There is in
The term "Henro" 遍路 (へんろ) means as well the pilgrimage itself as the person who does it. The way is called Henromichi 遍路道 (へんろみち).
This pilgrimage is quite comparable with the
Way of St
The pilgrimage of
Kûkai(空海 くうかい) (= Koubou Daishi 弘法大師 こうぼうだいし)
Kûkai (whose posthumous Buddhist name
Daishi) (774 - 835) is a Buddhist monk, founder of Shingon Buddhism. He
He was born in
He returned to
His tomb is in the Oku No In 奥の院 おくのいん temple in Koyasan. The faithful ones think that it is there always in meditation. Million of Japanese came to put their tomb close to him, along a one mile road under hundreds of year old cryptomeres . It is a much attended place of pilgrimage, seat of the Shingon school.
He received 100 years after the posthumous title of Koubou Daishi (Daishi = Great Master, Koubou = Transmitter of the Law). Employed alone, the term Daishi (great Master) in
The pilgrimage of the 88 temples of Shikoku can start in Koyasan, but is often finished there, by a last visit to Kûkai (behind the Okunoin Touroudou temple), and a last stamp of Oku No in.
For the monotheist religions, the world was
God and thus has a goal to reach. All the History of the humanity aims
towards this goal. The western atheists transformed it into
"progress", but the principle stays.
A Christian pilgrimage thus is a walking towards a final goal: we go to Compostela or to
The oriental do not see the world on the road towards a brilliant future, but cycles which start again to infinity: the pilgrimage of
The Indian religions invented
- the notion of individual soul, God's drop in man ("Tat tvam asi = you are It"), taken by Greek and Christians.
- reincarnations according to acts in the previous lives, an idea taken by the Buddhism.
The idea of reincarnation which New Age finds nice (we live again, fine!) it is a disaster for the Hindus and the Buddhists (we return to suffering, to the " outside darkness " as we would say).
For the original Buddhism, the notions of creation, soul or gods are not significant (it is the spirit which is reincarnated), and we still wonder if it is a philosophy or a religion. Some spoke of a religion of the atheists or about simple techniques of meditation (as often the Zen in West).
It looks for a solution to the problem of the life of man in the existing universe. His purpose is to go out of the cycle of reincarnations undergone by the man because of its ignorance and of its acts. The suffering comes from the desire: if we get rid of desire, we can arrive at the illumination, reach the nirvana (total liberation of the suffering and absolute truth) and become an awaken Buddha. A boddhisattva puts off the moment of the total awakening to remain to help the people. There is a worship for the Buddhas or boddisattvas, but they are in original Buddhism not considered as gods, rather as saints or angels who can help to progress. The "deity" is a representation of a quality. We don't worship a Buddhist statue, we just come to see that quality it represents (virtue, goodness, compassion,...) and seek the assistance of this "deity" to achieve this quality.
There are 2 forms of Buddhism:
- Hinayana (small vehicle) or Theravada, widespread in India, Ceylon, Thailand…
Only the monks can reach the Awakening, the others only a reduction in the suffering.
- Mahayana (large vehicle),
All can reach the Awakening.
Vajrayana is part of Mahayana. Syncretism with the local religions (Shinto in Japan) thus more “divinized” way, with representations of Buddhas and boddhisattvas which are almost “divinities” (Dainichinyorai, Amida, Kannon, Fudomyou…).
Buddhism was introduced in
Thereafter, the other branches of the Mahayana
were introduced in
- Pure Ground (Jôdo by Honen 1175, Jôsdoshin by Shinran 1284), centered on Amida, “divinity” living in the paradise of the West and on the boddhisattva of the compassion Avalokiteshvara, changed in woman: Kannon. It is enough to repeat mantra “Namu Amida Butsu” to be saved in Jôdo, and even nothing to do in Jôdoshin. The school of Nichiren in 1253 only requires to repeat the title of Sutra of the Lotus “Namu myoho renge kyo”.
- Zen (1191) puts the emphasis on direct Awakening by meditation, Rinzai by Eisai (1191) especially based on the koans (enigmas) and Soto by Dogen (1227) especially based on the zazen (sitting meditation).
You will find the basics of Shingon on the french Komyo-in website, shingon an Koyasan websites:
Komyo-in (french) Komyo-in (english) (a little different, look at both)
Fiona MacGregor wrote a thesis on pilgrims motivations.
Most of the henros (83 %) are going around by bus, car, taxi.
I'll speak here only of hikers (about 11%).
- Most are over 50, strangers are younger
- 18% women
- A lot walk only a few days
- 21% walk the way to the temples of Tokushima-ken (number 1 to 23) without to go farther, like most of Compostela pilgrims are only going from Le Puy to Conques in France
- 33% are going around in one time
- 1% ids going around the 88 temples + return at number1
Although Kûkai is the saint of Shingon, religion is varied:
- 33% Jôdo shin (Amida)
- 19% Shingon
- 17 % no religion (hiking)
Half of the strangers was "without religion", the rest christian or buddhist.
Richard Barber studied christian and non-christian pilgrimages, he classifies pilgrims in 3 groups:
- by religious devotion
- to "find a solution for a secular problem"
- from curiosity or "love of travel"
The motivations of the henro in MacGregor' study are, in order of frequency:
- Pilgrimage for ancestors, family or after a death
- Harmony with nature, health
- Faith or asceticism (= religious motive)
- Self discovery
- History and culture
- Curiosity, travel
Other paths of pilgrimage
Some years ago, I discovered the paths of
while walking a part of Kumano Kodo to join small onsens over Kumano.
accessible, but there is less accommodation than in
Kumano trails are rather related to Shinto, but they link Ise (Shinto main shrine), or Koyasan (center of Shingon Buddhism) to Kumano which was a place of syncretism between the two religions (shinbutsu shugo). Nowadays, it's more a hiking trail than a pilgrimage. Pilgrims in white cloth are a minority, you will meet most people hiking with mountain gear for 2 - 3 days or going back to seaside hotel every day.Kumano Tanabe website
Kii peninsula paths 2
** A way " Sankeimichi Kohechi " goes from Kumano to Koyasan, a little steep, but in the middle of nowhere.
** A way " Omine Okugakemichi " goes from Yoshino to Kumano, with passages at 2000 metres. It is a way known for the ascetic practices of the Shugen school. A part of 65 km in 4 days is described in Lonely Planet " Hiking in
** The main way " Kiji " is described by the author of Chonta Web which has once more anticipated us: the first part of its trip in Kinki is made on the main way which went from
Chonta web Kinki
** " Sankeimichi Iseji " Way goes from Ise to
** Kumano Hongu english website
Nearer for Europeans, pilgrimage to Compostela on the Way of St James is also an occasion to practice an active meditation. The increase of the number of pilgrims since a dozen year shows the need of a pilgrim to discover nature, or getting a deeper understanding of oneself, far from the excitement of the world and the consumer society.
The European are more familiar with the
religion, which is often theirs even if they might forgotten it, and
go ahead into the pilgrimage, without the needing of preparation. Earth and
are still familiar to them and there is always a road which begins
near home to go to
Confraternity of St James (UK)