Pilgrimage: a Journey of Search and Discovery.

By Matsyaavatar das - 21.6 2017

A pilgrimage is a journey in search of the Divine inside and outside us.
It does not take place within a physical space, rather it occurs in one's mind and consciousness. Its most intimate purpose is a deep purification of the heart, of the intellect, of the memory, and of our being in its wholeness. If we live the Pilgrimage deeply and authentically, it may represent a turning point, a special experience, that, due to an extraordinary combination of elements, favouring the purification of consciousness, may allow us a sudden advancement, which possibly we wouldhave not been able to achieve even through a number of  previous lives.
According to the Indovedic literature, the spiritual vitality of the pilgrimage location is related to the daily renovation of its sanctity by the holy people living there.
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam this concept is explained very clearly: they believe that holy people themselves are pilgrimage places. In the first canto of this wonderful masterpiece,  King Yudhisthira says to the great sage Vidura:
“Noble soul, the devotee who have the qualities of Your Divine Grace are themselves regarded as pilgrimage places. As you bring God in your heart wherever you go, the places you visit become holy places” (I.13.10)
When we enter a sacred place, in Sanskrit called tirtha, we meet the Divine (murti) and awaken people, sadhu, and this way, if we incline ourselves  properly, we can be pervaded by a great spiritual power, the same energy that permeates those places, behaviours and gestures of ancient sacred value.  This spiritual energy, which, in holy places, is brilliant and vibrating, can strengthen us in order to improve our personality and our changes in life, that, otherwise, we would have  never accomplished for lack of will and courage. Like a magnet that energy and spiritual strength attracts our  deepest thoughts and feelings, our ideal aspirations,  and brings us along a path of wonderful search for rediscovering ourselves, the origins of our life, and our highest realization.
First of all the pilgrimage place is an instrument to acquire virtue and knowledge, not a “horizontal” knowledge, limited to the things of this world, but a “vertical” knowledge that rises up to the highest pinnacles of awareness. For this reason we consider a pilgrimage like a journey between the earth and the sky: from the earth it takes us to the sky and from the sky it brings us back to earth, transferring in our daily life the intuitions, the comprehensions, and the realizations that we have experienced, welcomed, and harboured during the Journey.
All the efforts and inconveniences connected to travelling are part of the path of elevation. They should not to be seen as obstacles, rather they are extraordinary opportunities to overcome our limits, to dispose of  illusions and attachments. When we travel, it is easier to understand that none of the things outside of us belong to us. Who can claim to own wealth? Can we have power over youth or health? For how long? Those resources are given to us for a brief length of time and their quality and evolving utility depends on how we use them. Who can say “I possess a body”?  In truth, we are not even the owners of our body, and if we want to keep it forever, we would not be able to do it: it would be impossible. Sooner o later it will be taken away from us regardless of our will. We do not own whatever is outside us, we can only take care of it temporarily. However the soul and its powers belong to us, and they are inalienable and immensely great: the knowledge of the truth, the joy of the self, the nature of eternity. The essence of  life is to regain awareness of those intrinsic qualities we have lost, choked by theconditionings, and the contaminations of our character. During the Journey each one of us has the rare opportunity to achieve the discovery of the soul’s treasures.
Furthermore the journey exhorts us for a continuous effort of discerning, to separate virtuosity from vice, reality from illusion, sacredness from profane, the inner world from the outside world, aimed to avoid the mistake of exchanging the pure from the impure and vice versa. Holy places are not meant to be seen with your own eyes, we need to predispose ourselves with an elevated consciousness and visit them with the company of people who live and search santity, otherwise we run the risk to limit our vision at the physical level, and to be confused by external appearances.
The sacred place is a state of mind, not a physical reality. It is the reality of the soul where there is genuine love, control over impulses, caring for each other, awareness of the presence of God. During our pilgrimage in sacred places we may come across holy scenes, moments of eternal sacredness, but also situations of degradation and low civilization, exactly like one person may harbour elevated expressions of geniality and kindness together with abysses of degradation. This is why it is fundamental to develop and keep a clear vision about brightness and darkness, without letting slip from memory what is holy just because we saw what is not holy, taking a distance from the degradation only because it is often placed next to what is sacred.
For this reason, in order to feel the spirit of a holy place with this high sense of discernment, it is fundamental to be in company of people motivated like us, sharing the same purposes, and even better - with people who are already able to perceive the essence separated from what is redundant and superficial, via the teachings of the sacred scriptures.

It is not by chance that Masters of Bhakti speak of an inseparable unity which is necessary for our evolution: Bhagavata sacred work and Bhagavata person, both of them are able to transfer the knowledge and the consciousness of  the Divine,Bhagavan.
If our visit to a sacred place is made with these predispositions, it may become an experience of great meaning that allows us to get in touch with timeless memories that bring us in other elevated dimensions of consciousness, and allow us to hear and accept the messages conveyed to mankind from another dimensions.
At times life faces us with very difficult situations so that we have to be ready and able to make our pilgrimage even in a hospital's room after the announcement of a terrible medical report, in front of the lifeless body of a dear person, suffering a devastating moral pain because of the betrayal of the person we most loved; or in a prison's cell where we had been locked in spite of our innocence, destroyed  by defamation. In these circumstances we need to start our journey even sooner, loading ourselves with inspiration and starting our inner journey to find a safe place, a shelter, an oasis in which to connect with our spiritual eternal self, which is unchangeable, together with God who is the giver of Knowledge, Love and Mercy. More than ever in these situations, in order to withstand sufferance, we have to fight against time in order to reach the space in the centre of our heart, where, theUpanishads say, time and space ultimately do not exist. That dimension is pure Transcendence. It is the place where all our desires are fulfilled. But the human being, deviated by the unreal world of vanishing impressions,  has lost the route to find it, because that dimension is invisible to the senses and to the physical eyes, the voice of that place speaks to the soul and the ears are not meant to hear it. For this reason Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita: “In order to see me the way I am, I give you spiritual senses”. Why does Krishna offer to Arjuna such a great opportunity? Because Arjuna asked Him with a humble manner, because he desired it with intensity, because he wanted to get in touch with Krishna in his original and intimate divine nature.
Only with a burning desire to perceive a spiritual dimension and connect with God, a person may receive the divine strength to achieve it, to make the journey that from the realm of death will take us to immortality, from darkness to light, from sufferance to beatitude. A pilgrimage is that journey, it is rejoining.
How long does that journey last? Patanjali in the Yoga-sutras explains that the distance depends mainly on two factors: continuity and intensity of desire, and the required effort. In order to reach our target soon, we need to keep our course steady, with constant determination, and to increase the speed of motion by rising the intensity of the desire. Dante in the Divine Comedy accomplishes that journey too. At one point he describes his emotion as “feeling a pull from the sky while being still alive”. Once we loosen our conditionings and get rid of  bad habits, ascending is fast.
A pilgrimage  is that  ascension, it is an upward shift, it means heading toward holiness, and the spirit we hold while facing the journey is crucial. If we have the right attitude, that feeling of serenity we  have been looking for, the one that we thought we would experiment only once we reached our destination - instead it arrives step by step during our pilgrimage: then we find it in the predetermined place we have chosen and elected as our home, the heart.
Life will become then, day after day, a wonderful journey of research and discovery.