Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Art of Pilgrimage: Notes

Click on this link to see more photos of the retreat: The Art of Pilgrimage


a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected

At the beginning of our retreat I gave a short talk about what pilgrimage has been and is for many cultures and religions. I was asked by the group to share in written word some of what I spoke about on Saturday morning. The following is loosely drawn from my notes.

I have a long standing fascinated by practices and rituals that occur in many cultures. When practices occur across culture boundaries they perhaps speak to the larger human condition and are greater than the culture itself. It is interesting to me that most religious traditions have some form(s) of pilgrimage.

As a general statement, we contemporary westerners living in the United States don’t have a great deal of pilgrimages that emphasize our relationship to our spiritual journey. This opens the question of how we might create and participate in the practice of pilgrimage in a manner that is both skillful and has meaning. Most forms of pilgrimage that I have studied share these characteristics and outcomes:
  • A physical journey through time and space
  • Leaving home (leaving what is known)
  • Simple lifestyle during pilgrimage: e.g. simple clothes are worn that do not reflect status, simple diet, etc.
  • Special rituals and/or prayers that marks significant milestones along the journey
  • Circumambulation: moving around a sacred temple, object, mountain, and the like
  • Pilgrims return with objects (water, statues, talismans) and/or special knowledge from a sacred site
  • Pilgrims return with something for the community, family, as well as self
  • Emphasize the journey itself as much as or equal to the goal
  • Emphasize the merging of inner and outer (e.g. climbing the Mt Fuji inside as I am climbing the physical Mt. Fuji)
  • Encourage a relationship to geographical place
  • Timed with the seasons, sun and moon cycles, or some other natural rhythm
Usually pilgrimage is never just one of these things, but a constellation of many things and experiences woven together to create the whole pilgrimage. With this background knowledge it is now important that we drop our ideas about what pilgrimage is or might be as we step on the path of pilgrimage. In each step, perhaps, we have the opportunity to discover what pilgrimage is.

Here's the Zen story from the Book of Serenity:
Zen Teacher Earth Treasury asked the monk Dharma Eye as he was leaving the monastery, "Where are you going?"
Dharma Eye said, "I'm going on pilgrimage."
Earth Treasury asked, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"
Dharma Eye said, "I don't know."
Earth Treasury said, "Not knowing is most intimate."
Dharma Eye was greatly awakened at these words.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Art of Pilgrimage

The Art of Pilgrimage
Originally uploaded by surharper.
On Saturday April 21st a group of 20 of us gathered at Green Gulch Zen Center to sit and walk together on a pilgrimage into the Marin hills. We started the day in the Green Gulch Library to introduce ourselves and meditated together. We then started out on a pilgrimage climbing Coyote Ridge to the south of Green Gulch. We had incredible wild flowers, birds, and silence along the way. At the top we enjoyed the diverse views that range from ocean to urban to wild and stood in the middle of this beauty. After lunch we worked our way down to the coast trail and headed north to Muir Beach. A gentle rain joined us for the last part of the day. Hot tea at Green Gulch warmed the body and tasted great. As we returned from out circumambulation of the Marin Hills the words of TS Elliot rang true.
"We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Deep Bow to all of you that chose to show up!
If you click on the photo it will link you to more photos of our pilgrimage