March 26, 2020
I think those of you who are interested in oriental ethics are familiar with The Ramayana, the story of Rama. Rama, who was considered the incarnation of God, went on a pilgrimage when he was young. Today such an exercise is unnecessary, but in those days, people who hardly moved out of their small villages were asked to go on pilgrimages in order to widen their horizons and to become aware of a world which consisted of not just the family, but of people very different from themselves.
A pilgrimage is a very important spiritual exercise, and if you keep wandering from place to place, it is a very chastening experience. You meet people who not only hold different views from yours but whose faith and lifestyle are also totally different. Suddenly you begin to question the dogmas that were given to you with your breakfast, and the feeling that you alone were right and others were wrong. You realize that people who you meet don't believe exactly what you believe.
Going on a pilgrimage, or just wandering, also helps you develop an insight into the workings of the divine. My guru, Swami Sivananda, was very fond of this. He used to gently laugh at people who profess to depend on God. "Leave your jacket at home in mid-winter," he would say. "Don't take any money with you, walk out of the house at midnight, and then you will realize what it is to really depend on God." It is not tempting the devil or God, but if you go out, surprisingly you will see help coming to you from all sorts of unexpected sources. People whom you have never met come to you and ask, "Would you have a cup of tea?" You look into their eyes and say, "What makes you offer this? I have done nothing for you at all." There you see God's grace.
So, when you wander there are several advantages. You come face-to-face with this mysterious grace of God, this power which fills the entire universe, which you call love, but which you do not know until you experience it within yourself in a situation where you are at the receiving end. When you are at the giving end you may think it is love or charity, but it may be something else. When you are at the receiving end, you realize that here is a person who helps me for no apparent reason, and there you experience God. You also become intensely aware of the nature of the truth concerning the world.