Difference between revisions of "Tīrtha"

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By SWAMI PURNANANDA
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<small>By Swami Purnananda</small>
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[[A]] tīrtha is a place of pilgrimage. These places are considered to be holy and thus, most people have both faith and devotion towards. When a holy place is associated with truth, righteousness, initiation, penance, prayer, and sacrifice, than it is known as a tīrtha<ref>[[Atharva]] [[Veda]], 12.1.1</ref>.  The difference between [[a]] ''tīrtha'' and other places of importance (ie historical, geographical, archaeological, or natural beauty) is that people visit the latter on excursions or pleasure trips. Pilgrimage are journeys only undertaken with some sacred or pious intention.
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== Definition ==
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The [[Sanskrit]] word ''tīrtha'' is derived from the root verb ''tr'', meaning ‘to cross’, ‘to surpass’. So according to the derived meaning, a ''tīrtha'' is a place from where one can surpass or overcome one’s evil actions (''tarati pāpādikam yasmāt'') or a place from which one can ascend (''tarati yasmāt sthānāt'') to a higher stage of life. A holy place raises us by leading to a higher mental plane; it has the power to manifest godliness in the human heart by making it pure.
 +
 
  
From time immemorial humans have believed in the existence of God. In the
 
Primitive or prehistoric ages a number of gods and goddesses used to be worshipped. They were mainly symbolic of natural or super-natural powers. For example, in ancient Greece Zeus was the king of gods who possessed all powers of protection and annihilation. The Romans had their king of gods, Jupiter. There were also subordinate gods like Apollo, the sun god of the Greeks, and the like. These gods had their temples and shrines where they were worshipped and these were considered holy. Further- more, the places where these shrines were situated
 
were also considered holy spots and people used to visit these places to pay their respects to the gods. Natural elements like air, water and fire have intrinsic powers and the gods were personifications of these powers. Obviously, these gods had the power to protect or destroy. Therefore they had to be propitiated; else they might become angry and destroy people. This gave rise to the idea of worship of gods and god-desses, worship circumscribed within certain rites. This god-worship, again, gave rise to reli- gion with one or more gods. Such religions were named monotheistic or polytheistic ac- accordingly. Every religion has its scriptures, holy
 
Places, temples, churches, mosques, or symbols associated with God. Different religions have different ways of worship and certain places have come to be specifically associated with worship and adoration. Broadly speaking, places with such holy associations are known as tærthas (places of pilgrimage) to the people of
 
the respective faiths.
 
Places of pilgrimage are strewn all over the world. The concept of tærtha has occupied the human mind since ancient times, and religion is very closely associated with the tærthas. Since these places are considered holy, most people have faith and devotion towards them and visit them. In a general sense the word
 
tærtha means a place for re-lingoes practices. Again, though religion is an English synonym of the San-skrit dharma, the two words do not always mean the same thing. Dharma has a vast and diverse area for its meaning. Some use the word for piety or reli-gious rites, some to mean natural properties of things, whereas others use it for righteousness or divine virtues, and so on. The etymological meaning of dharma is ‘that which holds or sustains’. The Atharva Veda de- fines dharma thus:
 
Satyaó bìhadìtamugraó dækłÆ tapo
 
brahma yajæaº pìthivæó dhÆrayanti;
 
SÆ no bhØtasya bhavyasya patnyuruó
 
lokaó pìthivæ naº kìîotu.
 
‘The earth is being sustained by infinite truth, valiant righteousness, initiation, penance, prayer and sacrifice. May this earth, who is the mistress of our past and future, create a great universe for us.’When all these qualities are associated with a holy place, then it is called a tærtha. There is a difference between tærthas and
 
other places of importance, be they historical, geographical, archaeological, or simply places of natural beauty. People visit the latter on ex- cursions or pleasure trips. But pilgrimage is quite a different thing. Only journeys under- taken with some sacred or pious intention can be rightly called pilgrimage.
 
Defining Tærtha
 
The Sanskrit word tærtha is derived from the root verb tì, meaning ‘to cross’, ‘to surpass’.So according to the derived meaning, a tærtha is a place from where one can surpass or overcome one’s evil actions (tarati pÆpÆdikaóyasmÆt) ora
 
place from which one can ascend (tarati yasmÆt sthÆnÆt) to a higher stage of life. A holy place raises us by leading to a higher mental plane; it has the power to manifest godliness in the hu- man heart by making it pure.
 
 
The ultimate Truth is the foundation of spiritual science. All scientific truths—even religions and philosophies are but lower steps of the seemingly infinite flight of stairs that leads to the summit of spirituality. Pilgrimage also happens to be one such step.
 
The ultimate Truth is the foundation of spiritual science. All scientific truths—even religions and philosophies are but lower steps of the seemingly infinite flight of stairs that leads to the summit of spirituality. Pilgrimage also happens to be one such step.
  
In English, one who goes on a pilgrimage is called a pilgrim. The word pilgrim is derived
 
from Old French peligrin or from Late Latin pelegrinus, meaning ‘foreigner’. A pilgrim is ‘one who journeys in foreign lands’. So a place of pilgrimage is, by implication, a foreign land. But this differs greatly from the meaning conveyed by the word tærtha. Tærtha is a place for devotees, and devotees are not foreign to one another. For practicality’s sake, however, we must make do with the term place of pilgrimage
 
for tærtha.
 
  
Manifestation of God Is More in a Tærtha
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In English, one who goes on a pilgrimage is called a pilgrim. The word ''pilgrim'' is derived from Old French ''peligrin'' or from Late Latin ''pelegrinus'', meaning ‘foreigner’. A pilgrim is ‘one who journeys in foreign lands’. So a place of pilgrimage is, by implication, a foreign land. But this differs greatly from the meaning conveyed by the word ''tīrtha''. ''Tīrtha'' is a place for devotees, and devotees are not foreign to one another. For practicality’s sake, however, we must make do with the term ''place of pilgrimage'' for ''tīrtha''.
Descriptions of holy places are found in the scriptures of all faiths right from the Vedas, the most ancient one. It is God that has taken the form of tærthas; that is why they are so holy.The Yajur Veda adores them with salutations:‘NamastærthyÆya ca; Salutation also to the Di-vine dwelling in tærthas.Though God is om-nipresent He manifests Himself in certain places or objects for the sake of common people. Those places or objects are adored with the highest reverence and that is why the shruti offers the above salutation. Another such beautiful passage is found in the Atharva Veda:
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Divaó brumo nakłatrani
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bhumim yaksani parvatan;
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Samudra nadyo vesantaste
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no muncantavamhasah
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‘We revere the sky, the stars, the earth, all super-natural beings, and mountains; the oceans, the rivers, the ponds; let them (the gods dwelling
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therein) deliver us from our troubles.
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A man of true knowledge experiences God everywhere. To him God has become this universe. But to a common man with his sense of distinction this idea is not that easy to accept or assimilate. For such people God manifests, as it were, in special objects or places or persons. This has been expressed by the Lord Himself in
+
the Bhagavadgita:
+
  
