Purpose of Visiting the Places of Pilgrimage

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The sole purpose behind visiting the external places of pilgrimage is to understand their importance as to why these places gained importance. We should learn a lesson from the lives and teachings of those Saints because of whom these places became sacred. We should look for a holy Saint whose teachings may be helpful in controlling our mind and senses, and who can show us a path of God-realisation. But, now-a-days to go for a pilgrimage has become a tradition. People living on the banks of the Ganges run to Kurukshetra and those residing in Kurukshetra run to the Ganges. Similarly, the inhabitants of Badri Naryan run to Prayag and those of Prayag run to Badri Narayan and so on. These places have degenerated into fairs and festivals. People go their for enjoyment, sight seeing, merry making and meeting friends. Instead of benefiting from the spiritual discourses and practising worship and devotion, they come back to their homes after taking a dip in the sacred rivers. On the return journey, they buy goods for distribution amongst relatives and friends by way of gifts. Most of the people visit these places solely from the commercial angle of making money. They kill two birds with one stone i.e. they take bath at the places of pilgrimage and also make money. Thus the real purpose of visiting the sacred places has been lost sight of entirely. One cannot attain God-realisation and remove the impurities of the mind and soul simply by having a dip in water or by journeying through the world. The Lord cannot be pleased in this manner. *Sri Nam Dev Says :
The pilgrimages to the Ganges, Gaya and
Godawari, are but to please the world.
But, if the Lord be pleased, only then
he shall be His true servant. (Namdev Salok 1195-16)
Umar Khayyam says, "To go for a pilgrimage or to perform `Haj' is a mere farce." Shri Shankra Acharya says, "Purification of the mind in a specific manner, is a pilgrimage of the high order."
By visiting the places of pilgrimage, if we do not get the company of a true Saint (Satsang) which pacifies the heart and controls the mind from wandering hither and thither and do not benefit from his spiritual discourses, it is a sheer wastage of time and money. In fact, these places have become the centres of hypocrisy and cruelty. Irreligious activities and evil practices are gaining momentum at these places. The greatness and fame of these places is because of advertisement and propaganda launched by the irreligious, unrighteous and business cheats who get ample chance of robbing and fleecing the innocent pilgrims.
Bathing at the External Places of Pilgrimage cannot Wash Sins
It is pertinent to note that by washing the body at the sacred spots, the impurities of the mind and soul cannot be cleansed. If bathing could remove the filth of the mind, the fish which bathes constantly in water would have dispelled its foul smell. Similarly, man may bathe thousand times in icy cold waters and visit the holy places of pilgrimage but he cannot escape from the snares of the Negative Power unless he bathes in the internal pool of Nectar after taking shelter at the feet of a perfect Master.
Kabir Sahib says :
What is the use of bathing and washing,
If the dirt of mind is not washed away ?
Look at the fish that lives in clear water,
But ever has a strong unpleasant odour.
Even a million tours to holy cities,
Are useless without devotion to a Saint.
By visiting holy rivers, making vows,
And having ritual cold water baths,
People have made themselves quite spiritually dead.
For unknown ages Kal has been devouring men,
Because they have not known the True Name of the Lord.
Similarly, Guru Nanak Sahib says :
The gourd is externally washed, but within there is pure poison.
The Saint is blessed even without bathing,
but a thief remains a thief even after bathing.
(M.I Suhi Ki Var 789-13)
By bathing at the external places of pilgrimage man contracts the impurities of Egotism, instead of removing the dirt of sins. Only those people visit the places of pilgrimage whose mind if not inclined to worship, body shirks hard labour, mind is fickle and wanders hither and thither and concentration is not attained even for a moment. Such people after visiting pilgrim-stations, instead of washing the dirt of sins, make their minds more impure and egotistic. They boast of having been to the sacred places of pilgrimage and having performed `Haj.' They boast of having offered prayers, worship, bowing head in temples, and having made donations to certain sadhus and charitable asharams. There is no use of external bathing and visiting the holy places of pilgrimage if ego reigns in the mind. *Kabir Sahib says :
Two kinds of men go to the pilgrim stations;
The fickle hearted and the robbers of the mind.
They wash not even a single sin;
But contract a fresh load of Egotism.
Guru Nanak Sahib also says the same thing :
Thou go to bathe at pilgrim stations,
with an evil mind and body of a thief.
So while the outer part of thy body is washed,
the inner parts are sullied twice over.
Bulleh Shah also says to the same effect that Ego is a chronic disease. As long as Ego reigns in the mind, bathing at the sacred places is of no avail.
By going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the purpose is not served,if Ego is not destroyed from the mind.
By going to the Ganges, sins are washed not even
though one may dip himself innumerable times.
By performing a pilgrimage to the Ganges, salvation is not attained;
Even though one may bathe countless times.
O Bulleh : the purpose can be accomplished
only when Ego is hurled into the pit.