What is the value of pilgrimage?
Hindu tradition emphasises the role of undertaking pilgrimages as an aid for one’s spiritual development. Sikhi does not consider pilgrimage as an act of spiritual merit. Guru Nanak went to places of pilgrimage to reclaim the fallen people, who had turned ritualistic. He told them of the need to visit that temple of God, deep in the inner being of themselves. According to him: “He performs a pilgrimage who controls the five vices.”
People go to centres of pilgrimage for a variety of reasons: some for religious formality, some for show, some for fun and some for holiday. Some people delight in visiting holy shrines, in the belief that their sins will be forgiven. But bathing or other rituals cannot wash away sin. Real dirt pertains to the mind; it is inward. The growth of desire of Maya, cannot be removed by physical action. Nevertheless, visits to historical places connected with activities of holy men have a marginal utility. They remind people of goodness and tradition. Who knows when one may find some truly holy person at a religious centre.
The futility of wandering to the so-called sacred places is amply illustrated by the life of Guru Amardas. Before he became Guru, he went on pilgrimages twenty times, without benefit. He saw the light only when he finally met Guru Angad. The Gurus tried to remove the notion of the efficacy of pilgrimage. Guru Nanak says: “I would like to go to pilgrimage only if it pleases God.” Elsewhere, he says: “My places of pilgrimage are to study ‘The Word’, and contemplating its divine knowledge within me.”
Guru Gobind Singh was very emphatic about the futility of pilgrimage. According to him, without God’s Name, such visits have not the slightest significance. Kabir sought God in the temple of his mind. He therefore, migrated from Benaras, a well-known sacred city, to Magahar, a traditionally cursed town.
Real pilgrimage is any visit to the Guru which gives enlightenment. Guru Nanak says:
“No pilgrim-spot is equal to the Guru…The Guru is the river in whose water (Name), the filth of sin and evil thoughts, are washed off.”