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Our civilization is guided by financiers and politicians. Our citizens accept them as their natural leaders. As a result, a social order has arisen different from those known to history. Ancient ideals have become unsuitable in modern life. Thus the institution of the Pilgrimage, which had great educative value, which inspired minds and hearts to rise to nobler heights, is lost to us. Even where it exists and is observed, for example among the orthodox Hindu Tirthakas or the Muslim Hajis, it is a creedal rite which may bring respect to the "pilgrims," but does not possess the power of mind transmutation.

Leaving aside the minority even of such pilgrims as visit Kashi and Rameshwaram, or Mecca and Medina, or Lourdes and Canterbury, etc., what about the others? Today the secular form of pilgrimage is holidays. Vast populations take advantage of vacations and leaves of different types (casual leave, sick leave, annual leave, etc., which are customary, and now in many cases legally enforced on the employer) to entertain themselves, each according to his tastes and desires. The true Pilgrim is rare; he has given place for the most part to the secular traveler. "Change of air for the body," "freedom from work," the "putting aside of business worries and family concerns," "sight-seeing," and the like allure the tired earner of daily bread and his family. They all use time, money and energy differently from when he and they are in harness at office, home or school. Decent folk – and most are that – desire to forget the routine of life by breathing a cleaner air, drinking different and health giving waters, consuming "richer and better" foods, seeing different sights and scenes. The glamour exercised by all these strengthens their illusion. It is the bodily and sense life, the mundane mind and morals, which are titillated during holidays. True soul refreshment and mental re-creation are not so gained. That is why so many return home from their vacation a little refreshed in body but with a sense of disappointment. Holidays and travels do, however, have their uses and are in some ways beneficial – we are not overlooking that.

But the traveler is not the pilgrim. The pilgrim does travel, does glimpse sights and scenes his eye had never beheld, but his vision is fixed upon the Place of Pilgrimage, where his Soul is going, The moral and spiritual purpose of the Pilgrim enables him to gain from new sights and scenes, from new foods and herbs, from new human contacts, moral and intellectual values and an uplift which the traveler misses out. The object of the traveler is his own entertainment; that of the Pilgrim is mental enlightenment, moral uplift and above all some spiritual realization of the Divine.

In these days when life presses hard on millions of men and women and sheer existence demands laborious efforts, it is rarely possible to go on a real pilgrimage. But this Kali-Yuga, our dark cycle, affords us the opportunity to turn ordinary acts and events into sacraments. So we must learn to utilize our short vacations and well-earned office leave to the very best advantage. Freemasons go from labor to refreshment; philosophers value re-creation; poets themselves need the repose from work to listen to the Silence singing to them. And did not Jesus himself tell his disciples returning from their holy labor to come apart into a desert place and rest awhile?

But what are true rest and repose? How can we refresh ourselves in real re-creation? Are holidays and vacations to be merely mundane experiences?

Pilgrims go to holy places because these are hallowed by the ideas and images of holy men – saints, seers, and sages. Such centers have been called "spiritual seminaries." They recall to the mind the penances and prayers performed, the praises sung, the sermons preached; and the pilgrims try to gain their inspiration and energy for self-purification and soul-enlightenment.

The ordinary holiday-maker is centered in his sensorium; the serious traveler is bent upon educating his brain; the earnest and sincere pilgrim returns home a better-hearted and a nobler man, if he has been able to osmose the merit which is enshrined in the place of pilgrimage, the light which radiates therefrom and the peace which surrounds it.

Thus have I heard:

"Man is an Eternal Pilgrim. His responsible purpose in life is to visit Holy Places. Thereby he learns to erect within himself the Temple of Seven Shrines.

From "Thus Have I Heard", pages 228-30
. Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.


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