Yadyadvibhutimatsattvaó
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== Manifestation of God Is More in a Tīrtha ==
Sri madhurjitmeva vd
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Tattadevvagaccha tvaóm
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mama tejo masambhavam.
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‘Know it for certain that whatever there is extraordinary, endowed with splendour or val-
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our, that originates from but a spark of my divine brilliance.’ As Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘The Sun’s light falls equally on all surfaces, but only bright surfaces like water, mirrors and polished metals, can reflect it fully’5 Similarly, tærthas have the power to manifest the presence of God. For ages together great souls, spiritual lu-minaries, saints and sages have been visiting these places and undergoing spiritual practices there. Powerful spiritual vibrations surging out from their pure minds have produced strong spiritual fields that have made the places holy. In fact, these pure souls are the actual redeemers
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of the tærthas. It is their holy presence and spiritual fervour that transform these places into trithas. ‘Tirthikurvanti tirthani they make the tærthas holy, says Narada.
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Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi used to say: ‘Where else is God ex-cept very close to His devotees? If worldly people even visit the place used by holy men, the very atmosphere of the place can remove the dross of their mind.”
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Such places are found in abundance not only in India but all over the world. The entire land of India is, as it were, a place of pilgrimage. Swami Vivekananda called
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it holy land, punya bhumi.
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As observed earlier, people of all religious faiths have their places of pilgrimage. Muslims consider pilgrimage to Mecca one of their chief religious principles (hajj). Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians too have their holy places. Buddhists and Jains may not stress image worship and rituals, but even they have their sacred spots: to the Buddhists the places bearing the holy memories of Lord Buddha, where stupas or columns have been erected as monuments, are sacred, while the birthplaces of the twenty-four tirthankaras are sacred to the Jains.
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How Tirthas Came into Being
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How have these tirthas come into existence? Where are they situated? What are the characteristics that make them holy or sacred? Tirthas are located everywhere-generally on river banks, mountaintops or in remote, inaccessible places. Many rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are regarded as holy. Innumerable pilgrim spots stand on their shores right from the place of their origin down to where they meet the sea. Confluences of two or more rivers are called praygas. Tirthas like Prayagraj at Allahabad, Sone Prayag, Vishnu Prayag and Rudra Prayag are examples of these. Puri, Dwarka and Kanyakumari are some of the famous tirthas that are situated on the seashore.But tirthas stand even in the midst of impassable deserts; Hinglaj is one such. The Himalaya, the greatest of mountains, is believed to be the abode of gods and goddesses. So the entire Himalayan range is one vast place of pilgrimage with its innumerable tirthas like Kailas, Mansarovar, Amarnath, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.
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We find a number of tirthas mentioned in the Vedas, Puranas and other scriptures. Places
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that have witnessed the birth and divine sports of incarnations of God and places chosen by saints and sages for their spiritual practice and ministration have become famous tirthas. Naimisharanya is one such eternally holy spot that has been described in many Puranas. Then there are the fifty-one ‘saktipithas’ dedicated to the Divine Mother, the embodiment of cosmic Energy. The story how the various parts of Sati’s body came to be associated with these Pithas’ has been narrated elsewhere in this issue.Besides places like these, spots where famous ancient temples are located are also called tirthas. Thus Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Prabhas, Bhubaneswar, and Ujjain can all be equally designated as tirthas.
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It is evident that tirthas are primarily associated with religion. Each of them enshrines the spiritual culture and religious heritage of a particular faith or tradition. This is the reason why people at large feel passionately about them. In the Skanda Purana, Agastya says to his wife Lopamudra: ‘Tirtha sabda vararohe dharma- kìtyełu vartate;Ofair one!Theword tærtha is related to religious observances.’8 Agastya further describes other implications of tærtha to Lopa- mudra: ‘Ofair one!Mother is a tærtha, father is a tirtha, congregations of holy persons are tirthas, religious thinking as well as spiritual principles (yama) and disciplines (niyama) are tirthas, sacred discourses by the celestial sages (devarłis), places which great ascetics and gods frequent, and holy lands, O my beloved, are all
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considered tirthas’ (6.108.12-4).
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Purpose of Pilgrimage
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People go on pilgrimage for various purposes. Some go merely to visit or to enjoy the
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Places’ natural beauty; some go for attaining piety, others to perform religious rites. Spiritual aspirants resort to holy places in order to observe penance and purify their minds. Christians go to church to perform their daily devotions; Muslims go to Mecca on hajj as a religious duty and offer their prayers collectively;Hindus go to Gaya to perform the obsequies of their departed ancestors. But whatever the case may be, one should go on pilgrimage with some bhava (mental attitude). A tærtha is an embodiment of the Divine God assumes the form of a tirtha and divinity is manifest therein. God, in this case, is not a person but an aggregate of divine principles. From an even higher stand-
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point, God is without any attribute whatsoever. It is the devotees who bring God down from the Principle to the Person (of their choice), and out of sheer love and compassion for them God descends to the personal level and accepts the various names and forms they attribute to Him in order to satisfy them.Devotees worship with utmost love the same God in different forms and with different names according to their mental make-up as their ista devata (Chosen Deity). That is why it is said:
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Cinmayasyadvitiyasya
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Niskalayasari rinah
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Upasakanam Karyartham
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Brahmano rupakalpand
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‘The assumption of forms by Brahman, the pure Consciousness, theOne without a second
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Descriptions of holy places are found in the scriptures of all faiths right from the [[Vedas]], the most ancient one. It is God that has taken the form of ''tīrthas''; that is why they are so holy. The Yajur [[Veda]] adores them with salutations: ‘''Namastīrthyaya ca''; Salutation also to the Divine dwelling in ''tīrthas'''.<ref>[[Krishna]] Yajur [[Veda]], 16.42.</ref> Though God is omnipresent He manifests Himself in certain places or objects for the sake of common people. Those places or objects are adored with the highest reverence and that is why the shruti offers the above salutation. Another such beautiful passage is found in the [[Atharva]] [[Veda]]:
partless and bodiless, is for the sake of fulfilling the purposes of the worshippers.’9
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The Lord I also called bhavagrahi, one who takes into account the inmost attitude of the devotee. That inmost attitude, imbued with the utmost unalloyed love, is the final word in the sphere of genuine religion, though outwardly a devotee may worship God with offerings or through charity or by singing of praises and glories. Pilgrimag too is but a kind of worship of God in the form of a holy tærtha. Every tærtha has its presiding deity who must be paid reverential homage, bit in the form of worship, chanting of holy
+
names ormeditation.That apart, in a tirtha on is enjoined to give in charity to holy persons a well as to the poor and the afflicted. This is the manner in which the Divine in the form of tirtha is worshipped. God in turn is pleased to gratify the pilgrim with the desired results.
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Obtaining the Fruits of Visiting a Tirtha
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{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
Sri Ramakrishna once told a devotee:’From time to time he [a worldly person] should live in the company of holy men, and from time to time go into solitude to meditate on God. Furthermore, he should practise discrimination and pray to God, “Give me faith
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|style="width:40%"|<poem>Divam brūmo naksatrāni
and devotion.” Once a person has faith he has achieved everything.’10 Pilgrimage can provide a devoteewith all these.At a tærtha one can associate with monks and devotees, benefit from the solitude and spiritual vibrations of the place which help concentrate one’smind onGod easily, and sincerely practise prayer and discrimination.What is discrimination? It is the ability to judge what is good and what is bad, what is acceptable and what is non-acceptable, what is real and what is unreal. After discriminating thus one must with strong determination accept the real and give up the unreal. Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘God is real and all else is ilusory’ (392). This is the essence of discrimination. True, but unless the mind is prepared to accept it, it is all futile. ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’11 So one should maintain one’s bhava. A famous Sanskrit verse says:
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&nbsp;&nbsp;bhūmīm yaksāni parvatān;
Bhavena labhate jananam
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Samudrā nadyo vesantāste
bhavena devadarsanam;
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&nbsp;&nbsp;no muncantavamhasah</poem>
 +
|‘We revere the sky, the stars, the earth, all super-natural beings, and mountains; the oceans, the rivers, the ponds; let them (the gods dwelling therein) deliver us from our troubles.’<ref>[[Atharva]] Veda, 11.6.10.</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
A man of true knowledge experiences God everywhere. To him God has become this universe. But to a common man with his sense of distinction this idea is not that easy to accept or assimilate. For such people God manifests, as it were, in special objects or places or persons. This has been expressed by the Lord Himself in the Bhagavad-Gita:
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem> Yadyadvibhutimatsattvam
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;Srimadhurjitmeva vā;
 +
Tattadevāvagaccha tvam
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;mama tejo msasambhavam.</poem>
 +
|‘Know it for certain that whatever there is extraordinary, endowed with splendor or valor, that originates from but a spark of my divine brilliance.’<ref>Bhagavad-Gita, 10.41.</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
As Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘The Sun’s light falls equally on all surfaces, but only bright surfaces like water, mirrors and polished metals, can reflect it fully’.<ref>Swami [[Brahmananda]], Words of the Master (Calcutta: Udbodhan Office, 1938), 19.</ref> Similarly, ''tīrthas'' have the power to manifest the presence of God. For ages together great souls, spiritual luminaries, saints and sages have been visiting these places and undergoing spiritual practices there. Powerful spiritual vibrations surging out from their pure minds have produced strong spiritual fields that have made the places holy. In fact, these pure souls are the actual redeemers of the ''tīrthas''. It is their holy presence and spiritual fervour that transform these places into ''tīrthas''. ‘''Tirthīkurvanti tīrthani'' they make the ''tīrthas'' holy, says [[Narada]].<ref>[[Bhakti]] Sutras, 69.</ref> Holy Mother Sri Sarada [[Devi]] used to say: ‘Where else is God except very close to His devotees? If worldly people even visit the place used by holy men, the very atmosphere of the place can remove the dross of their mind.”<ref>Her Devotee-Children, The Gospel of the Holy Mother (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2000), 265.</ref> Such places are found in abundance not only in India but all over the world. The entire land of India is, as it were, a place of pilgrimage. [[Swami Vivekananda]] called it holy land, ''punya [[bhumi]]''.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== How Tīrthas Came into Being ==
 +
How have these ''tīrthas'' come into existence? Where are they situated? What are the characteristics that make them holy or sacred? ''Tīrthas'' are located everywhere-generally on river banks, mountaintops or in remote, inaccessible places. Many rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are regarded as holy. Innumerable pilgrim spots stand on their shores right from the place of their origin down to where they meet the sea. Confluences of two or more rivers are called ''[[prayāga]]''s. Tīrthas like Prayagraj at Allahabad, Sone Prayag, [[Vishnu]] Prayag and Rudra Prayag are examples of these. Puri, Dwarka and Kanyakumari are some of the famous ''tīrthas'' that are situated on the seashore. But ''tīrthas'' stand even in the midst of impassable deserts; Hinglaj is one such. The Himalaya, the greatest of mountains, is believed to be the abode of gods and goddesses. So the entire Himalayan range is one vast place of pilgrimage with its innumerable ''tīrthas'' like Kailas, Mansarovar, Amarnath, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.
 +
 
