Now complete, I have been thinking of what a pilgrimage takes, both in mind and body. I thought my body was ready, I was sure about this. Until we started coming down. My mind I was less sure about, not because I’ve not been practicing but because measuring progress in our hearts and minds has no comparison really—none of us really know the depths we can inward travel.
It’s estimated that 330 million of us go on some kind of “spiritual pilgrimage” every year to places like the Jesus Trail or Meca or the Wailing wall in Isreal. When I ask others why they have gone and what they experienced, I hear stories about their journey—moments of transition, starting a new chapter in their lives, looking for peace, clarity and resolution.
Buddhists have a few outward “pilgrimage” routes our spiritual elders suggested to us but The Buddha primarily described Pilgrimage as a more internal journey and talked only about a pilgrimage being a training experience for “devotional and respectful practice” yet he also described it in this way: “If such a journey is undertaken with a ‘devout heart’ it will be very beneficial to one’s spiritual growth”.
Places of historical Buddhist significance have turned into Pilgriamge routes.. The four prominante ones that highlight the teachings of “the great master” are Lumbini, the place of The Buddha’s birth, Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Sarnath, the location of The Buddha’s first teaching and Kushinigar, the place of Buddha’s death.
I’m fascinated by the exterior routes, like the one we embarked upon to Sri Pada ( Adam’s Peak ) as it’s an interfaith holy site and described as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Sacred Mountain’. My fascination is not outward, I am obsessed with seeing how people worship, not what they worship, because I believe it’s our only true salvation.
Adam’s peak has been climbed for at least 1000 years. In 1115AD, the King Vijayabahu built shelters and cleared jungle and built paths and bridges to the mountain.
I was so grateful to have no problem or burden to pack along with me, instead somehow I got to go in a position of surrender to whatever mystery presented itself. Now complete, I am overwhelmingly struck by the power of Pilgrimage as a way to clear our mind. The effort required leaves no room for mental noise, no room for worry or attachment or drama. Honestly it was the most silenced I have ever felt. The only thought was my next step.
Before this experience I would have ( and probably have ) said that Pilgrimage is fine but you can do that on a meditation cushion or in your journal or in a daily practice. I’ve even done that– set up daily routines that alter me and change my thinking patters enough to allow new space to let in holiness. But I’ve never been completely free from my own thinking. The relief is the most extraordinary thing I’ve experienced and I now fully understand why we should all go some how, some way. And when I say “fully understand” you can see I clearly have just begun.
This was not the most joyful day in my experiences on this earth, it was the most quiet. Quiet within me.
“We saw it from the sea when we were nine day’s journey away, & when we climbed it we saw the clouds below us, shutting out our view of base. On it there are many evergreen trees & flowers of various colours, including a red rose as big as the palm of a hand. There are two tracks on the mountain leading to the Foot, one called the Baba track & the other the Mama track, meaning Adam & Eve. The Mama track is easy & is the route by which the pilgrims return, but anyone who goes by that way is not considered to have made the pilgrimage at all. The Baba track is difficult & stiff climbing. Former generations cut a sort of stairway on the mountain, & are fixed iron stanchions on it, to which they attached chains for climbers to hold on by. There are ten such chains, & the tenth is the “Chain of the Profession of Faith”, so called because when one reaches it & looks down to the foot of the hill, he is seized by apprehensions & recites the profession of faith for fear of falling. From the tenth chain to the cave of al-Khidr is seven miles; this cave lies in a spacious place, where there is a spring which is also called by his name; it is full of fish, but no one catches them. Close to this there are two tanks cut in the rock on either side of the path. At the cave of al-Khidr the pilgrims leave their belongings & ascend for two miles to the summit of the mountain where the Foot is. The blessed Footprint, the Foot of our father Adam is on a lofty black rock in a wide plateau. The blessed Foot sank into the rock far enough to leave its impression hollowed out. It is eleven spans long. In the rock where the Foot is. there are nine holes cut out, in which the infidel pilgrims place offerings of gold, rubies & pearls…”