Buddhist pilgrimage starts with the advice of the Buddha. The Buddha said, once I'm gone, please go to the various sites that are associated with my life, the milestones of my life, and he said, there you will find me.
It means that in those places, there you will find him. There you will find his essence which is really your essence. It's not about the Buddha and finding the Buddha. It's about finding the Buddha within. To me, pilgrimage is a reconnection of spirit and the idea is for us to venture out of our materialistic corporate bubble and to venture into another world where we gain access to our innate sense of purpose and meaning and value as spiritual beings.
For a practitioner who wants to upstart their meditation or deepen their understanding or gain access to a lineage or find greater meaning or purpose, there's nothing more powerful than being at places like that where you enter into the stream. The world of spirit speaks a different language. It’s about emotions and it's about imagery and it's about song. And whatever spiritual culture you enter into, they have a set of beautiful rituals that to the outsider, they don't really make sense. But once you have the codex, once you have the meaning then you have this access into the world of spirit.
Pilgrimage is designed to really be an incubator, a focused intensive immersion. The whole pilgrimage is to help you go to the very source of your own mind amidst sacred places with spiritual elders and with a community of like-minded people so that you can get direct access to the program that is creating distress in your life.
The last pilgrimage that we did to Nepal, we were led by Geshe Tenzin Zopa. He provided us with the Bodhisattva resolve, the commitment foreach and every one of us to orient our lives towards the aspiration of awakening for the benefit of others, committed in a ceremony at a sacred place with a living master. There was one particular moment where he kept reaffirming, and now your life has been made meaningful. And now your life has been made meaningful. By committing to orient yourself towards awakening for the benefit of others, you have now made your life meaningful. You have rendered your life meaningful. And I could see in people's faces that they had almost discovered some new horizon. A new way of being, a new orientation, a new purpose, a new thrust for their life that they had not until that moment really tasted or discovered and I can't think of a more powerful experience to invite people into than that moment of the Bodhisattva resolve at a sacred place with a sacred master. Because really, for the first time in someone's life they have discovered who they are and why they're here.
More information on upcoming pilgrimages with Dr. Miles Neale here.
Film by Dori Cohen.