Being on Pilgrimage

On his spiritual quest Siddhartha Gautama wandered many years in Northern India to spend time with teachers and even after his Great Awakening, the Buddha remained a mendicant. Towards the end of his life the Buddha said to Ananda: “There are these four places that can be seen, that produce enthusiasm, Ānanda, …“ : Lumbini (Siddhartha’s place of birth), Bodh Gaya (Great Awakening), Sarnath (The Wheel of Dharma in motion) and Kusinārā (death or Great Emancipation of the Buddha).

One could say that making a pilgrimage to one of the four sites to pay homage to the Buddha is like visiting the Buddha. A pilgrimage is a counterpart to having an altar in our house. When we have an altar, we invite the Buddha into our house and make offerings. When we go on a pilgrimage, we go to visit the Buddha and make offerings. 

Places of pilgrimage are special places on this earth. Extraordinary things have happened there - a Great Awakening or the birth of a saint, miracle healings or other things that transcend our everyday consciousness. Later, pilgrims started to come, and their spirit adds to the energy of the place. One can literally feel the generations of sangha. 

In the course of my life, I have made several pilgrimages to holy places and travelled afar to spend time with teachers. Devoting myself to these dream-like journeys, spending time on sacred grounds, maybe in a monastery, worshipping the Buddha, studying the Dharma in the presence of a teacher, all this is deeply meaningful and inspiring to me. There usually is an intuitive call to set-out for a pilgrimage and the faith to follow it. 

Pilgrimages are not holidays. Pilgrimages are demanding. They can bring out many precious sides in our minds, such as enthusiasm, faith and gratitude. Some twenty years ago I visited Bodh Gaya and Sarnath on several occasions. In those times Bodh Gaya was still a rather calm place with the impressive Mahabodhi Temple built directly by the bodhi tree. Many pilgrims circumambulate the temple, others sit on the grounds meditating, some are devoted to doing 100.000 full prostrations. I spent many hours circumabulating the stupa or sitting by the bodhi tree, reflecting and trying to tune into what Siddhartha Gautama discovered 2500 years ago. 

Right now, as I am writing, it is tangible how all pilgrimages have left their deep impression in my heart and, as a physical experience, they have left a gentle memory in my body as well. Maybe one of the most precious experiences that we can make on a pilgrimage is that the Buddha is real. One can feel him, one can be touched by his blessings and surrender with love and devotion to his teachings. The Buddha’s blessings are his gift, whenever we turn towards him. So, even if we can’t travel to one of the four sites, it is good to have an altar as a sacred space in our house and wherever we live on this planet, we can make a daily pilgrimage to pay homage to the Buddha.













Bodh Gaya (India) 2001 - Pilgrims sitting under the Bodhi Tree
Foto: T. O.



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