Mississippi River - Buddhist Pilgrimage/Walking on Faith and Kindness - March 2005 - Page #1

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Jotipalo Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk from the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, in Redwood Valley, California and Austin Stewart from Gunnison, Colorado completed an 1,800-mile walking pilgrimage from New Orleans, Louisiana to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. The plan was to dedicate any merit from the pilgrimage to peace, both individual peace for all beings and for world peace.

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Jotipalo Bhikkhu

Austin Stewart

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Wabash College - Buddhist monk begins 1,800-mile Mississippi pilgrimage
- by Steve Charles - March 2, 2005 -

The last time Tan Jotipalo ’88 undertook such a long journey was in the foothills of the Himalayas, where he had a near-death experience that led to his eventually becoming a Buddhist monk.

On March 1, the former Wabash art major was hoping for a little less drama but no less illumination as he began a six-month, 1,800-mile walking pilgrimage along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Jotipalo and Buddhist layman Austin Stewart of Gunnison, Colorado will survive completely on donations in the Buddhist tradition of wandering known as Tu Dong. Theirs is the first walk of this kind in the United States.

"By giving people the opportunity to participate in the walk (by offering food or shelter), we hope to open up people’s hearts—to be be a catalyst to inspire other people to do good."" Jotipalo told the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.

"Our walk is also a physical demonstration of renunciation, and a return to simpler values," Jotipalo said. "For me, this is training in giving up comfort. It’s learning to improvise and deal with hardships—thunderstorms, tornados, not knowing where you’re going to stay that night. . . . Learning how to deal with those kinds of emotions."

Wabash College - P.O.Box 352, Crawfordsville, IN 47933


1. An impossible task?
2. American Tudong/An Experiment in Wandering
3. Pushing the Envelope
4. The Devil's Seed in Our Midst—We Can't Trust Stereotypes
5. Snowy Egrets and Cranes Grace the Sky
6. Have Patience with It
7. The "Old Farts," and Chanting Against Fear and Despair
8. Sharpened senses/loving kindness to coyotes
9. Rocky Springs, Mississippi
10. The Natchez Trace
11. Not the Impossible Task I Envisioned
12. "Yellow next to red, leaves a fellow dead"

13. Poison ivy
14. Jotipalo earns his merit badge
15. Walking feet, running nose
16. A blessing for Eddie Johnson

17. A first Word from Austin/A little miscommunication
18. A like-minded soul
19. Chanting on the battlefield
20. Generosity in Mind
21. Thai generosity/talking with Father William
22. "What the bleep do we know?"
23. Levitating in Yazoo, or: first Jesus, now the Buddha


1. An impossible task? Day 1: New Orleans, Louisiana - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 1, 2005

It's 1 p.m., Tuesday, March 1, and I'm on a pier above the Mississippi River.

Taking the train from Chicago to New Orleans made me feel like we have an impossible task ahead of us. It seems like an eternally long way. A little bit of doubt has crept in, and last night I came down with a sore throat and a low-grade fever. Just something mild.

On the train, I was reading John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. He mentions a similar apprehension at the beginning of his journey:

"In long range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won't happen. As the day approached, my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly desirable and my dear wife incalculably precious. To give these up for three months of the terrors of the uncomfortable and unknown seemed crazy. I didn't want to go. Something had to happen to forbid my going, but it didn't. I could get sick, of course…"

We've been staying with Chris and Billy Finney, two of Austin's friends he's known since high school, and Austin admitted feeling a little apprehensive and nervous about the trip. I was feeling like, "Oh, God, what are we getting into." And Chris and Billy were saying, "We'd give anything to go—you guys can't really be talking this way!" Everyone is excited about the journey, but we're the ones doing it, and I think it has occurred to us: "Just what are we getting into?"

This morning we just decided to go for it; if I wait until my health is great, I'll never get started. And today is an absolutely beautiful day in New Orleans. Billy Finney said they get this kind of weather maybe three weeks out of the the year—mid-60s, completely sunny, a gentle breeze.

We've decided to walk along the levee at first. We've walked three miles so far, and we're going to try to walk about 9 miles a day. We have no idea where we're going to stay tonight, but we did see a couple of plantations up the way with some long, beautiful lawns. We're going to stop and ask if we can sleep on one of them. The owners will probably say no, but Billy said the people have a reputation for kindness, so we'll just ask and see if we can't spend our first night on a plantation!

Monday, I had the best cup of coffee I've ever tasted. They put chickory in the coffee, and it was so good. My first taste of New Orleans. Then Billy drove us through the river delta where the Mississippi empties into the sea, and down to Pilottown, where we stood by a sign that said, "You are now on the southernmost point in Louisiana."

On Sunday we came here to Rivertown and a Greek man came over and started talking with us. He said, "Ah, yes, I have a neighbor who went to a Buddhist monastery in Germany, and it's been very good for him. Buddhists—now they're the ones who ride horseback blindfolded and shoot at targets, right?" He has inspired us to start writing down all the stories we here when someone says, "Ah, I know about Buddhism…"

As we were standing on the same pier, four kids from the neighborhood, ages six to ten, came up to us. They were great, and we talked to each other for a long time. Then one of them looked at me and said, "Why do you wear them ugly clothes?"

Billy asked him, "Do you go to church?"


"Does your minister wear robes?"


"Well, that's what Jotipalo is doing."

"Oh, yeah."

The people we've been staying with have been wonderful. Billy's brother, Chris, does musical mixing as a recording engineer, and he was working last night with a famous saxophonist, a Grammy winner.

On the train down here I was walking back from the view car and a man put his palms together in anjali (a greeting of respect). I talked with him later and found out he is from the Missouri Zen Center. We had lunch together, and I asked him if he knew the monk Santikaro. He said he'd once driven with him all the way to Missouri. We exchanged emails and he's going to try to set up something for us when we show up in St. Louis. It's such a small world.

Still, I'm kind of worried about this first week. We'll be on the levee, at least until Baton Rouge, and a couple of miles north of here are a lot of chemical plants—they call it "Cancer Alley." Finding places to sleep might be hard for us, and everything's wet. As a monk, I'm allowed to ask someone if we can sleep in their backyard under one of these trees. Or, if they ask us in, we could spend the night indoors. But I hope we spend most of the nights outside.

On the train ride down I watched the scenery—extremely flat and extremely poor. People in the South have told me that the poor people will probably be more receptive to us. I could see many places from the train where we could sleep when we come back through—wooded lots and abandoned shacks.

We've been walking now for just an hour and a half. We're excited to be getting started, but also aware that this is a big task. Much is unknown.

2. American Tudong/An Experiment in Wandering - Austin Stewart - March 8, 2005

The Theory

My house is a mess. Camping gear and paperwork comming from the couch flow down onto the floor; my bed I would rather not talk about. The only place that has survived the storm is the shrine; it is neat, orderly and clean. This scene is a reflection of the mind. It is racing and busy and alternately calm. I am preparing to embark on a very long walk as the lay supporter of Venerable Jotipalo Bhikkhu on a six-month journey that will take us north along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Thunder Bay, Canada.

Ven. Jotipalo is a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. The Thai Forest Tradition has distinguished itself through its strict adherence to the Vinaya, a code of discipline set forth by the Buddha and as the name of the lineage suggests, there are strong ties to living in and learning from the forest. We will conduct this walk in line with the Vinaya, living on almsfood and keeping our needs to a minimum. We will eat one meal a day, have access to medicine when ill, and will have shelter from the elements. I will live by the Eight Precepts; Ven. Jotipalo will live by the full code. I am along on this walk to support his needs that may not be apparent to a largely Christian population and to handle money if need be.

I met Ven. Jotipalo several years ago when I began studying at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery outside of Ukiah, California. Two years ago Ven. Jotipalo started discussing the idea of doing a long tudong, or walk, in the U.S. On my last visit this May I offered to accompany him.

Several questions have come up from friends and relatives, the two most common being, "Why," and, "Why the Midwest and South?" In answer to the second question Ven. Jotipalo says that aside from being raised in the Midwest, his heart told him this was a good place to do it. I remember when I first considered offering to walk with him, my judgments about where we would walk created the sounds of a lynch mob in the mind. Having those judgments was a big part of my decision to walk with him. I knew that I had to challenge that resistance in the mind.

The first question is much bigger. The question really being asked is what is the purpose? What is the goal? We will undoubtedly raise awareness of Buddhism in rural and urban America; we will undoubtedly discuss the Dharma and our way of life with people. But these are not the full reasons for the walk. Ven. Jotipalo and I have only discussed a few of his reasons for going on the walk. The study of the mind is the core of this walk, when we cast ourselves into uncertainty how will the mind respond? We also discussed dependency on others. Being dependent we give people the opportunity to show kindness. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County succinctly describes the benefit of giving for the giver,

“After all, when you give, you put yourself in a position of wealth. The gift is proof that you have more than enough. At the same time it gives you a sense of worth as a person. You’re able to help other people. The act of giving also creates a sense of spaciousness in the mind, because the world we live in is created by our actions, and the act of giving creates a spacious world: a world where generosity is an operating principle, a world where people have more than enough, enough to share. And it creates a good feeling in the mind.”

