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The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred Paperback – April 30, 2000
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About the Author
Phil Cousineau is a bestselling author, editor, photographer, award-winning documentary filmmaker, adventure travel leader, and independant scholar who lectures around the world on a wide range of topics from mythology, mentorship, and soul. His books include The Art of Pilgrimage, Soul Moments, Riddle Me This, and The Soul Aflame. A protege of the late Joseph Campbell, Cousineau is also the author of The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. He lives in San Francisco, California.
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The Art of PilgrimageThe Seeker's Guide to Making Travel SacredBy Phil Cousineau
Conari PressCopyright © 2000Phil Cousineau
All right reserved.
Art is here taken to mean knowledge realized in action.
PILGRIM, n. A traveler that is taken seriously.
One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions
that will make happiness;
one only stumbles upon them by chance,
in a lucky hour, at the world's end somewhere,
and holds fast to the days ....
For in their hearts doth Nature stir them so,
Then people long on pilgrimage to go,
And palmers to be seeking foreign strands,
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands.
The Canterbury Tales
In February 1996, together with my brother Paul, I took the long boat ride upthe Mekong River in Cambodia to see one of the great riddles of the ancientworld, the sacred sprawl of ruined temples and palaces that a twelfth-centurytraveler said "housed numerous marvels."
On our first morning at the walled city of Angkor Wat, we witnesseda glorious sunrise over its lotus-crowned towers, then beganthe ritual walk up the long bridgeway toward the sanctuary. Our armswere draped across each other's shoulders. Our heads shook at theimpossibly beautiful sight of the "marvelous enigma" that earlyEuropean chroniclers regarded as one of the Wonders of the World,and later colonialists described as rivaling the divinely inspired architectureof Solomon.
We walked as if in a fever-dream. Halfway down the causeway, wepaused to take in the beauty of the shifting light. We snapped a fewphotographs of the nagas, the five-headed stone serpents, that undulatedalong the moat and of the chiseled lacework in the colossal gatewaylooming before us, then grinned at each other and took a deepbreath of the morning air. At that moment, we noticed a gray-robedBuddhist nun limping by us on her way to the temple. Her head wasshaved and bronzed. When she drew even with us, I held out an offering,which she calmly accepted with stumps where once had beenhands. Stunned, I then realized why she had been walking as if onstilts. Her feet had been severed at the ankle and she was hobbling onthe knobs of her ankles. I was stricken with images of her mutilationby the demonic Khmer Rouge, then wondered if she'd been a victim ofone of the 11 million landmines forgotten in the forests, fields,and roads of Cambodia.
Her eyes met mine with a gaze of almost surreal serenity.Utterly moved, we offered a few dollars for the shrine in the temple.She calmly accepted the donation in a small woven bag,bowed, and limped away, like a thin-legged crane moving stifflythrough the mud of one of the nearby ponds.
The encounter with the Cambodian nun was an ominousway to begin our visit, a gift briefly disguised as a disturbance. Herenigmatic smile eerily anticipated the expression on the sculpturedfaces of the fifty-four giant bodhisattvas that loomed in the Holyof Holies above the nearby pyramid temples of the Bayon. Eachtime I met their timeless gaze, my heart leapt. As the lotus ponds andpools throughout the complex were created to reflect each workof religious art, the faces of the bodhisattvas and the nun mirroredeach other. I began to think of the nun as the embodiment ofthe Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the god of inexhaustible compassion,who has come to symbolize the miracle of Angkor for millions of pilgrims.
How far does your forgiveness reach? the sculpted faces ask from athousand statues.
As far as prayers allow, the nun's eyes seemed to respond.
I rambled through the ruins with my brother for the next severalhours, stunned by our sheer good fortune of being there. The Angkorcomplex was destroyed in the fifteenth century, then forgotten for 400years and overrun with the stone-strangling vines of the jungle.Marveling at the beauty laced with terror in the stories of our youngCambodian guide (who told us the local villagers believed that Angkorwas built by angels and giants), time seemed poised on the still-pointof the world. This was more than an architectural curiosity, a piousparable of fleeting glory; it was a microcosm of the universe itself.According to scholars, the walls, moats, and soaring terraces representedthe different levels of existence itself. The five towers of Angkorsymbolized the five peaks of Mount Meru, the center of the world inHindu cosmology. This was the world mountain in stone, a monumentalmandala encompassed by moats that evoked the oceans. A visitwas an accomplishment demanding the rigorous climbing of precipitouslysteep staircases, built that way not without reason.
