21 Day Pilgrimage Reflections (continued)
--Zilong Wang
4 minute read
Mar 8, 2018

(Continued from earlier post.)


Day 19: See Value Everywhere


Everything is a test
to see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you,
you’ll have to start anew.

-- Master Hua

I used to think that "reality" is objective, material, and impersonal. But during the pilgrimage, I am slowly opening up to the view that "reality" is a big parable, a manifestation. It is a teaching tool and a testing ground. To put it another way, it is not really important whether or not something is "real"; the key is what we are learnings from it. The focus shifts from outer observation to inner response.

With such an orientation, a sick dog on the street is not an eye sore; it is an invitation to practice compassion and metta. The visa bureaucracies are not a nightmare to endure, but an opportunity to cultivate patience and skillfulness. A delicious meal at the home of a stranger is not mere "good luck", but a chance to deepen in gratitude and moderation. The whole universe is perfectly enlightened, and presented to us at just the right time, right place, aiding our evolution.

“Affliction is Bodhi (wisdom)”, as they say :)


Day 20: Respect The Earth

People often ask what my favorite places are after going around the world. The spontaneous answer has always been the same: the wild places.

There is the "Loneliest Highway in America", crossing through the silent Nevada desert for days. I would bike for a whole day without seeing another human outside of the few passing cars, but the soul feel so held by Mother Nature's grandeur and mystery.

There is the ancient canyons in Cappadocia, Turkey, where Catholic monks used to hide in caves and carry on their inner life. I pluck the wild grapes along the narrow paths down in the valleys and wonder what was the monk's prayer when he planted these vines centuries ago.

There is the hidden jewel of Hormuz Island in Persian Gulf, where red sand meets turquoise ocean, and where one hill has seven heavenly colors.

No human creation -- no matter how sophisticated -- could compare with the gift of Mother Nature. Human soul needs contact with wild nature, otherwise we might fall for the lies we tell ourselves, and become slaves to our own fabrication.

Today, our outer ecology is in peril because our inner ecology has been degraded. The inner pollution of greed, hatred and ignorance has spilled over into the atmosphere, oceans, and soil, and brought down other species as collateral damage. In return, the ecological crises exacerbate our inner afflictions, creating incurable diseases, mental disorders, and a global scramble over the dwindling resources.

To purify the outer ecology, we must first clean up our inner environment. To heal Mother Nature, we must also heal our Self Nature. Then we will learn to honor Mother Nature as we treasure our inner Buddha Nature -- nature of enlightenment.

As the famous verses from Diamond Sutra say,

The body is a Bodhi tree.
The mind like a bright mirror-stand.
Time and again, brush it clean;
Let no dust alight.


Day 21: Cultivate A Beginner's Mind

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-- T.S. Eliot

On the pilgrimage, every evening, I stay with a new family, and answer a similar set of questions. To not repeat myself, I try to give different (but true) answers to the same questions.

Every few weeks, I enter into a new country, and need to learn the basic phrases in the new language. I may not remember all the dozen ways of saying "hello" and "thank you" in world languages, but it did make the mind more pliable.

An unexpected benefit of the pilgrimage has been a new curiosity for things I thought I knew -- and a humility to remain in the unknown.

After staying with hundreds of strangers' families, I realized that I don't really know my own family.

After living in a dozen countries, I realized I knew little about the reality of my own homeland.

After sampling many different dharma doors and spiritual practices, I am back to the first one I encountered.

After seeing so many householders honorably attempting "right livelihood" and "karma yoga", I am re-opening up to the potential of "jobs".

In some sense, the pilgrimage is a journey "home", to grow new eyes to see the familiar. It is an antidote to the illusion that "grass is greener on the other side." There's nothing out there :)

Hopefully, after these months, it would become second nature that life is just a pilgrimage, ever starting anew <3

With my teachers of "beginner's mind" :)


The 21-Day Pilgrim's Challenge has come to a close. So grateful to the noble friends for creating this space of reflection, sharing, and journeying together. I could not have wished for a better way to start the Year of Dog with all your cultivation, inspiration, and companionship. No pilgrim is ever alone! See you on the road :)

Posted by Zilong Wang on Mar 8, 2018