Ven. Jotipalo originally wanted to label this as a peace walk, but he has changed his mind, or more accurately he has changed his semantics. Unfortunately, peace has become a very political word. It is a divisive word; if you want to get people riled up talk about peace. Flash people two fingers and there is a good chance they will show you one. We have to find other means to communicate with people.

I am in a bar in Washington D.C. A large man in his late thirties sits down next to my friend, grabs her cigarettes, puts one in his mouth and then asks if he can borrow a lighter. Aversion and outright disgust arise instantly in the mind. When he begins to talk he compounds the situation; I find him to be the most irritating being on the planet. But then metta (loving kindness) arises in the mind and I let go of the aversion that I am feeling for him, and really look at him. He and I are the same. We share desire and aversion, greed and delusion and we also share that which is not those things. I had spent all day at a protest against the invasion of Afghanistan . He says that he is not pro-war, but that he is anti-antiwar. This starts a discussion that leads through the events of 9-11 to a point where we can communicate. We could have argued about peace and war and protest for hours without ever really communicating, but we are both human beings, if I can let go of my views and opinions and keep metta in mind we can begin to talk. That’s what happened, we got to a very basic place where we talked about fears and spirituality and the mind, and we left the discussion respecting each other. My friend still runs into him sometimes in D.C. and he always asks about me.

The example that we set on this walk must be an example of peace. American over-consumption is responsible for so much strife in the world. In a land that glorifies excess, we choose to make our footprint as small as possible. We cross a nation at war having undertaken the precept to harm no living being. We embrace discomfort among people who endlessly seek comfort.

Buddhism is a wilderness tradition. If you look to the Buddha and major teachers from the Sixth Zen Patriarch to Milarepa, to the great Thai teacher Ajahn Mun Bhuridatto, they all spent years wandering through the forest, sitting in caves and on mountaintops. Buddhism in this country lacks that. It is confined to cities and sitting groups, and the occasional monastery and retreat center. The Buddha trained in the forest, realized enlightenment in the forest and lived the remainder of his life in the forest. Ajahn Thanissaro writes on the importance of this practice: “Faced with the physical and mental dangers of the wilderness living, [monks] find that the Dharma provides their refuge, their prime means of survival. This gives them an appreciation and a practical understanding of the Dharma that cannot be learned from books.” We will be walking through a different kind of wilderness than the Buddha. It is a conquered wilderness inhabited largely by people who have never had any contact with our way of life. Private land is the dominant feature, automobiles the dominant form of transportation. Though we are native sons we will be very foreign. I do not know what the outcome of this walk will be but perhaps it will encourage others to experiment with this practice, to let go of the comfort of their homes and monasteries and learn from the wilderness.

The challenges for me are not the walking or the exposure to the elements. I have spent enough days and nights outside to be unperturbed by bad weather. The challenge is the uncertain nature of homelessness and not knowing when we will eat next. Wandering mendicants in Asia can be fairly sure that they will be fed every day, but we will not have that luxury. Greed is easy enough to deter when a sense of security exists about your next meal, but how loud will the mind cry out when no such security exists? There will also be the point where the newness of the walk will fade and all the conditions of homelessness and hunger will still be there. In a similar vein, Ven. Ajahn Chah relates a story of a monk who at first had a great deal of enthusiasm for the practice, “Later, he reached a stage we call…bored; bored with the holy life. He let go of the practice and eventually disrobed.”

Boredom and restlessness have a very close bond. I remember the first time I spent a full month at the monastery. I had never experienced being confined to one space for that long. I had never had the experience of getting restless and not being able to do anything about it. The walking path overlooked the parking lot where my car sat. The mind kept saying, “You could just get in your car, drive away and never come back. You could just get in your car, drive away and never come back. You could just get in your car…” like a mantra trying to pound away my resolve. But then I would ask, “Can I stay here this moment?” Yes. “Well, can I stay here this moment?” Yes. I can see myself in the humid heat of a Midwestern summer, thick swarms of mosquitoes hovering around. “Can I take this step?” Yes…

When we think of survivors we often think of hardened men and women with sharp wits and sharper eyes with a posture that says, “Don’t even think about messing with me.” An image of Clint Eastwood comes to mind. But to survive this walk will we need a hardening or a softening? How we act towards others will determine if we are able to finish what we have started out to do. And how we act towards others will be determined by what the conditions are like in the heart and the mind. Is the mind at peace, is it flexible yet firm, or is it stubborn and hard? And the heart, does it have a secure home, or is it exposed to the hardships we will face? How clear it is that our wellbeing is dependent on a firm mind and free heart when we do not have the comforts of home. You can be a total jerk if you have a place to sleep and food to eat, but how does that change when you embrace the humility of homeless life, of begging? In order to keep the mind and heart soft, or open, we will need to keep the Buddha’s teaching close to them. The Buddha taught that all conditions were impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self. Keeping this in mind keeps the heart open. If all things are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self, what is there to attach to, what is there to defend? What is self, what is other?

Still the mind is terrified of the unknown. Every morning of this walk the unknown will greet us with the sun. We will not be able to get around it, and thinking about that causes fear to arise in the mind. However, the unknown is just the unknown; it is neither good nor bad. The source of my fears lay in ignorance. Will this walk wither the root of ignorance? What foundations will be made sound and what walls will collapse? The fruitfulness of this walk will depend partly on my past action and to a much greater extent on my action in the present. If I act heedlessly I could walk around the earth and be no wiser than when I started, whereas one heedful step has the potential to lead to total awakening.

The Reality

Ven. Jotipalo and I seriously underestimated how difficult this walk was going to be. It is not the walking that is hard. Nor is it getting enough to eat. It is finding a place to sleep. Others look at us mainly with distrust leading to disgust. Dressed as we are, with shaved heads makes us so different that there is a huge hump of the unknown for people to get over before they could be anywhere near comfortable letting us stay near them for the night. We misjudged the openness people would have to other ideas of how to live. We have found that telling others we are Buddhists usually ends any communication we may have had with them.

We have also met some amazing generosity on our path. The first day we went on almsround a woman ushered us in to a store and told us to get whatever we would like. While inside she started a conversation about how bad it was that the government was outlawing prayer in school, and not allowing the Ten Commandments at the courthouses. The few others in the store nodded in agreement with her. Reading about the Ten Commandments scandal in a paper in Colorado I assumed that the judge who wanted to put the commandments up in the courthouse was a minority opinion. People who are in the minority in my part of the country are in the majority here.

For the first three days we kept to the river. When we could not find a place to sleep there was always the river side of the levee. Our last campsite was under the shade of bald cypress, their root systems snaking above the soil for a few feet before diving in to the earth. Bare vines hung down in the soft light. Snowy egrets, crows, and scores of red-winged blackbirds sang all around us. This beautiful scene was juxtaposed to the endless grind of industry that surrounded us and the trash that littered every square foot of this side of the levee. Anytime the river floods it rises up against the levee and deposits whatever it has carried, which is quite a lot, in the forest. We camped among tires and toilets, boats and bottles. We decided to leave the river because the spaces between industries were growing smaller and smaller the farther upriver we ventured. We did not know when we walked onto Highway 61 that it was the only dry ground for the next fifteen miles. By the time we made it to a place that we could stop we had walked twenty-two miles; we were out of water and were completely exhausted. Fortunately we had a contact in Baton Rouge and were able to call them and visit a day early. My feet blistered pretty badly and I would not have been able to walk another day. To say the least all of our preconceptions of what this would be have been shattered. We have decided to skip this next section of Louisiana and a bit of Mississippi. Swamps will keep us close to the levee, and industry becomes very densely packed along the levee north of Baton Rouge.

Though we have met much generosity so far, it is not enough to sustain us day-to-day, so we began to use money that others donated to the monastery for this walk. At first I felt like we were cheating, but then I realized that this money is the product of outstanding generosity from friends and family. We are still living on the kindness of others.

We have been offered a ride up to Natchez, Mississippi where the Natchez Trace, a historic trading route, begins. It is a national park and we plan to follow that north to Jackson, where we have contacts. At that point we will evaluate the walk again and see how we want to proceed. We do not know if rural Mississippi will be open to helping a couple of strange strangers.

Tudong is important for spiritual growth. There are qualities of the mind that develop when you live in this way that are foundations on which to build a strong meditation practice. Wherever we walk, if we take our preferences with us, we will suffer. Most of our suffering to this point is based on trying to hold this walk to our preferences. When I am mindful of the Buddha's teaching, whatever we encounter rolls off and a sense of ease pervades, but when I lose sight of the teaching the walk becomes very difficult. We also have to be resourceful and persistent, just like when dealing with the mind. With resourcefulness we can adapt to the conditions of the mind or the pilgrimage. Persistence allows us push ahead when we really don't want to go any further. Wisdom must be present as well because any of the qualities of the mind, if not looked after, can become defilements and get us into a lot of trouble.

