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Pilgrimage



As some of you will probably (hopefully!) remember, I penned an article for our newsletter some years ago entitled; "Minding our P's and Q's", in which I postulated that the "P" stood for "Pathway" and the "Q" for "Quest".

This was written in order to help clarify the vital difference between these two important aspect of a warrior's experience. E.g. whilst a warrior will almost certainly be called upon to embark upon several different kinds of "Quest" during their time on Earth, and should try to acquit themselves with due honour regarding all of these, there is, has always been, and shall always be, but one true pathway up the mountain and from this, we should try never to stray.

The pathway then way constant. Whereas the quest was transient and should be viewed only as being a single step (All be it in the right direction) on our journey, rather than being any sort of "End" in and of itself.

But, "P" could just as well be said to represent "Pilgrimage", and "Q" for "Question", and it is these concepts that we shall take a closer look at here.

A pilgrim is a very special sort of person. They are not the type to be content with simply sitting and waiting to see what happens. No, rather, they are the kind who wish to go and see.

Caste your minds back for a moment, to the mediaeval period, at which time, deciding to enter upon a pilgrimage was an extremely hazardous endeavor indeed. Back then, the open road was full of potential peril.

Japanese Priest

Even within the British Isles, pestilence, intermittent wars, and, of course, highway robbery, were all very common. And, if you journeyed abroad to the sacred places of Europe, Byzantine, or the Holy-Land, then you could add the dangers of shipwrecks and pirates, as well as whatever fate awaited you once (and if) you managed to set foot upon foreign soil.

But, be that as it may, many, many, thousands of people continued to choose to set foot upon the "pilgrims way" and brave all of those hazards and hardships.

All kinds of people; young and old, merchants and farmers, lords and knights, rich and poor alike. Ordinary people. Special people. People who where actually prepared to embark upon a journey from which they knew they might never return.

Indeed, it is an established historical fact that a large percentage of those courageous souls who set off on pilgrimage actually perished long before having set eye upon their desired destination.

They died a long way from home, amidst unfamiliar surroundings, either in the company of strangers, or worse, completely alone. Hardly the most peaceful of passings, I think you'll agree!

What exactly was it then, that caused them to act in such a seemingly rash manner? What reason could there possibly be for an otherwise intelligent, rational human being to embark upon such a dangerous undertaking?

Well, the reasons that drive people to become pilgrims are, of course, manifold. Atonement, healing, an ambition to come closer to God, or for divine intervention, etc, etc are all very valid and commendable.

At first glance, all of the above might appear to be very different. And, in a way they are. But they are all connected to each other by a common bond. That bond is faith. Without a doubt, it is faith which is the driving force here. Faith which motivated and inspired them, giving them gifts of strength, courage, and tenacity. Faith, which at one and the same time both humbled and ennobled them.

One cannot help but admire those meek, mild, but extraordinary brave individuals. And, (This is the important point) as warriors of the sacred mountain of enlightenment, we each have more than a little in common with them.

After all, our early predecessors in feudal Japan would have had to travel many miles over inhospitable, hostile terrain in order to fulfill their obligations, which included
healing, ministry, teaching, protecting, guiding, visiting sacred temples, etc, etc. And, of course, learning.

Back then, it wasn't so easy for the aspirant to seek out and study the ancient, arcane wisdom of the illusive "Yamabushi" you would quite literally have needed to take your life in your hands to do this.
wisdom of the illusive "Yamabushi" you would quite literally have needed to take your life in your hands to do this.

And, even if you did manage to survive, eve if you did eventually make contact, there was still no guarantee that you would be accepted as a student.

Much more likely, you would be fed, watered, and any wounds or illnesses you might be suffering from treated. Then, you would fall into a deep, peaceful sleep, and wake up only to find you self miles away, once again, from the abode of the mountain warriors.

Yes, it was a very different story back then. How many of us, I wonder, would be able, or even prepared, to undergo such rigorous selection procedures?

Because, isn't that really what it's all about? Isn't a pilgrimage a sort of Holy Quest, embarked upon because of the individuals desire to seek out something they regard as special and important, no matter what the cost might be?

And by doing so, to readily assume the responsibility for all our own thoughts, words, and actions?

Yes indeed, how amazingly difficult and dangerous it was for us all, way back then. What a stark contrast to how easy and convenient it is now, with our efficient transport and communication systems, our relatively safe roads, and our readily available access to training.

It still might not be the simplest thing in the world, but you've got to admit, it's a lot easier than it was.

Yet, even with the impact of all these modern conveniences, there is still one particular aspect of pilgrimage (some would say the most important aspect!) that has endured and that is the spiritual.
For, in the end, the idea of pilgrimage belongs most definitely within the domain of the spirit, with our physical bodies playing only an incidental (All be it vital) part.

This is true, no matter what kind of person a pilgrim may be, and no matter where their journeys may lie. No matter what their ambitions or aspirations, nor even in what century they travel; a pilgrimage is a spiritual voyage of discovery towards that kind, caring, considerate, and gentle master warrior that resides within each and every one of us.

Naturally, our training is an integral part of this growth process. The effort that we make in order to go to the Dojo, to attend a course or seminar, and take part in gradings, etc is a mark or our courage and determination to continue onwards and upwards, in our pilgrimage, so they are each of the utmost importance.

I think that the sheer bravery and humility of the pilgrim is best summed up in the following words, written by James Elroy Flecker.

"We are the pilgrims, masters, we shall go always a little further, it may be beyond the last blue mountain, barred with snow across that angry or that glimmering sea".

These few words have been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to me, as I hope they shall now be to you.

As regards the "Q" for "Question", well, I actually have but one to ask; "Are you a pilgrim?
Good! I though you were. Then.....

I shall no doubt see you all on the next course/pilgrimage.

 

Shihan Jamie Lee Barron

 

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