 +
Many ''tīrthas'' are mentioned in the [[Vedas]], Puranas and other scriptures. Places that have witnessed the birth and divine sports of incarnations of God and places chosen by saints and sages for their spiritual practice and ministration have become famous ''tīrthas''. Naimisharanya is one such eternally holy spot that has been described in many Puranas. Then there are the fifty-one ‘''saktipīthas''’ dedicated to the Divine Mother, the embodiment of cosmic Energy. The story how the various parts of Sati’s body came to be associated with these ''Pīthas'' has been narrated elsewhere in this issue. Besides places like these, spots where famous ancient [[temples]] are located are also called ''tīrthas''. Thus [[Varanasi]], [[Kanchipuram]], Tirupati, Prabhas, Bhubaneswar, and Ujjain can all be equally designated as ''tīrthas''.
 +
 
 +
Each tīrtha enshrines the spiritual culture and religious heritage of a particular tradition. In the ''Skanda [[Purana]]'', [[Agastya]] says to his wife Lopamudra: ‘''Tīrtha [[sabda]] varārohe dharmakrtyesu vartate''; O fair one! The word ''tīrtha'' is related to religious observances.’<ref>Skanda [[Purana]], 6.108.11.</ref> [[Agastya]] further describes other implications of ''tīrtha'' to Lopamudra: O fair one! Mother is a ''tīrtha'', father is a ''tīrtha'', congregations of holy persons are ''tīrthas'', religious thinking as well as spiritual principles (''[[yama]]'') and disciplines (''[[niyama]]'') are ''tīrthas'', sacred discourses by the celestial sages (''devarsis''), places which great [[ascetics]] and gods frequent, and holy lands, O my beloved, are all considered ''tīrthas''’ <ref>Skanda [[Purana]], 6.108.12-4</ref>.
 +
 
 +
== Purpose of Pilgrimage ==
 +
People go on pilgrimage for various purposes. Some go merely to visit or to enjoy the Places’ natural beauty; some go for attaining piety, others to perform religious rites. Spiritual aspirants resort to holy places in order to observe penance and purify their minds. One should go on pilgrimage with some ''[[bhava]]'' (mental attitude). A ''tīrtha'' is an embodiment of the Divine God assumes the form of a ''tīrtha'' and [[divinity]] is manifest therein. God, in this case, is not a person but an aggregate of divine principles. From an even higher stand-point, God is without any attribute whatsoever. It is the devotees who bring God down from the Principle to the Person (of their choice), and out of sheer love and compassion for them God descends to the personal level and accepts the various names and forms they attribute to Him in order to satisfy them. Devotees [[worship]] with utmost love the same God in different forms and with different names according to their mental make-up as their ''ista [[devata]]'' (Chosen Deity). That is why it is said:
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Cinmayasyādvitīyasya
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;Niskalayāsaririnah;
 +
Upasakānām Kāryārtham
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;Brahmano rūpakalpanā</poem>
 +
|‘The assumption of forms by [[Brahman]], the pure [[Consciousness]], the One without a second partless and bodiless, is for the sake of fulfilling the purposes of the worshippers.’<ref>[[Rama]]-purva-tapini [[Upanishad]],7.</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
The Lord is also called ''bhāvagrāhī'', one who takes into account the inmost attitude of the devotee. That inmost attitude, imbued with the utmost unalloyed love, is the final word in the sphere of genuine religion, though outwardly a devotee may [[worship]] God with offerings or through charity or by singing of praises and glories. Pilgrimage too is but a kind of [[worship]] of God in the form of a holy ''tīrtha''. Every ''tīrtha'' has its presiding deity who must be paid reverential homage, bit in the form of [[worship]], chanting of holy names or meditation. That apart, in a ''tīrtha'' one is enjoined to give in charity to holy persons as well as to the poor and the afflicted. This is the manner in which the Divine in the form of ''tīrtha'' is worshiped. God in turn is pleased to gratify the pilgrim with the desired results.
 +
 
 +
== Obtaining the Fruits of Visiting a Tīrtha ==
 +
Sri Ramakrishna once told a devotee:’ From time to time he [a worldly person] should live in the company of holy men, and from time to time go into solitude to meditate on God. Furthermore, he should practice discrimination and pray to God, “Give me faith and devotion.” Once a person has faith he has achieved everything.’<ref>M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 87.</ref> Pilgrimage can provide a devotee with all these. At a ''tīrtha'' one can associate with monks and devotees, benefit from the solitude and spiritual vibrations of the place which help concentrate one’s mind on God easily, and sincerely practice prayer and discrimination. What is discrimination? It is the ability to judge what is good and what is bad, what is acceptable and what is non-acceptable, what is real and what is unreal. After discriminating thus one must with strong determination accept the real and give up the unreal. Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘God is real and all else is illusory’ <ref>M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 392</ref>. This is the essence of discrimination. True, but unless the mind is prepared to accept it, it is all futile. So one should maintain one’s ''[[bhava]]''. A famous [[Sanskrit]] verse says:  
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Bhāvena labhate jnānam
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;bhāvena devadarsanam;
 
Bhavena labhate sarvam
 
Bhavena labhate sarvam
tasmadbhavavalambanam.
+
&nbsp;&nbsp;tasmādbhāvāvalambanam.</poem>
‘Through bhava knowledge is attained, through bhava comes God-vision. Everything
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|‘Through ''[[bhava]]'' knowledge is attained, through ''[[bhava]]'' comes God-vision. Everything is achieved through ''bhava''; therefore ''bhava'' is to be adopted.’ Bereft of ''bhava'' merely visiting holy places would at best be an excursion or a pleasure trip. However many dips one may take in the holy rivers, nothing will happen.  
is achieved through bhava; therefore bhava is to be adopted.’ Bereft of bhava merely visiting holy places would at best be an excursion or a pleasure trip. However many dips one may take in the holy rivers, nothing will happen. Says Mirabai: “If God can be attained by daily bathing, may I be an aquatic animal.’ In the ‘Kashi’ Khanda’ it is said:
+
|}
Cittamantargatam dustam
+
 
tirthasnananna suddhyati;
+
Says Mirabai: “If God can be attained by daily bathing, may I be an aquatic animal.’ In the ‘[[Kashi]]’ Khanda’ it is said:
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Cittamantargatam dustam
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;tīrthasnānānna suddhyati;
 
sataso’pi jalairdhutam
 
sataso’pi jalairdhutam
surabhandamivasucih
+
&nbsp;&nbsp;surabhandamivasucih</poem>
‘Impurities of the mind cannot be removed by bathing in holy rivers, just as a vessel used to hold liquor remains impure even if washed hundreds of times.’12 In order to acquire the competence and mental purity required for benefiting from a pilgrimage the scripture pre-scribes the practice of certain principles (yama) and disciplines (niyama). Again, these qualities themselves have been considered tIrthas.13
+
|‘Impurities of the mind cannot be removed by bathing in holy rivers, just as a vessel used to hold liquor remains impure even if washed hundreds of times.’<ref>‘[[Kashi]] Khanda’, 6.38, in Skanda [[Purana]].</ref>
Mental Preparation for Tirtha
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|}
Yamas are the lofty ethical principles of life. They are termed ‘universal’, because they comprise spiritual imperatives which are valid irrespective of time, place, social purpose or cultural demands. They consist of the five great vows of non-killing (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacarya), and non-receiving of gifts (aparigraha).
+
 
In order to be established in these ethical principles, five observances or disciplines have
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In order to acquire the competence and mental purity required for benefiting from a pilgrimage the scripture prescribes the practice of certain principles (''[[yama]]'') and disciplines (''[[niyama]]''). Again, these qualities themselves have been considered ''tīrthas''.<ref>Skanda Purana, 6.108.12.</ref>
been prescribed.They are: internal and external purification (sauca), contentment (santosa), mortification or penance (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and worship of God (isvara-prani-dhana) These are called niyamas.
+
 
A mind established in the yamas is itself atirtha. This ethical conduct has to be main-
+
== Mental Preparation for Tīrtha ==
tained throughout one’s life.Otherwise,merely visiting a tærtha once in a while with a mind full of selfish desires—though making charity, per-forming worship and penance, practicing cleanliness, and hearing religious dis-courses does no good.’14
+
Yamas are the lofty ethical principles of life. They are termed ‘universal’, because they comprise spiritual imperatives which are valid irrespective of time, place, social purpose or cultural demands. They consist of the five great vows of non-killing (''[[ahimsa]]''), truthfulness (''satya''), non-stealing (''[[asteya]]''), continence (''[[brahmacarya]]''), and non-receiving of gifts (''[[aparigraha]]'').
In other words, pilgrimage is efficacious provided it is done in the right spirit. A tærtha has the power to purify the mind and awaken spiritual fervour. As the Bhagavata says:
+
 
Susrosoh sardhadhanasya vasudevakatharucih
+
In order to be established in these ethical principles, five observances or disciplines have been prescribed. They are: internal and external purification (''sauca''), contentment (''[[santosa]]''), mortification or penance (''[[tapas]]''), study (''svadhyaya''), and worship of God (''isvara-prani-[[dhana]]'') These are called ''niyamas''.
Syanmahatsevayavi pra punyatirthanisevandt
+
 
