One of the world’s oldest Buddhist tradition can be found in Japan, the Shikoku Island’s “Henro” which means “pilgrimage”. It is a long roughly 800 mile route that covers the circumference of Japan’s southern main island which dates back over 1200 years.
Pilgrims walk the route following the steps of a renowned Buddhist monk self named “Kukai” meaning “sky and sea”. He is attributed in Japan as a Buddhist saint and is also the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Today, most people take the route via Buses, motorcycles, cars, bicycle and there are still those who still walk the entire route on foot which takes about 5 weeks to complete. I am going to be one of those people who will be traversing it on foot… But, why?
While living in Japan in 2013, I had a serious case of depression. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I was going through but it ended up with me divorcing my amazing wife at the time because I couldn’t deal with the thought of dragging her down with me into the bottomless abyss I kept falling deeper and deeper in.
Suicidal thoughts did come up into mind frequently but each time I was able to convince myself that I knew that was not the way… It would’ve been like me giving up on life and there was no way I could give up on the world, specifically my family and those who are very dear to me. It was very tough on my family and I when my mother passed away from cancer when I was 13 years old and I couldn’t out my family into the same desparity all over again.
Also, I’m just not one to take my own life even though during those very dark days I was kinda plagued by the idea. So, I came up with the idea that if I ever decided that I have had enough if this life but rather than taking my own life I would just aimlessly walk until I drop. I figured I’d just let the universe take hold of my destiny and let life runs it’s course. I say this but I also knew that by walking, I’d probably end up getting distracted by something along the way and snap out thinking if dying.
It was during this time that I found out about this pilgrimage in Shikoku while exploring through the internet’s many rabbit holes. I wanted to do it then but with so many things going on, especially with my depression and deteriorating of my marriage, it never happened.
Fast forward 6 years and now I have an opportunity to do it under better circumstances and for much better reasons. And, how more fitting is it for me to do this now that I am a Buddhist monk?
Ultimately, I can’t tell you exactly why I am doing this. I don’t have the right words to express and explain this calling. I do feel like I not only need to do this, but also I should. It’s not going to be easy and I am extremely limited on resources. I will only be carrying a few personal items, my robes, my alms bowl, a light sleeping bag and a camera to help share my experiences for those who might also be searching for something similar or are also in this path I am on.
Japan mainly practices a different kind of Buddhism than what I do, I am a Theravada monk (mainly South and Southeast Asia), so it will be interesting to see what kind of experiences I will get. For one, Japan doesn’t have the same tradition of offering food to monks every morning like in Thailand or Cambodia. As a monk, I have to rely in the charity, generosity, and good-will of others to continue walking this path.
Food and shelter are the primary concerns. With shelter I plan on sleeping out wherever I can or if I was offered a place to sleep, I would stay there for the night. With food, I’ll carry my alms bowl with me each morning and I’ll eat what is given. If no food is offered, I suppose that is also part of the training, right?
I will be leaving San Diego, CA on April 3rd and arriving in Osaka, Japan on April 5th. Everyone who has done the walk says it takes roughly 45 to 50 days to complete, but I am giving myself 60 days because I walk at a slower pace than most people and because I checked the forecast and it looks like it will be raining quite a bit while I am there.
I have never done anything like this. Though it will be quite challenging I hope I will gain a lot if insight about myself as well as growing stronger self confidence. Also, I thought that if there are others who might be in the same dark place I was a couple of years ago and might be needing it looking for a little bit of help finding a way out.. doing this journey and creating this blog might help a little. I want them to know that they are not alone. I am here, too.
We can walk together. 🙂