In December 2019 a group of thirty people from the Mindfulness Project joined the Dhamma Yatra, a Buddhist pilgrimage. Together with over four hundred Thai people and fifty monks and nuns, we walked eighty kilometers from monastery to monastery for eight days. We are a big, moving community of people from all over Thailand of all ages: children from four years old to elderly people up to 75 years old and everything in between. We are walking, eating, meditating, chanting and setting and tidying up our camps altogether. And in the mornings and evenings, we are taught by monk Ajahn Paisal about the current environmental problems in the world and the sufferings in our minds.
The purpose of the Dhamma Yatra is to raise awareness for peace, nature, and the plight of the beautiful Lampatao River Basin where the walk takes place. The walk is designed for personal and spiritual growth. Our natural outside world and our natural inside world have to develop together. We are not only walking for the world, but also for ourselves. To develop a good heart/mind. The funny thing is that for us westerners our hearts and our mind are separate entities, while the Buddhist monks point to their hearts when they are talking about their minds. Ajahn Paisal believes that for peace outside, we need peace inside.
Dhamma means virtue, righteousness, social duty, cosmic law, and order. Exploring Dhamma, we are meditating in the beauty and simplicity of nature. While being together as Sangha; a spiritual community making an outer and an inner spiritual journey as one.
Yatra literally means walk or pilgrimage to holy places. The walking is a silent meditation at a moderate walking pace. We walk together making a spiritual journey. The goal of the pilgrimage is in walking one step at a time. One breath at a time. Allowing an intimacy with the here and now. Deepening our contact with, and our understanding of the world around and within.
Pilgrimage for: The earth
Every morning and evening we enjoy Dhamma talks by Ajahn Paisal. It is very special that this monk dares to express his opinion about environmental problems. Especially since monks are not allowed to take a political position. His talks teach us about current environmental problems and to live more mindfully. And especially about the relationship between the environmental problems and the ‘natural disasters’ taking place in our mind. Everyone in our group from the Mindfulness Project is aware of the problems regarding the excessive use of plastic, water shortage and the conditions in the livestock industry. So for that matter, the talks are not mind-blowing. But it is very inspiring and hopeful that the Thai people present here that are mostly not yet familiar with these topics, learn about it now.
And to learn about mindfulness from a monk is fantastic. Especially after all Christian’s teachings. It provides deepening and at the same time simplification. But it is probably also due to the entire setting. With a monk who translates the lessons live into English especially for us foreigners. And our temporary community with Thai people and monks, at the most beautiful temples, all gathered.
Pilgrimage for: The Community
This Dhamma Yatra community is incredible. The Dhamma Yatra is a Thai event. Only a handful of other foreigners will join. Because they live and work in Thailand, or have a relationship with Thailand in some other way. But you will not meet any other tourists in the pilgrimage. And our group is received so warmly. When we walk around searching, someone always jumps to help. It is really fantastic to be so warmly included in this community, of which some people have been walking the Dhamma Yatra for twenty years already.
It is just amazing to see how such a big group of people almost organically lives together for a whole week. Every day our camp has to be set up at the next temple. Everyone has their own job. Setting up the place where the teachings are given. Putting down the recycling system. Caring for the blisters and other wounds at the first-aid post. Preparing the food. Cleaning the temple to be left tidy again. Loading the tents and sleeping gear onto the truck in the morning and off the truck in the evening. Lots of work. And every day it went so smoothly.
The food is provided by the people living in nearby villages. So every day it is a surprise what we get. It is so heart-touching that those people wake up in the middle of the night to prepare our breakfast. To support our walk. To support our world and the environment. Twice a day a great meal is served for us. Nutritious, tasty, but unfortunately often packed in plastic. That is why a challenge is being organized for the participants in the Dhamma Yatra: producing as little plastic waste as possible. And then donate 1 baht for each piece of waste that you do produce to the Dhamma Yatra. And it works: a little bit of awareness has been created.
Walking eighty kilometers in eight days, that does not sound like that much of a challenge. But this walk is intended to be done barefoot. And that suddenly makes a lot of difference… Our western feet that never see tarmac or stones are screaming during the whole walk. We just use this opportunity to see it as a ‘nice’ meditation object. And not our whole group walks the whole pilgrimage barefoot. Most of us are very happy with our comfortable walking shoes.
Also, we are walking the entire day. In the sun. The Thai sun. So it’s hot. The sun is boiling. We as foreign tourists admire the sun. We are confident to walk long treks in these temperatures. Even carrying our backpacks is okay. It’s a big luxury that our tents and sleeping gear are transported to the next temple. But us westerners prefer to walk around as naked as possible in order to top up as much as possible. That we have to cover our shoulders and knees is rather a challenge for us.
But for Thai people walking in the heat is a real challenge. Most of them live in an air-conditioned house. And if they have to go outside, they get in their car, again with air conditioning, to drive to their air-conditioned office. Thai people cover themselves completely. In the heat of the sun, they put on the hood of their sweater to prevent their neck from burning. And to be honest, not only the Thai are hot. We are sweating too…
And the cold
As blazing hot it is during the day, as freezing cold is it when the sun is down. You can’t imagine it in Thailand, but the temperatures drop below ten degrees at night. And that is a huge difference with the day I can tell you. We sleep in the mountains, in our tent. Physical contact is not permitted during the pilgrimage with all the monks around us. And if you have been to the Mindfulness Project you know how big of a challenge this is for us. But the monks can’t see us in the tent, so my tent mates and I snuggle up to each other to warm up.
The morning chants and meditation start at 5 AM. Every morning is a big challenge to get out of the tent into the cold. But Ajahn Paisal taught us that it is just the body suffering because of the cold and that your mind is screaming, complaining inside. We cannot control the cold, but we can control our minds. You can choose whether you let the cold affect your mind. Also, there’s actually a lot of parts of your body that are warm, nicely covered by clothes. Why focus on the cold if you don’t like it? You can just focus on the warm parts. Our minds like negativities, they like to complain. It’s not the energy of our bodies we need to overcome suffering, but the energy of our minds.
That goes for the cold, but also the heat, the slow walking pace, the long walks, the people in front of you who don’t walk on, people who talk while you are in silence, having to wait a long time for the food… During the Dhamma Yatra, but especially during your life in general. You are the one who chooses what you focus on. You cannot change the outside circumstances, but you can change your attitude.
Join the Dhamma Yatra pilgrimage in 2020!
The Mindfulness Project is joining the Dhamma Yatra again in 202o. And you have the opportunity to join! Are you interested? Then check out this event and book your spot.
Line Løtveit joined the Dhamma Yatra and made a wonderful mini-documentary about the pilgrimage. Highly recommended to watch!