‘O venerable brahmins!By performing holy pilgrimage and serving great souls one can attain devotional faith (sraddha) and the willingness to listen to discourses on Vasudeva.’15
+
A mind established in the yamas is itself a ''tīrtha''. This ethical conduct has to be maintained throughout one’s life. Otherwise, merely visiting a ''tīrtha'' once in a while with a mind full of selfish desires—though making charity, performing worship and penance, practicing cleanliness, and hearing religious discourses does no good.’<ref>‘[[Kashi]] Khanda’, 6.39.</ref> In other words, pilgrimage is efficacious provided it is done in the right spirit. A ''tīrtha'' has the power to purify the mind and awaken spiritual fervor. As the [[Bhagavata]] says:
Three Types of Tirtha
+
 
God is all-pervasive. Just as He manifests Himself in human beingsHe dwells in animate
+
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
and inanimate creatures too. Accordingly,tirthas are classified into three types: sthavara
+
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Susrūsoh srāddhadhānasya vāsudevakathārucih
(immovable), jaïgama (movable), and manasa (mental). Sthavara tærthas include sacred locales like Varanasi, Vrindaban and Kamarpukur; sacred rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; and temples like Jagannath Somanth and Dakshineswar. By tærtha we usually understand these immovable tærthas. The Kashi Khanda describes what made them tirthas: ‘The wonderful natural characteristics of the locality, the unique grandeur of the local waters or the fact that some sage resorted to them (for austerity).16
+
Syānmahatsevayā viprāh punyatīrthanisevanāt</poem>
The great souls who make tærthas all the more holy are jaïgama tærthas, or moving
+
|O venerable brahmins! By performing holy pilgrimage and serving great souls one can attain devotional faith (''[[sraddha]]'') and the willingness to listen to discourses on Vasudeva.<ref>[[Bhagavata]], 1.2.16.</ref>
tirthas. They are called brahmanas by virtue of their qualities and actions. Another verse attributed to the ‘Kashi Khanda’ says:
+
|}
Brahmana  jangamastirthaó
+
 
Nirmalam sarvakamikam;
+
== Three Types of Tīrtha ==
Yesam vakyodakenaiva
+
God is all-pervasive. Just as He manifests Himself in human beings He dwells in animate and inanimate creatures too. Accordingly, ''tīrthas'' are classified into three types: ''sthāvara'' (immovable), ''jangama'' (movable), and ''mānasa'' (mental). ''Sthāvara tīrthas'' include sacred locales like [[Varanasi]], Vrindaban and Kamarpukur; sacred rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; and [[temples]] like Jagannath, Somanth and Dakshineswar. The word tīrtha  usually refers to immovable tīrthas. The [[Kashi]] Khanda describes what made them ''tīrthas'': ‘The wonderful natural characteristics of the locality, the unique grandeur of the local waters or the fact that some sage resorted to them (for austerity).<ref>‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.44.</ref>
suddhyanti malina janah
+
 
‘Brahmanas devoid of all blemishes and who fulfil all the desires (of others) are the moving tirthas. Their words, like holy water, purify people stained by impurities.The virtues and duties that go to make one a brahmana have been enumerated in the Bhagavadgita: ‘Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance, uprightness, knowledge, realization and faith are the duties of a brahmana born of his nature.’17
+
The great souls who make ''tīrthas'' all the more holy are ''jangama tīrthas'', or moving ''tīrthas''. They are called brahmanas by virtue of their qualities and actions. Another verse attributed to the ‘Kashi Khanda’ says:
Persons possessing these qualities are indeed moving tærthas. Whatever they speak is authoritative and the places they visit become sacred. In the Bhagavata, Yudhishthira tells
+
 
Vidura:
+
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
Bhavadvidha bhagavatas-
+
|style="width:40%"|<poem>[[Brāhman]]ā jangamastīrtham
Tirthi bhutahº svayam vibho;
+
&nbsp;&nbsp;Nirmalam sarvakamikam;
Tirthi kurvanti tirthini
+
Yesam vākyodakenaiva
svantathena gadibhìti
+
&nbsp;&nbsp;suddhyanti malinā janāh </poem>
 +
|Brahmanas devoid of all blemishes and who fulfill all the desires (of others) are the moving ''tīrthas''. Their words, like holy water, purify people stained by impurities.<ref>Kashi Khanda</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
The virtues and duties that go to make one a brahmana have been enumerated in the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance, uprightness, knowledge, realization and faith are the duties of a brahmana born of his nature.’<ref>Bhagavad-Gita, 18.42.</ref> Persons possessing these qualities are indeed moving ''tīrthas''. Whatever they speak is authoritative and the places they visit become sacred. In the Bhagavata, Yudhishthira tells [[Vidura]]:
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Bhavadvidhā bhāgavatās-
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;Tirthībhūtāh svayam vibho;
 +
Tīrthīkurvanti tīrthāni
 +
&nbsp;&nbsp;svāntahsthena gadābhrtā</poem>
 +
|O venerable one! A ''bhagavata'' (one possessing divine virtues and motiveless devotion to God) like you is himself an embodiment of a holy ''tīrtha''; Gadadhara, the Lord Himself, being manifest in such persons; they make the ''tīrthas'' even more holy.’<ref>Bhagavata, 1.13.10.</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
How great these souls are! They possess the power of purifying anything that comes in contact with them. The Lord Himself confesses to [[Uddhava]]: ‘I always follow him who desires nothing, who is a ''[[muni]]'' (deeply engrossed in God), serene, free from enmity and who looks upon all with an equal eye, in order that all (the worlds within Me) may be purified by the dust of his holy feet’ <ref>Bhagavata, 11.14.16</ref>. Such are the great devotees of God! They possess infinite purity, and the capacity to purify everything.
 +
 
 +
The third category of ''tīrtha'' is a man’s own mind that has been purified of all desires and merged in God. God is holy; there is nothing holier than God. And a mind always living in Divine presence becomes identified with the Divine. Says Sri Ramakrishna: 'That which is Pure Mind is also Pure [[Buddhi]]; that, again, is Pure [[Ātman]].’<ref>M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002),  178.</ref>
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Visayesvatisamrāgo mānaso [[mala]] ucyate;
 +
Tesveva hi virāgosya nairmalyam samudāhrtam.</poem>
 +
|Attachment to worldly objects is what is termed mental impurity and detachment from sense objects is mental purity.<ref>‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.37.</ref>
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
A person having such a mind has no need to go anywhere to purify himself; his own pure mind is a place of pilgrimage. Not only that, whoever comes into contact with him becomes pure regardless of whether words are exchanged or not. This is beautifully described in the ''Daksinā[[murti]] [[Stotra]]'': ‘How strange! Under the banyan tree is seated a young guru, surrounded by old disciples; the guru’s mute eloquence dispels all doubts of the disciples!’ What is the secret behind this? The guru’s mental field is so vast and powerful that it attracts and merges into itself the disciples’ small mental fields. Where then is the room for any doubt? Such a mind, devoid of the least stain of desire, the cause of impurity, is a much more effective purifying agent than a place of pilgrimage. A pure mind is a storehouse of immense power, including that of purifying other impure minds.
 +
 
 +
So the truest and best pilgrimage is to purify the mind (''manasah visuddhi'')’ that is the greatest ''tīrtha''—because it gives rise to a number of divine qualities that are themselves considered great ''tīrthas'': truthfulness (''satya''), forgiveness (''ksama''), sense control (''indriya-nigraha''), compassion (''sarvabhuta-[[daya]]''), uprightness (''arjava''), charity (''[[dhrti]]''), self-control (''[[dama]]''), contentment (''santoła''), continence (''[[brahmacarya]]''), pleasant speech (''priyaviditi''),knowledge (''jnāna''), fortitude (''dhìti'') and austerity (''[[tapas]]''). All these are ''tīrthas'' in themselves (6.32); they are called 'divine treasures'. A heart that possesses these rich treasures is ‘God’s parlour’; God manifests therein. And wherever such a person goes, that place becomes a ''tīrtha''.
 +
 
 +
When all the senses (''indriyas'') are brought under control and the mind is constantly fixed on God, all mental modifications subside, and one feels Divine presence everywhere, within and without. It then makes no difference where one lives, for one’s residence then becomes a ''tapovana''—‘''nivrttarāgasya grham tapovanam'';to a man of subdued passions his own home is a hermitage’. Sant Kabir says: ‘In the mind are Ganga and Yamuna. I take a holy dip in my mind. What further good will a tīrtha do to me? Again he says: ‘Don’t go, O brother! Don’t wander off to far-off places. Ganga and Yamuna are here in this body. So have your bath here itself.’
 +
 
 +
Therefore, all that is required is a pure mind, bereft of selfishness and passion. The same truth is spoken about in the Skanda Purana:
 +
 
 +
{| {{SanskritEnglishTranslation}}
 +
|style="width:40%"|<poem>Nigrhītendriyagrāmo yatraiva ca vasennarah;
 +
Tatra tasya kurukłetram naimisam puskarāni ca.</poem>
 +
|Wherever a man may live having controlled the senses, for him that place turns into the ''tīrthas'' of Kurukshetra, Naimisha and Pushkara<ref>Skanda Purana, 6.40</ref>.
 +
|}
 +
 
