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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Walking In Circles

Being in India provided ample opportunities to literally walk a sacred path. I've written elsewhere about the various counterparts to walking the labyrinth, in particular the Hindu and Buddhist ritual practice of circumambulating temples, shrines, stupas and natural formations. The Sanskrit name for this is Pradakshina. The letter ‘Pra’ stands for removal of all kinds of sins, ‘da’ stands for fulfilling the desires, ‘kshi’ stands for freedom from future births, ‘na’ stands for giving deliverance through Jnana. Giri Pradashina refers to circumambulating a hill, which is the central devotional focus in Tiruvannamalai, where on the full moon of every month pilgrims from far and wide come together to walk the 14 km. clockwise path around mount Arunachala, which is considered the embodiment of Shiva.

Arunachala is virtually synonymous with the great sage Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, whose ashram is close by. One devotee of Ramana describes his experience this way:

Such, however, was my indolence and also perhaps to some extent my supercilious sense of superior wisdom which counts mental worship enough without such physical austerities as walking about eight miles barefoot, that even after coming to live in the Asrham as a permanent inmate, I did not go round the hill as most others did. Nevertheless, from all I had seen and heard, I felt there must be something really significant in this Pradakshina. So I often plied Bhagavan with questions as to whether it is important to take this trouble. The following is the gist of what I was told as the result of my conversation with Bhagavan on this subject.

'For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this Pradakshina or not, just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.' Once he said to me : 'Why are you so concerned with all these questions about the efficacy of going round the hill? Whatever else you may or may not get, you will at least have the benefit of the physical exercise.'

Bhagavan thought this at least would be clear to my dull intellect. On another occasion he said to me: “Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you. I had also seen that whoever came and told Bhagavan he was starting on Pradakshina, however old or infirm he might be, Bhagavan never even in a single case discouraged the idea, but at the most remarked : 'You can go slowly.'

I am now as confirmed a believer in Giri Pradakashina as any other devotee of Bhagavan, though I regulate the frequency of my circumambulations with due regard to my age, health and strength and the strain to which they can reasonably be put.

I had the good fortune while in north India to be able to visit the sacred Buddhist sites of Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Nalanda. Pradakshina was performed by pilgrims from all Buddhist sects and nations around the Mahabodhi Temple, 

which is the site of the famed Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. 

At Sarnath, where the first sermon was preached, Buddhists from around the world gather to circumambulate the enormous Dharma Chakra Stupa.

After attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya, the Buddha went to Sarnath; and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park to set in motion the 'Wheel of the Dharma.' It is one of the most holy sites as in this place the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed. 

At this place, the Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. On meeting the enlightened one, all they saw was an ordinary man; they mocked his well-nourished appearance. 'Here comes the mendicant Gautama,' they said, 'who has turned away from asceticism. He is certainly not worth of our respect.' When they reminded him of his former vows, the Buddha replied, 'Austerities only confuse the mind. In the exhaustion and mental stupor to which they lead, one can no longer understand the ordinary things of life, still less the truth that lies beyond the senses. I have given up extreme of either luxury or asceticism. I have discovered the Middle Way.' Hearing this the five ascetics became the Buddha's first disciples. 
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.
‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’.

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