STARTING THE JAPAN 88 TEMPLE PILGRIMAGE EARLY IN NEPAL:
As my flight to Japan is nearing and my days in Nepal ebbing my thoughts are shifting to visiting the country of Japan and its unique culture. My flight is on April 7 and a few days later will begin the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage. But today I left my hotel in Lakeside, Pokhara shortly after 7 and walked to a nearby bike shop to rent a bike to pedal down the valley and visit some villages.
However, there are only mountain bikes that seem to me to be designed to be uncomfortable. I especially detest those small hard seats which do not fit well with my large old ass. My mind drifts back 53 years ago and the joy of riding my relatively comfortable black and white 26 inch Schwinn retrofitted with “monkey” handlebars and a nice large cushioned seat with shock absorbers.
Well I am a pilgrim so I suppose I will just walk around the lake. So a few hours later I make it to the far side of the lake enjoying numerous brief chats with locals. Then a guy suggests a slightly worn path as a way to cross to the other side. So I take that route and end up sloshing thigh deep in muddy water. When I calm myself after cursing to the mountain gods, a local directs me up into the hills and ascend a good 300 meters before someone suggests I have gone the wrong way. Being stubborn and not into back tracking, I continued up and reach a ridge 500 meters or so above the valley and continue on back in the direction of Pokhara.
An hour later I arrive at the Buddhist World Peace Pagoda enjoying the gentle messages of Peace as well as beautiful views of the valley below and the white peaked Himalayas in the background. Just a few minutes past the Pagoda, there is a small white building and there is a surprising sign “Japanese Buddhist Temple”.
I remove my sandals and walk in and there is a single bald monk wearing glasses who is obviously Japanese. He is dealing with a Nepali family group of ten or so and they are loud and somewhat rude pounding on drums and bonging the “singing” bowl which is not meant to be bonged but played by gently gliding a stick around the rim of the bowl.
When a young kid starts bonging the bowl again the monk, Dai Nishikawa, with some anger and frustration on his face, takes the stick from him and moves the bowl away. I smile realizing that the monk, like me, has a very long way to go for Enlightenment.
So then I introduce myself and we talk of the 88 Temples in Japan and Kobo Daishi, the monk who brought Buddhism to Japan in the 8th Century. The Pilgrimage follows, 1300 kilometers, in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi on the island of Shikoku. After our chat I ask for his blessing, but instead he gives me a paddle with a stick, and he mans the big drum to one side of the hall while a small Nepali boy sits at the drum on the other side of the hall with me in the center.
We then pound and chant for 10 minutes, “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”. I am told this is similar to the Tibetan Buddhist chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum” which I enjoyed for many days while trekking here in Nepal and making a point of always spinning the frequent prayer wheels. The experiene is peaceful and joyful.
After our chanting session, the friendly monk Dai gave me a big hug and wishes me well on my Pilgrimage. Walking down the mountain back to Pokhara I could not help thinking that once again my Pilgrimage has started in an unexpected way in a different country.
So today I began the “89 Temple” Pilgrimage and head for Temple 2 next week. — at Lakeside Pokhara