Yesterday I went on Parikrama, which literally means to “walk around.” Circumambulation of holy places has a symbolic meaning – to always keep our spiritual aspirations central and close, regardless of where we are in life (whatever point on the circle, one is never further away from the centre). There is also a transcendental benefit: anyone who sincerely circles these holy places accrues the conviction and devotion to escape the cosmic cycle of birth and death. Bare footed, and carrying the bare necessities, I set off, trying to keep a spiritual meditation in mind.
An hour into my journey, a local resident whizzed past me. Half my size and double my age, but somehow walking at twice my speed! How was it possible? Not to be defeated (as if it was a race anyway), I upped my tempo. At this point I was practically running, but he was effortlessly pulling away. As he floated ahead into the morning mist, I wanted a glance of his face. I was waiting, praying for him to look back – who was this man? He eventually disappeared out of sight, and never looked back even once. He was totally focused on the path ahead.
Residents of these holy places, we are told, are not ordinary souls. They travel light, with few attachments, speeding towards spiritual perfection. They’ve closed all their chapters, tied up their worldly concerns, and now invest everything in their cherished spiritual aspirations. They don’t look back. Yes, I thought, maybe I’m not moving as fast as I’d like because I’m still looking back. Looking back to see if I’m missing out on something. Looking back and regretting actions and decisions of the past. Looking back to see what people think of me, preoccupied with public opinion, image, name and fame. Looking back to see how everyone else is doing, continually comparing my progress to others and competing with the world. In this way we continually look back, and unknowingly slow down our progressive march forward.
I resolved to not look back for the rest of my walk. It helped, and I prayed that ‘not looking back’ will become a deeper meditation in my life. Oh, and I did indeed meet that mystical man again. A half hour down the road he was sitting on a wooden bench sipping coconut water. He had finished his circuit, while I still had a good few hours left. He smiled, and I smiled back, folding my hands in respect. Gracefully and humbly, he returned the gesture. It was touching. I walked off and wondered who he was… a small man, but likely a spiritual giant.
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Gunarnava Sitaram Das for ISKCON Sacramento
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Archbishop Eric Escala, Continuing Anglican Church