Rain was in the forecast the misty October morning Sensei Nakamura-san and I set out from Osaka for the Kumano Kodo.
It is the seat of Shingon Buddhism that Kūkai founded in Japan. Kukai remains in eternal meditation in his mausoleum there until the next Buddha returns.
We skipped Koyasan, however, for lack of time during our 3-day, 2-night journey, as Nakamura-san scheduled meetings with head Shinto priests of the sacred shrines on the route and that these were of great importance and interest. We’d be back some other time for Koyasan.
As he drove meandering along roads outside Osaka Prefecture into Nara Prefecture’s green mountainous region, I saw a giant manji symbol ahead of me. I thought it was intriguing and a spiritual sign. I could feel my symbolic intuitive mind kicking in as the natural setting began working its magic on my inner realm. I felt we just had to stop, even if only for a photo of the sign.
Turns out Kūkai had plans of his own for us to commence our pilgrimage here in Nara at this temple. Remarkably, the Koyasan Shingon Buddhism Uchiyoshino Branch Inukai Mountain Horinji Temple, where we found ourselves, was one of the triad of temples Kūkai had founded along with Koyasan.
I never knew anything about Kūkai before coming to Japan, because growing up in Boulder, Colorado it was all Naropa, Shambhala and Tibetan Buddhism. I got to know Kūkai , as he seemed to be everywhere in life here, as he slowly revealed himself to me in the temples and philosophy of Japan.
I remember taking the train in the rain to Kume-dera in Nara with my kids a day after the big earthquake in Osaka June 17, 2018. Its famous hydrangeas were in bloom, and rain was supposed to make their colors even nicer. Few people were there. And when I went to the main office for my goshuin, a very old peculiar priest suddenly appeared, and I felt… maybe…..just maybe…. it was him, magical-thinking me liked to think!
Light rain began to fall as Nakamura-san spoke with a king, young priest in yellow robes who emerged from the office to explain the temple, at least to Nakamura-san in Japanese, who interpreted. The temple is unique, the priest said and I could actually understand his Japanese for that part, because it synchronizes Shinto and Buddhist elements.
Also, legend says Kūkai encountered a red-faced hunter whose two dogs, one white and one black, led him to this location where he established the temple. The dogs are rendered in sculptures at the Nijokariba Akira Shrine on the site.
is two dogs
one white and one black —
I enjoyed walking around the temple grounds in the light rain, listening to the crunch of white gravel beneath my feet, mindful of each step as I heard the sound of crows I love so much pierce the cool air. Little did I know that the crow was yet another unexpected guide on this journey, as I would soon encounter the deep spiritual past of Japan with the three-legged crow of Yatagarasu. Tune in next time!