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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss the value and meaning of pilgrimages to different religions.

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Source: Music by Jeremiah Jones; “Dreaming” (Schumann)

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, and welcome to Pilgrimages. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey and maybe completed by physically seeking out a particular place, such as a shrine or important geographical location, or it could be a metaphorical journey. Often it is a combination of both, as the pilgrim undergoes a symbolic identification with the place and with the people and the events that are associated with it.

There are many places in Europe that are considered to be holy places, often associated with the lives and the deaths of Christian saints. In Spain, for example, there's a Camino de Santiago, or at the Way of St. James. St. James was one of Christ's Twelve Apostles, reported to have been witness to Jesus Christ's transformation, the moment when his divinity as the Son of God was revealed.

The remains of Saint James are believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. It's therefore a very special destination for many people, and the journey marks the historical event in which the body of Saint James was carried, the deceased body was carried from Jerusalem to Galicia in northern Spain.

Looking to the east now, India has a distinct spiritual geography and a very long history of pilgrimages. These journeys to holy cities are part of the lives of most Hindus. The Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, for example, is usually larger than the Hajj, which is the great Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The Kumbh Mela this year was attended by over 80 million people. It's considered to be the largest pilgrimage on the planet.

It's a traditional thing to dip your body in the Ganges River, or the Ganga, to honor the goddess Ganges. This ritual is believed to expedite one's release from suffering, from the karmic wheel or suffering, and therefore be closer to nirvana. Varanasi, also called Benares, is considered to be the holiest of Hinduisms holy cities and it is the destination of many, many pilgrims.

Hindu calls it the city of Shiva because, according to tradition, it was this god, Shiva, who founded the city. Varanasi is one of the seven cities that offer release from suffering, or moksha, and many Hindu pilgrims travel from one city to the next for this reason.

There's also the famous Char Dham, or the four dwelling places, where thrones, throes of the gods, which includes one site in each of the four compass points of India-- north, south, east, and west. Many people consider a pilgrimage to all four of these sites as among the most significant spiritual acts of devotion and love to the gods that one can perform.

And for Buddhists in India, there are the four sites in the Northeast that are associated with Buddha's birth, enlightenment, first sermon and parinirvana. Parinirvana is the final nirvana that an enlightened being undergoes, and this occurs with the death of the body. Basrah is the city associated with this event.

And as you might know, Buddhism spread to Japan around the fifth century and Japan is another country that is interlaced with pilgrimage sites. Many of the sites are holy mountains associated with the life giving spirits of Japan's ancient Shinto religion. Pilgrims of certain schools of Buddhism also travel to these sites, often following spiritual mandala patterns through the land that symbolize and represent the life of the Buddha.

So now we can review. We started with the definition of pilgrimage, which is a sacred journey that one takes physically by visiting geographical locations that hold some spiritual significance. It's also a metaphorical journey, as the pilgrim undergoes some kind of a spiritual transformation and identification with different gods, saints, or different spirits that are associated with the religion and the pilgrimage site itself.

We started with examples from Christianity, and the Way of St. James, or the Camino de Santiago, in which-- and then we moved onto Hinduism, and we spoke about the Kumbh Mela being the largest pilgrimage in the world with over 80 million people attending this year. Often people, many people bathe and dip themselves into the river Ganges as a way of honoring the goddess Ganges.

We also spoke about the Char Dham, or the four compass points which are located in four areas of India, representing the thrones and the dwelling places of the gods. And also in India, we spoke about Buddhism and the parinirvana of the Buddha which took place in Northeast India in Basrah, and that is the moment, the final moment of nirvana that occurs upon the death of the body.

We also spoke about Buddhism in Japan in associating with Shinto, and the ancient religion of Shinto in Japan and how many Buddhist and Shinto pilgrims will travel to holy sites that are often natural structures, mountains, and different landscapes that have great spiritual relevance in relation to both the Buddhist and the Shinto faiths.


Notes on "Pilgrimages"






Source: Music by Jeremiah Jones; “Dreaming” (Schumann)

Terms to Know

A sacred journey that may be completed physically seeking out a particular place, such as a shrine or important geographical location, or it could be a metaphorical journey.