Tamar Hesse writes, “A pilgrimage is a journey to a place we consider consecrated, dear to us because we associate it with something we love or at least admire…And if the purpose gets fulfilled… we feel blessed.” In this article, three devotees convey their experiences of pilgrimage.
Recalling her own pilgrimage, Tamar Hess continues:
Only a few days ago I went through the beautiful country side of India, overflowing with water and light green rice fields, with intense heat, the air loaded with an infinity of perfumes. Villages are scattered here and there with ponds bordered by palm and bamboo trees. India, with its gentle
cows and peaceful buffaloes…
Once more, I went through the places closely related to the life of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi… I went through all very slowly, coming back to some places day after day, taking time to recall the past, reliving entire episodes of the divine play of these two shining stars of the spiritual firmament of the universe.
Somehow, all is like before.
Under the superficial appearance of the transition of time, Their voices are revealed and Their movement is clearly perceptible. Here the pilgrim reaches a dimension beyond all logic, receiving Darshan of the Beloved.
Each place is impregnated with a feeling of tremendous austerity and renunciation, with infinite love and compassion. Even today Mother goes, bowl in hand, searching for fresh milk for her children. Even today She prepares vegtables under the cool roof of rattan and straw, talking to
the pilgrims who come to visit her.
In the Master’s room at Dakshineswar, the sweetest songs are heard while the disciples dance, striking the sacred floor with their feet, captivated by the poetry of Kabir and Ramprasad.
On the bank of the Ganges, inside his room with wide windows, Swamiji conceives the future of India. His heart, overflowing with love, holds even those who have not yet been born but someday will walk gratefully through the center of greatest spiritual inspiration in coming centuries: Belur Math.
Janet Walker tells of the inspiration she felt while walking the path between sacred places.
In December 1997, I made my third pilgrimage to the holy places associated with Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi. While at Sri Sarada Math, I reflected on the extraordinary coincidence that Sri Sarada Math is located just 15-20 minutes by foot from the temple dedicated to Mother Kali where Sri Ramakrishna carried out his long years of sadhana. My two-night stay at the Math was punctuated by visits to Sri Ramakrishna’s room aside the Kali Temple, giving me a feeling of going back and forth between Mother’s place and Father’s place. While I meditated be fore the large photograph of Holy Mother in the Sri Sarada Math temple, the feeling of rapt meditation of those sitting in Sri Ramakrishnas room a short distance away was alive in my heart. And while I sat meditating before the two couches in Sri Ramakrishna’s room with the other worshippers, Holy Mother’s image was intensely with me. And walking back and forth between the two holy places, treading my own path between Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna, became an additional means of worship.
The new pilgrim sometimes needs a nudge. Pat Gibbons tells about her unplanned encounter with Vivekananda Rock.
Sita Frenkel (now Swami Gurudevananda of the Divine Life Society) and I had left our group to visit Swami Chidananda of Rishikesh, who was teaching at the Vivekananda Kendra. When he suggested that we visit the Vivekananda Rock the next morning before dawn we expressed polite interest, but did not take the idea seriously. We were both dead tired and not feeling particularly well. I recall having a severe earache. Much to our surprise, word came that Swami had arranged everything! We were met before dawn by an elderly swami wearing an eye patch. He spoke not one word to us but motioned for us to follow him. He bought our tickets and led us to the boat.
Although I was staggering along in something of a daze, I found the boat trip rather soothing and pleasant. The boat was occupied mostly by a group of happy older men wearing Gandhi caps and clearly enjoying the expedition. The water was dark and quiet and smooth. I remember thinking what a powerful swimmer Swamiji must have been because I think the trip took twenty minutes or more.
This was in 1974, during my furst visit to India. I still recall our being congregated at the rail at the edge of the rock to watch the sunrise. When the sun appeared everyone chanted Om. Earache or not, it was an awesome experience. When the sun was fully above the horizon I turned and found I was facing the great shining statue of Swamiji where it stands looking west. The sense of power and presence emanating from it was almost overwhelming. I’d only experienced something like this before at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Shortly after this my ear started to drain, relieving some of the pain. Later, back with our group, we visited a clinic at a Ramakrishna Mission. Here we were given much needed penicillin. But our unexpected boat trip was worth it.