At the heart of the cemetery lies the Okunoin, a temple or mausoleum built over the cave where Kobodaishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, has spent the last 1,100 years in deep meditation to save this world. This is a big job and he is expected to finish it in approximately 5.7 billion years, just in time for the Miroku (Maitreya) Buddha to come to Earth and take everyone to Heaven.
Near the Gobyo bridge which leads to the temple the path becomes crowded with pilgrims and tourists.
The monastery in front of the bridge offers tourists a last opportunity stock up on prayer beads and charms, and includes a cafe where they can stop and buy refreshments.
Visitors line up to offer water to a row of bronze Buddhas. The more enthusiastic ones splash Buddha in the face, but I understand that it’s more polite to just pour the water gently.
The monks here are responsible for supporting Kobodaishi in his work. Every day they bring him bathing water and two hot meals.
Monks carry the latest meal out of the building where it is cooked. Chefs try to prepare a varied diet for Kobodaishi. Nothing is wasted; any leftovers are brought back to the monastery and consumed by the monks.
The food is first presented at the shrine of the Tasting Jizo, who will certify that it is suitable for Kobodaishi.
The Jizo having given his approval, the monks pick up the container.
And off they go across the bridge to deliver lunch.
We followed them, but this is an especially holy area where no photography is allowed. In fact we were asked to stop at an ablution basin and purify ourselves before proceeding.
The top level of the Okunoin features the famous Hall of Lanterns, which as the name suggests is lit by hundreds of ornate lanterns.
The lower level contains artwork and exhibits related to Kobodaishi. The entrance to the actual cave is concealed by screens, and we were not allowed inside. However I was permitted to touch the great man’s prayer beads, which were larger than I would have expected.
It probably wouldn’t have done us any good even if we had been allowed into the cave. Based on some of the stories that I heard, it sounds like only people who have achieved an advanced state of spiritual development can actually see Kobodaishi.