Ryōzenji , temple number one on the Shikoku pilgrimage, is the beginning, end, and now the beginning for us. Unlike all the other pilgrimages I have done, Shikoku is a circle and people can start and finish anywhere, with the goal simply to visit all of the temples.
After reciting the Heart Sutra at 88 temples before returning to Ryōzenji, I have been thinking about the meaning of the concepts of beginning and end or start and finish. Much of the sutra, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, refutes the idea of such opposites, including birth/death, pure/impure and so on. As he explains, "In order to touch the true nature of all phenomena, we need to find a middle way between all these pairs of opposites." (The Other Shore: A New Translation of the Heart Sutra with Commentaries by Thich Nhat Hanh. )
I see this middle way in my brave students who dare to challenge our notions of gender as a solely binary male/female thing. I also seek a middle way for myself, away from my own notions of good and bad that seem to only strangle the joy out of any moment and divide people rather than connecting them.
So as we continue around the circle we are now back in Tokushima prefecture - the stage of the pilgrimage for awakening. I am smiling to myself as I write this because it certainly does seem that I am aware of how many lessons or insights I must learn only to need to relearn them again. Today, heading up to temple four, I took the same wrong road I took last time. It involved two short but very steep unnecessary climbs.
Ryōzenji is a stunning temple. The last time we were here the cherry blossoms were putting on their last show, now the trees are in full leaf.