The Monkey

May 1

I had set my alarm but was awake about 5:10am, 20 minutes before the alarm was due to go off. I had to lift the covers to check it was really me who was awake, voluntarily, at this time that was still too early to be called morning.

I quickly brushed my teeth in the basins at the end of the hall, then got dressed for the morning worship at 6:00.

Today felt like the official first day of my Pilgrimage and I planned to go back to Kobo Daishi to spend more time with him and ask his guidance on my Pilgrimage - which I hadn't got a chance to do the day before with Hiroki San The Whirlwind.
In honour of the reverence I felt, I put on my best clothes (the ones Madam Mary calls my 'Monkey' clothes) and went down to the service.

As soon as I walked in I became nauseous with the realisation how imposterous I must have looked. Me, with my clipped head in my Monk costume, quite clearly with no clue what was happening and what to do, next to some Japanese women who were dressed like tourists from Miami, bowing and offering and praying and chanting in a way I just knew they were taught in the womb from the moment of conception. I felt as out of place as if I was asked to burp Tupperware dressed in Dolce and Gabbana.

I sat down (I found it impossible to kneel like the Japanese did) but soon became distraught with fits of uncontrollable coughing - the very inappropriateness of them making them worse.
One of the ladies beside me compassionately rubbed my back and the spasms stopped for a while. (I realised it was the cloud of incense that was provoking them).

The Monks chanted in unison, which was captivating - when I could hear them.

It seemed to go on forever and I was doing all I could to control myself (tears of humiliation and outbursts of coughing) and just wanted to run away, and may have found an excuse to, if I thought my legs were still in the same room as me.

Finally a Monk said something and, one by one, everyone went up to an altar table in front of us (but behind the Monks) and did a ritual that I did my best to imitate when it was my turn.
Most of the Monks left then the head Monk turned around and talked for a while. I didn't know if I should bow my head in prayer or watch and listen. Thankfully I realised he was telling us the history of the Temple.

When he finished and left, another Monk came up to me and said "Follow me, please".
I had a sudden feeling of specialness until I realised he was addressing all of us, I just happened to be the closest to him.

He led us through the inner sanctum which the Monks had been chanting in and we were able to look at everything. He did his best to explain things briefly.
At one deity altar I indicated "And this...?".
He paused, obviously trying to think of the English words to explain and decided to summarise by saying simply that the Deity was 'very rich'.
Someone behind me asked him another question about the same deity in Japanese and he talked animatedly, non-stop, for 20 minutes with everyone occasionally laughing. I felt really excluded but knew it was my own fault for not putting more effort into learning Japanese, Sanskrit and the last 2,500 years of Budhist history.

He then indicated it was time for breakfast.
That I understood...

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