Published January 19, 2013
Pilgrimage brings peace, enrichment
A pilgrimage is a personal journey or introspective search of moral or spiritual significance. Although most often associated with a physical journey, those who commit to a spiritual path know that a true pilgrimage is purely a spiritual quest. In an ironic twist of logic, the actual physical passage, which seems so real, actually becomes a symbolic allegory for the transcendental journey of the soul. The pilgrim sets out on a mission that is seen as a journey to a sacred place on the physical plane, but despite whatever hardships and drudgery that a pilgrim may endure, the real voyage happens in the heart. No matter where we may go, or end up, a pilgrimage is always an inner journey. The true purpose of a pilgrimage is not actually go anywhere on a physical plane, but rather to transcend all physicality and go to the source of all hallowed ground. This place is nowhere to be found on any map, and it is never where anyone but the pilgrim can go. Though the pilgrim may be on a dusty road with thousands of others, the true destination is only found in the heart. To set out bodily on a pilgrimage is to entrain ourselves physically in order to fulfill our intentions to enrich, or change our hearts spiritually. The act of making the passage becomes the medium by which our pursuit for spiritual fulfillment manifests physically. A pilgrimage can come in many forms and may include a long voyage to a distant and holy land or just a brief jaunt to the gravesite of someone we loved, or maybe more poignantly, to the gravesite of someone we once despised. Often, a pilgrimage may only be figurative, a journey undertaken in the heart that radically transforms us without actually going anywhere at all. Examples of these figurative pilgrimages are beautifully illustrated and expressed in stories like “The Wizard of Oz,” Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and the universally loved hymn by John Newton, “Amazing Grace.” To “go on foot” as part of one’s pilgrimage is to physically embody the inward journey and express the inward challenges outwardly. The act of relating the goal of a pilgrimage to a completed journey or destination is a way to clarify an objective that may otherwise be inexpressible in any other way. By actually performing a physical act that has a discernible beginning and end and associating that act with the spiritual journey, the pilgrim can feel a sense of accomplishment that might have otherwise seemed lacking. The physical act of pilgrimage can also be a way of sharing a common experience of accomplishment with those of like heart and mind. While the primary journey may be an individual spiritual quest, performing the physical journey in the company of kindred spirits has a synergistic quality that is undeniable. When we share our experience and acknowledge the power that comes from working together for a common goal, we find that our faith is bolstered and we are encouraged to move forward despite the hardships and challenges. In this way the common act of pilgrimage becomes a powerful tool for spiritual motivation and societal transformation. It is to this end, that many of us here in the South Sound look forward each year to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Every year for the past six, we have come together, despite winter chill, rain and snow, to walk together in silent meditation. For those of us who brave the cold, this event has become a pilgrimage that forges a common bond as our outward expression of our innermost desire, the desire for peace. Together we walk silently, our hearts in prayer and our minds in meditation expressing peace in every step. Sunday at noon the South Puget Sound Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship will sponsor the sixth annual Silent Peace Walk in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The walk around Capitol Lake will be conducted in the walking meditation tradition of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who King had himself nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We will start at Marathon Park on the south side of the lake and begin walking precisely at noon. Anyone wishing to walk in silent meditation in support of peace in the name of King is invited to attend. There will be no banners or signs, no chanting or cheering, simply people walking in silence solely for the experience and promotion of peace. Koro Kaisan Miles is a member of the South Puget Sound Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Miles is Zen priest and resident teacher at Open Gate Zendo and former board president of Interfaith Works. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.