Though we both knew that this walk would be difficult there was a sense of romance, as there is with any adventure. That sense of romance must be present to undertake what we have undertaken and then it is the first thing to fall away, as soon as the reality of adventure becomes apparent. A few final words from John Steinbeck:

"Once a journey is designed, equipped and put into process, a new factor takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us . . . Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it." -- Travels with Charley

3. Pushing the Envelope
- Day 2: Destrehan Plantation, Louisiana - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

We continued our walk up the levee from New Orleans to the Destrehan Plantation. Established in 1787, she (here they refer to such graceful homes in the feminine form!) is the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi River Valley.

We reached the Plantation just before dark, but the place was closed. We hadn't seen anyplace to camp that night, so we sneaked to the back corner of the plantation and slept under the stars with just a sleeping bag and bug net over our heads. We didn't see any other option. We were in a grove of 200-year-old live oaks covered in Spanish moss, absolutely beautiful, but a bit scared that we would get caught.

This morning was as beautiful as yesterday and we walked the levee again. We noticed a small grocery store / hot sandwich shop on the River Road and went down to go on alms round. We got out our bowl and stood to one side, so as not to impede anybody going into the store. Several people asked what we were up to, and when the store owner came out to inspect us, we told him what we were doing. He wasn’t overjoyed at our presence, but permitted us to stay.

As we watched people come and go from the store, we couldn’t help noticing the number of conversations about just how dreadful it was that communities couldn't put the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawns and how bad it was that Louisiana had just banned prayer in school!

Then a woman pulled in and walked into the store, emerging moments later after asking the owner who we were and just what we were doing. She walked over to us, smiled, and offered us anything we wanted in the store!

She ended up buying us a large roast beef sandwich, some chips and a drink. We offered her a traditional blessing chant, and I explained how "giving" makes us happy. She jumped in and said, "Yes I feel so good right now!"

Just as we were about to leave, the store owner came out and asked if we needed a soda! We had what we needed so we thanked him and headed back up to the levee, thinking to ourselves, Hey, maybe this walk will work out fine.

The levee had been paved but gradually transformed into a seashell base, which was great for walking on. Most of the neighborhoods along the river road were very poor the further we went along, though every now and then we would walk pass an area of great wealth, immediately followed by more poor neighborhoods. The disparity was very sad to see.

If we saw people outside in their yards, we stopped to ask them for a place to stay, but nobody was willing to help us, and Austin and I got more depressed with each rejection.

We finally found a thin strip of land between the levy and the Mississippi. It was only ten yards wide but it had a few trees to give "some" privacy.

I went to get water and I saw a sign for a beauty salon and walked inside—I can just imagine what they must have thought when I walked in to ask for water, but they seemed happy to give it.

The whole walk so far feels like we’re pushing the envelope—what are we doing disrupting these people’s lives, this Buddhist monk walking into a beauty salon to get a gallon of water? They have to be thinking, What in the world was that?! It’s almost like a joke—a Buddhist monk walks into a beauty parlor—a beauty parlor, with my head shaved!

I returned to our campsite and at dusk heard a rifle being fired behind us. I got up and noticed a man on the levee. So I made myself visible, then approached him. He said he didn't see our tarp, which is possible as it is a dark green.

At this stage in our walk, we were still trying to engage people and tell about our pilgrimage. I walked over and said that we were a couple of wanderers on our way to Canada, staying on the land. He asked why we were doing it.

“To support peace,” I said.

He looked at the way I was dressed, and I explained that I was a Buddhist monk.

His expression changed completely. He said, “I like what your doing, but I disagree with your faith.” I don’t think he knew anything about Buddhism, but he said that “some people say there are many ways to the mountaintop, but if you really believe in Jesus Christ, there’s only one way.”

He wasn’t hostile, but immediately I could feel this shift of energy, like he cut me off.

“I see it this way,” I said. “Some people excel in English, some people accelerate in mathematics, but these are just different ways of talking about beauty and truth.”

He looked at me and said, “I can appreciate that, but I can also cordially disagree with you.”

Then he looked at his watch and said, “Well, I only have three more minutes to shoot,” and he left. I learned from this encounter that mentioning a peace walk to somebody with a rifle may not be so wise! We have learned that if I mention that I’m a Buddhist monk, 90 percent of the time the result is a negative reaction.

Unbeknownst to us until later that night, a tug boat dispatch center was only 30 yards up river from us, so we heard a constant coming and going of huge diesel engines powering these mighty tug boats all night long. The engine noise wasn't bad, though, because it gave some rhythm to the constant hum of the huge factories all around us. Though it was noisy we didn't find it annoying or disturbing. Maybe we had just gotten used to it.

It rained that night, so we ended up being pinned under our tarp for about 10 hours. In retrospect, that may have been why the next day we were in a pretty low mood. Too much lying around dulls the mind.

4. The Devil's Seed in Our Midst—We Can't Trust Stereotypes - Day 3: La Place, Louisiana - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

It was raining when we woke up, but stopped right at dawn. We packed quickly and headed towards La Place, where we’d been told there were several grocery stores. The manager at the first one refused to let us stand anywhere near the store, so we went to a bigger shopping complex down the road.

While walking were we found our first of what would become a constant stream of Mardi Gras beads littering the ground. For the next two days were continually walking over these beads on the pavement, even on Route 61.

A levee policeman stopped us and asked us what we were up to and, upon hearing our tale, gave Austin $10!

But La Place turned out not to be such a friendly place, though the rainy weather certainly helped shape that impression. So did our visit to a Popeye’s Chicken place, where Austin used the money the levee patrolman gave to us to buy our meal.

We sat in the back, where an older African American man was studying the Bible. He was watching us, and he started engaging Austin in conversation. But what he was saying didn’t make sense. Even though he was speaking English, we couldn’t really understand exactly what he was saying. The gist of it was: “You guys are really strange, way out of place here in the South, and Jesus Christ is all you need to lose your burdens: can’t you see it? “

As politely as I could, I said, “There’s a time and place for religion, and a time and place for eating, and we’re in a restaurant, I’ve got food in front of me, and I’d like to eat.”

That kind of made him angry, and he stopped talking. We were already losing our appetite, but as we tried to finish the biscuits Austin had bought, a woman came over and started talking to the man.

“Can’t you see, right here, even in our midst, the Devil is planting his seed,” he told the woman. “Right here in our midst.”

That didn’t feel very good at all. And as we were walking out town and thinking about walking on the grass of a ballpark, a guy came running out of his house and yelled, “That’s closed, you can’t go there.”

Great. We got back up on the levee.

That evening we found no help in finding a place to stay, though we started asking sooner. We did find a place eventually and in some ways it was beautiful. The river side of the levee was getting even more industrialized and land was starting to be posted with No Trespassing signs. But the place we found was completely in woods and was swamp-like. The only problem with the campsite, besides the usual local shooting in the woods, industrial noise and probably the chemicals in the soil, was the amount of debris left after flood waters had receded. Anything that could float was deposited here. I cleaned a 20-foot stretch of ground to do walking meditation, and in this small space I counted 8 plastic bottles, 3 glass bottles, 1 motor oil bottle, several sheets of plastic, 3 aluminum cans, and lots of styrofoam. If you didn't look at the ground though, you would have thought the place was a beautiful campsite.

Austin took our gallon jug to get some water at 5 p.m. as he saw a gas station just down the road. He said he felt intimidated as he approached as a group of African Americans in their mid-30's were hanging outside the store drinking Colt 45's. As Austin approached, they asked what he needed, then suggested he go inside to ask the owner. The owner told Austin to get the water outside and around the corner, right where the men were hanging out. The guys helped Austin find the spigot, discovered it was broken, and started razzing the owner in a friendly way and telling him to let Austin use the bathroom sink. That was broken too. So the guys started yelling for the owner to come out of the back and get this man some water, and he did it!

Then the biggest of the men—6' 6" or taller—offered to drive Austin wherever he need to go. He said, "The guys at the other end of town are petty rough, but we take care of everybody down here." Austin and I are learning that we can't trust stereotypes.

5. Snowy Egrets and Cranes Grace the Sky - Day 4: Gramercy, Louisiana - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

We got a relatively late start, but we had the meal purchased from the previous day, so didn't need to find a store.

At 10 a.m., the local sheriff’s deputies came to check us out for Homeland Security. We heard that the way up to and beyond Baton Rouge would be even more industrial along the river, so we decided to leave the levee and try our hand at Route 61.

The walk was beautiful as it cut right through some of the most spectacular swamp, with snowy egrets and cranes gracing the sky, fresh green and red leaves emerging from the trees, and peaceful fishermen in their bass boats.

We joined Route 61 at Gramercy, LA and hoped to walk about ten miles to the Interstate 10 crossing and hopefully find water and a camping site. But there were no campsites and no water along this stretch. Fortunately we got water at a Welcoming center right at the start of our walk down Route 61.

While filling our water bottles I noticed for the first time that my face has been disfigured by sun burn and mosquito bites (dozens on my forehead). There was a lot more traffic on this road, but it wasn't oppressive and the blast of air from the semi-trucks was cool and refreshing.

