On the road to Kumano – part 5 of 5

By Paulo Coelho

The monk and the message

We are in a private part of a Buddhist temple. We can hear a monk singing, praying out loud, playing a percussion instrument. I recall the other times I practiced Shugendo during the previous days: walking with no coat in sub-zero temperatures, staying awake for a whole night, keeping my forehead pressed against the rough bark of a tree, until the pain managed to anesthetize its own self.

During the whole journey, people said the monk now facing me and reciting prayers, is the greatest Shugendo specialist in the region. I try to concentrate, but eagerly await the end of the ceremony. From there we go to another building, from which I can make out a giant waterfall flowing down the mountain – 134 meters tall, the highest in Japan.

To my surprise (and to all those present), the monk is holding three books written by me, and asks me to autograph them. I take the opportunity to ask him for permission to record our conversation. The monk, who never stops smiling, says yes.

– Was it the hardships on the road to Kumano which created Shugendo?

– It was necessary to understand the nature which forced man to dominate pain and go beyond his limits. One thousand three hundred years ago, a monk who had difficulties concentrating discovered that weariness and overcoming physical obstacles can help one meditate. The monk walked the road until his death, climbing and descending mountains, staying out in the snow without warm clothes, entering the waterfall every day in order to meditate. Since he became an illuminated man, people decided to follow his example.

– Is Shugendo a Buddhist practice?

– No. It is a series of exercises of physical resistance, which help the soul walk together with the body.

– If one could sum up what Shugendo and the road to Kumano mean, in one sentence, what would that sentence be?

– Those who do physical exercise, gain spiritual experience, provided their minds are fixed on God while making the highest demands on their bodies.

– Up to what point is physical pain important?

– It has a limit. Once the threshold of pain is crossed, the spirit is strengthened. The desires of everyday life lose their meaning, and man is purified. Suffering comes from desire, not from pain.

The monk smiles, asks whether I’d like to see the waterfall close up – and with that I understand that our conversation is over. Before leaving, he turns to me:

– Do not forget: seek to win all your battles, including those you fight against yourself. Do not fear the scars. Do not be afraid of victory.

The following day, as I am about the embark, Katsura – the young 29 year-old woman who has been with me since my first day in Kumano – shows up at the airport and hands me a small manuscript written in Japanese, with some historical facts about Kumano. I lower my head and ask her to bless me. She doesn’t hesitate for one second: she says a few words in Japanese, and when I look up, I see on her face the smile of a young woman who chose to be a guide on a road no one knows, who learned to dominate a pain which not everyone senses, and who understands that the path is taken by walking, and not by thinking about it.

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  1. Agnieszka says:

    Oh Annie..
    how high we can fly? is there the end?
    not in our minds or hearts, but in reality…?
    can we really go far, not looking for the consequences?

    sending love to you always

  2. Agnieszka says:

    When you fly like a bird
    higher and higher,
    where is the end?
    are you..tired?
    where the thought ends?
    and where it begins?

  3. Agnieszka says:

    “suffering comes from desire…”
    I wander why in some of us so many wishes, dreams, so many desires? Why like simple people, not to be happy with what you have? Why want more, why make yourself feel this anxiety, this..pain?
    Does it make us more..motivated, more enthusiastic?
    I don’t know, maybe, but also, more hungry, for…life? sounds good, but in practice, brings..yes,..the suffering.
    So what to do, give up? or go on being endlessly hungry? where would you end up?
    Hmm…I guess that’s how we got created, so it must have a sense in it.


  4. vishesh says:

    thank you for sharing your experience sir :)

  5. Tania says:

    I understand that it is also about overcoming the battles with in ourselves that we place upon selves due to many experiences ,be it fears ,phobias or guilt .Once you go beyond the limit although painful ,joy is awaiting you ..the burdens and battles are overcome freedom and pure will strength have been achieved through victory .I have watched this with my daughter Kathleen on school camps that psychically demanded her to be pushed out of her comfort zone and face long walks,treks and ab sailing ,rock climbing whilst carrying back packs and so forth …she would be very anxious about it and terrified but once she did it one time she has not looked back ,although she returned with straighter back and looking different the inner will was transformed,she spoke up found her voice and became stronger on the inside so it amazing to watch in someone and see if first hand .Thanks enjoyed these 5 stories on the road ..blessings Tania

  6. Agnieszka says:

    ” Do not forget: seek to win all your battles, including those you fight against yourself. Do not fear the scars. Do not be afraid of victory”

    Yes…we are always afraid; of tomorrow, of pain, of dying, we are even afraid…of love.
    But why? There are nothing…we can avoid, everything was written before, everything comes from God…
    then… whatever shows up in our life…we should embrace,
    the pain, the unknown, life,.. love,
    only then we can be …free, only then our heart…can touch…heaven, only then our eyes can smile, only then our soul has no limits, and it can…see God.