Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

On the Road to Kumano – part 3 of 5

Author: Paulo Coelho

By Paulo Coelho

Leaning upon the tree

– Have you ever heard of Shugendo? I was told it is a relationship of love and pain with nature – I said to a biologist Katsura introduced me to, and with whom I was now walking in the mountains.

– Shugendo means: “the way of the art of accumulating experience” – he replied, revealing that his interests go beyond the variety of insects in the region – By disciplining one’s body to accept everything nature has to offer; in this way you will also educate your soul for that which God has to offer. Look around you: nature is a woman, and like all women, she teaches us in a different way. Lean your spine up against that tree.

He point to a two thousand year-old cedar, with a thick rope lying around it. In the local religion, everything which is circled by a rope is a special manifestation of the Goddess of Creation, and is considered a sacred place.

– Everything living contains energy, and this energy communicates. If you put your spine against the trunk, the spirit which inhabits the tree will talk to your spirit, and calm it of any affliction. Of course, as a biologist, I would say that the giving off of heat, etc… but I also know there is truth in the magic explanation of my forefathers.

My eyes are closed, and I try to imagine the sap climbing from the roots right up into the leaves, and in making this movement, causing a wave of energy affecting all around.

I hear the biologist’s voice telling me that, in the year 1185, two Samurai warriors fought a fierce battle for power in Japan. The governor of Kumano didn’t know who would win; certain that nature always has an answer, he had seven roosters dressed in red, fight against another seven dressed in white. Those in white won, the governor supported one of the warriors, and made the right choice: before long, that Samurai governed the country.

– Now tell me: do you prefer to believe that it was the governor’s support which decided the fight, or were the roosters, representing nature, a divine sign showing who would end up conquering power?

– I believe in signs – I answered, mentally leaving my comfortable vegetal state, and opening my eyes.

– The sacred journeys to Kumano began long before Buddhism was introduced in Japan; to this day there are men and women who pass on, from generation to generation, the idea that a “marriage” with everything around one must be like a true matrimony: with giving, joy, suffering, but always together. They used Shugendo to reach this total giving, without fear.

– Could you teach me a Shugendo exercise? The only one I know is to tie oneself to a rope and throw oneself against the rocks of a cliff side; frankly, I haven’t the courage for that.

– Why do you wish to learn?

– Because I always believed that the spiritual doesn’t necessarily involve sacrifice and pain. But, as someone I met on this journey said, one must learn what is necessary, not what one wishes.

– Each of us does the exercise which Earth asks of us; I know a man who climbed and descended, a thousand times, for a thousand days, a mountain near here. If the Goddess wants you to practice Shugendo, she will tell you what to do.

He was right. The next day, it came about.

(continued tomorrow)

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