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(Shikoku cont.)
Starting near Naruto at Ryozenji Temple, the henro enter the temple, purify their hands in a special stone basin, and go up the steps to the brightly decorated temple to read the hannya shingyo - "heart sutra" - out loud. Sometimes they will also ring the giant temple bell by pulling back a tree trunk suspended by ropes, and crashing it into the bell. Many henro carry nokyo-sho, special fabric-bound books containing the names and descriptions of all 88 temples. Before they leave the temple, the henro pay the monks a few yen to write the name again in beautiful calligraphy, and stamp it with the offical red seal.

Kobo Daishi (774-835) attained enlightenment at age 19, in a southern cave in Japan facing the Pacific Ocean. Because of this he called himself "Kukai", meaning "Sky and Sea." He is credited with inventing hiragana, making education available to the poor, and bringing Chinese cultural practices to Japan. He is called the father of Japanese culture. After his death, believers in his doctrine began a ritual of following the path he took around Shikoku in his youth as he searched for enlightenment.

Note: Kukai was born Mao Yoshimichi. He was canonized "Kobo Daishi" by the Imperial Court after his death. "Kobo" means "to spread widely the Teachings", and "Daishi" means "Great Saint". Many people refer to him affectionately as "O-Daishi-san" as if he were a friend and neighbor.

(Tea ceremony cont.)

The teacher wore an understated blue patterned kimono and had her graying hair swept up in a twist. I couldn't imagine her drunk and clutching a microphone, singing to a Beatles song. Perhaps she did not participate in these karyoke parties, but sat calmly aside to pursue her other talent of flower arranging.
We had approached the small house along raised dirt roads that ran between rice and lotus fields. The giro-giro sound of frogs accompanied us to the plain front door of the house. Inside was the public entrance, a concrete area to put your shoes before you stepped onto the hardwood hallway, which eventually took us to the small tatami room.

The beauty of the tea ceremony was, for me, its timelessness. Each student took a turn making tea, each exhibiting the same studied movements, the same turn of the wrist when folding the napkin or setting down the whisk.
I had been coached on the eating of the bean paste sweets, and the turning and admiring of the tea bowl after drinking, but I still felt large and barbaric among the small, neat, uniformly black-haired women.
I did not like the bitter taste of the thick green tea, but kept it raised to my mouth and tipped it up to sip until I had emptied the bowl. Just the week before my students had teased me into trying to perform tea ceremony. I'd spilled hot water on the table, but the only comment they had made was that the bubbles in the tea from my stirring were too small. A medium size was best, one had said.

Suzuki-san was kind to bring me to her class, and I felt welcome, especially when the teacher came out on the dusty road to wave goodbye to us. Remembering this, I feel these moments were drops of water on a strand of spider web - timeless and fleeting, mono no aware, ichi-go, ichi-e.

More to come!