Preparation, Approach, and Arrival

A prepared mind is the key to a successful pilgrimage.

Preparation: At Home

A key idea in everything you do in preparing for your pilgrimage is mindfulness. In our everyday lives, much of what we do is done on "auto-pilot." We miss the benefits derived from approaching life with a "beginner's mind." Think about how a baby concentrates on walking; can you do the same? When you start your car to come to the Temple, think about the days when you started driving, how you concentrated on every detail: choosing the key, adjusting the mirrors, checking the seatbelt, putting your hands at "10 and 2." Can you drive with as much mindfulness now as you did then?

It is also recommended that you read something before you leave home. This should be chosen in advance so you don't have to "think" about what to read; keep your mind clear to focus on the pilgrimage. Choose a passage from a sutra, an inspirational reading by a favorite author, or anything that will help you focus your mind on today's task.

The instruction to "eat a vegetarian breakfast" is an important one. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to cleanse your body of meat products for several days before your pilgrimage. You might be surprised at the effect. Others will choose to fast entirely; in either case, you can time your pilgrimage so that you finish before the Dining Hall closes (1:30 on weekdays, 2:30 on weekends). It would be a fine way to finish off the pilgrimage.

A "mindful" breakfast can also be a great benefit. Consider where your food came from, the human effort involved, the sun, the rain, the soil. This will help you see the interconnectedness of your life with others.

Finally, there is the matter of offerings. Any offering (excluding meat, contraband, etc.) is acceptable, as long as it is offered mindfully. See the list under "Ten Offerings" under the heading "In the Hall of the Bodhisattvas" below for suggestions. Preparation at home is a nice way to "dedicate" the offering before you arrive at the Temple. Even if you are giving cash, you can put it in an envelope at home and focus on your intentions before you leave.

You are also encouraged to meditate. If this is your usual custom, great; if it is not, it is recommended that the day of your pilgrimage not be the first time you try it. Plan ahead: get a good book (or, better, some live instruction) at least a week before your pilgrimage. Then, practice daily through the week so your meditation doesn't feel "strange." Remember that Hsi Lai Temple offers meditation classes every Sunday at 11 a.m. (except on major days of celebration). You could take a class one Sunday, practice through the week, and then make your pilgrimage the next weekend.

Approach: From Home to the Temple

As you have heard, "The longest journey begins with a single step." Actually, it's difficult to know when a journey begins or ends. If it is a trip by plane, does it begin in the plane? At the airport? When you leave home? When you buy your ticket? When you first make your plans?

The same could be asked about a pilgrimage. Does it start when you first get the idea? Or when you arrive at the Temple? There is a simple principle here: the sooner you put on your "pilgrim's mind," the more you will get out of the pilgrimage. I have recommended starting upon waking. But you could start the night before. Or, as suggested above, the week before, with meditation and vegetarian dining becoming part of your routine before you start out.

But at a minimum, it is essential that once you are in the car, you begin focusing on your pilgrimage. You cannot arrive at the Temple harassed and scattered and expect your experience to be a full one. So drive mindfully to the Temple; maintain silence or, if you are with others, keep talk to a minimum; and be aware of your self and your surroundings, practicing interconnectedness. Especially avoid talk that is frivolous, or that involves serious mundane matters such as finances or family problems. This is a time to focus on the pilgrimage. Don't worry: your problems will still be here after you finish! But at least you may be able to deal with them from a new perspective.

Finally, an odd point: Most of us whiz up to the Temple by car, parking as close as we can to the steps leading up to the Bodhisattva Hall. But the pilgrimage starts at the bottom of the hill, by the outer gate. At the least, then, consider parking there. Better still, though, would be to park in the lot down at Hacienda and Colima, and walk up the last hill to the Temple gate. Some may even choose to walk further than that. Again, the more effort you can make, the better your pilgrimage will be.

Arrival at the Temple

In the West, prayer is thought of in different ways. These include:

  • Adoration: enjoying the presence of the "Sacred." This is not so much a "doing" as a "state of mind."
  • Praise: As with mundane praise, expressing the positive traits of the Sacred. "You are kind, you are merciful," etc. This is not done in order to obtain anything, but because the Sacred calls forth praise from us by its very being.
  • Thanksgiving: Having a grateful heart for what we have, and expressing this.
  • Penitence: Confessing our wrongdoing, and seeking the strength and wisdom to do the right in the future.
  • Oblation: Offering ourselves for the purposes of the Sacred.
  • Intercession: Making requests on behalf of others.
  • Petition: Making requests on behalf of ourselves

("The Sacred" here could mean God in a theistic tradition; it is something less obvious, but intuitively recognized, in Buddhism. Though the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas are not "gods" per se, Buddhists often respond to them as "Sacred" in some sense.) On your pilgrimage you may find your intentions falling into one or more of these categories. As you begin your pilgrimage, especially, you may consider some "Intercession" and "Petition," expressing the needs of others and yourself. This could be as specific as health for a loved one who is ill, success on a test, or prevailing in a business matter. Or it may be more general, such as "for the spread of the Dharma" or "for an increased understanding of what is important in life." Whatever it is, it should be considered well before you start your pilgrimage, and stated-either aloud or silently-at the Bodhi tree at the bottom of the hill.

As you may know, Prince Siddhartha left his home at age 29, seeking an answer to the questions in his mind: Why do we experience illness, old age, and death? Why do we suffer? How can we be released from this world? And so he wandered in the forest, studying with spiritual masters, for six years. He underwent the most severe austerities, nearly starving himself to death.

Finally, he realized that such self-imposed suffering made it harder to find answers, not easier. So he decided to sit down under a tree, afterwards known as ficus religiosa--the "religious fig"-until he found the answer. And so he did. Under the Bodhi tree, he was able to attain Enlightenment, and determined to spend the rest of his life teaching others about it.

You, too, may choose to strengthen your resolve in the presence of this tree.


Preparation: At Home

  • Rise.
  • Cleanse your body, maintaining mindfulness.
  • Read a selection from a Buddhist sutra or other inspirational reading.
  • Meditate in a form comfortable to you. Especially, contemplate this day's activities.
  • Eat a vegetarian breakfast, OR maintain the fast.
  • Prepare an offering for the Bodhisattva Hall at the Temple.

Approach: From Home to the Temple

  • Leave home and drive mindfully to the Temple.
  • Maintain silence or, if you are with others, keep talk to a minimum.
  • Be aware of your self and your surroundings, practicing interconnectedness.
  • Consider parking down the hill, at the main intersection, and walking the three blocks up to the Front Gate.
  • OR At the least, park on the street outside the Front Gate

Arrival at the Temple

  • Stop at the Front Gate and approach the Bodhi tree. (It is the tree with the large, heart-shaped leaves inside the wrought-iron gate, on the left.)
  • Contemplate its leaves and form as you consider any special concerns you may have for yourself or others:
  • Under such a tree, the Buddha attained enlightenment. I, too, hope to become enlightened, and so I undertake this pilgrimage.
  • Today I especially focus on [state here your intentions for yourself and others.]
  • Clear your mind, and focus on your body and your environment.

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