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Pilgrimage Is Often The Process Of Learning In Hinduism

‘In Hinduism, pilgrimage is often the process of learning to see the underlying or implicit spiritual structure of the land’, notes David Kinsley; ‘this often involves a change in perspective, a change that is religiously transformative. Pilgrimage is the process whereby pilgrims open themselves to the sacred power, the numinous quality, of the landscape, whereby they establish a rapport with the land that is spiritually empowering.…The physical immediacy of pilgrimage, the actual contact with the land, intensifies the experience of appropriating the story of the land, learning to see its underlying, implicit structure, sensing its spiritually enlivening power. The experience can be lasting, transforming one’s perspective permanently.’

This process of spiritual transformation, more often than not, is a long-drawn process; and holy associations and remembrances aid this change. Sri Ramakrishna taught his devotees that ‘just as cows eat their fill, become free from anxiety, and then resting in one place, chew the cud, so after one has visited temples and pilgrimage centres, one should sit in a secluded place, and ruminate over and get absorbed in those holy thoughts that occurred to one in these sacred places’.

Madhusudana Saraswati points out that when the mind ‘liquefied’ by higher emotions flows steadily towards the Supreme, then that mental modification is termed bhakti. These divine emotions are generated and fostered by hearing about God, living at holy places and associating with holy persons — that is by resorting to teerthas (skilled instructors, holy places and holy persons are all signified by the term teertha). If the thought of the Divine is the primary or substantial determinant of bhakti, then the places of pilgrimage and its associations act as enhancers of or physical stimulants to the generation of bhakti.