Since time immemorial holy places have always been focal points for pilgrims. Often they undertake long (and extremely strenuous) journeys to reinvigorate their faith at these places.
At a time when roads were not built as well as today, people of all faiths would set out and leave the comfort of their village to travel dangerous paths in order to reach a specific holy place. On the way, they encountered wild animals, raging rivers, and bandits who would steal their belongings. No matter how great the obstacles, pilgrims always thought their journey was life changing. Why?
To answer this question we have to consider what it is that makes a pilgrimage different from ordinary tracking. The answer is that pilgrimage is not just a physical journey to a special place – but also an inner spiritual journey towards God.
• Sacred Longing
• Following the Inner Call
• Preparations for Leaving
• Traveling the Pilgrims Path
• The Return
We all have a receiver for God in our heart. There is a television in our heart and God is also there. You can see Him, you can hear Him, you can talk with Him, provided you repair the machine.” Srila Prabhupada
Just like our body is hungry for food our soul is hungry for meaning. In our ordinary life this meaning often escapes us. We don’t commonly live our life out and fully. We don’t inspire and expire fully and entirely enough. Nor do we fill all the pores of our body with blood. Most of us live just a fraction of their life and realize tiny bits of their opportunities.
Real life means to have a task, something you can devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to – every minute of your day for your whole life. And the most important thing is it must be something you cannot possibly do alone. If it is a real mission, which goes beyond providing for one’s physical necessities, it is something where you need divine empowerment. For projects like self- and God-realization we all need divine help.
When one goes on a pilgrimage one tries to become rejuvenated spiritually. One wants to connect with the Lord and bring something of Him into our three-dimensional life. A pilgrim is in search for a vision, for that which is most important. He desires to return to the spiritual center of life.
For each of us, there comes a time in our life when there is nothing more important than the yearning of the soul and a pilgrimage gives us an opportunity to connect to this sacred dimension. In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is that part in us that longs to have direct contact with the Lord.
Have you heard the inner call? If yes, it is time for you to go on pilgrimage.
Once a friend said to me: “The longest and most blissful journey in your life is the journey ‘inside’ which begins when one has chosen to follow one’s inner calling.”
Long ago I wrote into my personal diary an entry, which best expresses what I mean with following the inner call: “There comes a time for each of us when everything seems superfluous except the longing of our soul to find its own true path.”
When you follow this inner calling doors will open where there were no doors before. But you need to be bold to cross the threshold to the sacred dimension.
A pilgrim is a person who wants to make an experience for himself. He does not want to have it handed over to him by another. For this to happen he has to remain curious and open.
Once I was making a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and on the way I met many Buddhist monks. When my translator told me how they greeted me I was delighted. They usually asked, “To which sublime tradition, revered sir, do you belong?”
These are some good questions for a pilgrim when he arrives at a holy place:
“Who are the local saints and where can I find them?”
“Where is the oldest temple here?”
“What ceremonies are done here and when can I observe them?”
“What other sacred places are near?”
If openness and curiosity disappear from the heart of a pilgrim he might miss many opportunities to learn.
Here is a secret: Often God chooses to speak through people and persons we least expect.
“ Obstacles are what appears before you when you lose the goal out of sight” Old German proverb
When one goes on pilgrimage it is possible that different kinds of obstacles appear before one’s eyes. Sometimes there are physical obstacles. I remember once when going to Badrinath high in the Himalayas, there were landslides that had covered our road and which forced us to take other roads or in some cases wait for a day before the people had cleared the rocks and earth. One time the road became impassible for many weeks and we had to take our luggage from our jeep and with the help of porters climb over the landslide. It was a walk which took many hours and took us through deep jungles and over mountain tops. When we arrived at the other side of the landslide we phoned for another jeep and continued our journey. I remember that I did not feel at all inconvenienced – in fact I had grown by overcoming these obstacles.
Later I heard how the Dalai Lama had said: “If you utilize obstacles properly, then they strengthen your courage, and they also give you more intelligence and more wisdom. But if you react to obstacles in the ‘wrong way’ you will feel discouraged and a sense of failure and depression will overcome you.“
In Persia people used to express this in these words: “If fate throws a knife at you, you can either catch it by the blade or the handle.” In other words according to your perspective an obstacle can either be a terrible disadvantage or a good opportunity.
When we deal with obstacles on pilgrimage and we allow anger, discouragement, etc. enter our mind we might not learn the lesson which the Lord has kindly put before us in the disguise of an obstacle. These immature reactions can be like disturbing grains of sand in your shoes. There is an old Arabian proverb, which says it so well: “It’s not the road ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”