 +
== Good Actions: The Fourth Type of Tīrtha ==
 +
There is yet another ''tīrtha'', and that is good actions—work done for the well-being and happiness of the many; ''bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya''. This was one of [[Buddha]]’s instructions. He said to his disciples: ‘''Caratha bhikkhave cārikam bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya''; Let the bhikshus roam the four quarters for the well-being of the  many, for the happiness of the many.’ In the present age, [[Swami Vivekananda]] has interpreted it as the real [[karma]] [[yoga]] in the light of Sri Ramakrishna’s great dictum of ''siva-jnāne jīva-sevā'', service to human beings looking upon them as God. The principles of [[karma]] [[yoga]] is discussed in many scriptures, but it has been interpreted variously. [[Swami Vivekananda]] has highlighted its practical value as a means to God-realization. According to him jīva-sevā is not just a good deed but ‘the best work you ever did’. To work for the sake of others is the only true work, all other work is non-work and contrary to real work. This ''jīva-sevā'', not ''sarvabhūta-[[daya]]'', compassion towards all, elevates the mind to a plane in which it sees the supreme Self in all beings. Let alone selfless work, even a sincere prayer for the well-being of others makes the mind pure and the person blessed. And the place where this ''jīva-sevā'' is performed also becomes a ''tīrtha''. The [[Mahabharata]] story of the brahmin family and the mongoose is proof of this, and is worth recollecting: 
 +
 
 +
<blockquote>There lived a poor brahmin with his wife daughter and son. Though the family was poor they were very pious. They lived on alms and could hardly make both ends meet. Once it so happened that they did not get any alms and so had to starve for a couple of days. Death was knocking at the door. Then, with much trouble, the brahmin managed to procure a meal of wheat. It was first offered to God and then divided into four equal parts. They were about to eat the meal, when a hungry guest arrived. He too was starving. A guest is to be regarded as Narayana Himself, so the brahmin offered his share to the guest, who ate it and said, ‘Bring more food. This small quantity has only increased my hunger!’ Now the wife offered her share to him. The guest consumed it in no time and demanded more. The son thought: ‘It is my filial duty as a son to complete the sacrifice undertaken by my father. Let me offer my share also to the venerable guest.’ The guest devoured that too and said, ‘My hunger is not yet satiated; I want some more food.’ Then the daughter thought: ‘As a daughter, is it not my duty to fulfill my parents’ sacrifice?’ And she placed her share before the guest. The guest’s fiery hunger was now satisfied and he blessed them all and went away. Thus the four people gave up their lives for the sake of the guest. A mongoose was there witnessing everything. It came out and rolled on the sacred leftovers—and instantly half of its body became golden! ‘Where on earth can I find another great ''tīrtha'' like this?’ It began searching for such a place in order to turn the other half of its body golden. During its long search it came to the place where Yudhishthira had just completed his ''rājasūya'' [[yajna]], the greatest sacrifice performed by a paramount ruler of the entire earth, and rolled on the spot—but with no effect!</blockquote>
 +
 
 +
Another incident: Once a very poor devotee had a strong desire to go to [[Varanasi]] to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in [[Varanasi]]. He came to know of the devotee’s earnest longing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother [[Annapurna]], and enjoyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj. But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt great mental anguish. After bathing in the Ganga and finishing his worship of [[Shiva]] with bel leaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms to mendicants and beggars according to their ability. He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportunity. On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He returned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does it matter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to God and pray, ‘May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought, ‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute like me. What merit can be derived from it?’However, the next day the devotee did exactly as he was advised simply to honor the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.
 +
 
 +
== Pilgrimage to Unity ==
 +
Human civilization is vast and infinitely diverse, and the different tīrthas are places of holy communion for the whole of humankind. The tīrtha experience is about experiencing a sense of oneness; where pilgrims feel that they are a part and parcel of the Cosmic Being, Virāt. [[Pilgrimages]] help pilgrims to break free from the narrow, limited bounds of selfishness, caste, creed, and nationality and become one with humankind. God is all and is in all. The one Eternal Being has become many, assuming innumerable forms and innumerable names. Realization of this truth is the culmination of spirituality—''avagatih paryavasānam'', everything terminates in knowledge. It is this knowledge of oneness, where the entire universe becomes one single home, that a genuine devotee, whose heart has become pure and saturated with the nectar of universal love, realizes at a ''tīrtha''. This is the highest significance of pilgrimage. Else, as Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘A sannyāsi’s kamandalu, made of bitter gourd, travels with him to the four great places of pilgrimage but still does not lose its bitterness.’<ref>M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002),  225</ref>. Floating in the vast ocean of human souls we must transcend artificial barriers.
 +
 
 +
== References ==
 +
 
 +
{{reflist}}
 +
 
  
‘O venerable one! A bhagavata (one possessing divine virtues and motiveless devotion to God) like you is himself an embodiment of a holy tærtha; Gadadhara, the Lord Himself, being manifest in such persons; they make the tirthas even more holy.’18
+
* Originally published as "Tīrtha and Its Significance" by Prabhuddha [[Bharata]] [https://advaitaashrama.org/pb_archive/2006/PB_2006_August.pdf August 2006 edition]. Reprinted with permission.
How great these souls are! They possess the power of purifying anything that comes in
+
contactwith them. The LordHimself confesses to Uddhava: ‘I always follow him who desires nothing, who is a muni (deeply engrossed in God), serene, free from enmity and who looks upon all with an equal eye, in order that all (the worlds withinMe) may be purified by the dust of his holy feet’ (11.14.16). Such are the great devotees of God! They possess infinite purity, and the capacity to purify everything.
+
The third category of tærtha is aman’s own mind that has been purified of all desires and
+
merged in God. God is holy; there is nothing holier than God. And a mind always living in Divine presence becomes identified with the Divine. Says Sri Ramakrishna: ‘That which is Pure Mind is also Pure Buddhi; that, again, is
+
Pure `tman.’19
+
Visayełvatisaórigo minaso mala ucyate;
+
Tełveva hi virigo’sya nairmalyaó samudihìtam.
+
‘Attachment to worldly objects is what is termed mental impurity and detachment from
+
sense objects is mental purity.’20
+
A person having such a mind has no need to go anywhere to purify himself; his own pure mind is a place of pilgrimage. Not only that,whoever comes into contact with him becomes pure regardless of whether words are exchanged or not. This is beautifully described in the Daksimamurti Stotra: ‘How strange! Under the banyan tree is seated a young guru, surrounded by old disciples; the guru’smute eloquence dispels all doubts of the disciples!’ What is the secret behind this? The guru’s mental field is so vast and powerful that it attracts and merges into itself the disciples’ small mental fields. Where then is the room for any doubt? Such a mind, devoid of the least stain of desire, the cause of impurity, is a much more effective purifying agent than a place of pilgrimage. A pure
+
mind is a storehouse of immense power, including that of purifying other impure minds.
+
  