By the time we reached the town of Sorrento we had walked 22 miles, we were exhausted, without prospect of a place to spend the night, and we decided we needed some help. We decided to call Bryant in Baton Rouge (as Bryant was awaiting our call and had offered us a place to stay). Sometimes it seems as though Louisiana isn't ready for Buddhist monks.

6. Have Patience with It - Day 5: Baton Rouge, Louisiana - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

We had showers last night—our first since we started. We did laundry and got to check emails.

We are staying at the home of another of Austin's friends. Austin met these two guys (Billy from New Orleans, and Bryant here) while working at a Boy Scout camp in New Mexico. This friend's name is Bryant Taylor and we are staying with his parents, C.A. and Bob Kelso.

Very wonderful and kind people.

Bryant is the one who picked us up outside a gas station in Sorrento, LA about 8 p.m. last night. He drove over an hour round trip to get us! Some people are very kind indeed.

Actually, during the ordeal of that 22-mile day, one person offered Austin their cell phone in the center of Sorrento, because the town had no payphone. The look of exhaustion on Austin’s face must have moved the stranger to compassion. Unfortunately we couldn't reach Billy and we had to walk another hour to the pay phone. Then after plans had been made to get us picked up, two women pulled over in there car at the gas station and said we looked so peaceful that they trusted us to give us a ride if we needed one!

As I’ve said, we’ve met some very kind people here.

I spent most of the morning doing some research about the Natchez Trace Parkway and sending out a few emails. We found a Thai Restaurant in Baton Rouge and went there for the meal. They generously offered the meal for no charge and gave Austin some cash as well. The owner was from Laos and was pleased to hear that one of the monks at Abhayagiri was from Laos, too. I gave her a card that had the Abhayagiri contact info on it.

I also talked to Ajahn Pasanno, the Abbot and my teacher at Abhayagiri, on the phone. He was very encouraging and gave us some good advice. He told me there was a monk from Japan with whom he had trained named Ajahn Gelasko. He did a long walk through Japan, and Ajahn Passano said it was very diffcult. Even though Japan is a Buddhist country, people didn’t know what he was or what to make of him. It took him a long time to get some momentum established on the walk. In the end, it became a national thing, with the press following him. But it took a long time for him to figure out how do it.

Ajahn Pasanno encouraged me to have some patience with it.

7. The "Old Farts," and Chanting Against Fear and Despair - Day 8: Port Gibson, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

Bryant drove us up to Natchez and to the Natchez Trace Parkway, which will be our route for the next several days. In some ways, it felt like a fresh start.

We knew it was supposed thunderstorm yesterday, so we spent the whole day in camp, meditating and taking it easy.

Then we had a really bad thunderstorm for about an hour last night. Uncomfortable, cold night that way.

We got up and started walking to the entrance of the national park, figuring there would be a phone there, but there wasn’t. We saw on the map that there was another town a few miles up and we thought we could walk up there, but a guy told us, “there’s nothing in that town—no phone, no grocery, no food."

I’m laughing about it now, but my first thought was, Oh great—we’ve just been dropped off 20 miles from Natchez, no food, no nothing within 20 miles ahead of us.

Then this other guy walked up to us and said, “Hey, you guys need a ride anywhere?”

We weren’t planning on it , but we took it. And he gave us a ride to Port Gibson, which jumped us up about 25 miles.

We had a great time with this man and his friends. They said that if we wrote about them in this journal, I should call them “the old farts." One of them is an East Indian, a Catholic priest, and the rest are retired guys who said they just wanted to travel from their town of Vidalia, Louisiana to Vicksburg for the day to get out of the house, forget their worries, and have a fun day. They saw us and said, “Hey, let’s help these guys.”

This was really our first contact since we’ve been here with people (outside of our friends) who were actually interested in what we were doing, asking questions, and generous in that way. They asked us what we believed, why were we walking, what we were eating—they ended up giving us some money, and before we left them they asked me to perform a traditional blessing for them in the Pali language, which I did. It felt nice, like we’re in Mississippi and being a little better received.

In our first entry in the journal at the beginning of the trip, apprehension and uncertainty were the themes. Now we’re working with pure fear. Fear and uncertainty and negativity.

Austin wrote in his journal as we were in the campground yesterday, almost shell-shocked after leaving Louisiana, both talking about the fear aspect of the walk, the way we were received down there. Austin wrote, “If anybody says they have no fear of death, I challenge them to walk through Mississippi the way that we are dressed.’

If we had been just two guys wearing blue jeans and t-shirts in Louisiana, people probably would hardly have batted an eye. But to wear the Buddhist monk’s robes and to have the shaved heads seemed almost a threat to them. At times we felt real hostility towards us.

Once we got to the park here on the Natchez Trace, we set up our tents, we meditated for a while, and then I went for a little walk. I was remembering Ajahn Mun and how he was notorious for walking out into the forest or jungle, not telling anybody where he was going. He might spend years in the jungle, and his students would have to go find him. That was an essential aspect of this tradition in the early times—the monks would just disappear into the jungle, and this was back when the jungle was tiger- and malaria-infested, full of venomous snakes. The monks would go out there and live. Most of the villagers weren’t Buddhist, and they didn’t know how to take care of Buddhist monks, either. So the monks were really putting themselves on the line. As I was remembering this, I realized that’s why the monks do this practice—to confront fear and discomfort and unpleasantness from people.

We are meeting generosity, too. But, as Austin said the other day, “It’s there, but it’s not enough to sustain you emotionally.”

We do have the tools, through meditation, to look at this as mind states, to not get caught up in it. So I’ve tried to do more lovingkindness practice. I’ve started to do a lot more chanting in the evenings, consciously not allowing the mind focus on the discomfort, fear, and despair.

Still, we definitely carry a sense of despair now. Our tudong (pilgrimage) right now is just to get to Jackson We know we have to do something different with the walk. We’re trying to figure that out now. The biggest hassle has been finding places to stay. It just makes us feel ill that we can’t find places to stay. I think every cell of both of our bodies is screaming “Stop this! End the walk.” But we don’t want to, either, because so many people are supporting it.

And maybe it is just our fear screaming. That’s one way we’re working at this through our meditation, for when we look back at the first four days, there wasn’t anything there that was really threatening or menacing.

But I’ve seen a lot of people with guns around here. It’s just a part of the culture here. It doesn’t feel safe that way. And if we’re sleeping on someone’s land, people have such strong views about property rights—if a farmer were driving by and saw our tarps pitched on his land, he could get quite enraged. But when we ask people for permission to stay on their land, they say no. So, what do we do?

This is our first day to walk in three days, and we’ve put 6 or 7 miles in so far. Port Gibson was a very friendly town. We’ve got a three-day walk before we can get to the next town and get some food. That’s the hard thing right now. I thought my backpack was too heavy already. This afternoon we’ll have to carry about 5 pounds of food and 20 pounds of water.

The highway we are walking, the Natchez Trace, is absolutely beautiful, we have a hope that we can make this work.

It’s hard to look forward to carrying a 50-pound pack, but one thing that’s coming out of this journey so far is that is every time we try a new plan or think we’ve got something figured out, it always turns out to be otherwise. I might feel despair now with how heavy this pack is, but I might just end up doing great with it, too.

I have a questionable optimism.

8. Sharpened senses/loving kindness to coyotes - Day 8, Part Two: Port Gibson, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

As we walked through Port Gibson, we were getting a lot of stares, but they weren’t unfriendly. More inquisitive. So we started smiling and waving at people when they’d stare, and we got very positive responses from that.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is not a heavily traveled highway right now. In the mornings when we walk, we see about one car per hour. So we’ve begun waving at every car that passes. People are looking at us because they don’t know who, even what, we are; but as soon as they see us smile and wave, they realize, “Okay, they can’t be too bad.” I think that’s creating a positive energy around us. And we feel happier, too.

We walked five miles from Port Gibson, found what looked like some high ground, so we set up our tents there. And Austin and I began talking about our fears—noticing how a lot of our mind states throughout that first week had been downright counterproductive to making this walk happen. We realized that we need to be much more mindful about what we’re thinking, and acknowledging unskillful thoughts but not going along with them. And not necessarily burdening each other with them, either. I don’t need to tell Austin I’m having a particular negative thought. So we’re trying to work our meditation that way—being much more mindful of what we’re thinking and what we’re proliferating.

We had been talking a lot about fear that evening, and just as my head hit the pillow that night, I heard a large pack of coyotes to the west of us, probably within a half-mile. They were close enough that we could hear them yipping and playing with each other.

I haven’t been around coyotes much, and my heart started beating more rapidly. Even though I knew they don’t attack humans, I was responding with fear. When I realized that, I consciously started sending out loving kindness around Austin and I, trying to create some sort of protective barrier and wishing the coyotes well.

I fell asleep but woke up about midnight and heard the coyotes again—they had moved to the north of us. I sent out loving kindness as I fell back asleep, and when I awoke just before dawn, they were to the east of us. They’d done almost a complete circle around us, but hadn’t intruded into our camp.

