Train Story

On Monday, October 11, 2010, I got on a car of the Toei Shinjuku subway line at Shinjuku Station.  Just before the doors closed, a man wearing a baseball cap and thick-lensed glasses began to shout angrily and pound the end of a long pilgrim’s staff on the platform.  The top part of the staff was decorated with colorful strings and bells, and the latter jingled melodically if a bit crazily each time the man pounded his staff.  Around his neck was draped a white towel on which were printed neat rows of Chinese characters in black ink, suggestive of the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist scripture pilgrims like to chant during their long walks from temple to temple in search of salvation.  I could not understand what he was shouting.  Could it have been the mantra with which, according to Wikipedia, the Heart Sutra ends?

“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all hail!”

The juxtaposition of the baseball cap with the pilgrim’s staff, the angry shouts with the sutra towel got me to imagining Alternative Pilgrimages, where pilgrims travel not the usual established routes to the usual holy places but by routes understood only to themselves to the unholy seemingly god-forsaken places—-like subway platforms, or garbage dumps, or Home Depots, or Starbucks cafes—-where instead of chanting Buddhist sutras they shout out their complaints about everything to whoever is within earshot.  Oh what an awakening, all hail!

The train pulled out of the station, leaving the Alternative Pilgrim still pounding his staff and ringing his angry bells.


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