In Japan, on the Island of Shikoku, there is a circuit of eighty-eight temples distributed across 1600 km over which spiritual pilgrims will walk meditatively through mountain and vale, chanting the Heart Sutra, in search of Enlightenment. Is walking a meditation? Try timing your chanting to the rhythm of your footfalls. Well, maybe it’s not meditation in the strictest sense of the word, but more a worthy practice in focus.
Temple at Cloud’s Crest, #66 on the journey, is found at the peak of the highest mountain in Kagawa prefecture. A full kilometer to the top, the 10-minute rope-way ride is a tourist magnet. But, it’s the clusters of sanuki-udon stalls at the base which draw the pilgrims, because once at the top, you’ll not be finding anymore nourishment for the next ten kilometers or so as the path to the next temple takes you down the far side of the mountain, and when the clock tolls 5pm, the temple’s dispensaries will close and tourists, devotees, priests and pilgrims alike will all take the last car on the rope-way down. The temple falls silent.
The Shikoku Temple Circuit is popular with the Japanese; JTB even has a bus tour. The Japanese do love their temples and each temple on this particular route offers an elegant hand-written calligraphic seal that is inscribed into a special handbook carried with you on the journey. Intrepid pilgrims who prefer to walk their meditations on the pilgrim’s circuit are allowed to remain and rest in the temple courtyard, garden or antechamber and sleep until morning when they will take up the journey again.
In India, in the tradition of classical yoga, meditation means dhyana, a state of perfect concentration, senses withdrawn and held in check – a one-pointed focus on the infinite that’s not really an objective focus at all but a communion with consciousness, as consciousness. This definition holds true for the Buddhist practices as well. But didn’t Buddha sit for seven years only to come back and tell us that such a stoic approach was not necessarily the way to the goal and thus offer us a Middle Way? Ramana Maharishi says self-inquiry is more than enough to do the trick. My own Guru advocated for the ‘wait and watch’ perspective. See the world; see the Self. Observe the Nature, Her children and my own interactions therein. And when I want to go deep, there’s always the neti neti (not this, not this) approach to thought negation and apprehension of the totality of truth. Interestingly, once upon a time when Guruji introduced me to this approach in a letter wherein He described this meditation, He used the Tamil spelling nithi nithi, translated as truth or justice. Oh how I appreciated His impeccable use of double entendre! In any event, each of these paths can be approached while walking, too.
The temple at Cloud’s Crest is exactly that (depending on the weather). Because when the sun goes down the clouds start moving in, as if called in to rest. The lights go out and as the evening turns to night, the moon and stars cast a cool glow over the top of the mountain. Cloud’s Crest is home to five-hundred special disciples of Buddha, the 五百楽観 (Go-Hyaku Rakkan), meaning They Who Observe Easily, and having the temple all to myself in the midnight hours provides further meditative fun when I am freed to be easy-going and observe with these cats at the witching hour, dancing and chatting up the night! Perhaps it’s more a Tantrik empowerment because I’d swear those guys come alive, lending me their energy. And when I sit quietly among them, I can hear their conversation, too. Deep, deep inside. It gets chilly up there on the mountaintop, but a good shawl brings comfort and the night’s repose is deep, dreamless and enabling. I awaken refreshed and invigored, ready to continue my walking meditation through the pass and down into the vale, the sutra riffing in my heart, observant of my interaction with the Nature, inquisitive into my own nature, even occasionally holding a one-pointed focus that sees the power of a universal synchronicity guide my steps while I’m not looking. I’m meditating.
…is a Saiva Tantrika, Gyana Yogi and founder of Uma Maheshwara Yoga & Ayurveda. David has an MA in Semiotics, lives in Japan with his family and works as a coach in L & D, devoting his time to developing science-based tools and programs that help people reach the fullest potential of the human condition.