In 1981, my father took me and my brother to travel to Tatsuno, Hyogo prefecture in order to participate in Nenbutsu Walk in commemoration of the 850th Anniversary of the birth of Honen Shonin. This was my first travel to far Kansai and I was 10 years old. As is often the case with ministers' wives, my mother and my sister stayed home.
This walk was actually started from Tanjoji Temple, Okayama, where Honen Shonin was born in 1133. As Honen Shonin headed to Kyoto from Okayama in 1146, the destination of this walk was to Kyoto (*Honen walked to the Mt. Hiei, but this project was to go to Chion-in temple where Master passed away. )
I don't know how many days did they take to complete walking from Okayama to Kyoto, but the walk we participated in was one day walk from Tatsuno to Takasago (about 28 miles.) There were actually some people who completed in walking the whole distance, but many people like us partially participated. By the way, if you go to Kyoto from Okayama by Shinkansen, it only takes a hour now.
We arrived at hotel in Tatsuno late evening, where about 50 priests were gathered for dinner. I think there were no children except us, but I remember Jodo Shu young priests kindly spoke to us as if they knew us already during our staying. It was a huge room with tatami mat where everybody slept. It gave me a very strong impression that we were like family.
On the next day, I don't remember how early we departed to walk, but this start of walking was also my start of the chanting Nenbutsu many times. As we walked through the town, I remember some people stopped and put their hands together to chant "Namu Amida Bu" with us. Young priests actually led us to chant "Namu Amida Bu" loudly. This means, I chanted Nenbutsu and at the same time, I was listening to their reciting Nenbutsu. I never chanted and listened to Nenbutsu for such a long time. Before and after we had breaks, we recited Nenbutsu, too. So this walk was Nenbutsu, Nenbutsu, and nothing but Nenbutsu with walking.
Unfortunately, afternoon, I got blisters on my foot and they let me ride on a van which was supporting the walk. Then as we got closer to the temple in Takasago, they let me walked again. It was evening and many members were welcoming us by reciting Nenbutsu. Although I didn't complete a day walk but they kindly told me I did good job. Through this event, I realized there were quite large numbers of Japanese were followers of Nenbutsu. After picture-taking at the temple, we went to Osaka by train.
During riding upon the train, I had a mysterious experience. Although we were done with Nenbutsu walk and nobody chanted "Namu Amida Bu", I heard some people kept chanting Nenbutsu. I stood up and looked around us, but there were nobody chanting. Then my brother and father asked me, "Are you hearing Nenbutsu, too, Kosen?" Surprisingly, they were hearing Nenbutsu, too. We were not sure whether this experience was so-called auditory hallucination or not, but for us, the Nenbutsu was recognized as "real experience."
Many years later, when I was under the final training at Chion-in temple, I had the same experience. Every day was a repetition of chanting Nenbutsu, sutras, studying and prostration. Naturally we recited Nenbutsu many times for many days. And then I knew not only I but also many priests experienced to hear "Nenbutsu" during the night when nobody was reciting Nenbutsu around us. I felt security, warmness and protection from the series of voices chanting Namu Amida Bu and it was the moment I knew the existence of Amida Buddha.
Since then, I haven't had a mysterious experience but at least I know the more nenbutsu I recite, something mysterious could happen. It made me naturally believe Honen Shonin's experiences written in his diary, "Sanmai Hottokuki" were true.
Then what were his mysterious experiences? And what is "Sanmai Hottokuki"? I'm now preparing to translate and explain them in English.