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Pilgrimages---Canton to Chichibu

Pilgrimages to Kannon and Jizo Bosatsu---East and West

Mark W. MacWilliams, Author

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Brief Summary of the Project

Pilgrimages are journeys to sacred centers "out there," as Victor Turner famously defined them. This Scalar book is based upon a semester long course on Japanese Buddhist pilgrimage taught by me, Mark MacWilliams, at St. Lawrence University in the Spring of 2014. In this project I worked with twelve students to create pages about two pilgrimages--both tied to the famous bodhisattva of wisdom and compassion--Kannon (Chinese, Kuan-yin)  Bosatsu.


The first pilgrimage project was undertaken during the first half of the semester. The goal was to create a Kannon reijô or spiritually powerful place as our own junrei or pilgrimage site on campus. We also gave it a digital presence on line in the hopes of attracting pilgrims.

The class was divided into four groups (three students each for this assignment) and was due on Tuesday, March 27th. We first visited the North Country garden, and discussed its potential as a Kannon reijô, especially fuming on where the Buddhist icon should be sited, what changes needed to be made to turn the garden into a worship site, and so on. The next seven weeks were spent designing the basic elements of the site—which included carving a spiritually powerful Buddhist icon, composing an engi (or sacred story of the site), making a reijô stamp book with junrei prayers, miei (sacred images), a pilgrim’s stamp (shin) book, and amulets (omamori) for spiritual benefits (rieki, riyaku). Class readings and films helped us gain a deeper idea of what makes a spot a reijô. All groups were required to document their projects on Scalar—the class’s digital ebook about the site. This project was finished that semester--and was completed with the class's eye opening ceremony with the installation of a gorinto statue in the Japanese garden on May 1st, 2014.

The second pilgrimage project was a study of religious material culture from the Chichibu pilgrimage route. I have been traveling to Chichibu, Japan alone, with friends and with student groups for the past twenty years learning about its pilgrimage to thirty-four temples enshrining the bodhisattva Kannon. In the spring of 2014 my students had the task of learning all they could about five of its temples, and used this book to publish their findings. 

A key part of their assignment was to do a project reminiscent of Nicholas Cage's hit movie National Treasure 2004. They were given photographs of their temple, and items that I found or purchased at the site. Their task was to study these photos and items of material culture, interpreting their use and meaning in relation to the pilgrimage. I did not assist them in anyway--they had to work together and find the resources (in the library, on the Internet, or contacting specialists) to interpret the  items. They published their research here along with the photographs and sources of information that they discovered.  This created, in effect, a digital museum of the Chichibu pilgrimage of use to pilgrims and scholars alike.

Since then, this semester I taught another course entitled, Japanese Buddhist Visual culture. In this class, students build tabletop dry rock gardens, worked in the Sykes Courtyard Japanese garden on campus, made their own rakuware tea bowls and performed the tea ceremony, and created a prayer votive table (ema) for the bodhisattva Jizō,whose icon now is enshrined in the garden. These tablets were hung on our newly constructed fence (emadokoro) in the garden. Pages on this project are also listed in these pages.  

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