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Ascetic Under a Waterfall

The tranquil Japanese island of Shikoku, far from the frenzy of Tokyo and Osaka, is the perfect place for a pilgrimage. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the 750-mile route once traveled by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism. The path leads through verdant mountain villages, along beaches, and down major highways.

On my second pilgrimage, as I climbed to the Temple of the Blue Dragon, I came across this ascetic. He was practicing misogi, an ancient form of purification. By subjecting oneself to increasing hardships and remaining focused and relaxed, it is believed one can become detached from the bonds that prevent enlightenment. The ascetic was unaware of my presence as he chanted under the freezing mountain water.

As you walk the Shikoku pilgrimage, life quickly becomes simple. Necessities are reduced to shelter, food, water, and companionship. My photography on Shikoku, and in subsequent journeys around Asia (some of it posted at ichigoichie-wanderings.blogspot.com), has aimed to capture life unobstructed—to show the meaning of life for each person without the weight and distraction of society.

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