So the truest and best pilgrimage is to purify the mind (manasah visuddhi)’ that is the
+
[[Category:Temples]]
greatest tirtha—because it gives rise to a number of divine qualities that are themselves considered great tirthas: truthfulness (satya), for-giveness (ksama), sense control (indriya-ni-graha), compassion (sarvabhuta-daya), upright-ness (arjava), charity (dhrti), self-control (dama), contentment (santoła), continence (brahmacarya), pleasant speech (priyaviditi),knowledge (jæina), fortitude (dhìti) and aus-terity (tapas). All these are tærthas in themselves (6.32); they are called ‘divine treasures’. A heart
+
[[Category:Temples in India]]
that possesses these rich treasures is ‘God’s parlour’; God manifests therein. And wherever such a person goes, that place becomes a tærtha.
+
[[Category:Pilgrimages]]
When all the senses (indriyas) are brought under control and the mind is constantly fixed
+
on God, all mental modifications subside, and one feels Divine presence everywhere, within and without. It thenmakes no difference where one lives, for one’s residence then becomes a tapovana—‘nivìttarÆgasya gìhaótapovanam;to a man of subdued passions his own home is a hermitage’. Sant Kabir says: ‘In the mind are Ganga and Yamuna. I take a holy dip in my mind. What further good will a tirtha do to me?Again he says: ‘Don’t go,Obrother!Don’t wander off to far-off places. Ganga and Yamuna are here in this body. So have your bath here itself.’
+
Therefore, all that is required is a pure mind, bereft of selfishness and passion. The
+
same truth is spoken about in the Skanda Purana:
+
NigìhætendriyagrÆmo yatraiva ca vasennaraº;
+
Tatra tasya kurukłetraó naimiłaó pułkarÆîi ca.
+
‘Wherever amanmay live having controlled the senses, for him that place turns into the tirthas of Kurukshetra, Naimisha and Pushkara’(6.40).
+
Good Actions: The Fourth Type of Tirtha
+
There is yet another tærtha, and that is good actions—work done for the well-being
+
and happiness of the many; bahujana hitÆyabahujana sukhÆya.Thiswas one of Buddha’s instructions. He said to his disciples: ‘Caratha bhikkhave cÆrikaó bahujana hitÆya bahujana sukhÆya; Let the bhikshus roam the four quar- ters for the well-being of themany, for the happiness of the many.’ In the present age, Swami Vivekananda has interpreted it as the real karma yoga in the light of Sri Ramakrishna’s great dictum of øiva-jæÆne jæva-sevÆ, service to human beings looking upon them as God.We find the principles of karma yoga discussed in many scriptures, but it has been interpreted var-iously. Swami Vivekananda has highlighted its practical value as a means to God-realization. According to him jæva-sevÆ is not just a good deed but ‘the best work you ever did’. To work for the sake of others is the only true work, all other work is non-work and contrary to real work. This jæva-sevÆ, not sarvabhØta-dayÆ, compassion towards all, elevates the mind to a plane in which it sees the supreme Self in all be-
+
ings. Let alone selfless work, even a sincere prayer for the well-being of others makes the
+
mind pure and the person blessed. And the place where this jæva-sevÆ is performed also becomes a tirtha. The Mahabharata story of the brahmin family and the mongoose is proof of  this, and is worth recollecting: There lived a poor brahmin with his wife
+
daughter and son. Though the family was poor they were very pious. They lived on alms and could hardly make both ends meet. Once it so happened that they did not get any alms and so had to starve for a couple of days. Death was knocking at the door. Then, with much trouble, the brahmin managed to procure a meal of wheat. It was first offered to God and then divided into four equal parts. They were about to eat the meal, when a hungry guest arrived. He too was starving. A guest is to be regarded as Narayana Himself, so the brahmin offered his share to the guest, who ate it and said, ‘Bring more food. This small quantity has only increased my hunger!’ Now the wife offered her
+
share to him. The guest consumed it in no time and demanded more. The son thought: ‘It is my filial duty as a son to complete the sacrifice undertaken by my father. Let me offer my share also to the venerable guest.’ The guest devoured that too and said, ‘My hunger is not yet satiated; I want some more food.’ Then the daughter
+
thought: ‘As a daughter, is it notmy duty to fulfil my parents’ sacrifice?’ And she placed her share before the guest. The guest’s fiery hunger was now satisfied and he blessed them all and went away. Thus the four people gave up their lives for the sake of the guest. A mongoose was there witnessing everything. It came out and rolled on the sacred leftovers—and instantly half of its body became golden! ‘Where on earth can I find another great tærtha like this?’ It began searching for such a place in order to turn
+
the other half of its body golden. During its long search it came to the place where
+
Yudhishthira had just completed his rÆjasØya yajna, the greatest sacrifice performed by a paramount ruler of the entire earth, and rolled on the spot—but with no effect!
+
Another incidentwould not be out of con- text here.Once a very poor devotee had a strong
+
desire to go to Varanasi to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in Varanasi.He came to know of the devotee’s earnest long- ing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother Annapurna, and en- joyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj. But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt greatmental anguish. After bathing in theGanga and finishing his worship of Shiva with belleaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms tomendi-
+
cants and beggars according to their ability.He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportu- nity.On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He re-turned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does itmatter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to
+
God and pray, ‘May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought,
+
‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute
+
like me. What merit can be derived from it?’However, the next day the devotee did exactly as hewas advised simply to honour the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.
+
Pilgrimage to Unity
+
Human civilization is vast and infinitely diverse, and the different tærthas are places of
+
holy communion for the whole of humankind. There we experience the idea of unity in diversity, a sense of oneness; there we feel ourselves as part and parcel of the Cosmic Being, VirÆô, for the tirthas are eternal altars for divine communion. Pilgrimage helps us break free from the narrow, limited bounds of selfishness, caste, creed, and nationality and become one with the entire humankind. God is all and is in all. The one Eternal Being has become many, assuming innumerable forms and innumerable names. Realization of this truth is the culmination of spirituality—avagatiº paryavasÆnam, every-
+
thing terminates in knowledge. It is this knowl-edge of oneness, where the entire universe becomes one single home, that a genuine devotee,whose heart has become pure and saturated with the nectar of universal love, realizes at a tærtha. This is the highest significance of pil-grimage. Else, as Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘A sannyÆsi’s kamanda-
+
lu, made of bitter gourd, travels with him to the four great places of pilgrimage but still does not lose its bitterness.’21 Floating in the vast ocean of human souls we must transcend the artificialbarriers that distinguish betweenHindus,Muslims, Christians and so forth. We are all devo-tees of one and the same God. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘devotees have no caste’; they are the blessed children of Eternal Bliss, amìtasya putrƺ! Realization of this truth is the real purpose of pilgrimage.Omtat sat. ~
+
References
+
1. Atharva Veda, 12.1.1.
+
2. Krishna Yajur Veda, 16.42.
+
3. Atharva Veda, 11.6.10.
+
4. Bhagavadgita, 10.41.
+
5. Swami Brahmananda, Words of the Master
+
(Calcutta: Udbodhan Office, 1938), 19.
+
6. Bhakti Sutras, 69.
+
7. Her Devotee-Children, The Gospel of the Holy
+
Mother (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2000),
+
265.
+
8. Skanda Purana, 6.108.11.
+
9. Rama-purva-tapini Upanishad,7.
+
10. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans.
+
Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna
+
Math, 2002), 87.
+
11. St Matthew, 26.41.
+
12. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.38, in Skanda Purana.
+
13. Skanda Purana, 6.108.12.
+
14. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.39.
+
15. Bhagavata, 1.2.16.
+
16. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.44.
+
17. Bhagavadgita, 18.42.
+
18. Bhagavata, 1.13.10.
+
19. Gospel, 178.
+
20. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.37.
+
21. Gospel, 225
+

Latest revision as of 00:28, 24 April 2018

By Swami Purnananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Tirtha, TIrtha, Tirtha


A tīrtha is a place of pilgrimage. These places are considered to be holy and thus, most people have both faith and devotion towards. When a holy place is associated with truth, righteousness, initiation, penance, prayer, and sacrifice, than it is known as a tīrtha[1]. The difference between a tīrtha and other places of importance (ie historical, geographical, archaeological, or natural beauty) is that people visit the latter on excursions or pleasure trips. Pilgrimage are journeys only undertaken with some sacred or pious intention.


Definition

The Sanskrit word tīrtha is derived from the root verb tr, meaning ‘to cross’, ‘to surpass’. So according to the derived meaning, a tīrtha is a place from where one can surpass or overcome one’s evil actions (tarati pāpādikam yasmāt) or a place from which one can ascend (tarati yasmāt sthānāt) to a higher stage of life. A holy place raises us by leading to a higher mental plane; it has the power to manifest godliness in the human heart by making it pure.


The ultimate Truth is the foundation of spiritual science. All scientific truths—even religions and philosophies are but lower steps of the seemingly infinite flight of stairs that leads to the summit of spirituality. Pilgrimage also happens to be one such step.


In English, one who goes on a pilgrimage is called a pilgrim. The word pilgrim is derived from Old French peligrin or from Late Latin pelegrinus, meaning ‘foreigner’. A pilgrim is ‘one who journeys in foreign lands’. So a place of pilgrimage is, by implication, a foreign land. But this differs greatly from the meaning conveyed by the word tīrtha. Tīrtha is a place for devotees, and devotees are not foreign to one another. For practicality’s sake, however, we must make do with the term place of pilgrimage for tīrtha.

Manifestation of God Is More in a Tīrtha

Descriptions of holy places are found in the scriptures of all faiths right from the Vedas, the most ancient one. It is God that has taken the form of tīrthas; that is why they are so holy. The Yajur Veda adores them with salutations: ‘Namastīrthyaya ca; Salutation also to the Divine dwelling in tīrthas'.[2] Though God is omnipresent He manifests Himself in certain places or objects for the sake of common people. Those places or objects are adored with the highest reverence and that is why the shruti offers the above salutation. Another such beautiful passage is found in the Atharva Veda:

Divam brūmo naksatrāni
  bhūmīm yaksāni parvatān;
Samudrā nadyo vesantāste
  no muncantavamhasah

‘We revere the sky, the stars, the earth, all super-natural beings, and mountains; the oceans, the rivers, the ponds; let them (the gods dwelling therein) deliver us from our troubles.’[3]

A man of true knowledge experiences God everywhere. To him God has become this universe. But to a common man with his sense of distinction this idea is not that easy to accept or assimilate. For such people God manifests, as it were, in special objects or places or persons. This has been expressed by the Lord Himself in the Bhagavad-Gita:

 Yadyadvibhutimatsattvam
  Srimadhurjitmeva vā;
 Tattadevāvagaccha tvam
  mama tejo msasambhavam.

‘Know it for certain that whatever there is extraordinary, endowed with splendor or valor, that originates from but a spark of my divine brilliance.’[4]

As Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘The Sun’s light falls equally on all surfaces, but only bright surfaces like water, mirrors and polished metals, can reflect it fully’.[5] Similarly, tīrthas have the power to manifest the presence of God. For ages together great souls, spiritual luminaries, saints and sages have been visiting these places and undergoing spiritual practices there. Powerful spiritual vibrations surging out from their pure minds have produced strong spiritual fields that have made the places holy. In fact, these pure souls are the actual redeemers of the tīrthas. It is their holy presence and spiritual fervour that transform these places into tīrthas. ‘Tirthīkurvanti tīrthani they make the tīrthas holy, says Narada.[6] Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi used to say: ‘Where else is God except very close to His devotees? If worldly people even visit the place used by holy men, the very atmosphere of the place can remove the dross of their mind.”[7] Such places are found in abundance not only in India but all over the world. The entire land of India is, as it were, a place of pilgrimage. Swami Vivekananda called it holy land, punya bhumi.


