Continued from "Pilgrimage to Tibet"
The Journey Inward
We were suppose to be at the Monastery for a total of 13 days. However the Communist officials cut our visit down to only 5 days. Because several members of our group had become ill we were allowed to stay one extra day. As our days in Golok began to dwindle down I began to reflect upon the meaning of this pilgrimage. I began to ask myself some of the following questions:
What is the meaning of this pilgrimage?
How has this changed me?
Where is the 'sacred' that I was looking for?
These and other questions began to plague me. I then began to realize that a pilgrimage is a search for ultimate truth. I had hoped to uncover some feeling of sacredness by traveling to this distant holy site. I was hoping that by experiencing the sacred that it may awaken some ancient spiritual calling deep within me. In the Buddhist tradition this would be shunyata or in the Christian tradition it might be referred to as grace. And for most I believe this does occur to some varying degree.
As we prepare to leave Golok I am filled with sadness. I again observe my mind clinging to the desire to stay here forever. The group begins packing for the return trip, and we say our good-byes to the monks and our teacher. I find myself walking around trying to take in as much of the beauty as possible so I will never forget this experience. I am attempting to savor and squeeze every last bit of this mystical place into my consciousness. Early the next morning we board the buses for our trip back. We follow the same route that we took to get here -- through the beautiful plains, plateaus and mountains of eastern Tibet. As we travel hour after hour I begin to reflect more about the meaning of this pilgrimage.
During the next two days on the bus I began to realize that what I was searching for already existed long before I began the pilgrimage. A sense of sacredness is available to us at any moment. We can find the sacred in external phenomena everywhere if we only take the time to find it. We also can find that the bliss or enlightenment we were hoping to achieve was something we already had -- even before we left home. Our own innate awakened spirit has always been there and it is one with the entire Universe. So a pilgrimage while an external journey is ultimately a journey within ourselves.
Return & Sharing
I find my return to the States a difficult adjustment. In contrast to Tibet, life here seems much too fast, and shallow. As I slowly begin to slide back into my day to day routine I think about how I want to share not only the experience of the pilgrimage, but of the discoveries I have made about the sacred. I feel a desire to share my experience with others. I want to tell them that while a pilgrimage to Tibet (or any holy site) is a wonderful experience that it is not a prerequisite to finding the sacred. I realize that my pilgrimage is incomplete without sharing my discoveries with others And while that's my reason for writing this story I also recognize that a pilgrimage is never complete but rather an ongoing process of sharing. I am reminded of the words of Abd'ul-Baha, the founder of the Bahai faith:
'Of all pilgrimages the greatest is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart'.