Le Grand Détour

Le Mont Koya : une expérience spirituelle du Japon (part. 1/2)

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france_french_flag J’ouvre un oeil. J’aperçois la lumière du jour montant à travers la fenêtre du shoji (porte coulissante en bois et en papier). Première illumination du jour. Il est 6 heures du matin. On distingue une discrète activité à l’extérieur. Les moines s’affairent car la cérémonie du matin va bientôt commencer. Et nous y sommes conviés, avec la quinzaine de résidents qui, comme nous, ont choisi de passer la nuit à Kumagai-Ji, l’un des 117 temples bouddhiques en activité du Mont Koya. A l’heure dite nous rejoignons le temple de prière et nous prenons place sur des petits sièges après s’être frotté les mains avec de l’encens. Puis les moines entament une première prière, en forme de litanie, en faisant sonner une cloche et d’autres percussions. Nous sommes ensuite invités un par un à nous lever, à faire sonner la cloche, à prendre par trois fois une pincée d’encens et enfin à joindre nos mains en prière sur une corde, face aux statues. Le protocole est sérieux et chacun s’y livre dûment. Nous sommes seulement 4 touristes occidentaux, 2 couples, qui essayent de se faire discrets parmi ceux qui exercent leur foi. Le sympathique mais charismatique maître du temple vient alors nous saluer et expliquer, en japonais seulement malheureusement, l’histoire de son temple et celle du Mont Koya. J’aurais vraiment aimé en comprendre plus… Une prochaine fois ! Cette première partie terminée, nous sommes invités à nous lever et à marcher sur le traces de Bouddha, litteralement 😉 sur une plaque de marbre avec deux grandes empreintes, et nous rejoignons une autre salle pour la cérémonie du feu. Là, au rythme puissant d’un taiko (tambour japonais) l’un des moines récite une prière tandis que l’autre fait brûler des tablettes en bois dans une grande coupole jusqu’à ce que des flammes de plus d’un mètre commencent à crépiter et à nous réchauffer. Deuxième illumination. Il est 7h30, la cérémonie se termine et l’on regagne notre chambre où nous attend déjà un petit déjeuner copieux et végétalien cuisiné par les moines (cuisine shojin-ryori).

Nous avons atteint le Mont Koya la veille dans l’après-midi, après avoir pris 2 trains, un funiculaire et un bus… Oui, le plus haut lieu de la secte Shingon du Japon (qui compte plus de 4000 temples dans toute l’archipel) se mérite un peu. Et il faut encore un peu plus d’efforts pour atteindre enfin le mausolé du moine Kukai ou Kobodaishi, fondateur du bouddhisme shingon et qui choisit le site du mont Koya comme centre spirituel au 8ème siècle. Mais ces derniers efforts n’en sont pas vraiment… Ayant déposé nos sacs au temple Kumagaiji, nous pénêtrons enfin dans le cimetierre de Okuno-in. Dans nos contrées, la perspective d’une balade dans un cimetierre n’est pas vraiment enthousiasmante mais le site d’Okuno-in, classé au patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco, n’est rien de moins qu’extraordinaire. Le simple visiteur tout comme les pelerins et les moines serpentent le long d’une allée principale de 2km bordée de lanternes, à travers plus de 200 000 tombeaux, dans une forêt de grands cèdres millénaires. Splendeur, spiritualité et sérénité se côtoient durant cette déambulation quasi-mystique, seulement dérangée par quelques moustiques de passage. Ici sont enterrés de nombreuses personnages célèbres du Japon immémorial, des samouraïs aux shoguns, des trésors de la littérature aux empereurs, jusqu’aux personnalités de ce siècle. Après ce pelerinage nous atteignons enfin le mausolé de kukai et ses milliers de lanternes qui ornent l’intérieur et l’extérieur. L’encens brûle, des centaines de prières silencieuses s’envolent vers le Bouddha et des litanies plus sonores sont psalmodiées par les plus fervents. Les plus fortunés peuvent faire des dons pour disposer d’une lanterne accrochée au temple avec leurs noms et les noms des personnes décédées qu’ils sont venus prier. Pas de photo possible dans ce lieu sacré… dommage ! Souvenir d’alignements de lanternes innombrables…

