Gordon:  Temple 27 is a henro-korogashi temple located near the top of a mountain and accessed by a spur road 3.2 kms in length.  Ruth had been advised that the access road was too steep to cycle, so we both left our baggage at our accommodation at the foot of the mountain and walked up relatively unencumbered.  It was a pleasant walk, past greenhouses growing eggplants, and on into the forest.  The access road was indeed too steep for a bike, exceeding a 15% grade at times.  It would have been terrifying to come down, not to mention brutally difficult to climb up.

Temple 27 is the spiritual checkpoint temple for Kōchi prefecture.  Each of the four prefectures has such a temple, where Kōbō Daishi examines a pilgrim’s spiritual motives and decides whether he or she will be permitted to continue.  A story is told of a female pilgrim who had assisted in the murder of her husband.  When she arrived at Temple 19, the spiritual checkpoint temple for Tokushima prefecture, her hair became entwined in the temple bell rope.  She acknowledged her sin and spent the rest of her life as a nun.  Her hair is still displayed at Temple 19.
We have already passed the spiritual checkpoint at Temple 19, and things seemed to be trending in the same direction at Temple 27.  However, on the ascent Ruth picked up a walking stick to assist her with the climb.  A staff is considered to be a manifestation of Kōbō Daishi, travelling with a pilgrim and assisting him or her.  They are treated with great respect.  What can we conclude, therefore, when Ruth’s walking stick broke on the descent?  My theory is that Kōbō Daishi feels that Ruth is so close to enlightenment that she no longer needs his assistance.  On the other hand, perhaps Ruth did not pass the spiritual test.  I think we will opt for the former interpretation, unless a less ambiguous sign is sent in the form of a broken leg or a bent bicycle.  I certainly hope that is not the case, as I would be distraught to lose Ruth to a convent.

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