That night I started noticing, too, that my senses are beginning to become much more attuned to nature. A blessing of this time along the Trace. Smells and sounds and an awareness of the clouds and weather (especially as we look out for storms) all seem enhanced. When I woke up this morning, I could tell that the atmospheric pressure was dropping.

An earlier morning when we were walking, I could smell the moisture in the air several minutes before it began to rain. Trusting that sense, we threw our tents up, and when it started raining soon after, we didn’t get wet.

It’s not that I’ve never noticed any of this in my regular daily life, but out here, it’s vital information to know, and our senses seem sharpened to perceive it.

9. Rocky Springs, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - Day 9 - March 13, 2005

We were really looking forward to getting a shower, but there wasn’t one here.

We would learn later from Tami that along the Natchez Trace there are what she calls “power spots,” and that Rocky Springs is one of these. We were met with a lot of kindness there. People gave us food, and about a mile before we got there, someone offered us a ride. He had seen us earlier in the day, we’d waved at him, so when he saw us later he wanted to help out. We didn’t need to take it, but we were grateful for his offer.

So my mood was very good this morning.

We got to Rocky Springs about 2 p.m. I smelled moisture in the air and we immediately put our tents up, finishing just before it started raining. I got under my tarp so I could see out from underneath it, and watching it rain, I felt a deep despair come over me. Watching the cold rain on this gray day hitting the dead brown leaves. It all reminded me of death, and a deep sadness came over me. I didn’t want to deal with death right then. But I needed to look at this. I immediately got up and sat at meditation and contemplated “Now, what’s this all about?”

An hour later, the sun came out. But I was fascinated by how quickly my mood had changed from happiness this morning to deep despair—all triggered by a little rain!

When it stopped raining, we went for a walk to the site of old long-abandoned town of Rocky Springs. It still had an old Methodist church, built in 1837. The church was open, so we went in and signed the guest register.

A plaque the bore this information about Rocky Springs:

"Once a thriving rural community, Rocky Springs was settled in the late 1790's. The town grew from a watering place along the Natchez Trace, and took its name from the source of that water—the Rocky Spring. In 1860, a total of 2,616 people lived in this area covering about 25 square miles. The population of the town proper included 3 merchants, 4 physicians, 4 teachers, 3 clergy and 13 artisans; while the surrounding farming community included 54 planters, 28 overseers and over 2,000 slaves who nurtured the crop that made the town possible—cotton."

All that’s left of the town today are the remnants of an old foundation and a few artifacts.

Walking back to the campground we walked a half-mile section of the original Natchez Trace. It’s pretty amazing. Ten to fifteen feet wide, flat as you’d expect a road to be, and in certain places it was cut through the banks ten to fifteen feet deep. There was a sign at the beginning of the section and it carried this saying, so beautifully written.

The Old Natchez Trace:

“This is the Natchez Trace. For many years it served man well, but as with many things when its usefulness passed, it was abandoned.

“Over the years, this time-worn path has been a silent witness to honor and dishonor. It bears the prints of countless men. Walk down the shaded trail— leave your prints in the dust, not for others to see, but for the road to remember.”

10. The Natchez Trace - Some historical background - March 13, 2005

In response to requests for some additional information on the Natchez Trace, here's a little historical background:

The 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates an ancient trail that connected southern portions of the Mississippi River to salt licks in today’s central Tennessee.

Over the centuries, the Choctaw, Chickasaw and other American Indians left their marks on the Trace. The Natchez Trace experienced its heaviest use from 1785 to 1820 by the “Kaintuck” boatmen that floated the Ohio and Miss. rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. They sold their cargo and boats and began the trek back north on foot to Nashville and points beyond.

Today, visitors can experience this National Scenic Byway and All-American Road through driving, hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping.

The Natchez Trace - Web Site

This is the story of human beings on the move, of the age-old need to get from one place to another. It is a story of Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians following traditional lifeways, of French and Spanish settlers venturing into a new world, and of Americans building a new nation. At first the trace was probably a series of hunters' paths that slowly came to form a trail from the Mississippi over the low hills into the valley of the Tennessee.

As early as 1733 the French were familiar enough with the land to make a map that showed an Indian trail running from Natchez to the northeast. By 1785 American settlers in the Ohio River Valley had established farms and in a search for markets had begun floating their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez or New Orleans. Returning home meant either riding or walking, for the flatboats, too, were sold for their lumber, and the trail from Natchez was the most direct. As the numbers of boatmen grew, the crude trail was tramped into a clearly marked path.

Over the years improvements were made and by 1810 the trace was an important wilderness road, the most heavily traveled in the Old Southwest. Even as the road itself was being improved, other comforts, relatively speaking, were coming to the trace. During these years many inns—locally called stands—were built. By 1820 more than 20 stands were in operation. Most of them provided no more than a roof over one's head and plain food, though two, the stands at Mount Locust and Red Bluff, were substantial, well-known establishments. But even with these developments the trace was not free of discomforts. Gangs of thieves added an element of danger that was only one more hazard in a catalog that included swamps, floods, disease-carrying insects, and sometimes unfriendly Indians.

A new chapter in transportation dawned in January 1812 when the steamer New Orleans arrived in Natchez. Within a few years steamboats were calling regularly at St. Louis, Nashville, and Louisville. Travelers liked the speed and comparative safety of steamboat travel more than the slow pace of going overland. Soon the bustle of the trace had quieted to the peacefulness of a forest lane, which is its character today.

A time-worn path

11. Not the Impossible Task I Envisioned - Day 10: Along the Natchez Trace - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 13, 2005

Only a brief note today: The Trace has been good to us so far.

The extra weight has been heavy, but not the impossible task I had envisioned.

12. "Yellow next to red, leaves a fellow dead" - Day 10, Part two: Rocky Springs, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 14, 2005

This morning we got up at Rocky Springs, it was 37 degrees—too cold to sit and meditate. So I got up and walked for about an hour just warming up. Austin got up and made some hot chocolate and instant grits for us—delicious and warming.

Thunderstorms were predicted, so we decided to stay another night in Rocky Springs. Spending the day in the campground, we met many people there. One particular couple, Dave and Michelle from St. Louis, were especially interesting. Dave is part Native American, and as we sat around the campfire that night he spoke of a real longing for spirituality in his life. He’s studied a lot of Eastern religions. It was interesting seeing someone else with that spiritual desire.

Dave had also been an Eagle Scout and had been to the national Boy Scout camp at Filmore in New Mexico, an experience he had in common with Austin. Dave and Michelle suggested we contact them when we get closer to St. Louis, and we hope to see them again. They gave us some food, too. They were generous in many ways.

I also met Jim and Phyllis Massey from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada—the planned end-point for our pilgrimage. Jim explained that the “snowbirds”—the Canadians who spend the winter south in the U.S.—usually had back north at the end of March (their leases here usually end then). The migration is a national phenomenon there.

At one point, they were talking with another Canadian couple (from Quebec), conversing in French one moment, then English the next. Their bi-lingual agility was fascinating.

Ron, the ranger from Mt. Locust, told us how to watch out for coral snakes—“yellow on red, will leave a fellow dead; red on yellow is a friendly fellow.” Ron also knows all the towns on the Trace north of Jackson, so we got out the map and he pointed out the places where we could find campsites not marked on the map, places we could find food and water. He was a blessing and helped us out quite a bit.

Austin met a guy who called him over to his campsite and gave him three oranges for us to eat. Austin noticed his license plate was from Indiana. Later the guy from Indiana came over and gave us two bags of groceries! Bread, Fritos, peanut butter, fruit, coffee creamer. He left and his wife came over and gave us two cold Pepsis. That gave us enough food so that we didn’t have to make an extra trip for food—all the food we needed to get to Jackson. I realized then that, thanks to the generosity of others, we haven’t spent any of the money we’d originally brought in case we needed to buy food.

By the end of this day Austin and I were feeling high as a kite! I have to say that both of us commented that our meditation was really good that night; happiness is a base for success in meditation—it was happenin’ that night!

But we were also very conscious of the importance of not getting attached to that, because getting attached to happiness is as much a cause of suffering as is attaching to miserable mind states. So we were cautious.

13. Poison ivy - Day 11: Junction of Highway 27 and Natchez Trace - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 14, 2005

We had hoped to get up early and walk this morning, but it was raining when we awoke, so we got a later start—about 8:30.

But it turned out to be a beautiful day. We walked 12 miles and reached the junction of Highway 27. We were tired, it was hot, and we were carrying a lot of water. So we found a woods that looked pretty deep, a campsite that look quite peaceful.

But as we were sitting down, Austin noticed poison ivy beginning to sprout. We’d just finished pitching our tents and I sat down on my ground cover and noticed that practically every square inch around us was poison ivy—the stems, just starting to bloom. I looked at this and thought, this is a bad idea.

