The act of Pilgrimage: How does that Idea Relate to Us Urban, Modern-day People of the 21st Century?
A pilgrimage is defined as a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance and is most often carried out to a place of spiritual importance. Nowadays, many people associate the act of performing a pilgrimage as something that people used to do back in the Middle Ages. Or what we witness to this present-day in the Himalayan region; Pilgrims and worshippers traveling to remote caves, far-off lakes and desolate mountains, or to Lhasa, which is seen as a holy city, in search of progressing on the path to awakening? So does this act in any way relate to us urban, modern people, who live very different lives, without necessarily being connected to a spiritual dimension? And what value would it bring to our lives, if we were to embark on such a pilgrimage journey?
From my own experience through the past 4-5 years of guiding groups in the Himalayas, most specifically to Tibet and Nepal, I have witnessed how peoples – without any prior – necessarily spiritual – connection step into monasteries, or stand in front of the Jowo inside the Jorkhang of Lhasa, and are deeply moved to tears. Without being able to explain why. How is that possible, when we have grown up in such vastly different cultures, with such different imprints and reference-points? It is said that because there has been such a powerful accumulation of positive aspirations and prayers throughout time, prayers such as “may all beings have happiness and its causes, and may all beings be free from suffering and its causes”, it is said that these places have a strong potency in connecting you to your nature, to your innate wisdom, love and compassion. This is what makes these places sacred. It is as if there is an unraveling of layers that takes place, as if you are stripped naked to yourself and to your innate, inherent positive qualities. This experience can feel very raw. And quite life changing, really.
Motivation as an Important Foundation for Pilgrimage
According to the great Tibetan master, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, the right motivation for going on a pilgrimage is to develop love, compassion, devotion, and a genuine sense of renunciation. In this way, you should make the wish that with this journey you are about to embark on, may it remind you of the great, noble enlightened qualities of the Buddha, and ultimately your own inherent nature. Like this, it is said that you will accumulate merit, and purity defilements of the mind, derived from negative emotions and thoughts that we ourselves create.
So does going on a pilgrimage journey have any relevancy for peoples like us, living in the ‘modern world’? Yes, I strongly believe so. Regardless of whichever path you are on in life, be it a spiritual path, a professional, career-oriented path, or an atheistical path, there is a certain experience of coming closer to oneself, to becoming more mindful and aware of one’s own mind and its functions. Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho points out, “the two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment, and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter”. This holds true especially when we are challenged by the outer environment that we are in. Usually, places of pilgrimage are not always fancy and comfortable! And this is where we can start noticing the mind and how we relate to phenomena around us. Looking at your mind in this raw and naked way will give you many tools to handle situations in your daily life. Like for example, applying mindfulness when sitting in a meeting. As much as you are following the conversation around you, simultaneously, you also have a certain awareness of what is happening in your own mind. This creates a tremendous sense of space, and you are less likely to get too caught up in what is happening in your life. So try it for yourself. Try to explore this incredible inner, as well as outer journey, which is the pilgrimage journey and see how it affects your relationship to yourself, and the world around you.
For further reading on this topic, please go here: http://www.lionsroar.com/make-the-most-of-your-pilgrimage/