Pilgrimage to holy sites in Britain is an ancient tradition. The British Pilgrimage Trust explain that the word ‘holy’ isn’t connected to any particular religion: “The word Holy derives from the Old English word Halig – meaning Healthy, Wholesome or Holistic” – BTP
Buddhist pilgrimage has long been a respected practice within the Buddhist tradition. In the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta we find Shakyamuni Buddha discussing the role of pilgrimage as he approaches his passing into Nirvana.
Ananda (the Buddha’s attendant) points out that after the Buddha’s passing away the monks will be bereft, as visiting him had been an “Inspiration to the Heart”. The Buddha responds that as an alternative to visiting him, the monks and lay followers could visit four places that had marked important episodes in his life. Namely, His birthplace (Lumbini), the spot where he Awakened (Bodhgaya), the spot where he first taught the Dharma (Sarnath) and the spot where he passed into Nirvana (Kapilavastu). He went on to add that should a devotee die during their pilgrimage with a “bright and confident mind” that they would find rebirth in one of the heavenly realms.
Over the past 2500 years, the practice of pilgrimage has expanded within the Buddhist tradition. In addition to the original four holy sites of India/Nepal, followers of the Buddha now make pilgrimage to holy sites in their own countries. These include sacred mountains and lakes and sites associated with important Teachers such as burial stupas, temples and meditation caves. The role of pilgrimage in strengthening devotion and “Inspiring the Heart” is as important to Buddhists today as it was 2500 years ago.
Smoke Offering Ritual (Smoke Puja)
At the Awakened Heart Sangha, on our pilgrimages to the sacred sites of Wales we undertake Buddhist meditation, mantra chanting and a smoke offering ritual (Tibetan: Lhasang). The offering up of smoke is a common ritual in many traditional cultures.
In this instance, the smoke is produced by burning certain substances (herbs, oils, grains, incense and so on) that are considered to be pure. This produces a pure smoke, white in colour which rises up into the sky. The offering is made to the environment, all of its inhabitants and to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This ritual removes negative forces and intensifies positive energy in the participants and the landscape.
At the end of the smoke offering we collect ashes from the fire used to provide the smoke. This ash is then kept and added to the fire made for the next ritual, this maintains an unbroken connection (Tibetan: Tendrel) between the rituals, a kind of lineage of auspicious conditions which empowers all of our smoke offerings.
Welsh Buddhist Roots
A place we regularly go on a pilgrimage to is LLyn y Dywarchen, a sacred site in North Wales that has a strong connection to Guru Rinpoche for us. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said he had always wanted to set up a sacred Guru Rinpoche place with a lake and an island. After Trungpa Rinpoche’s death, Rigdzin Shikpo asked HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche whether it would be a good idea to do this, and he said it would. His Holiness divined a map to find a location ‘West of London’ and chose a square of North Wales.
LLyn y Dywarchen has such an island and lake and has been blessed by the presence and prayers of Lama Rigdzin Shikpo and Jamyang Tashi Dorje Rinpoche. Members of the Awakened Heart Sangha have chanted many Guru Rinpoche mantras here and carried out rituals to place Buddhist roots deep into the Welsh soil. Revered Buddhist teacher Khenpo Rinpoche also visited and blessed LLyn y Dywarchen in 2004.