De retour au temple, nous sommes attendus pour le dîner qui commence à 17h30 ! Oui, ça mange tôt les moines. Un dîner végétalien qui contient forcément un légume frit, un légume cuit et un légume mariné, ainsi que du tofu sous de nombreuses formes et des fruits. Après ce repas riche en découvertes gustatives, nous nous offrons un nouveau plaisir spirituel : une balade de nuit dans le cimetierre d’Okuno-in… Et nous nous retrouvons une nouvelle fois dans la forêt de cêdres, comlètements seuls, dans la lueurs des lanternes et les ombres des tombes. Il serait facile de se faire peur dans cette atmosphère étrange. Pour ma part je me sens calme et serein. Qu’a-t-on à craindre réellement de ces morts ? Et que nous diraient-ils ? Probablement que la vie ne dure qu’un clin d’oeil et qu’il faut savoir profiter de chaque instant. Et c’est ce que nous faisons, en composant un haiku :

Koyasan de nuit

Tous seuls entre les grands cêdres

et 200 000 âmes

english_flag On a lovely sunny afternoon (Monday 21st September) a funicular railway (the steepest in Japan) gradually brought us up to about 900m above sea level to a place called Koyasan (Japanese for Mount Koya). After a quick sprint to the only bus left in front of the station we clambered up the rear steps, each with our two backpacks on, one of our back the other on the front, onto a bus where there was standing room only. Stéphane managed to get his bags off and onto the floor before the bus started lurching round the mountain roads between the station and the town centre…with me clinging onto the back of a couple of seats, head banging in between two of the hard plastic rings that they have dangling from the roof to hold onto, trying desperately not to sway more than the 10cm that kept me from pushing my large backpack into an elderly Japanese lady’s face! Gaijin!! The problem was that the road was possibly one of the windiest roads that I have been on. So much so that they don’t let people walk along it as they will get either knocked into the ravine or squashed against the rocky wall the other side of the road. Luckily it was only a few stops before enough people got off the bus for me to be able to remove the bags and sit down…my arms tetanised with the effort!

Once arrived in Koyasan (having missed our bus stop, though not by far), we fell out of the front door of the bus with our backpacks having paid our 330 Yen each and headed to our temple. Basically most of the temples here (and there are a packet of them) now welcome tourists. It’s a good way to advertise and an even better way to earn money for the temple. We were in the Kumagaiji temple and were welcomed by a young monk who, once we’d taken off our shoes and put on a pair of slippers, led us down a maze of corridors, showering us with information until we arrived at the sliding doors of a room at the end of a corridor. The first door slid open and we were in a little wooden sas, the second door slid open and we took off our slippers to step onto the tatamis (Japanese straw mats) of our room. In the middle of the room was a wooden table and two large flat cushions, behind the table some more sliding wooden and paper doors, open this time, leading onto an outer room with “proper” chairs and a beautiful Japanese garden beyond a pair of sliding glass doors. The monk told us to make ourselves comfortable and went and bought us some tea and then explained the rules and times of certain activities, dinner this evening is served in the room at 5:30pm, the daily ceremony is held at 6:30am and then breakfast is brought to us in our room afterwards.

We could easily have lazed around and explored the temple but instead we decided to head out and over the road to the large cemetery where there are more than 200, 000 graves. There are different routes through the cemetery but we wanted to get to the Kukai mausoleum which was 2 km down the main path. As we arrived at the mausoleum a group of monks in orange passed by, their wooden sandals clip-clopping on the stone paths. The building is home to thousands of copper lanterns both inside and outside the temple. There is even a second building just next to the temple that is nearly full of lanterns too. Under the main temple there is a room that you can visit where the walls are covered in tiny models of Buddha (about 5cm tall). Each has a number and has been paid for by someone as a donation. There are some that have bracelets around their necks, I guess so that their owner can easily spot them as there are literally thousands of them. On our way back to the path back through the cemetery we passed a row of statues in front of which people had placed their prayers and wishes written on pieces of wood about 4cm wide and 25cm tall. Each statue has some water in front of it and a ladle and people queue up to throw a ladleful of water over the prayers and over the statue. Throughout the area there are hollow lanterns where you can put your burning incense sticks and there is an all-encompassing odour of incense everywhere. Needless to say, the incense sticks, candles and wooden prayer sticks are all available at a very affordable price from vendors all around the mausoleum…religion is big business, especially in Mount Koya!