"It is clear," wrote Vice Admiral Bonard, an early colonialist, "thatthe worshiper penetrating the temple was intended to have a tangiblesense of moving to higher and higher levels of initiation." Our threedays stretched on. The hours seemed to contain days, the days heldweeks, as in all dreamtime adventures. We were graced with onestrangely moving encounter after another. Silently, we mingled withsaffron-robed monks who had walked hundreds of miles in the footstepsof their ancestors from Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Japan topray in the sanctuary of a place believed for a thousand years to be thecenter of the world. Gratefully, we traded road stories with travelerswho'd been through Burma, Vietnam, and China. After dark, we readthe accounts of fellow pilgrims who had been making the arduous trekhere by foot for centuries, from China and Japan in ancient times, thenby car from France and England, and by boat from America.
Though neither Buddhist nor Hindu, wandering through the site Iwas more than smitten by the romancing of old stones. In the uncannyway of spiritually magnetized centers of pilgrimage, I felt a wonderfulcalm exploring the derelict pavilions, abandoned libraries, and lootedmonasteries. My imagination was animated by the strange and wonderfulchallenge to fill in what time had destroyed, thrilling to the knowledgethat tigers, panthers, and elephants still roamed over the flagstonesof these shrines when Angkor was rediscovered in the 1860s.
But through our visit the dark thread ran.
With every step through the ghostly glory of the ancient templegrounds, it was impossible not to be reminded of the scourge of Pol Pot,the ever-present threat of landmines, and the fragility of a site that hadendured a thousand years of historical chaos. The maimed children andfierce soldiers we encountered everywhere were grim evidence of anever-ending war. Once upon a time, foreigners were spared the horrorsof remote revolutions, but no more. In a local English-language newspaper,we read that Pol Pot had ordered the executions of three Australiantourists, saying only, "Crush them."
Overshadowing even this were the twinges of guilt I felt for havingundertaken the journey?Jo, my partner back in San Francisco, wasseven months pregnant with our baby. Though she was selflessly supportive,I was uneasy. So why make such a risky journey?
To fulfill a vow.
Twice in the previous fifteen years, my plans to make the long trekto the ruins of Angkor had been thwarted at the Thai-Cambodia border.Dreading that war might break out again and the borders clampshut for another twenty years, I believed that the research trip mybrother and I were on in the Philippines serendipitously offered a lastchance to fulfill a promise to my father.
On my eleventh birthday, he had presented me with a book, not aZane Grey Western or the biography of my hometown baseball hero,Al Kaline, that I had asked for, but a book with a bronze-tinted coverdepicting sculptures of fabulous creatures from a distant world. Thesecreatures were not from a phantasmagorical planet out of science fiction,but the long-forgotten world of the Khmers, the ancient civilizationthat had built Angkor.
From that moment on, the book came to symbolize for me the hiddenbeauty of the world. With the transportive magic that only bookspossess, it offered a vision of the vast world outside of my small hometownin Michigan; it set a fire in my heart and through the yearsinspired in me the pilgrim's desire to see this wondrous place formyself.
When my father became ill in the fall of 1984, I drove cross-countryfrom San Francisco to Detroit to see him and, in an effort to lift hisspirits, promised him that when he recovered we would travel together.I tried to convince him that after years of unfulfilled plans to seeEurope, we would travel together to Amsterdam and visit Van Gogh'snephew, whom he had once guided on a personal tour through Ford'sRiver Rouge complex in Dearborn. After Holland, I suggested, wecould take the train to P?rigueux in southern France and track downthe story of our ancestors who had left there in 1678. Then, I said haltingly,we could take a direct flight from Paris to Phnom Penh and visitAngkor Wat. He seemed pleased by the former, puzzled by the latter.
"Don't you remember the book you gave me as a boy?" I asked him,disappointed in his response to my cue. "The one on the excavationsat Angkor?" He riffled through the memory of a lifetime of books hehad bestowed on friends and family. Then his face lit up, and he harrumphed,"Oh, yes. Angkor, the Malcolm MacDonald book, the onewith the sculptures of the Temple of the Leper King on the cover." Hepaused to consider the possibilities of our traveling together, thenpainfully readjusted himself in his old leather reading chair.
"I just wish I were as confident as you that I was going to recover,"he said with the first note of despair I'd ever heard from him. "Ofcourse, I'd like to see these places with you. It would be wonderful."Then his voice broke. "But I don't know, son, if I'm going to make it."
No one I've ever met has pronounced the word "wonderful" likemy father. He stressed the first syllable, "won," as if the adjective didindeed have its roots in victory and triumph. He so rarely used upbeatwords, so when he did I knew he meant it. Hearing it there and then,watching this once-ferocious and formidable man sit in a chair, unableto move his hands and feet because of a crippling nerve disease, I wasshaken. Still, I feigned confidence and courage and promised we wouldhit the road together as soon as he recovered.
He didn't. Four months later, on the very Ides of March which hehad announced every year in our house as though it were the strangestday on the calendar, my father died in his sleep.
