The layout of the Temple is
such that one makes, essentially, three ascents before reaching the Buddhas.
The First Ascent is from
street-level to the Gate of the Universal Vows. This entails 48 steps (if
you take the staircase starting on the left; 49 if on the right). It leads
from the "outside world" to just inside the "inner," and so
I have designated it "The Mundane Path." In fact, of course, you
have been on the Mundane Path since you left home; hence all the details about
focusing as you travel. But here you are on the Temple grounds, on the
The Second Ascent leads across
the parking lot and between two lions, up 16 steps, across another parking lot,
and up 25 more steps to the Front Porch of the Bodhisattva Hall. This,
then, is "The Bodhisattva Path." At the Bodhisattva Hall, you
will dedicate yourself to the Bodhisattva Way, and go into the central
Courtyard. After approaching two gardens representing Wisdom and
Compassion, you will work your way up the Courtyard to the bottom of the Third
(and last) Ascent.
The Third Ascent leads up 30
steps to the Front Porch of the Great Hall of the Precious Hero, where the
Buddhas are lodged. This is "The Buddha Path" and leads to the
final goal of your pilgrimage, the presence of the Buddhas.
On each of the three
Ascents, I will suggest a focus for your intentions as you climb. Some
pilgrims like to repeat mantras
or short prayers; I have climbed many flights of 300 (or more) rough stone steps
to reach a Buddha Hall in Japan, and always found the recitation of mantras to
be helpful. (The same is true for walking long pilgrimages.) You may
choose to walk in a natural rhythm, simply reciting as you go; or you may want
to do it more formally, stopping for one recitation on each step, treating the
steps like beads on a mala (a string of beads for recitation, often
worn around the wrist).
For this Ascent, I have
suggested "concentrating on the broad meaning of the vows on the Main
Gate." Here you are not contemplating the meaning of each Vow; you
will do that at the Gate. You are simply thinking of the "big
ideas" of Compassion, Purity, Wisdom, and Total Commitment. The
expressions given ("The Bodhisattva Path is the way of…") may be
used in place of a mantra.
Move up the driveway to the bottom of the steps; you are on the Mundane Path, before passing through the Main Gate.
As you go, you may wish to repeat a
Mantra or Intention, OR
As you ascend the stairs, concentrate on the broad meaning of the vows on the Main Gate:
The Bodhisattva Path is the way of Compassion.
The Bodhisattva Path is the way of Purity.
The Bodhisattva Path is the way of Wisdom.
The Bodhisattva Path is the way of Total Commitment.
Contemplate the meaning of these words as you approach the Gate.