i don’t think, therefore
i am in harmony with
The October afternoon light began settling in as the roads narrowed to hug rock ledges or plunge into secluded, small wombs of greenery as Sensei Nakamura-san winded his Toyota up and around misty, blue mountains of Wakayama Prefecture.
We had spent a bit too much time at the unexpected, but meaningful stop at Inunakiyama Temple and Shrine. It was a fitting substitute for starting out at Koyasan to begin our Kumano Kodō 熊野古道 pilgrimage.
We traveled on a Friday to avoid crowded trails, and the rain forecast kept pilgrims in smaller numbers. Tamaki Shinto Shrine 置神社 is many hours from Osaka near Totsukawa Village 十津川村 on the Kii Peninsula.
Driving along winding roads, Sensei filled me in that we had an appointment with the Chief Priest to get an endorsement of his theory regarding Japanese culture and nature in modern times in his book
The Japan Code.
It was getting late by the time we reached the parking lot on Mount Tamaki 3,534 feet up overlooking the spectacular Omine Mountain Range where soft blue tears of mountain met bright, clear sky and sun-streaked, peach-colored clouds. We were grateful that we were able to avoid the rain. I had forgotten to bring white clothes, so Sensei lent me an extra he carried.
Beginning our journey to the sacred forest and shrine, I felt that familiar melting into nature I had back on Mt. Atago in Kyoto. In great reverence we bowed before passing through the torii gate, a sacred act of passing from profane to sacred time. My heart whispered my gratitude for being here, and I felt a surge of joy to recognize that nature is all things.
profane to sacred —
torii transitions my mind
passing through the gate
When I hold myself back from raging at the unprecedented horrors of our times, it’s because I remembered a Chinese saying — both sides of a coin, light and dark, this is how the world hangs together. To not judge terrible things that happen and bring suffering, but realize that difficulty is just doing its part in reality.
When I let go of my thinking and reasoning, rationalizing-and-remembering-projecting mind, I instantly merge with nature in that space between the thoughts through the intuitive and symbolic mind. Heaven on Earth!
A great way to peace on earth – the beautiful rites of Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion of nature worship, reconnecting us back to nature to bring a world in crisis back into balance.
Tamaki Shrine, Sensei said, is a less frequented main stop for pilgrims and hikers walking the Omine Okugake trail from Yoshino County in Nara Prefecture to Hongu Taisha Shinto Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture. But it is a very important one. Built by the Emperor Sujin in 37 BC, it’s one of the oldest shrines in Japan, and the cedar trees 杉 sug, some thousands of years old, surrounding Tamaki make it regarded as the inner sanctuary of the three Kumano Shrines.
Indeed it was a sanctuary as those old cedar trees greeted us with their intoxicating scent on the path, as they have greeted pilgrims for more than a thousand years, including followers of Shugendō 修験道, which literally means “the path of training and testing” or “the way to spiritual power through discipline.
It is has been used as a sacred training ground since the Kamakura period when the housing complex was built. Time stands still on this sacred space untouched by modernity. The passage purifies the mind.
I can understand why monks like Kukai wandered the mountainside. The ego mind disappears and one is able to shut out the distraction of the world and identify with nature and its powers, and know oneself as identical with it.
mist, moss and mountains
the old cedar trees watch
as “I” disappear
Along the path, we prayed at Jindai-sugi, a sacred, 3,000-year-old cedar tree that is a living monument within the shrine, in addition to Tokotachi-sugi, Iware-sugi, O-sugi and other cedars.
like soft skin, cedars’
bark lets me know I am not
We hiked quickly but still took time to marvel in reverence for the trees as we traversed up and down the rambling mountain trail while soothed by the scent of cedar. Our past excursions hiking in Kyoto certainly got me in shape, as flat Florida killed the Colorado girl hiker in me. Either that or middle age.
At the shrine, I reveled in the mindful ritual of purification with water at the chōzuya 手水舎. How I love the refreshing and cool water on my hands and lips.
Then we walked mindfully up the stone steps that exuded centuries of Earth’s energy radiating from below that forged the ancient rock beneath our feet and made Tamaki Shrine into the power spot it is known as today, and legend has it only the chosen come here.
We prayed, the sound of our hands clapping slicing the still, thick air, before roaming quickly among the faded, wood buildings carved with the powerful and comforting images of dragons, cranes, rabbits and tigers.
I felt lucky to enjoy the peace, quiet and mystical feel of the place where few other visitors were occasionally seen this late in the day.
We reached the main hall that enshrines the five gods Kuni-no-tokotachi-no-mikoto, Izanagi-no-mikoto, Izanami-no-mikoto, Ama-terasu-o-mikami, and Kamuyamato-iware-hiko-no-mikoto.
Izanagi and Izanami are the first heavenly couple who created Japan and Earth of which we all come from and therefore are are all related, Sensei explained as we walked the grounds. Sun Goddess Amaterasu was their daughter and Wind God Susanoo their son.
We sat drinking tea in the enveloping silence sitting on cushions on the tatami-matted floor of the Main Temple as we waited for Chief Priest Takeshi Masutani to arrive. I peered into the darkness past Sensei to see the finely grained wood and the golden-colored fusuma screens paintings of cranes that surrounded us. Sensei taught me the word for crane – Tsuru 鶴.
objects of worship
not to possess but commune –
“Shinto is the bridge to world peace,” I heard Masutani say in Japanese clear as a bell. I reveled in my Japanese ability, though Sensei and he spoke in fast Japanese to the Chief Monk that mostly I didn’t understand but enjoyed listening to nonetheless and could understand the gist of what was going on and pick out words. And it did align with Sensei’s theory he promotes with his work and books.
my true nature —
happy to be home
Masutani personally did the calligraphy for my goshuin, temple stamp, and we bowed in gratitude for everything. We left as the sun was setting. The forest was getting dark, and scrambling across roots and ancient rock, I realized, do not hurry. What does it matter if you miss the sunset. To miss things, difficulty just as easy, is part of nature. Que sera, sera. There is nothing to do. Relax!
My remaining ramble down the sacred mountain was a flow of grace and flesh, each bounding and sometimes breathless step on the ancient stone floor an intuitive surrender of my mind to the divine.
But I was also looking forward to soaking my tired body and feet spending the night at Tokugawa Onsen!!!
Tamaki sunset —
under darkness of cedars
the forest sleeps
to try explain the infinite
is a waste of time
the sunset each night
makes love to the mountain —
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