A daily record of a ten-week walk through Japan
(more about my Aki Meguri)

A Mission to the Gods

[This letter was a "public announcement" posted on the web. It embodies the philosophy behind the Aki Meguri. Many people made requests, and I am still getting "thank-yous" from people for the effects of the prayers three years later.]

Pilgrim in the Snow

The Blues Brothers were on a mission from God. I'm on a mission to the gods. Like Moses going up Sinai, like a priest entering the inner sanctum, I will be knock knock knockin' on Heaven's door.

Few people have the luxury of getting away for a long vacation—let alone a pilgrimage of three months' duration. This was as true 300 years ago as it is today. So the Japanese developed a custom of appointing one representative to take their needs to the kami (Shinto gods) and Buddhas on their behalf—a sort of holy lobbyist.

At your request, I will do the same for you. The intentions expressed usually take one of two forms:
  • You can ask for something: a new job, a true love, success for your child, a recovery from illness for yourself or another. Or a more altruistic wish, like an end to global conflict, or the healing of the earth's environment.
  • Others prefer to simply give thanks. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart.
Nara Daibutsu
The Great Buddha of Nara
I will solemnly promise to present all petitions and thanksgivings:
  • at least once a day on the Tokaido and Yamato portions of the walk, including in front of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Nara, and in front of Kobo Daishi on Mt. Koya; and
  • at every one of the 88 temples on Shikoku, meaning an average of almost twice a day.
"But James," you ask, "what makes you think the kami and Buddhas will listen to you?" Traditionally, the undertaking of the journey itself is a kind of offering. Walking is a discipline, and it puts the walking pilgrim in a strong bargaining position. It gets the gods' attention.

Then, I'm undertaking the traditional pilgrims' vows, known in Japanese as the Juzenkai. As listed on David Turkington's site*, these are:

1. Do not kill.
2. Do not steal.
3. Do not engage in inappropriate sex.
4. Do not tell lies.
5. Do not flatter others untruthfully.
6. Do not speak badly of others.
7. Do not be deceitful.
8. Do not be greedy.
9. Do not get angry.
10. Do not cause wrongful thinking by others.
[*The link I gave originally is defunct; this is the link to Dave's new, expanded, amazing site.]

Others have added the "usual" ancient Buddhist precepts of vegetarianism—something I already do—and abstinence from alcohol.

Will I keep all of the vows perfectly? No. But the effort is in itself meritorious. I will certainly keep the "Big Three" of no meat, no alcohol, and no sex. And of course killing and stealing are out of the question. The others—numbers 4-10 above—are tougher, because they are more internal. They will present my greatest challenge.

In any case, between the shugyo (religious discipline) of walking, and the practice of the Precepts above, I hope to earn the right to take your requests and thanks to the gods.

Please send your intentions and I will present them as faithfully as possible.

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