Inner Way of Pilgrimage
Divine consciousness exists at the center of every particle in existence: “center everywhere,” as Paramhansa Yogananda put it; “circumference nowhere.” Divine worship is therefore, and quite naturally, inward as well as outward. To one whose view is inward, all things are sacred. All life is, in this sense, a pilgrimage, and everything in existence, a holy shrine, where resides the Lord Himself.
Without meditation, however, it is not easy to experience inspiration even in a holy shrine—what to speak of in a mere rock. For to see God everywhere, and not merely to affirm that He is omnipresent, one must be aware of Him first within oneself. It is important, therefore, to worship God first in the temple of one’s own body, and to become conscious of Him as a living reality. Without reverence, the most sacred shrine on earth cannot inspire love for God.
Jesus Christ said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” His critics thought he was referring to the temple at Jerusalem, where he was at the time. The Bible concludes, “But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19,21). Jesus was not saying that the magnificent temple at Jerusalem did not deserve people’s veneration. All he said was that the supreme pilgrimage is within, not without. To worship God “in spirit and in truth” means to commune with Him in inner silence. The meaning of this passage is unequivocal: We should worship God above all in ourselves, and outwardly only to express the devotion we feel in our hearts.
Every religion teaches that in certain places on earth there are holy vibrations. The Holy Land itself is an example of such a place. So also is India. To meditate in the Himalayas, especially, and even to visit them with a reverent attitude, is to be affected with their vibrations of inner freedom. Outward pilgrimage, he was saying, without corresponding inner communion with God, is of little benefit. The important thing is above all our inner relationship with the Lord. When visiting holy places, we should tune in sensitively to their vibrations, with a deeply prayerful attitude. If our hearts’ feelings are uplifted calmly to receive the divine blessings, the benefits we gain will be enduring.
Above all, however, what Jesus recommended was the “pilgrimage” to our own divine Source, within. Wherever we are, physically, we should worship the Father “in spirit and in truth,” making a portable altar of our hearts. Outward pilgrimage is a good way of reinforcing and deepening our attunement with God, but the true altar of Spirit is a heart purified of attachments and desires, and uplifted to His love. To worship God “in spirit” means, in deep meditation, to rise above body-consciousness.
Otherwise, what is pilgrimage? It has transforming power over every aspect of life. Divine experience, unlike the shadowy images that arise from the subconscious, and unlike the brief peace experienced in holy places, leaves no one that it touches ever the same again.
Jesus here, then, is saying, “If you want to be the kind of worshiper whom God Himself seeks, set aside some time every day for superconscious divine contact in meditation. Enter into the silence of inner communion.” This “holy of holies” can only be symbolized, externally. Its reality is the sanctuary of the heart. On that altar we should keep always lit the sacred lamp of our devotion.
True pilgrimage, then, like true worship, is primarily inward. It is perhaps not so difficult to visualize the body as a place of worship, for in meditation one is, outwardly, motionless like a temple. Pilgrimage, however, implies moving from one place to another. An unmoving body gives no impression of movement at all. Stillness, yes. But pilgrimage? Pilgrimage to sacred shrines is a symbol of the inner, spiritual quest. As a symbol, however, it seems lacking in that one feature: movement. Yet, strange to relate, there is definite movement during meditation. The movement is not outward. It takes place within the body.
This way of pilgrimage takes us through the spine. The spine even physically is the route by which energy passes between the brain and the body. It is a subtle passageway for the flow of the life-energy. The human will—both consciously and subconsciously—sends energy to the body through the nerves in the spine, commanding movement, tension—even the breath. The deeper one’s spiritual realization, however, the more he realizes that mastery over this energy gives one control over everything in the universe by simple command of the will.
Thus, the inner pilgrimage is very real. It is movement, not stasis. Only at the end of the journey is absolute stillness attained. This journey is subtle, however. At the end of every outward pilgrimage there is usually a temple or some other shrine where movement ends (ideally, at least!) in meditative stillness. The same may be said of the soul’s pilgrimage within. The upward journey of energy and consciousness in the spine ends in the perfect stillness of Self-realization.