Compelled to seek something more than what modern society has to offer, Robert Sibley turned to an ancient setting for help in recovering what has been lost. The Henro Michi is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. It consists of a circuit of eighty-eight temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Every henro, or pilgrim, is said to follow in the footsteps of Kōbō Daishi, the ninth-century ascetic who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Over the course of two months, the author walked this 1,400-kilometer route (roughly 870 miles), visiting the sacred sites and performing their prescribed rituals.Although himself a gaijin, or foreigner, Sibley saw no other pilgrim on the trail who was not Japanese. Some of the people he met became not only close companions but also ardent teachers of the language and culture. These fellow pilgrims’ own stories add to the author’s narrative in unexpected and powerful ways. Sibley’s descriptions of the natural surroundings, the customs and etiquette, the temples and guesthouses will inspire any reader who has longed to escape the confines of everyday life and to embrace the emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of a pilgrimage.
Sibley shows vividly how this extraordinary pilgrimage can grip even the most agnostic participant. The book says a lot about how deep-binding friendships can be made on the road, and how important the sense of karma can be for those who have walked--and suffered--together. It also shows how pilgrimages are never over, but are often just the start of something else.
In this wise and compassionate book, Sibley vividly captures life on the Buddhist pilgrim's road of Shikoku, Japan. As we walk beside him through these pages, we hear of the origins of the sacred route, its history, and its rituals. More important, though, Sibley's trials and triumphs, his sorrows and joys, with those of his fellow travelers met on the journey, teach us volumes about how to care for ourselves and others as we sojourn through life.
Sibley's acute psychological observations are interwoven not only with vivid details but historical and cultural contexts of the ancient Shikoku pilgrimage. Throughout his journey, Sibley asks himself—and the travelers he meets—why walking the path is important. While he finds no one answer, this accomplished narrative demonstrates that the impulse to seek inner change through a physical journey, if mysterious, is enduring.
Robert C. Sibley is an award-winning Senior Writer at the Ottawa Citizen, an Adjunct Professor in political science at Carleton University, and the author of The Way of the Stars: Journeys on the Camino de Santiago (Virginia).