The Dalai Lama on the Value of Pilgrimages

April 23rd 2007

23 April 2007 22:59 (Newsweek)
April 21, 2007 - Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, has long been a major object of pilgrimage. Even today, people from the farthest reaches of Tibet try to pay a visit at least once in their lives. Often they undertake the journey on foot, even barefoot. Some especially hardy pilgrims prostrate themselves, pressing their body full-length upon the ground along the entire length of their route. Once they reach the city, they often do not even stop to have a cup of tea until they have been to the Jokhang, the main cathedral, to pay their respects before the image of the Buddha, the Jowo Rinpoche.

Pilgrimages are a part of nearly every religion. The faithful set out in hopes of finding virtue and gaining merit. Among Buddhists, they visit places where a spiritual master once spent time meditating. His presence makes the place seem somehow blessed or charged, as if there is some kind of electricity around it. Pilgrims come to feel these mysterious vibrations. They try to share in the visions of the master. Along their road, they undertake hardship with no thought of material reward. Their every step, every movement, becomes filled with a sense of spiritual progress. Many intensify the sense of hardship along the way by going barefoot, or reciting prayers or mantras, and so increase the spiritual merit they gain.

We Buddhists believe that merit is accumulated when you take part in something religious, with discipline and faith, because in doing so you shape a proper attitude within. With the right attitude, any journey to a sacred place becomes a pilgrimage. In our tradition, the Buddha advised that in times to come people interested in his teachings should be told about the places associated with the major events of his life. His purpose was not to ensure the aggrandizement of the person of the Buddha, but rather the welfare of his followers. We believe that expressing respect and admiration for the qualities of the Buddha

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