Koyasan (Mount Koya)

My last destination in Japan is Koyasan (Mount Koya), which is south of Osaka. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a major school of Japanese Buddhism and one of the few surviving esoteric buddhist branches in the world. Shingon Buddhism was introduced in Japan by Kobo Daishi, a monk who lived from 774 to 835. He centered the religion in Koyasan, and hundreds of temples have been build in this area since then.

I chose Koyasan as my last stop to have some time to read, write and reflect. Also, I wanted to experience an overnight stay at a Buddhist temple lodging where I can get a taste of a monk's lifestyle, eating vegetarian monk's cuisine and attending the morning prayer. There are about 50 temples in Koyasan that offer this service to visitors and pilgrims. I stayed at the Ekoin temple.

Instead of taking the train to the final stop (includes a cable car ride for the last mile), I got off a few stations earlier and used one of the old pilgrimage trails connecting Koyasan to the outside world. The trail is marked by stone signposts, which stand every few hundred meters along the path. The hiking trail ends at the Daimon Gate that marks the traditional entrance to Koyasan.

The site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is called Okunoin. There is the belief that Kobo Daishi didn't actually pass away, but had entered an eternal mediation for the liberation of all beings. The area directly around the mausoleum is one of the most sacred places in Japan, and is also Japan's largest cemetery, which stretches for about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the mausoleum including over 200,000 grave stones and monuments. All this is among hundreds of years old cedar trees. Amazing!

Koyasan is not a large town, but definitely rich in cultural sights. My approach was to explore the area by foot and thereby having a better chance of stumbling upon interesting places.

I stayed at guest house Kokuu for a few nights before moving to Ekoin temple. The owner Ryochi opened the place in 2012, and provides the only hostel type of accommodation in Koyasan.

My room at Ekoin was fantastic and the food exceptional (if you like vegetables). It definitely didn't feel like a simple monk's life. However, I recognized that this luxury is only offered to guests, and the monks themselves have a different (much simpler) life style.

The morning prayer in the main temple and fire ceremony were great experiences. It is interesting to see the differences in rituals and ceremonies between Buddhists and Christians. I would also like to attend a Muslim and Hindu prayer someday (the other two major world religions).

When I took a picture of a beautiful flower in the afternoon, I didn't expect that it will surprise me the next morning with showing its entire beauty.

It is in the moments of stillness when opportunities arise to think about life. I joined a meditation exercise at Ekoin, and it was very inspiring. The monk told us that meditation is not about thinking nothing, but being very conscious about the present moment. It sounds simpler than it is. Our mind constantly wants to wander around going away from the present to the past and future.

This is one of the greatest obstacles to live a more happy life in my opinion. There is only one moment that really counts: the here and now. However, past memories and future expectations are powerful forces, which often overtake our mind causing emotions (positive or negative), which hinder then to fully embrace the present moment. It is essential to learn to always accept a life situation as is, and take action if this is not what we want.

People are often busy getting to the future and thereby forgetting to live the actual moment they are in. There is a strong belief that the future is better than the present, but this can lead to a trap: waiting the entire life for a better life. It is actually a pretty stupid way of thinking, but unfortunately widely held.

I count myself to the group of over-thinkers, whose mind is often influenced by the past or future. Hence, my goal is to become more aware of the present moment. The monk said that everyone has the peace of mind, because this is how we were born, and meditation is one way to access this original state of mind.