Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Art of Pilgrimage: Fall 2007

For workshop photos click here: Workshop Photos

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 and deep knowing of a 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 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 we have the opportunity to discover what pilgrimage is.

Here's the Zen story from the "Book of Serenity" the Owl told the group:
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.

With two claps and a deep bow,

P.S. Special thanks to Luminous Owl, Michael, and the Green Gulch staff for their support and work!