Pilgrimage Reflections—From Kath Mitchell

Touch and Feeling

During this Pilgrimage I have noticed an opening of touch and feeling. A sense of love, a deep desire to know and feel into a deeper sense of connectedness with all of life. The feeling of the Buddha’s presence, was visceral. The Buddha’s living presence being experienced as very much alive and dynamic, rather than a historical fact.

Feelings open and transform. Sensual desire becomes passion and love for the world, and deep wish for all beings to Awaken, then softening and opening into a spacious, clear love. As these feelings come I continue to chant the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha. As this mantra conjoins with the feelings, they become spacious and empty, yet still shimmering with a clear liquid gold quality that both contains and transcends the flavour and texture of that feeling.

As pilgrims we met most days, to sit in a sacred circle, meditate and share from our hearts. The beauty of Sangha and the dance of inter-being, as we travelled contemplatively together, gave a sense that this shared experience was unique to each person, but that each impression was co-created during this journey.

Places

Dharamsala

Practicing Chenreizig together as the Bodhisattva motivation for this Pilgrimage. Feeling into the pilgrimage, a moving Sangha retreat space.

We are granted an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. How extraordinary. I feel bathed in his ocean of strength, kindness and humble humanity. I notice the transformative collective effect for our group. So many Blessings, too numerous to count. Sarva Mangalam!

Sarnath and Varanasi

At Sarnath I felt held by the ground and the wonder of the Buddha’s first sermon. Dharma being born and shared with the five ascetics. It was the Birth of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—The Triple Gem coming together for the first time. Bonni gave a discourse on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight Fold Path The Dharmachakrapravartna. To receive these teachings from my Precious Teacher was a gift.  Bonni thanked us for the opportunity to give teaching in this place.

This opportunity to be on Pilgrimage with my teacher ignites a feeling of great responsibility and wish to fully honour this privilege.

Banares was the opening of the Great Mother Ganges at the Ghats. After the persistent sell tactics of the boys on the Ghats to buy bindis and body print tools, we boarded the river boat at dawn and putted along the river. It was quiet. I reflected on death and impermanence as we watched the preparations underway for cremations. Old grief emerges and tears flow. The sun rose creating an orange Prajnaparamita rippling pathway on the water. Beyond coming and going.

Bodhgaya

At Bodhgaya the power of the Temple and Bodhi tree opened a deep space inside and beyond me. The myriad of pilgrims with their colours, groups, robes and sincerity moved around through the spaces, sitting, walking and chanting. Here I felt the presence of Living-Buddha enlightened energy. I saw my Teacher as the embodiment of the Buddha. One Monk sat with such grace—I felt his commitment to depth-unfoldment.

Rajgir (Vulture’s Peak) was a place of immense power and love. I felt very quiet here, but also open and loving. The Mantra of the Heart Sutra was with me during the bus ride here. The meditation caves of Ananda and Shariputra drew me like a magnet. At the top of Vulture’s Peak I read the Heart Sutra. The meditation period following dropped into open space. Unobstructed love and warmth flowed this day and people and animals seemed to be all around–smiling and connecting.

In the class following Bonni spoke about the second turning of the wheel. I was interested in her comment that the Buddha gave the Prajnaparamita teachings to the Devas at first, as humans could not yet understand them.

Kushinagar

Bonni suggests we reflect on Death and Impermanence. Especially on our life energy and situation. The question around “what needs attending to” based on the possibility “if I was to die now”. The sharing of Dharma in community seemed to be the pressing concern that came through in my experience along with a strong commitment to this aspiration.

We visited the temple where the Buddha gave his last sermon at Vaisali. We visited the temple at Kushinagar. We walked around the stupa where the Buddha was cremated, which had dropped into curves and waves with age. The lying Buddha Rupa inside the domed temple, signifying the Parinirvana. The space vibrated with the sacred chants of Pilgrims. We released some of Cecilie Kwiat’s ashes outside in the surrounds and I felt her Cheshire cat smile appearing and disappearing.

Bonni gave teachings from the Buddha’s last sermon. I remember the themes of overcoming desire and the deep peace that comes from this. I remember the Buddha’s advice for the disciples and students to put into practice all the Buddha had taught. How to overcome grief, by realising the truth of impermanence—that all pleasures and pains—all compounded things are impermanent. I was struck by how, even on his deathbed, the Buddha ordained a student who requested the Dharma and his help—How compassionate!

Lumbini

The temple of the Birth place of the Buddha. At the spot where the Buddha was born was a large flat rock (roughly in the shape of a footstep) beside this a smaller flat rock of a similar shape. I interpreted this as the Mother and Child. Interesting how we make sense of things.

That afternoon Karen and I went to the Peace Pagoda. An expression of the transformation of deep suffering for the peace and well-being of all. Built in commemoration of Horishima and Nagasaki by the Japanese, it astounded me to feel how the human spirit can transcend grief and horror to express this aspiration and commitment to love.

In Lumbini we received the teachings on Angulimala. This many layered story speaks of all kinds of profound Dharmas and transformations of suffering, view and consciousness. What stands out in my mind is that the Buddha had such great compassion to help Anugulimala. This incredible support is available at all times to all of us. How can we connect with this and remember?

Visiting the Shakya centre was a meeting with the Mother of the Buddha. The carved relief in marble had great power. The Kargu Temple was an astonishing offering with incredible detail and artistry to express the principles of the Path. The domed inner temple open like the sky, and around the outside of the dome a rich and detailed tapestry of paintings depicting mandalas of radiant beings, such as the 21 Taras, Guru Rinpoche, and the Paticcasumuppada. The garden contained a series of sculptures of the Life of the Buddha.

Jetvana Grove

This sacred space was where the Buddha spent most of his time with the Sangha during the rainy retreats. So in reality many years were spent practicing here. Jetvana contained the ruins of the monasteries and Stupas of Sangha over many years or perhaps even centuries.

The Bodhi tree was grafted from the original Bodhi Tree from Bodhgaya; when the Muslim’s attacked, someone had the foresight to send a piece to Sri Lanka. Here it was nurtured and grown, until the threat passed, and a graft was sent for planting in Jetvana. Thus making this the oldest and most closely related Bodhi Tree, to the one under which Buddha realised the true nature of mind!

The tree was wonderful to circumnavigate. A monk was freely giving gold leaf and Bodhi leaves to make offerings. Pilgrims filled the Jetvana area with devoted walking, sitting, practice and chanting. The sense of peace, power and stillness moved me and I felt uplifted and inspired by the practice and support of the Buddha, his Disciples, Sangha, and the Kil Kor of Teachers and practitioners from everywhere, spanning out, through and beyond time and space.

Heartfelt Thanks to Bonni, Matthew and all for the Immeasurable Blessings of this Pilgrimage!

May all Beings Know their True Nature!