Austin had just finished pitching his tent, too, and we were tired from the day’s walk, but I told Austin I thought we’d better move. I thought he might be mad at that suggestion, especially after we'd just gotten the tents set up, but he responded, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

So we found a bamboo grove free of poison ivy and set up only one of the tarps. The downside of that was that you can’t really mat bamboo down very well—it was like setting up a tent over the stalks in a cornfield. It looked like bamboo was growing in Austin’s tent. I slept outside under the stars that night.

We found a small stream and washed ourselves as best we could to get any oil from the poison ivy off of us. That whole event felt good to me—we’re starting to learn how to take care of ourselves. We knew we were in a bad place and used our better judgment and moved; then we washed and took care of ourselves.

Another change I've noticed: I’m not a lover of insects and bugs, and at the monastery in California when I see a spider or ant approaching as I’m meditating, I’ll put my finger down to scare it away rather than allow it to crawl on me. But we’re learning that sometimes you just can’t do anything to avoid such encounters. We’ve adopted a theme in such situations: do something if you can, but if you can’t, don’t worry.

Now the bamboo grove where we slept last night was full of spiders, and ants and spiders were crawling on me as I slept, but all I found myself worrying about was not crushing them when I rolled over. One morning I woke up and I tapped my lighted alarm clock to see what time it was and it illuminated just enough that I could see there was a snail about two inches from my nose. And I really had no reaction. I realized that of course there’s going to be a snail here; this is where it lives. So I just moved him along.

I’ve been tickled (or not!) at how such things aren’t bothering me now. These creatures are just part of what belongs here. We put ourselves out here in their place—what do we expect?

But I must admit that I still have an aversion to mosquitoes.

14. Jotipalo earns his merit badge - Day 12: Utica, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu -
March 14, 2005

Today was a town day for us. We lowered the tarp and hid everything in the forest and walked into Utica. The town looked run-down, but there were many people there. About 75% of the people we waved to waved back; kind of a rougher looking town, but also friendly.

I knew it was a good place when we got to the center of town and saw a pickup truck looking very similar to others we’ve seen drive by—they usually have gun racks in the rear window. I noticed this truck had a gun rack, too, but instead of guns, it carried an umbrella and a cane in the rack. Austin and I got a chuckle out of that. I like the new South!

We emailed people from the public library there, then went to the grocery store, where they had some booths inside where we could eat. On the back wall surrounding these booths they'd hung composite shots of all the senior classes that had graduated from the local high school from 1947 to 1992.

Looking at these photos was like looking at the history of the South during that period. In the earlier shots, everyone was dressed identically; conformity was the theme. Up until 1965, the women all wore dresses with high-necked collars, all in black, and every woman wore a pearl necklace. Almost the same hairstyle, too. The guys wore suits and ties, and the haircuts were pretty much the same.

By 1966, the pearl necklaces were gone, and the high-necked dresses were replaced with a high-V neckline. But they were still all were wearing the same style of dress. When you got into the 1970s, the guys were wearing tuxedos; several of the guys had sideburns, and many of the black students had huge Afros.

One thing I noticed was that from 1947 through 1970, the high school was all-white. From 1971 to 1982, there was a balanced mix. And after that all the students were African American. The photographs stopped at 1992. They seemed to tell the history of the town.

I received a very helpful email that day from Ajahn Sudanto at the monastery. He was talking about Ajahn Gunha, who had about 100 monks living in his monastery in Thailand. For about six months of the year, Ajahn Gunha would have his monks out on the road, with all their tudong gear, walking on busy, noisy highways under the hot Thai sun. And it’s very hot in Thailand this particular time of year.

People asked Ajahn Gunha, “Why do you do this? Why don’t you just stay in the monastery where it is peaceful and calm?”

He responded, “To teach the monks to endure; otherwise they will get fat and complacent. And this practice develops many skillful states of mind helpful to realizing enlightenment.”

We walked back from town in the heat of our own day, completely sweaty after 14 miles of walking. I insisted that Austin take a shower, and we washed our clothes. We needed to figure out some way to take better care of our bodies—part of the learning we’re pursuing on this trip is how to take better care of ourselves. So we washed ourselves, we washed our clothes. It felt good. And we need to start having some discipline about looking out for our health. The episode with the poison ivy made me realize that we need to be more aware of this, and Austin and I had a good conversation about taking care of our health.

Ironically, a moment later, Austin needed a clothespin to hang out his robes and I told him how in Thailand they make their own clothespins out of bamboo. Austin found some bamboo and his pocketknife and began to carve a clothespin. I noticed he was pushing down on his knife with a lot of pressure. Then I said, “Austin, don’t do that—you’re going to cut yourself.” At that second, Austin almost cut his thumb off. The bamboo split and the blade sliced about a half-inch into Austin’s thumb and his index finger. Being an Eagle Scout, he immediately knew how to apply pressure to slow the bleeding, but it looked pretty bad—there was blood all over his hands. I had some Neosporin, and he had some butterfly splints, and we took an hour to get everything in place.

Meanwhile, his body was going into shock: his right hand was shaking uncontrollably. I made him eat—even though we’re under the precept of not eating after noon, this situation demanded an exception. So he ate and took it easy that afternoon. So far, the cut is healing very well, and Austin's feeling fine.

So that’s how Jotipalo earned his merit badge.

That night I was contemplating the generosity we’ve received thus far, and the times we’ve wished someone would stop and pick us up, even when we haven’t been asking. I think that, in the future, if I see somebody walking along the highway, I’m probably going to ask the driver to stop and see if they need help.

I now have much more empathy for other people’s suffering. I was thinking about the years when I used to drive for a living when I was in New England, and I’d see hitchhikers, and there would always be a part of me that wanted to stop, but I couldn’t trust, I wouldn’t stop. Makes me sad to think of those opportunities that I had to be generous but wasn’t. But I think I’m learning—it’s not too late.

15. Walking feet, running nose - Day 13: Near Raymond, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu -
March 14, 2005

We rose at 4 a.m., sat and meditated for an hour, then were walking by 5:48. We walked about 10 miles, more than halfway to the town of Raymond. I started noticing many more farms as we got nearer to Jackson. At the 10 mile mark and at 10 a.m. we found a place to pitch our tents.

The night before my nose had started running, and I took some cold medication but it wasn’t really working. I ended up spending most of that day laying on my back—sniffing and blowing my nose every few seconds when I stood up was getting to be a nuisance, and it couldn’t have been much fun for Austin to listen to, either.

So I laid on my back and, at one point, I noticed from the color of my urine that I might be getting dehydrated. We were out of water, so I laid on my back began doing loving kindness practice again.

That evening I felt full, comfortable, not thirsty, and I noticed from the color of my urine that I didn’t seem to be dehydrated at all. That was interesting—really weird. I do believe in “other powers,” that my own loving kindness thoughts and people praying for me and wishing me well do create power and protection. So, somebody out there—thank you.

That night, we didn’t have any water, and a large thunderstorm was brewing. So Austin and I decided to set up my poncho as a rain catcher. Austin and I are actually starting to have some fun with this survival stuff! We have more energy than before, so we’re trying different things like this.

We’ve also gotten into the practice of doing evening chanting together and sitting for an hour in the evening. We had just started chanting when the thunderstorm hit, but we continued our chanting. The storm came from the south, then seemed to jump five miles north ahead of us, where you could see it was strking pretty violently—but all we received were a few drops of rain. A second storm came through and, in about 10 minutes, we’d been able to fill our water jugs from the rain catcher.

We continue to learn how to be here.

16. A blessing for Eddie Johnson - Day 14: Part One - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 14, 2005

We got onto Highway 467 this morning and we noticed two black guys outside their house. They called out, “Good morning.”

We responded, “Good morning.”

One of them looked at us quizzically—especially at our backpacks.

“Were you out in that storm last night?” he asked.


“Man, that must have been terrible,” he said.

“Ah, it wasn’t so bad,” I called back.

“Yeah it was,” he said.

“Yeah, it was,” I admitted. And we started laughing. They had big smiles on their faces. And I noticed as we walked into Raymond that when people were looking at us, they seemed to realize we’d been out in that storm, and the looks we got were almost looks of respect.

We walked into a laundromat and saw an older black man looking at us like we were very strange. We were stripping off our clothes and putting them in the washing machine, which had to seem even stranger. We asked him where the bathroom was, and he stared at our backpacks.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked.

“Walking up to Canada,” we told him.

“What are you doing that for,” he asked, and we explained that it was part of our religious training.

“Are you Christian?” I don’t even remember how I answered that one.

“You got a gun?” he asked.


“What about coyotes? You need a gun. You get up the road and into those coyotes and you’re going to be wishing you had a gun,” he said.

“I’m just going to be praying to Jesus to protect me,” I said.

He warmed up to us after awhile, and later I heard him sum up our trip (and possibly our appearance) as he was talking with Austin: “Damn—this is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen!”

As we were waiting for our clothes to dry, two other guys came in to pick this man up. One of them was really mean-looking—had scars on his body from knifings, alligator skin boots, and he just stood there and stared at us. When the first man told these two what we were doing in Mississippi, one of them said, “Do you have faith in Jesus?”

