of rising up in the poem implying a ‘place’ from which one moves. Sitting down perhaps? The keystone and well-spring of pilgrimage, daily living, is sitting still in the midst of it all. Meditation is present in the midst of living out our day, even within the seeming chaos most of us experience. One doesn’t need to travel or otherwise enter stressful circumstances to prove this true. Opportunities arise quite naturally!

Formal meditation is practiced in subdued lighting with the emphasis of turning ones attention inwards. Into the darken hall of ones mind/body. Sitting still, allowing the senses to still, we enter into a metaphorical darkness of unknowing by allowing the known to fade. This is however an illuminated darkness, bright aliveness of body and mind rises naturally – given half a chance. So, within compassion/acceptance for all that comes and goes, letting go and trusting is…about how it is.

The habit is to follow the arising and the passing. To entertain, wine and dine, thoughts, sensations, emotions, bright ideas, memories etc. It is enough to notice the arising and passing, simply noticing is the letting go. Noticing over and over again, the known fades in importance.

BTW. Iain didn’t get due credit for a number of the early posts from Japan which he wrote. Thank you Iain and thank you for making the trip possible.

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