Our lunch and shopping done, we continue the ascent of the broad avenue toward Tanigumi Kegonji temple. We can’t see our way ahead for the canopy of green leaves—which are a cloud of pink sakura in spring. Even when the pathway becomes a long flight of stairs, nothing at the top is visible until we stand right before the ancient temple gate.
After we enter the temple we light incense in the large cauldron, throw our coins into the box, offer prayers, take a look at the Buddha behind a low wooden barrier and poke about the various stands selling talismans and souvenirs. My friend says something I can’t understand, but I sense he is ready to leave.
Something nags in the back of my mind: There has to be more than this. All that skin-tingling earlier wasn’t about tchotchkes—even ones that have been blessed. Stalling, I ask whether we are allowed to go past the barrier for a closer look at the Buddha and the altar. Of course. Let’s go.
We mount the steps and my friend pays an old monk who sits off to the left, then he urges us to follow him. Not only am I confused as to why he has to pay to see the statue up close (I wouldn’t have asked if I’d known), but I’m also distracted. We haven’t even had a good look at the statue and now we’re leaving just as numerous monks about to pray have taken their places before the Buddha. More than anything, I’d love to pause to listen awhile first. What is the immediate rush?
I motion for my companions to go first. Then I shuffle along as slowly as I can and crane my neck for a good look at the monks to delay my descent down a set of wooden steps over which a dim light bulb hangs.
The moment my right foot hits the top step, gongs sound and the monks begin to chant. Everything vibrates with energy like a rocket lifting off.
This is it!
This is what the earlier prickling—which has returned with the chanting—was about. I understand, now, why I have been brought to this place. Like Rilke’s Orpheus, I am about to descend into the underworld.