Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Henro Walking Staff - Kongozue

One of the important pieces of the henro kit is the kongozue, or walking staff. Kobo Daishi (774-835) is credited with founding the Shikoku henro pilgrimage. People walking the route believe they are following in his footsteps and even that, as they walk, so he walks along with them in spirit. The kongozue staff is said to be the embodiment of Kobo Daishi.

The top of the stick is covered with a colourful cloth and there is a bell attached. The bell is to remind pilgrims to stay in the moment, listening to the sound of the bell as they walk. At the end of the day, the bottom of the kongozue is carefully washed, dried and put in the tokonoma of the pilgrim's room.

As pilgrims cross bridges, they are meant to carry the stick without it making any noise on the bridge surface. Stories relate that Kobo Daishi sometimes slept under bridges during his travels in Shikoku. Pilgrims walk quietly over the bridges without tapping their sticks so as not to wake the sleeping  O-Daishi-San.

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