How Tīrthas Came into Being

How have these tīrthas come into existence? Where are they situated? What are the characteristics that make them holy or sacred? Tīrthas are located everywhere-generally on river banks, mountaintops or in remote, inaccessible places. Many rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are regarded as holy. Innumerable pilgrim spots stand on their shores right from the place of their origin down to where they meet the sea. Confluences of two or more rivers are called prayāgas. Tīrthas like Prayagraj at Allahabad, Sone Prayag, Vishnu Prayag and Rudra Prayag are examples of these. Puri, Dwarka and Kanyakumari are some of the famous tīrthas that are situated on the seashore. But tīrthas stand even in the midst of impassable deserts; Hinglaj is one such. The Himalaya, the greatest of mountains, is believed to be the abode of gods and goddesses. So the entire Himalayan range is one vast place of pilgrimage with its innumerable tīrthas like Kailas, Mansarovar, Amarnath, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.

Many tīrthas are mentioned in the Vedas, Puranas and other scriptures. Places that have witnessed the birth and divine sports of incarnations of God and places chosen by saints and sages for their spiritual practice and ministration have become famous tīrthas. Naimisharanya is one such eternally holy spot that has been described in many Puranas. Then there are the fifty-one ‘saktipīthas’ dedicated to the Divine Mother, the embodiment of cosmic Energy. The story how the various parts of Sati’s body came to be associated with these Pīthas has been narrated elsewhere in this issue. Besides places like these, spots where famous ancient temples are located are also called tīrthas. Thus Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Prabhas, Bhubaneswar, and Ujjain can all be equally designated as tīrthas.

Each tīrtha enshrines the spiritual culture and religious heritage of a particular tradition. In the Skanda Purana, Agastya says to his wife Lopamudra: ‘Tīrtha sabda varārohe dharmakrtyesu vartate; O fair one! The word tīrtha is related to religious observances.’[8] Agastya further describes other implications of tīrtha to Lopamudra: O fair one! Mother is a tīrtha, father is a tīrtha, congregations of holy persons are tīrthas, religious thinking as well as spiritual principles (yama) and disciplines (niyama) are tīrthas, sacred discourses by the celestial sages (devarsis), places which great ascetics and gods frequent, and holy lands, O my beloved, are all considered tīrthas[9].

Purpose of Pilgrimage

People go on pilgrimage for various purposes. Some go merely to visit or to enjoy the Places’ natural beauty; some go for attaining piety, others to perform religious rites. Spiritual aspirants resort to holy places in order to observe penance and purify their minds. One should go on pilgrimage with some bhava (mental attitude). A tīrtha is an embodiment of the Divine God assumes the form of a tīrtha and divinity is manifest therein. God, in this case, is not a person but an aggregate of divine principles. From an even higher stand-point, God is without any attribute whatsoever. It is the devotees who bring God down from the Principle to the Person (of their choice), and out of sheer love and compassion for them God descends to the personal level and accepts the various names and forms they attribute to Him in order to satisfy them. Devotees worship with utmost love the same God in different forms and with different names according to their mental make-up as their ista devata (Chosen Deity). That is why it is said:

Cinmayasyādvitīyasya
  Niskalayāsaririnah;
Upasakānām Kāryārtham
  Brahmano rūpakalpanā

‘The assumption of forms by Brahman, the pure Consciousness, the One without a second partless and bodiless, is for the sake of fulfilling the purposes of the worshippers.’[10]

The Lord is also called bhāvagrāhī, one who takes into account the inmost attitude of the devotee. That inmost attitude, imbued with the utmost unalloyed love, is the final word in the sphere of genuine religion, though outwardly a devotee may worship God with offerings or through charity or by singing of praises and glories. Pilgrimage too is but a kind of worship of God in the form of a holy tīrtha. Every tīrtha has its presiding deity who must be paid reverential homage, bit in the form of worship, chanting of holy names or meditation. That apart, in a tīrtha one is enjoined to give in charity to holy persons as well as to the poor and the afflicted. This is the manner in which the Divine in the form of tīrtha is worshiped. God in turn is pleased to gratify the pilgrim with the desired results.

Obtaining the Fruits of Visiting a Tīrtha

Sri Ramakrishna once told a devotee:’ From time to time he [a worldly person] should live in the company of holy men, and from time to time go into solitude to meditate on God. Furthermore, he should practice discrimination and pray to God, “Give me faith and devotion.” Once a person has faith he has achieved everything.’[11] Pilgrimage can provide a devotee with all these. At a tīrtha one can associate with monks and devotees, benefit from the solitude and spiritual vibrations of the place which help concentrate one’s mind on God easily, and sincerely practice prayer and discrimination. What is discrimination? It is the ability to judge what is good and what is bad, what is acceptable and what is non-acceptable, what is real and what is unreal. After discriminating thus one must with strong determination accept the real and give up the unreal. Sri Ramakrishna says, ‘God is real and all else is illusory’ [12]. This is the essence of discrimination. True, but unless the mind is prepared to accept it, it is all futile. So one should maintain one’s bhava. A famous Sanskrit verse says:

Bhāvena labhate jnānam
  bhāvena devadarsanam;
Bhavena labhate sarvam
  tasmādbhāvāvalambanam.

‘Through bhava knowledge is attained, through bhava comes God-vision. Everything is achieved through bhava; therefore bhava is to be adopted.’ Bereft of bhava merely visiting holy places would at best be an excursion or a pleasure trip. However many dips one may take in the holy rivers, nothing will happen.

Says Mirabai: “If God can be attained by daily bathing, may I be an aquatic animal.’ In the ‘Kashi’ Khanda’ it is said:

Cittamantargatam dustam
  tīrthasnānānna suddhyati;
sataso’pi jalairdhutam
  surabhandamivasucih

‘Impurities of the mind cannot be removed by bathing in holy rivers, just as a vessel used to hold liquor remains impure even if washed hundreds of times.’[13]

In order to acquire the competence and mental purity required for benefiting from a pilgrimage the scripture prescribes the practice of certain principles (yama) and disciplines (niyama). Again, these qualities themselves have been considered tīrthas.[14]

Mental Preparation for Tīrtha

Yamas are the lofty ethical principles of life. They are termed ‘universal’, because they comprise spiritual imperatives which are valid irrespective of time, place, social purpose or cultural demands. They consist of the five great vows of non-killing (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacarya), and non-receiving of gifts (aparigraha).

In order to be established in these ethical principles, five observances or disciplines have been prescribed. They are: internal and external purification (sauca), contentment (santosa), mortification or penance (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and worship of God (isvara-prani-dhana) These are called niyamas.

A mind established in the yamas is itself a tīrtha. This ethical conduct has to be maintained throughout one’s life. Otherwise, merely visiting a tīrtha once in a while with a mind full of selfish desires—though making charity, performing worship and penance, practicing cleanliness, and hearing religious discourses does no good.’[15] In other words, pilgrimage is efficacious provided it is done in the right spirit. A tīrtha has the power to purify the mind and awaken spiritual fervor. As the Bhagavata says:

Susrūsoh srāddhadhānasya vāsudevakathārucih
Syānmahatsevayā viprāh punyatīrthanisevanāt

O venerable brahmins! By performing holy pilgrimage and serving great souls one can attain devotional faith (sraddha) and the willingness to listen to discourses on Vasudeva.[16]

Three Types of Tīrtha

God is all-pervasive. Just as He manifests Himself in human beings He dwells in animate and inanimate creatures too. Accordingly, tīrthas are classified into three types: sthāvara (immovable), jangama (movable), and mānasa (mental). Sthāvara tīrthas include sacred locales like Varanasi, Vrindaban and Kamarpukur; sacred rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; and temples like Jagannath, Somanth and Dakshineswar. The word tīrtha usually refers to immovable tīrthas. The Kashi Khanda describes what made them tīrthas: ‘The wonderful natural characteristics of the locality, the unique grandeur of the local waters or the fact that some sage resorted to them (for austerity).[17]

The great souls who make tīrthas all the more holy are jangama tīrthas, or moving tīrthas. They are called brahmanas by virtue of their qualities and actions. Another verse attributed to the ‘Kashi Khanda’ says:

Brāhmanā jangamastīrtham
  Nirmalam sarvakamikam;
Yesam vākyodakenaiva
  suddhyanti malinā janāh

Brahmanas devoid of all blemishes and who fulfill all the desires (of others) are the moving tīrthas. Their words, like holy water, purify people stained by impurities.[18]

The virtues and duties that go to make one a brahmana have been enumerated in the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance, uprightness, knowledge, realization and faith are the duties of a brahmana born of his nature.’[19] Persons possessing these qualities are indeed moving tīrthas. Whatever they speak is authoritative and the places they visit become sacred. In the Bhagavata, Yudhishthira tells Vidura:

Bhavadvidhā bhāgavatās-
  Tirthībhūtāh svayam vibho;
Tīrthīkurvanti tīrthāni
  svāntahsthena gadābhrtā

O venerable one! A bhagavata (one possessing divine virtues and motiveless devotion to God) like you is himself an embodiment of a holy tīrtha; Gadadhara, the Lord Himself, being manifest in such persons; they make the tīrthas even more holy.’[20]

How great these souls are! They possess the power of purifying anything that comes in contact with them. The Lord Himself confesses to Uddhava: ‘I always follow him who desires nothing, who is a muni (deeply engrossed in God), serene, free from enmity and who looks upon all with an equal eye, in order that all (the worlds within Me) may be purified by the dust of his holy feet’ [21]. Such are the great devotees of God! They possess infinite purity, and the capacity to purify everything.

