Enrich the Senses and Spirit with a Waterfall Meditation at Konjiji
Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world attempt the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage either in part or in whole. However, the region boasts more sacred sites than just those temples. There is a list of 36 sacred sites in Shikoku dedicated to Fudo Myo-o, a Buddhist deity. Site number 12 on this list is at Konjiji, a small mountain temple of the Shingon sect that offers spectacular views and a rare opportunity to experience waterfall meditation. Known as taki-gyo, this type of meditation has for centuries been an important Buddhist practice as a way to purify the mind and the body. These days, anyone who is interested in attempting this rigorous training is welcome.
At Konjiji, adventurous souls meditate under Konji Waterfall, which flows down a 40-meter-high rock face. The cool air here feels different — almost otherworldly — and feels isolated from the world outside. Many years ago the trail here was the only route to Konjiji and pilgrims would purify themselves under the waterfall before scaling the mountain to reach the temple. These days there is a paved road on the other side of the mountain, so pilgrims stop by the temple first and are then accompanied down to the waterfall for the meditation.
The Waterfall Meditation Experience: An Introduction
Buddhist monk Yoshimichi Kume led us to a lounge area and briefly outlined the experience for us: we would take part in a Buddhist ceremony inside the temple, then hike down the path to the waterfall for the meditation practice itself. He explained the mantra we were to repeat and showed us how to perform the kuji-in (nine hand seals) that would help us focus. As first-timers, there was no way we would remember it all so we were advised to simply follow his lead and try our best when the time came.
After filling out our personal details (both for insurance purposes and the ritual), Kume offered the option of filming the experience for us on his GoPro (at no extra cost). Given the moderate difficulty of the path to the waterfall we agreed to have him film for us. It would also allow us to avoid distractions ahead of the main event.
Next, Kume led us into the main hall of the temple for a Buddhist ceremony. We sat in seiza (a formal way of sitting on your knees — this is not required if you find it difficult) and rubbed zukou incense powder over our hands to purify them. The fragrance enveloped the room as Kume performed a ritual that introduced us to Kongo Zao Daigongen (the principal deity of Konjiji, known colloquially as Gongen-san) and asked for protection for our journey.
The Trail to Konji Waterfall
Finally, it was time to head out into the woods. We pushed through the underbrush, taking care not to slip on the muddy leaves underneath. At one point there was a steep incline, requiring us to navigate the bare rock face with both hands and feet. Those feeling brave can climb up a narrow ladder to reach a high point — we declined, and moved straight to the waterfall.
We changed into the traditional white robe customary for this ritual in the open air next to a small temple structure by the waterfall. (Those changing will have privacy on one side of the temple while others in the group wait on the other side.) This is where Fudo Myo-o, the protector of all living things, is enshrined. Kume led a mantra using the kuji-in here, and it was finally time for the main event: the waterfall meditation.
The True Waterfall Medication Experience
It was impossible to imagine what to expect in advance. With the first step into the water, the ice-cold water cascading from 40 meter above literally took our breath away. We leaned against the rock behind us for support, shivering from the shock of the weight of the water pounding down on our heads more than the cold water itself. Though most of the time was spent trying to stay standing and not chicken out, we had brief moments of insight where it seemed like we could feel everything — every hair on our body, every nerve in our system. It was, in every way, both a spiritual and physical experience. The meditation only lasted 10 minutes but felt both like an eternity and too short at the same time.
While we can’t say we reached a state of enlightenment (a tall order for a beginner anyway), we did experience many other things: the pride of pushing through physical discomfort, the natural beauty of the woods and waterfall, a stronger knowledge of ourselves, our limits and what’s important to us. After the meditation, our bodies and spirits felt lighter and free — climbing the mountain back to the temple was a cinch. We were so elated, we were ready to book our next trip to Konjiji right there and then.
Watch this video to get an idea of the difficulty of the route to the waterfall: https://youtu.be/2kXc_3oxuhU
Where: Konji-230 Nyuta-cho, Tokushima Prefecture
How to get here: The temple can be a little tricky to get to for first timers as the satellite navigation in rental cars can lead you down tiny farm roads. For an easier route, turn off the main road when you see a sign for Kamiyama Shinrin Koen. Then follow the signs for Konjiji.
When: Reservations are required, ideally at least two weeks in advance. Allow at least 1.5 hours for the experience.
How much: ¥5,000 per person (includes GoPro footage)
What to bring: Wear loose fitting, clothing you don’t mind getting dirty and sturdy shoes. If you don’t want to be completely bare under the traditional white robe, bring a change of underwear or wear a swimsuit underneath. The temple provides both towels and the robe, but bring an extra wrap if you have long hair.