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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 8 42 Struggling with the backpack and duffle bag that contained all my worldly possessions, I exited the upper station and splurged on a taxi. Soon I had my first glimpse of the town of Koyasan and the temple where I would begin the hundred days of training to become a Shingon priest. The town of Koyasan is nestled in a small mountain val- ley, surrounded by five peaks, and is home to the main lineage of Shingon Buddhism, the Chuin-ryu. At one end of town is the Great Gate (Daimon), which seemed to be perpetually under reconstruction while I was training on the mountain. As is commonly the case in Japanese Buddhism, the Great Gate marks the boundary between the outer world and the domain of practice, or the domain of at least mak- ing a serious attempt to pay attention to the reality of the dharma. Although the Great Gate was traditionally the main entryway into Koyasan, today most travelers come via the rail and cable-car line, and the station is located on a differ- ent side of town. In the middle of the town is the Garan, a large complex of buildings that includes the Golden Hall (Kondo) and the Great Stupa (Daito). The Garan as a whole serves as the central ritual space for Koyasan. Close by is the head temple, called Kongobu-ji. This is the ecclesiastical and administra- tive center for the Chuin-ryu lineage. At the far end of town is Kukai’s mausoleum. Opposite the Garan is Yochi-in, the temple where Rev. Miyata sent me to study under the guidance of Rev. Chisei Aratano. There are two large temples specifically devoted to training, Senshugaku-in and Shinbe-sho. However, temples with properly qualified leadership may also undertake the individual training of priests. With two generations of mas- ters who have served in the United States, Yochi-in was an ideal site for study. Indeed, Yochi-in continues to have an active commitment to training foreign priests; in addition to Bishamonten (Jpn., Tamon-ten) Kamakura period, Japan two people get off or on, or perhaps in the late afternoon a few students reading manga (comic books) coming home with their back- packs and school uniforms. The end of the line is known as Gokuraku bashi station—the “Bridge to the Land of Bliss,” referring to the old idea that Koy- asan is Amida’s Pure Land, Sukhavati, here on earth. This station is on an old pilgrims’ trail that led to the mountain, and at this site there is a bridge over a stream, where pilgrims left the world of defilements and entered the world that purifies. Hastening through the station, one next boards a cable car that climbs the side of the mountain, often through fog, that af- fords occasional glimpses of massive trees and forests. On my first trip I felt like I was back home in California, but then I real- ized these were not redwoods but Japanese cypress, and the underbrush was bamboo. The actual training to become a priest includes four parts: the practice in eighteen stages, Vajra World practice, Matrix World practice, and the fire ritual. SanjuSangendoTemPle