Pilgrimage is a spiritual practice. It’s a term or a concept we can understand or look at in different ways. Primarily it indicates a spiritual journey of sorts — setting out with a special purpose, undertaking something and journeying somewhere, to a special destination. That destination may be an external place or it may be an internal “place.” Either way, whether travelling internally or externally, it’s about setting up a particular intention, undertaking something and following it through, for the sake of our spiritual development.
It can be about devotion — a call to express one’s gratitude, love and faith. It can be about austerity — a call to challenge oneself and one’s attachments. It can be about adventure — a need to throw oneself into the unknown and trust in one’s inner sense of spiritual direction. It can be about sacrifice — giving oneself completely to “the Way” for the welfare of the many folk. It can be about “dedicating” — offering the blessings or the fruits of one’s efforts for a particular cause. For most of us it will be a blend of all of these things.
Essentially, it’s about opening, learning, and developing the heart bent on Truth. Having somewhere to go externally, and some particular action to undertake, provides the framework or “field” within which one experiences oneself in a myriad of different predicaments and mind-states, with the prospect of finding the route to that which is truly free from suffering, of finding the path of liberation. Or at least, the experience can provide the impetus that deepens one’s commitment to realization.
As with anything we undertake, what we get out of it often depends on what we put into it. So setting the stage, establishing the intention, or creating the container for the practice, is something that is worth much careful attention. If something is close to our hearts, we should take care of, respect and nurture it with goodness. The movement of the heart in a spiritual direction is precious and potent, and when empowered and ripened with wisdom and faith, becomes unconquerable.
(originally written for DharmaWheels by Ajahn Jitindriya)