熊野古道 Kumano Kodō, Faith in Nature and The Mythic Return

Hashiguiiwa Rocks in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.
A couple enjoy the 橋杭岩 Hashigui-iwa Rocks in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.

“Use your imagination.” That was the advice that Sensei gave me as we returned from our 熊野古道 Kumano Kodō pilgrimage. Driving back along the Wakayama coastline, we had stopped for a break at the site of a famous outcropping of rocks in the Pacific Ocean called the 橋杭岩 Hashigui-iwa Rocks.

“What am I going to do when I get back to Osaka or back to the USA and I am no longer immersed in nature?” I pleaded. “How am I going to keep this feeling alive in me, to have Faith in Nature? Because the urban world begins to encroach on me pretty quickly and it’s hard to keep the faith.”

Hashiguiiwa Rocks in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.

Fast forward and here I am in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. I write this now three days after the U.S. Presidential Election where uncertainty about the outcome and more press upon every American’s mind. The Hashigui-iwa Rocks and Wakayama Prefecture coastline were hammered in a big typhoon just a few days after our pilgrimage. All that beauty was met with tragedy once again. But it is exactly this event that bolsters my Faith in Nature. It’s like the old Taoist story of Maybe, Maybe Not. I can’t judge anything. How do I know that this isn’t the best thing that could happen? Everything hangs together in the realm of duality.

Naturally that is nature. She has a benevolent and a malevolent side, which is symbolized in two sand piles at 上賀茂神社 Kamigamo Shinto Shrine in Kyoto. It is duality, just like the black and white dogs at Inunakiyama Tohorinji Temple犬鳴山轉法輪寺 in Nara.

And so I do use my imagination. I look upon these photographs and enjoying last year’s pilgrimage all over again by writing about it as if it were yesterday. Nature has infused me with a grounding once again in my inner being that is not dependent on outer events or people.

Yes, I woke up a few mornings before the elections in a panic, especially since so many of my entertainer friends here in Central Florida have lost their jobs and are hurting. But grounding in the body with meditation, recognizing that I am nature. Only my head, which the Japanese consider is not separate from the heart, 心 kokoro, gets a little crazy when it forgets it’s not separate from the rest of my body where quiet and nature once again return with their intuitive voice that all is well.

Even the great Kūkai had some trouble along the way with a demon-like creature called 天邪鬼 Amanojaku, legend says. These 鬼 oni-like creatures lead you astray, provoking your darkest desires and to get you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like be fearful and lose faith.

In Kukai’s story, he competed with such a demon to build a bridge connecting the shore to a nearby island. The winner would be the one who finished building it first before dawn. Amanojaku made the sound of a cock crowing in the morning to deceive Kukai when he realized he couldn’t beat him, Kukai thought he lost had lost the competition, so left without finishing the bridge. That bridge is said to be Hashigui-iwa Rocks.

Buddha in Osaka Station City, Japan.

And one final thing about my Faith in Nature pilgrimage that came up when I returned to the USA, and that I had been thinking about for a long time. Yes, I have Faith in Nature; I am part of nature and I don’t have to war with the terrible things in the world anymore, because they are all part of nature and I can’t judge. I can stop crying with a fist to the sky, “Why, God? Why??” to the horrors of the world that depressed me so much. I can connect with nature through being with trees and caring for nature and plants and animals in my own home and garden or as an activist in my community.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The word paradise literally etymologically means “around, to form, to build a garden, park, green place.” When we are with nature, we are in paradise, that place within and beyond duality. Be it Shinto, Christianity or other religions, paradise awaits by being in in nature.

But as Shinto is a Japanese religion, and Buddhism Asian derived from India of from where yoga I practice originated, I realized what Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of the mythic return – how do we share our experience with the world? He also said that we tend to return to the mythology of our childhood. And that other religions can bolster our faith in our own religion, not replace it.

For me that was Christianity, which I loathed for so long for many reasons, like my mother demonstrating on me how the the nuns at St. Pius High School in St. Louis used to beat her with a stick. It seems cliche to have a Christian epiphany, but in my own personal way this came true, especially after visiting Homestead, Florida Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just a few months ago I came upon my mother’s Imitation of Christ she was given upon graduating. It was surprisingly yogic sounding. Jesus’ words are an action guide for social justice and simple living.

The metaphors for eternity that Christianity represents are also symbols of the eternal found in Shinto, Buddhism and other faiths. It is the eternal cycle. That we never die. From the agricultural myth of Shinto to a new moon taking three days to appear to Christ’s resurrection three days later too.

Christ like composition with crane origami at Children’s Peace Monument, Hiroshima, Japan.

The winter solstice is coming, and we can symbolically “die” to the world, yet the sun’s disappearance is only an illusion. We too, are part of nature, the cosmos, the Christ consciousness that is always there. We never die.

I also think it’s time for Mary Magdalene’s archetype of the sacred feminine to push up from the unconscious once again and restore balance to the world via sacred union, or hieros gamos. Love, caring and sensuality for too long have been denied, creating a wasteland of the world, and I experienced first hand my my mother’s Catholic family’s hatred of the feminine. Even the Japanese sacred book 古事記 The Kojiki relates the creation story of Izanagi-no-Kami 伊邪那岐神 and Izanagi-no-Mikoto 伊邪那岐命 –love, sex, the union of opposites create the world.

This love and union of opposites is restored with our reconnection to nature, all of it, as I wrote in a haibun for the Luz Del Mes Tri-Anthology 2020 about the quarantine experience. And in this era of Covid-19, it becomes apparent to all that recovery begins with nature, connecting to the environment, each other, partnership rather than dominion, our body and ourselves.

Japan will always be a beacon of light to restore nature, especially in these times, despite its remilitarization. That is definitely what Faith in Nature about. Everywhere we see the urgency to protect nature and most importantly, see ourselves inseparable from it. That, is my Faith in Nature and Christian faith as well, in which I practice Buddhist meditation, Hindu yoga and Shinto nature worship. I need only use my imagination, that inner magic, to bring back images of nature and peace to my consciousness and body, and I am there.

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