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Having “proved” in the last three posts that imagination can help us to discover things such as Japan is a dragon (and Shikoku island its huge pearl), I can return to the bike pilgrimage I had “parked” after crossing the range of mountains that divide the main island of Japan.

Most of the population congregates on the coast bathed by the Pacific (the southern one), hence the new stage of my pilgrimage differed considerably from the northern one. Now I moved in an environment mostly urban.

My passage through the sprawled city of Osaka (the second largest after Tokyo) was especially unpleasant. The only place I could find to spend the night was a cemetery.

I set up my small camp under a Jizo Bodhisattva statue, the protector of travelers (including those on their last trip) and went to sleep.

I could rest peacefully until “something” struck me at dawn. I opened my eyes without knowing exactly what they’d meet.

After a second of terror, I managed to see the figure of an aged lady looking like anything but ghostly, who kindly hurried me to get up. Just when I had finished packing and was about to leave my “suite,” a large group of people holding buckets and brushes entered the cemetery. It turned out that was the cleaning day.

I don’t know who that lady was, but her apparition couldn’t be more timely.

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I remember the strange insight I had a night in my apartment at Nagoya, when I had to get up because of the suffocating heat of midsummer. I rested my eyes on a map of Japan I had pinned on the wall, and then turned my head to look at the other wall. I stared at an image of Kobo Daishi dressed as a pilgrim (Kobo Daishi was a medieval Buddhist monk highly revered in Japan). My thoughts stopped. I looked again at the map. I could not believe it! My mind had processed something that my intellect was unable to digest. It was a great discovery not within the reach of most people (except children, of course).

Among the creatures that inhabit the mythologies of most cultures, there are often formidable beings, hybrids between reptiles and birds, which roam the skies and oceans spitting fire from their mouths. Yes, I’m talking about dragons. I had just discovered that dragons are not fictional beings, they really exist. Where? Right under our noses! We live on dragons. The continents are a group of dragons resting in this blue pond of the universe we call Earth.

Earth-quakes are actually “dragon-quakes!”

Nonsense, is quick to judge our swollen left brain hemisphere just before eating up the right one (converted in a raising by modern education), whose last words are, “but it’s true.” Dragons live millions of years and so their movements are very slow—I should say very slow from the human point of view, since we live less than what it takes them one breath.

Japan is a baby dragon, hence its remarkable seismic activity.

Would you like to see it? Then open a page with the geography of this country and cock your head to the left (or look at the map above). The island at the left (Kyushu) is its head, the central island (Honshu) is the body, and the island at the right (Hokkaido) is the tail. The string of islands stretching from its mouth are, logically, a breath of fire (that’s why it’s so hot in Okinawa!). The mountain range that runs from one end to another is its powerful spine. In the back of the dragon we can even see its budding wings, and joining the belly are two powerful peninsulas: the muscular hind legs. Amazing, isn’t it?

If so, what is Shikoku, the most sacred island of the archipelago, located on the chest of the dragon? The answer was the insight I had that night, while contemplating the picture of Kobo Daishi. I reveal it in Nippon Dragon.

I’ll never forget a winter retreat at a Soto Zen temple in the northern prefecture of Niigata, both because of the participants and the circumstances. The abbot was a huge dragon-like monk with the hairline on the forehead forming a sharp peak at the center who said to me that getting into a small glass container was an easy feat. One of his brothers was an extremely candid plump deity-like guy. The only occupation of his son, [1] and equally dragon look-like guy, was waiting to inherit the temple, and to introduce large amounts of food in his skinny body.

My meditation mates were a titan-like karate fighter whose mouth looked like an unhealed stab wound, a heavenly general-like man of very short stature who monopolized all conversations with authoritative voice and a fuss of arms that lacked the elbows, a student of simian movements, a very fat ghost-like guy who the last night got drunk and would not let sleep anyone with his yelling, and two dark men of evil faces who, during the ten minutes between each break between the meditation periods, they dashed into the only heated room to smoke, drink sake, and to laugh maliciously.

At the conclusion of the one week meditation retreat, it would be held a celebration with all kind of foods, specially generous in sushi and beer. At the height of the grotesque, we were joined by a witch-like woman of an age somewhere in between fifteen and seventy years old, who danced around and ended up cuddling with the titan.

I suspect the only reason I participated in such a zoo did not go beyond the need for a human specimen to complete the album of all possible forms of existence (gods, dragons, titans, harpies, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings).

The only “normal being” was a slender and diligent boy whose duties ranged from preparing the meals to cleaning up, or to appease the ghost. Moreover, he provided me with a separate room so I could avoid the atmosphere full of smoke and noise, and took good care that I had enough vegetarian food or an extra blanket in my unheated room. Would he be the specimen of the bodhisattva?

[1] In the late nineteenth century, during the imperial period known as Meiji, for the sake of the “country’s modernization,” celibacy was banned in Japan by decree, as a result of which, today, Japanese monks are mostly married.

The Kalachakra ceremony lasted one week.

Every evening we returned to the hostel to have dinner and sleep. The views over Gangtok were spectacular. Its poor public lighting, with frequent blackouts of entire neighborhoods, looked like a network of bright beads floating on the valley.

One of those evenings, while chatting in the terrace with a couple of Dutch people, a huge cloud began to develop over the valley till making a perfect dragon with every detail. The four of us were amazed. Checking that I was not the only crazy guy who sees dragons in the clouds produced me a secret satisfaction.

My friend decided to return to the capital before the conclusion of the ceremony for exploring the possibility of enrolling in one of the alpine expeditions. I preferred staying at Rumtek until the end of the week. He would not stay for the climax of the ceremony, when the mandala is destroyed.

The high ranked-monk (lama) grabbed a liturgical device with the shape of a three-dimensional eight called vajra (literally lightning), and drew a line in the sand from the east side to the center of the mandala. Immediately after, his aides destroyed the ephemeral work of art piling the sand at the center. All the monks approached to shower a pinch of the sacred sand on top of their heads.

I watched spell-bounded the whole process from my dark corner. Once every monk was anointed, the lama gestured with his hand towards me. I was being invited to the “sandy baptize.” With the last of the pinches of sand still on my balding top, I returned to the hostel, happy and grateful.

The equivalence between cosmic cycles and those ruling human lives is the Kalachakra motif, one of the subjects that I have studied more deeply. There is great wisdom in the Kalachakra ceremony, deeper than we can fathom with our limited intellects. We modern and postmodern people use only our rational minds to analyze such rites, which necessarily concludes in labeling them as superstition. Too bad.

I’m afraid our society is not becoming wiser, but the opposite. We are losing the real wisdom of our ancestors, substituted by technological products that make life more comfortable but, unfortunately, more disconnected from its real purpose.

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"Manuel Vega has written an extraordinary book. He has turned history upside down. I strongly recommend this book."
–Gavin Menzies, author of 1421 and The Lost Empire of Atlantis

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Sailors of Stonehenge