Stéphane’s perfect organisation meant that we made it back to the temple about 15 minutes before dinner was due to be served. Enough time to change into our Yukatas and get settled in before the monk came with our dinner. Dinner was served on the floor, so having moved the low table from the middle of the room, the monk placed two high trays in front of each of us. Each tray contained about 6 little dishes. You’ll be able to see the photos when we publish our first Food Porn article. The food was vegan with no egg, no onion and no garlic. We even had a glass of sake 😉

In the temple the showers and communal baths (one for men and one for women) are open from 5pm to 10pm and there’s no showering in the morning! So after dinner I went to get clean and headed through the curtains into the ladies shower area, making sure to take my slippers off before stepping up into the dressing room, where once stripped naked and having put my things into one of the available baskets, I took my smaller wash towel and went into the showering area. There were 5 cleaning points each with a low plastic stool, a large plastic bowl a tap and a shower head. In one corner of the room there was a very large, steaming pool. When I went, thankfully there was no-one else in there and so I sat on my stool and filled my bucket up and threw it over my head…several times until I was wet all over. I then soaped myself and rinsed thoroughly (as you cannot go into the main bath with soap suds…it’s wrong!!). When ready I slowly got into the bath and lazed around for a little before getting bored and heading back out again. I showered again (you never know if the other guests are as thorough as you!) and headed back in to the dressing area to get back into my Yukata and socks before heading back out into the corridor (putting on my slippers) and back to the room for the night.

The ceremony

The next morning we were up before the alarm and got dressed into our normal clothes for the day (you’re not allowed to wear yukata in the temple) and headed to the temple. We took our slippers off and stepped up to be greeted by a monk who told us to take a pinch of incense and rub our two hands together. He then placed an intricately embroidered cloth necklace around our neck and gestured to where we should go and sit. When everyone was in place the monks arrived and sat down behind the separation so that we couldn’t see them. They then started their prayers/chants and we sat and listened. Personally I didn’t understand any of what was sung but I tried to meditate and, when that didn’t work, just looked at all the different decorations and objects that were in the temple. At one point one of the monks stopped chanting and came and showed us how to worship…tap the bell twice with the mallet, put three pinches of incense into the flames and then rub the cord that hangs behind the burning incense. He invited one Japanese person up to show us and then it was the gaijin (tourists’ turn). I was the first up and obviously, having never rang a bell like this before, I got it slightly wrong…my first ring was a stuttery double ring…but I prayed that nobody noticed and rushed through the rest before heading quickly back to my seat. Next up was Stéphane who was perfect…though he did make me chuckle as he had his Disneyland Paris sweatshirt on and so everyone saw PARIS written with cartoon characters on his back 😀

After everyone had completed their worship, the head monk came up to the front and chatted in Japanese to us. Most of the 15 or so people present were Japanese. He kept laughing and seemed so happy — I was gutted not to be able to understand what was being said. At the end he talked a little to us and asked where we were from and what languages we spoke and then said that the main ceremony had finished and that we could now go with the other monks to the fire ceremony in the smaller temple. So we followed the monks out, standing on Buddha’s footprints on the way out to the other temple. Here we sat on the floor and one monk lit a fire in the middle of the altar whilst the other played a beat on the taiko, occasionally ringing the bell right next to me. I did get a bit worried at one point when the flames were nearly touching the roof, but nothing was set on fire in the end 🙂

4 reflexions sur “Le Mont Koya : une expérience spirituelle du Japon (part. 1/2)

  1. Antoine

    Merci pour cet instant partagé de méditation… Dans l’hécatombe des transports en commun en région parisienne, 20 000 km plus loin 🙂

    1. Serge mulard

      Voilà un voyage qui n’est pas sans intérêt , rencontres ,monuments ,paysages ,expérience spirituelles . Tout est là pour se dire qu’il faut profiter de ces moments exceptionnels dans vos vies.Bravo les enfants.Maman et moi nous suivons votre voyage avec passion.Il faut dire que le Japon est un pays très intéressant ,ce pays nous plait encore bien plus le fait de savoir que vous êtes très bien reçu partout: C’est super.
      Grosses bises à tous les deux ,et attendons la suite avec impatience.
      Maman et papa qui vous aiment très fort.

    2. Steph Auteur de l'article

      Salut Antoine ! Merci pour le commentaire… Ah, les transports parisiens ne nous manquent pas mais alors pas du tout bizarrement 😉 Bon courage !