Pilgrimage

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Kora around Mount Kailash, courtesy of Jan Reurink

Pilgrimage (Tib. གནས་སྐོར་, nékor, Wyl. gnas skor, ) is the visiting of holy places, those blessed by great beings during the course of Buddhist history, and those like hidden-lands or Beyul. Buddhists consider these acts first as an important means of accumulating merit, but also as a 'journey beyond the human impulse to control one’s experience and an openness to serendipity' [1].

Tradition inspired by the Buddha

The tradition is actually inspired by the Buddha himself. As the Mahaparinirvana Sutra explains, when he was about to pass into parinirvana, people around him asked him who would there be to guide people if he were to display passing away. He replied that for people in the future to visit the four great holy places would be like meeting him in actuality.

Tibetan background

According to Ian Baker[2], 'Long before Buddhism came to Tibet, the soul and vitality of Tibetan clans was connected to particular lakes, rocks, and mountains. Although the spirits of these places could be appeased with ancient shamanistic rites, Buddhism transformed an uneasy alliance with nature into one in which pilgrims could participate directly in the sacred presence.'

Vajrayana perspective

According to Ian Baker[3]:

For Tibetans the key to pilgrimage is daknang, pure vision, the sacred vision that transfigures the environment into a pure realm of enlightened energies. Even the most miserable of circumstances invites shift in perception. In the Tantric tradition, the ideal of pilgrimage is not simply to visit sacred sites, but to facilitate an inner transformation at places that challenge conventional ways of seeing. In this sense, the more destabilizing the surroundings the better. As Longchenpa urged:
Go to mountain tops, charnel grounds, islets, and fairgrounds…
Places that make the mind waver,
And let the body dance, the voice sing,
And the mind project innumerable thoughts:
Fuse them with the view and practice
of spontaneous liberation
Then all arises as the Path!

Link with Beyul

In the mind of Tibetan, beyuls like Pemakö have long been considered an ideal realm for undertaking this inner level of pilgrimage and transforming one’s perceptions. Lelung Shyepé Dorje [4] had epitomized it: 'Leaving our homes behind us we are self-abandoning yogis… As meditative experiences spontaneously arise, we travel joyously… without hope, doubt, or attachment as to whether or not we will succeed. We have no concern for our personal comforts…. Nor for the binding fetters of monasteries or the knots of worldly existence. Nor do we strive for nirvana. All places are joyous to us. We have no fear about dying on the way… nor will we have regrets when we have to return.'

Notes

  1. Ian Baker, The Heart of the World: A Journey to The Last Secret Place, The Pinguin Press, 2004, page 116.
  2. Ian Baker, The Heart of the World: A Journey to The Last Secret Place, The Pinguin Press, 2004, page 149-150.
  3. Ian Baker, The Heart of the World: A Journey to The Last Secret Place, The Pinguin Press, 2004, page 160.
  4. Ian Baker, The Heart of the World: A Journey to The Last Secret Place, The Pinguin Press, 2004, page 160.

Further Reading

  • Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What to do at India’s Buddhist Holy Sites, Khyentse Foundation, 2010
  • Ngawang Zangpo, Sacred Ground: Jamgon Kongtrul on "Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography," (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2001).

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