Significance of Pilgrimage in Buddhism

S.R. Bhatt
Chairman, Indian Council of Philosophical Research

In every culture myths and legends are found in abundance. Sometimes they are explanations of natural phenomena or stories about some important persons, places and events. Sometimes they are expressions of beliefs and practices. In most of the cases they are associated with religious persons or deities. But they are also tied down to rituals having some religious or spiritual significance. Every ritual gets connected with some myth otherwise it may not have reverential regard and forceful practice. Through myth its need and importance are explained. These rituals also establish models of behavior. They may also provide spiritual experience. They help in spiritual enhancement, enrichment and realization. Rites and rituals thus become mythology-in- action. They are socially maintained and practiced with great zeal and they become part of belief system.

In this paper instead of dealing with myths in Buddhism pertaining to the lives of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and Buddhist pantheon which is in plenty I shall dwell on pilgrimage which is a practice having some myth underlying it.  In Buddhism pilgrimage is given great emphasis. Lord Buddha himself initiated this practice to spread and disseminate Dharma. He exhorted his fellow monks to go all around on spiritual pilgrimage. Following the advice of Lord Buddha many Indian monks undertook pilgrimage to most of the countries of Asia. The name of King Ashok is associated with this practice as he sent his son and daughter for this. Many monks came to India from Asian countries for studying Buddhist tenets. Initially it was undertaken for learning the liberating teachings of the Buddha but later on it took religious form. Now it is practiced to earn merits. For this attitude also there is an underlying myth of getting into heaven after death. Of course the ultimate goal is to achieve nirvana.