I said, “When you're doing something like this, you have to.”

He looked at me and said, “My name is Eddie Johnson. If you’ve got faith like that, then tonight, you say a blessing for Eddie Johnson.”

Then they all three walked out, and Austin heard Eddie say to his friend, “Man, those guys got way more faith than I do. Hell, they’ve got more faith than any preacher I ever met.”

So tonight we’ll say a blessing for Eddie Johnson.

17. A first Word from Austin/A little miscommunication - Austin Stewart - March 16, 2005

Well, after a small misunderstanding I will begin to regulary contribute journal entries onto the website. Jotipalo and I are going to try not to overlap our stories too much, or if we do to offer two perspectives on the same situation. With no further ado...

Today has been a big day. We are in Jackson! This is the two week mark. Tami, our host, is a Rieki Master. She gave me quite a wonderful massage; I am still floating a little. Jotipalo will not get this treatment, unless we run into a male masseuse on our walk. You give up so much being a monk. My spirits are pretty high right now, but this is due to conditions conforming to my preferences. I have a roof over my head, climate control, and little fear that I will be shot by a hunter mistaking me for game. People do not appreciate these little things. They have no idea how amazing a shower is after being in the woods for several days. Sponge baths in public restrooms, with someone watching the door are really the bare minimum of bathing. We take so much for granted; until you do without something it is impossible to fully appreciate it. On top of that we have room to complain about the things that we take for granted if they do not meet our preferences.

This morning we hiked into Raymond where we had arranged to be picked up. We were early so we found a washeteria and did a load of laundry so that we would have clean clothes when we showered. Raymond was where the last battle took place before the siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The washeteria appeared to have weathered that battle. I thought that I had frequented the country's roughest Laundromats when I lived in Chicago, but I don't even believe that Bad, Bad Leroy Brown would have chosen to do his laundry at this rust bucket. Now people might think that I am complaining about this laundry. That is not the case, I have a deep level of respect for something that vibrates with such a strong frequency of decay, yet still cleans your clothes.

The old black man inside wore a glorious handlebar mustache, used an old detergent cup as an ashtray and was sipping something out of a paper cup. He communicated in a mix of English and grunts; he saved words for only those moments when he really needed them. I never heard a complete sentence leave his lips. He looked at us with a sideways glance the entire time we were in there. I got the sense that he had not been saving that glance for us, but that he looked at everything that way. Upon learning what we were doing he could not believe that we did not have a gun. He just kept shaking his head saying, "this is the strangest damn thing I have ever seen." He kept telling us that we would need a gun to fend of the coyotes and pumas. Our attempts to explain to him that we couldn’t carry a gun were an utter failure.

18. A like-minded soul - Day 14: Jackson, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 14, 2005

Tami Rose met us in Raymond, Mississippi. She drove us to her recently purchased home in Jackson. It was 11:30 am and we had not eaten yet, so we threw together a quick meal, including some fresh vegetables!

After eating we each took showers and did another load of laundry. A much more friendly laundry facility (surrounded by flowers, Buddha images and smiles) than we've experienced previously on the walk, where the laundromat was dirty and had a TV blaring Bob Barker’s voice and “The Price is Right”. Bob Barker!?! He didn’t look any older than when I last saw that show, 20 + years ago! We think Bob might be a yoga master and spreading his wisdom by giving gifts away to strangers and exemplifying the power of yoga to stop the aging process! Who knows?

Tami is great. She is an energetic and kind person. A like-minded soul, you might say. She works as a massage therapist, Reiki Master and Crystal healer. We spent a while sharing stories and I was amazed to find that, after only a few hours acquaintance, friendship and mutual respect had developed between us.

Later in the afternoon Michele and Jerry stopped by. Michele has a yoga studio in Yazoo City and we have been invited to go there to visit with her students later in the week. It was Michele’s birthday and Tami was offering her a massage, and the three of them were going out to dinner that evening.

Jerry and I had a nice conversation about religion and it was nice to hear about Jerry’s beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness. I appreciate their views about war and non-harming, and about staying out of politics. I also appreciated hearing Jerry talk about how she and her sister’s are received when they go out to talk to people about their faith.

Jerry had many questions for me, too, and I think we made a good connection. Jerry offered to drive Austin and I to Vicksburg the next day, and we gratefully accepted, as we have not had the opportunity to experience many of the historical resources along our walk. When you are walking 12 miles to get to a water spot and you see an historical marker that will take you several miles out of your way, you tend to keep to the straight and narrow of the road!

This evening Austin and I got caught up on emails and also made contact with Luke Lundemo from Jackson. Luke led a community leadership training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin Co. California. Ajahn Amaro, another of my teachers and co-abbot of Abhayagiri, was part of that training program. Luke asked if we would be available to meet with a group that gathers on Wednesday evenings. We agreed and made plans. We also were invited to go on alms round outside their store the next morning.

It is a bit strange sleeping in a bed tonight, but I remember how to do it!

19. Chanting on the battlefield - Day 15: Vicksburg, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu -
March 15, 2005

Last night I got my own bedroom and Austin slept on what looked like a very comfortable couch. We got up at 5:30 a.m. to the smells of hot coffee brewing in Tami’s automatic coffeemaker. We gathered in Tami’s massage room and did some chanting and meditated for an hour.

Since Tami just recently moved into this house, she requested that we do some blessing chants. She knew we did blessing chants after hearing about Eddy J.! So I invited her to see if any friends wanted to be part of the ceremony and we decided to do it that evening.

Austin and I got directions to Luke and Charlotte’s computer store, and we walked there with umbrellas at the ready. The part of Jackson we are in is a bit strange. It is a residential area, but there are few sidewalks, and on the busiest streets usually only on one side.

The computer store was part of a complex that contained a health food store, so many people came in and out. It appeared that a not so undercover police officer was watching us. He was wearing all black, with huge letters across his chest that read, “Police!” He kept appearing and disappearing around various corners, near and far away.

Several people greeted us warmly, and one woman gave Austin $20! Charlotte invited us into the health food store and bought us a wonderful meal. We made plans with Luke to connect on Wednesday evening and Charlotte gave us her cell phone number and offered any assistance we needed while in Jackson.

We ate the meal at Tami’s and then waited for Jerry to take us to Vicksburg. It started raining just as Jerry arrived. The drive to Vicksburg was about an hour, or what would have taken us three days to walk. The day had turned grey, wet and cold. Even though we were inside a warm, dry truck and with a friend, the rain was still draining my energy.

I am so grateful that we have places to stay for the next couple nights.

Vicksburg was interesting. Jerry paid our admission into the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum. It was shaped like an iron clad war ship. Most of the exhibits were scale-model warships, and there was one large diorama of the battlefield. We also saw an informative movie about the 47-day siege of Vicksburg.

The Battlefield Park was a beautiful park and is in an excellent state of preservation. It includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of reconstructed trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, antebellum home, and 144 emplaced cannons. Because of the rain we didn’t get out of the car much and only saw a fraction of the park. We did stop at the Illinois Memorial, which is modeled after the Roman Pantheon. The monument stands 62 feet in height and is made out of marble.

The monument had an open dome and it was raining inside the building! On a whim I started chanting, “Namo tassa Bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa.” The chant resonated throughout the building for at least five full seconds after chanting. It was amazing! So I chanted the Buddha’s ”Words of Loving-kindness” and dedicated the merit of that chant to all those who suffered due to the terrible siege. It was so beautiful to chant here, if we had more time I would have stayed and chanted all day long.

Jerry drove us back to Jackson and told Austin and I some amazingly funny stories about her 17 years of being a truck driver. She drove all over the United States, all of those miles alone. She sure is an amazing woman, kind and generous too.

Once we were back in Jackson, Tami had invited a friend named Rebecca over for the House Blessing. We did a simple ceremony, chanting some of the Buddha’s teaching over a bowl of water that had a blessing cord wrapped around it. We also had a candle burning over the water, which symbolized the coming together of Water, Fire, Air and Earth. After chanting over the water we took the blessed water and sprinkled it throughout the house.

20. Generosity in Mind - Austin Stewart - March 16, 2005

We have been in Jackson for two days and our time here has already been very blessed. I have to say that I am aglow with all the generosity we have encountered. Generosity is the major theme of the walk for me right now. I reflect on all of those that we have met and gratitude arises in the mind and overwhelms any negative feelings. It is such a blessing to be able to live on the kindness of others. Living on the kindness of others forces the heart to open. It allows for a strong sense of humility to arise in the mind. Only a true fool would be able to hang on to arrogance while a beggar. One begins to see that though it is up to the individual to investigate his/her own mind spiritual practice is a group effort. I am able to practice right now due to the kindness that so many have shown me, starting with my parents raising me up through the owner of the Thai restaurant that fed us today. Being able to live and practice on the kindness of others makes it so you are not just practicing for yourself, but you are practicing for all those who support you. The sharing of blessings chant conveys how I feel best.

