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Why pilgrimages?


Why pilgrimages?

Tsem Rinpoche explained the significance of pilgrimages as something for us to connect with the blessed energies of sacred power places where holy beings have chosen to take rebirth, gain enlightenment, teach the Dharma or pass away.

Sites like these carry the everlasting energies of the compassionate, enlightened mind, as they are where holy beings have resided, practised and benefitted countless beings. Everything they owned or used, including the area they lived or practised in, was entirely for the benefit of other beings.

As such, embarking on pilgrimages to holy sites is not meant to be a vacation or simply to do the things that we usually do as tourists but rather, for the betterment of our spiritual practice and to realign ourselves on the spiritual path to enlightenment. When we go to these places, show reverence, make offerings and aspirational prayers, we create the direct causes to attain this same state of compassion and to gain the same enlightened qualities that these beings had.

The Buddhist tradition of making pilgrimages began with Buddha Shakyamuni, who advised that when he passed away, disciples could visit four main sites and make aspirational prayers there. He advised that all Buddhas of the past had manifested there, and all Buddhas of the future will also manifest there. By visiting, we make a very deep connection to the outer Buddhas, so that we might realise our own inner Buddhahood. This will help our spiritual practice in this and future lives greatly.

The karmic significance of visiting the four sites can be further broken down.

  • When we visit the Buddha’s birth place:
    We create the karma to have control of our own rebirth; create the causes to be reborn in pleasant places where we will have the right conditions and opportunities to practise Dharma.
  • When we visit the place where Buddha attained enlightenment:
    Seeds are planted in our mindstream for us to also gain enlightenment; we go towards the path of enlightenment in all future lifetimes; even if we fail to attain enlightenment within Buddha Shakyamuni’s age, we create the causes to be among the foremost disciples of Maitreya, the future Buddha, when he manifests.
  • When we visit the place where Buddha first taught Dharma:
    We create the karma for the Dharma to really go into our mind; we are able to transform when we receive the teachings; we are able to sponsor, propagate and put our energy towards the growth of Dharma; we are able to speak and share Dharma with others to transform their lives.
  • When we visit the place where Buddha passed away:
    We create the causes to increase our life to be able to engage in spiritual practice and gain enlightenment; we will not die ordinary deaths with fear, anxiety; we create the causes to have control over our death and rebirth.

Buddha taught that if we follow his teachings, it can bring us to the same enlightened level as him. Therefore, all who have followed his teachings in the past would have gained attainments and become enlightened, just like him. In this way, visiting their holy sites is equivalent to visiting Buddha Shakyamuni’s holy sites, for the enlightened mind and its energies are all the same.

As we embark on pilgrimage, all pilgrims are encouraged to contemplate on the selfless motivation and actions of all holy beings, on their deeply compassionate wish to constantly serve others. By meditating on this and making aspirational prayers to attain these qualities, we forge an indelible connection with the enlightened beings that is carried forward in this all and future lives, spiritual work and practice.

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