Shortly after the funeral, while packing up the books in his stilledapartment, I made one of the few vows in my life. I promised myself Iwould take the journey for both of us, make the pilgrimage to a placemade holy by the play of light on stone and the devotion of pilgrimswho had walked astonishing distances so that they might touch thesacred sculpture and offer their prayers on the wings of incense.
And, in so doing, perhaps restore my faith in life itself.
THE ART OF PILGRIMAGE
We journey across the days as over a stone the waves.
All our journeys are rhapsodies on the theme of discovery. Wetravel as seekers after answers we cannot find at home, and soonfind that a change of climate is easier than a change of heart. The bittersweettruth about travel is embedded in the word, which derivesfrom the older word travail, itself rooted in the Latintripalium, a medieval torture rack. As many a far-ranging roamer hassuspected, there are moments in travel that are like being "on the rack." Forthe wandering Bedouins, "Travel is travail." The ancient Greeks taughtthat obstacles were the tests of the gods, and the medieval Japanesebelieved that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome andtransform into poetry and song. Whether we are on vacation, a businesstrip, or a far-flung adventure tour, we can look at the trying timesalong the road as either torment or chances to "stretch" ourselves.
But what do we do if we feel a need for something more out of ourjourneys than the perennial challenges and pleasures of travel? Whathappens if the search for the new is no longer enough? What if ourheart aches for a kind of journey that defies explanation?
Centuries of travel lore suggest that when we no longer knowwhere to turn, our real journey has just begun. At that crossroadsmoment, a voice calls to our pilgrim soul. The time has come to set outfor the sacred ground?the mountain, the temple, the ancestralhome?that will stir our heart and restore our sense of wonder. It isdown the path to the deeply real where time stops and we are seizedby the mysteries. This is the journey we cannot not take.
On that long and winding road, it is easy to lose the way. Listen.The old hermit along the side of the road whispers, Stranger, pass bythat which you do not love.
Excerpted from The Art of Pilgrimageby Phil Cousineau Copyright © 2000 by Phil Cousineau. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
- Publisher : Conari Press; 1st edition (April 30, 2000)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 258 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1573245097
- ISBN-13 : 978-1573245098
- Item Weight : 0.035 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,394,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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I could see why some reviewers have an issue with the term "pilgramage" because this is NOT a book about the 'true' spiritual pilgramage (e.g. an Islamic pilgramage to Mecca). But it does really encourage bringing a more spiritual perspective to 'regular' travel.
More personally, I experienced a few astounding synchronicities while reading this book--actually finding myself sitting in THE cafe in Paris having a beer _while_ reading about the exact same cafe in the book! (I didn't go there because I read about it, but read about it after I was sitting there.) Also read about other places a day or two after I had just been there. I realize of course that the fact that I'm a Parisophile and the author probably is too (since many examples take place there) increased the synchronicity probability... but still...!
Especially with the awareness of how 'green' FLYING anywhere isn't, I find making travel choices much more challenging. So when I do decide to increase my carbon footprint by flying anywhere, I also at least want to make sure that the trip is as satisfying and beneficial as possible. To me, that means that it promotes personal and spiritual growth, that I stay relaxed and engaged in all (people, places and nature) that I encounter, and that I return home refreshed and not exhausted and needing a vacation from my vacation because of having rushed around like a frantic tourist trying to cram in as much 'touristy' activity as possible. This book certainly helped (and helps) me in this regard.
The book can also serve well to refocus your daily life at home by helping to shift your perspective about and approach to your everyday surroundings. Especially helpful to get the most out of a "staycation" or perhaps make everyday one.
One of the tips in the book is to ask a local where the best place is to view the sunrise (or sunset). In a city, the experience of waking up before dawn and travelling (hopefully by foot if your sunrise destination isn't too far) in a just awakening city will become one of your fondest and enduring memories. And do you know where the best place to view the sunrise is where you live? And when was the last time you made a 'pilgramage' to view it?
Because of this book I took my study abroad course as a pilgrimage and it was so much more important because of that. It wasn't just a $4000 class but an opportunity for me to open up and attempt to discover a deeper reason for my need to travel.
Now planning a trip to Ireland, a place even more important to my heritage and sense of self, I am rereading the book and rediscovering aspects I had forgotten.
To anyone who travels, for work or play, or anyone who would like to understand how a walk around your own neighborhood could be a pilgrimage.
I recommend it highly.
Top reviews from other countries
Yes, travelling is a Pilgrimage, inasmuch as the whole of our life is a Pilgrimage; to be savored, relished and reflected upon in the deepest possible way. This highly personal and internal approach is such a far cry from being a tourist, I can only begin to describe. It is about being changed forever by the experience, to return to familiar shores as a different person to the one that originally departed on their adventure.
"The ancient wisdom teachers taught that the ultimate answer to the sorrows of the world is the boon of increased self-knowledge." Maybe so, it certainly plays an important part to putting us on the right path, for sure.
If there is one meaningful book that should be in everyone's luggage, then this is it.