Through the goodness that arises from my practice,
May my spiritual teachers and guides of great virtue,
My mother, my father and my relatives,
The sun and the moon, all virtuous leaders of the world-
May the highest gods and evil forces;
Celestial beings, guardian spirits of the earth,
And the lord of death,
May those who are friendly, indifferent or hostile.

May all beings receive the blessings of my life.
May they soon attain the threefold bliss and realize the

Through the goodness that arises from my practice,
And through this act of sharing,
May all desires and attachments quickly cease,
And all harmful states of mind.

Until I realize Nibbana,
In every kind of birth, may I have an upright mind,
With mindfulness and wisdom, austerity and vigor.

May the forces of delusion not take hold nor weaken my resolve.

The Buddha is my excellent refuge,
Unsurpassed is the protection of the Dhamma,
The solitary Buddha is my noble lord,
The Sangha is my supreme support.

Through the supreme power of all these,
May darkness and delusion be dispelled.

I cannot add anything to that. The support we receive living on alms brings a humble confidence to my practice that did not exist before. I contacted a friend we will be staying with in Memphis, I know her from Gunnison, but we were never very close. She joyfully offered to help in any way that she could. I keep seeing how blessed I have been in this life, those who I have kept as friends are amazing. May you all be well!

21. Thai generosity/talking with Father William - Day 16: Jackson, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 18, 2005

We awoke again to the smell of coffee this morning as we gathered and chanted the Buddha’s first discourse, called the Dhamma-cakkap-pavat-tana Sutta. This teaching was given to the group of five ascetics who had helped the Buddha during his many years of struggle before his Enlightenment.

In this discourse, the Buddha describes the dangers of indulging in the extremes of pleasure and self-mortification, then goes on to explain the Four Noble Truths. At the end of this teaching, the disciple Kondañño understands what the Buddha was teaching and becomes the first student to reach a stage of enlightenment.

We had a relaxing morning, and I spent some time catching up on my journal. Around 11 a.m. Charlotte picked us up and drove us over to The Thai House Restaurant. We were warmly received and ushered into a private room for the meal. The owners (Buranee Bunniram and Prawat Bunniram) have lived in Jackson for over 30 years and have three children in college now. One of the boys was our waiter and it was funny to listen to him speak, as he spoke pure “Jackson” English.

The restaurant was beautiful and I noticed all the chairs, tables, counters, and wall dividers were hand carved. The owner’s family was in the wood working business in Northern Thailand, and she designed all the woodwork in the restaurant. Her family in Thailand made and carved all the wood. They were some of the most beautiful carvings I have ever seen in that style. All the wood has three- to four-inch-thick pieces of teak, with deep relief carvings! This is the second Thai restraint we have visited on the walk and again they didn’t charge us for the meal and they made a generous donation towards the walk.

Last night I started an email conversation with Father William Skudlarek a Benedictine monk from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. I met Father William last year when he was in California for a meeting about Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. We have been in contact with each other about this walk several times as we hope Father William will be able to join us for a period of the walk, probably in July when we reach Minnesota.

My first impression of Father William was formed when he responded to an email by asking if my formal name “Bhikkhu” in my signature “Jotipalo Bhikkhu” should be used in addressing me. He said, “I have a feeling Bhikkhu means, ‘monk’ and it feels like I’d be calling you, “Jotipalo Monk.” I immediately liked Father William.

Father William gave me some advice and contacts to call in Jackson, to see about developing a relationship with Catholic churches along the way. I think we will be fine between Jackson and Tupelo, but I like the idea of starting to see how this new twist of the walk will unfold, and how it will work. Part of me wants to resist planning anything, but at this point I think we need all the help and generosity we can get.

Today I did talk to a woman named Mary Woodward, who graciously extended an offer of support. She had already sent emails to the churches in Kosciusko, Houston and Tupelo. She said she would call them, as well, and pass our email address along to them. Ms. Woodward also extended an offer to assist if we have any problems along the way.

“Just give me a call,” she said.

This feels like a very good beginning.

She also extended an offer to contact the local papers, but I declined that offer. I said, “Every action has an opposite and equal reaction.” She said, “Yes, and you are in Mississippi.”

Also, my friend Art Howe from Chicago contacted a friend of his who lives in Oxford, MS. This friend has offered assistance, too, and I hope we might meet up with him after we reach Tupelo. Art’s friend is a Dean at Ole Miss [the University of Mississippi]. So I offered to talk with any students or faculty who might be interested in meeting us.

Tonight around 7 pm Luke and Charlotte will pick us up and take us to a Zendo here in Jackson.

22. "What the bleep do we know?" - Day 16, evening: Jackson, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 22, 2005

Luke and Charlotte picked us up at Tami's around 6:45 PM and drove us a short distance to B.B. Wolfe's Zendo. She has an art studio and a lovely wooded property, but unfortunately development on all sides has encroached on it's beauty.

The zendo was designed and built by B.B. and her husband. About eight people came. We chanted the Buddha's Words of Loving-kindness. I chanted it in Pali at the beginning and Austin joined in at the end of the evening in English. We talked about the walk, emphasizing how we were using it as a meditation and how we were working with the various mind states.

After the gathering Luke and Charlotte invited us to their place to view the movie: "What the bleep do we (k)now?" It was a fun movie about quantum physics, spirituality, and the human body. It mentioned the book "Hidden Messages in Water" by Masaru Emoto. Tami just gave a copy of this book to us.

23. Levitating in Yazoo, or: first Jesus, now the Buddha - Day 17: Yazoo City, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 22, 2005

We slept in this morning, and I noticed Tami was meditating when I got up. She said we inspired her to start a practice each morning!

After Tami went off to work, Austin and I did laundry of all the things we got dirty during our stay (bath towels, bed sheets). We even started to pack our backpacks again. Oh, it felt so heavy again. How did that happen?

I was finally able to part with a few of my items (a pair of sandals that Larry Restel donated for the walk ˆ I put about 300 miles on them while training at Abhayagiri, so don’t feel too bad about sending them ahead). Thanks, Larry, for understanding!

Tom, a friend in Grand Marais, MN, offered to deliver to Thunder Bay any packages I send to him. That will allow us to not have to pay expensive international postal rates.

Luke and Charlotte took us out to eat at a lovely restaurant called Pan Asia. It is an Asian-Fusion stir-fry restaurant. If anybody reading this is going to be in Jackson, I highly recommend having a meal here (as well as The Thai House).

In the afternoon Tami drove us up to Yazoo City, where Michele wanted us to meet with some of her yoga students. On the way, we stopped at a camping supply store to pick up a few items (camp stove heat shield, fuel bottle, collapsible water bucket for doing laundry, and a sleeping pad).

While in the store I had the most unusual experience. People were gawking at me—and from only a foot or two away. I mean staring at me with eyes bulging; mouths dropped open, eyeing me from bald head to toe, up and down.

It was most unusual because the people were doing this full-well knowing I was watching them do it! It was odd to me, too, because I was just observing these people gawk without having any uncomfortable feelings or even being self-conscious. It wasn’t until after we left the store that I realized how odd it had been. Made we wish I had said, “Hello, I’m alive.” I know it is best that I didn’t.

Yazoo City is known for Kudzu vine. Cotton is king, but kudzu is queen, so they say. It is a non-native plant introduced to help control erosion. That it has done, but they didn’t know it would thrive in this climate and is reported to grow as much a foot a day during the summer! A pair of goats is the only way to keep it at bay.

Tami said Michele is pretty much single handedly holding the light in Yazoo City. Michele told us when she was considering moving here she was hoping to see a sign, as nothing was drawing her to come here. She is from England, and was living in Georgia at the time. She was watching the Blues Brothers movie and in one scene they flash a shot, of a sign that reads, “Yazoo City.” I’m sure Michele is one of the few people who ever noticed that scene. I asked Michele if the sign might have been telling her to go to Yazoo City, Illinois.

After all she has done and been throughin Mississippi, I think she could have killed me for even suggesting that!

Tami explained that she was once giving a massage to a long distance runner who hated to stretch, and thus had lots of injuries. Tami mentioned that maybe he should consider doing some yoga. He said, “Oh no, I could never do that. That would be breathing for Satan.” I guess that’s a very common attitude down here about yoga. Interestingly enough though, there is a “Christian” yoga center in Yazoo City. Instead of doing the "Sun" Salutation they do the "Son" Salutation. I guess that makes it OK?

Unfortunately the word of our arrival didn’t get sent out until that day and only a few people were able to attend. One of the messages got a little mixed and the woman heard that a Buddhist monk was levitating at the Yoga Studio. (I hope she wasn’t disappointed)

Those that came seemed to appreciate the talk and meditation. They saw many similarities to the guided meditation I led and what Michele teaches.

We had been hearing a story about a man dressed like Jesus carrying a cross. We first heard this story on our second day in New Orleans. Several times we have heard a similar story and he is always about two weeks ahead of us. If all these stories are of the same person we don’t know. But we did hear that the guy passed through Yazoo City and later was “run-out-of-town” in Indianola, MS.

People around here must be getting very nervous—first Jesus walks through town, and now the Buddha.

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