The third category of tīrtha is a man’s own mind that has been purified of all desires and merged in God. God is holy; there is nothing holier than God. And a mind always living in Divine presence becomes identified with the Divine. Says Sri Ramakrishna: 'That which is Pure Mind is also Pure Buddhi; that, again, is Pure Ātman.’[22]

Visayesvatisamrāgo mānaso mala ucyate;
Tesveva hi virāgosya nairmalyam samudāhrtam.

Attachment to worldly objects is what is termed mental impurity and detachment from sense objects is mental purity.[23]

A person having such a mind has no need to go anywhere to purify himself; his own pure mind is a place of pilgrimage. Not only that, whoever comes into contact with him becomes pure regardless of whether words are exchanged or not. This is beautifully described in the Daksināmurti Stotra: ‘How strange! Under the banyan tree is seated a young guru, surrounded by old disciples; the guru’s mute eloquence dispels all doubts of the disciples!’ What is the secret behind this? The guru’s mental field is so vast and powerful that it attracts and merges into itself the disciples’ small mental fields. Where then is the room for any doubt? Such a mind, devoid of the least stain of desire, the cause of impurity, is a much more effective purifying agent than a place of pilgrimage. A pure mind is a storehouse of immense power, including that of purifying other impure minds.

So the truest and best pilgrimage is to purify the mind (manasah visuddhi)’ that is the greatest tīrtha—because it gives rise to a number of divine qualities that are themselves considered great tīrthas: truthfulness (satya), forgiveness (ksama), sense control (indriya-nigraha), compassion (sarvabhuta-daya), uprightness (arjava), charity (dhrti), self-control (dama), contentment (santoła), continence (brahmacarya), pleasant speech (priyaviditi),knowledge (jnāna), fortitude (dhìti) and austerity (tapas). All these are tīrthas in themselves (6.32); they are called 'divine treasures'. A heart that possesses these rich treasures is ‘God’s parlour’; God manifests therein. And wherever such a person goes, that place becomes a tīrtha.

When all the senses (indriyas) are brought under control and the mind is constantly fixed on God, all mental modifications subside, and one feels Divine presence everywhere, within and without. It then makes no difference where one lives, for one’s residence then becomes a tapovana—‘nivrttarāgasya grham tapovanam;to a man of subdued passions his own home is a hermitage’. Sant Kabir says: ‘In the mind are Ganga and Yamuna. I take a holy dip in my mind. What further good will a tīrtha do to me? Again he says: ‘Don’t go, O brother! Don’t wander off to far-off places. Ganga and Yamuna are here in this body. So have your bath here itself.’

Therefore, all that is required is a pure mind, bereft of selfishness and passion. The same truth is spoken about in the Skanda Purana:

Nigrhītendriyagrāmo yatraiva ca vasennarah;
Tatra tasya kurukłetram naimisam puskarāni ca.

Wherever a man may live having controlled the senses, for him that place turns into the tīrthas of Kurukshetra, Naimisha and Pushkara[24].

Good Actions: The Fourth Type of Tīrtha

There is yet another tīrtha, and that is good actions—work done for the well-being and happiness of the many; bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya. This was one of Buddha’s instructions. He said to his disciples: ‘Caratha bhikkhave cārikam bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya; Let the bhikshus roam the four quarters for the well-being of the many, for the happiness of the many.’ In the present age, Swami Vivekananda has interpreted it as the real karma yoga in the light of Sri Ramakrishna’s great dictum of siva-jnāne jīva-sevā, service to human beings looking upon them as God. The principles of karma yoga is discussed in many scriptures, but it has been interpreted variously. Swami Vivekananda has highlighted its practical value as a means to God-realization. According to him jīva-sevā is not just a good deed but ‘the best work you ever did’. To work for the sake of others is the only true work, all other work is non-work and contrary to real work. This jīva-sevā, not sarvabhūta-daya, compassion towards all, elevates the mind to a plane in which it sees the supreme Self in all beings. Let alone selfless work, even a sincere prayer for the well-being of others makes the mind pure and the person blessed. And the place where this jīva-sevā is performed also becomes a tīrtha. The Mahabharata story of the brahmin family and the mongoose is proof of this, and is worth recollecting:

There lived a poor brahmin with his wife daughter and son. Though the family was poor they were very pious. They lived on alms and could hardly make both ends meet. Once it so happened that they did not get any alms and so had to starve for a couple of days. Death was knocking at the door. Then, with much trouble, the brahmin managed to procure a meal of wheat. It was first offered to God and then divided into four equal parts. They were about to eat the meal, when a hungry guest arrived. He too was starving. A guest is to be regarded as Narayana Himself, so the brahmin offered his share to the guest, who ate it and said, ‘Bring more food. This small quantity has only increased my hunger!’ Now the wife offered her share to him. The guest consumed it in no time and demanded more. The son thought: ‘It is my filial duty as a son to complete the sacrifice undertaken by my father. Let me offer my share also to the venerable guest.’ The guest devoured that too and said, ‘My hunger is not yet satiated; I want some more food.’ Then the daughter thought: ‘As a daughter, is it not my duty to fulfill my parents’ sacrifice?’ And she placed her share before the guest. The guest’s fiery hunger was now satisfied and he blessed them all and went away. Thus the four people gave up their lives for the sake of the guest. A mongoose was there witnessing everything. It came out and rolled on the sacred leftovers—and instantly half of its body became golden! ‘Where on earth can I find another great tīrtha like this?’ It began searching for such a place in order to turn the other half of its body golden. During its long search it came to the place where Yudhishthira had just completed his rājasūya yajna, the greatest sacrifice performed by a paramount ruler of the entire earth, and rolled on the spot—but with no effect!

Another incident: Once a very poor devotee had a strong desire to go to Varanasi to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in Varanasi. He came to know of the devotee’s earnest longing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother Annapurna, and enjoyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj. But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt great mental anguish. After bathing in the Ganga and finishing his worship of Shiva with bel leaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms to mendicants and beggars according to their ability. He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportunity. On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He returned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does it matter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to God and pray, ‘May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought, ‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute like me. What merit can be derived from it?’However, the next day the devotee did exactly as he was advised simply to honor the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage to Unity

Human civilization is vast and infinitely diverse, and the different tīrthas are places of holy communion for the whole of humankind. The tīrtha experience is about experiencing a sense of oneness; where pilgrims feel that they are a part and parcel of the Cosmic Being, Virāt. Pilgrimages help pilgrims to break free from the narrow, limited bounds of selfishness, caste, creed, and nationality and become one with humankind. God is all and is in all. The one Eternal Being has become many, assuming innumerable forms and innumerable names. Realization of this truth is the culmination of spirituality—avagatih paryavasānam, everything terminates in knowledge. It is this knowledge of oneness, where the entire universe becomes one single home, that a genuine devotee, whose heart has become pure and saturated with the nectar of universal love, realizes at a tīrtha. This is the highest significance of pilgrimage. Else, as Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘A sannyāsi’s kamandalu, made of bitter gourd, travels with him to the four great places of pilgrimage but still does not lose its bitterness.’[25]. Floating in the vast ocean of human souls we must transcend artificial barriers.

References

  1. Atharva Veda, 12.1.1
  2. Krishna Yajur Veda, 16.42.
  3. Atharva Veda, 11.6.10.
  4. Bhagavad-Gita, 10.41.
  5. Swami Brahmananda, Words of the Master (Calcutta: Udbodhan Office, 1938), 19.
  6. Bhakti Sutras, 69.
  7. Her Devotee-Children, The Gospel of the Holy Mother (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2000), 265.
  8. Skanda Purana, 6.108.11.
  9. Skanda Purana, 6.108.12-4
  10. Rama-purva-tapini Upanishad,7.
  11. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 87.
  12. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 392
  13. Kashi Khanda’, 6.38, in Skanda Purana.
  14. Skanda Purana, 6.108.12.
  15. Kashi Khanda’, 6.39.
  16. Bhagavata, 1.2.16.
  17. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.44.
  18. Kashi Khanda
  19. Bhagavad-Gita, 18.42.
  20. Bhagavata, 1.13.10.
  21. Bhagavata, 11.14.16
  22. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 178.
  23. ‘Kashi Khanda’, 6.37.
  24. Skanda Purana, 6.40
  25. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 225