Traditionally, a henro is to have four intentions for the pilgrimage, one for each of the provinces. I’ve forgotten what they all are, except the last one is nirvana. They didn’t click for me, and nirvana is a pretty high bar in any case.
My intention for Tokushima, the first province, was receive. I have spent the last 4 – 5 years at Eastside Friends of Seniors facilitating the kind acts of others. What would it feel like to be the beneficiary of other’s kind acts? I’ve written about some of them here: Mr Sato providing fresh buns when my blood sugar was in some trough; those angelic women who drove us to Shosanji. But there were also so many other kind acts — people helping especially with directions when we were lost; a postal service employee explaining all the places where there would be post offices big enough to change our money; other pilgrims and temple employees being encouraging, or giving us small treats; all those inn keepers willing to put up a couple of gaijin women, one who could barely speak Japanese, and the other, no Japanese at all.
The most challenging part of this intention came the final day in Tokushima province, with our stay in the Zenkado. For weeks, before I left, Tent City 4 was stationed right outside my office window. I saw others being the beneficiaries of other people’s religiously motivated desire to shelter and feed. This was my first time receiving the same. I am still not sure how I feel about it. In many ways I think we should have sought another set-up. We are not impoverished. If no one was willing to take on a couple of gaijins in Hiwasa, we could have gotten on the train, and gone to the next town, and maybe they would. It was pretty miserable, that icy room that we shared with Aiya.
And I think about Aiya. Walking the pilgrimage, staying in railway stations, rest huts, and Zenkado. I think of her floating in the main tub of the onzen, eyes shut, water schusting on her tired feet. If we had not been there, at the Zenkado, then she would not have had her bath. And right now, I feel like the ¥500 we spent on the fee to get her into the onzen was the best money I’ve spent on the trip.