Mississippi River - Buddhist Pilgrimage/Walking on Faith and
Kindness - March 2005 - Page #2
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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.
can read/free download the complete journals in PDF -- Mississippi
generous gift; safe from harm
25. These sandals are made for walking
26. A water day
27. Water, water, water
28. Filled with joy and gratitude—in
29. Going soft in the desert
30. "What is the purpose of Buddhism—what
is your goal?"
31. "Wilma—I just saw your
monks on the Trace"
32. Three weeks of tudong!
33. Hardship and burdens lifted by others—I
can learn from joy
34. One more gift to us
35. Little Mountain with a Bodhisattva
36. Alice's Wonderland
37. Enlightened conversations with the
38. Good Friday—a beauty in joining
39. Lifting the body of Jesus from the
A day of rest
Unitarian Easter Sunday
Vivid dreams and power spots — four
weeks on the road
--- --- ---
24. A generous gift; safe from harm
- Day 18: Ross Bartlett Reservoir, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 18, 2005
and I slept at the Yoga Studio and did chanting there in the
morning. Karen, who works for Michele, volunteered to drive
us down to Jackson, as she’d missed our talk the previous
evening because she was meeting with her church group.
Karen picked us up at 8 am, took us back to Luke and Charlotte’s
house. There they offered us a call phone for the duration of
our walk! They are hoping people will donate towards the cost
of the calling plan. I think their expense is around thirty-five
dollars per month. We only intend to use the phone to make calls
in case of emergencies or to make arrangements for places to
stay. It was a most timely offering—Austin and I had just
been talking about how rare the pay phone is becoming, and how
difficult it has been for us to find one when we need it. We
had decided it would be nice to have a phone, but we would not
purchase or request one. And then Luke and Charlotte make this
offer. Some people are just in tune!
turned out to be another like-minded soul. She was very happy
and exuded positive energy. Karen was more open-minded than
many that we have met in Mississippi, perhaps because she spent
a year and a half living in Europe and twenty years in California.
dropped us off at the Ratliff Ferry Campground, which is on
the north side of the Ross Barlett Reservoir. This is a beautiful
body of water about fifteen miles long and two miles wide. We
got dropped off at 11 am so Austin prepared a meal and we ate
at the lakeshore on a picnic table.
found the campsite a bit noisy as the caretaker was using a
leaf blower attached to a tractor, and the site was also a boat
launch site. Since it was still early we decided to start walking.
only about three miles of walking, we found a beautiful spot
in a pine forest. Covered with pine needles, these forest floors
are very soft.
have a thirty-five mile walk to Kosciusko where the Catholic
Church has graciously offered us a place to stay. The weather
forecast does not look promising for the next few days; lots
of rain and thunderstorms predicted.
are starting to get a fair number of emails. Rev. Heng Sure
wrote to let us know that they chanted the Great Compassion
Mantra on our behalf and for world peace. We are so blessed!
also got an email from my aunt and uncle telling the good news
that one of my cousins who had been in Iraq just returned safely
from his tour of duty. I had given him an amulet that was specially
blessed by Ajahn Jumnian. These amulets protect whoever wears
them from being killed by violent means.
I sent my cousin a bag of fifty-two amulets which Ajahn Jumnian
again blessed, and when I saw my cousin on his brief visit to
the States at Thanksgiving, he told me that nobody who wore
one of these amulets had been injured!
These sandals are made for walking
- Day 18: On the Trace again - Austin Stewart - March 18, 2005
are back on the Trace. Jackson was very busy for us. We met
so many wonderful people filled with generosity. Luke and Charlotte,
Tami, Barbara, Michelle, Jeri, the entire Jackson Sangha, Karen
and several others whose names we never caught. Also, in the
three major towns over our next stretch the Catholic churches
have offered us places to stay. Everyone has been giving in
their own way; some give in money, others in time, others in
food, and some in all three! Each gift helps us along for one
more day. A park ranger stopped today and asked if we were alright.
Jotipalo and I both saw the question of where we were staying
cross her mind, but then she chose not to ask. That was a great
act of generosity.
feel close to all of the people we have met on this walk. I
now have friends in Jackson! They are all welcome in my home
if they ever find themselves in Gunnison.
time, when we are in town is our gift to those who support us.
They have many good questions, speaking with them about the
walk creates the walk. We are experiencing things while we walk,
and then put them into words on our down days in town. It allows
us to share, as well as to reflect on the lessons we have learned.
It is good to be walking again, now the mind sees that spring
is well underway and wants to be further north to keep away
from the inevitable heat. It loves to seek comfort.
faith in the practice is growing more right now than it has
in a very long time. I feel that it is moving closer to unshakeable.
Faith is beginning to be the motivating factor behind practice.
As I grow sure of the truth of the practice, why would I spend
any time with unskillful mental qualities? When I witness the
outcome of both skillful and unskillful thoughts, words, and
actions and when I see that these things create the world there
is no longer any desire to dwell in unskillful action. So when
I slip into old habits I catch myself quickly.
A water day
- Day 19: Natchez Trace, north of Ross Bartlett Reservoir, Mississippi
- Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 19, 2005
has been a water day.
got up at 4 am to the distant rumble of thunder, meditated until
5 am and quickly packed. We are getting better at packing and
were walking by 5:35 am (just at dawn). We use our head lamps
on the road for the first thirty minutes so cars can more clearly
see us. The Trace has a large gentle grass shoulder so it is
not difficult to get out of cars way, if they do not see us.
7:30 am the rain had caught up to us, and we walked for about
two hours in a light to medium rain. It was not a constant rain,
but we heard thunder at times; it was often quite close. I had
the distinct feeling that the weather gods were doing all they
could to hold back the storm and were wishing we could have
walked a little faster than our 3.3 mile an hour pace.
10:30 am we had walked ten plus miles and we were near a nice-looking
woods. We think the young shoots may be poison ivy, but there
are not so many of them, and we asked them not to spread their
oils on us, and in return we wouldn’t do anything to harm
them either (and in fact we would wish them well). Tami told
us that we could ask the mosquitoes not to bite us, and they
won’t. Austin said a friend of his said the same thing
about poison ivy. I’m game!
is a water day also because we used our water filter for the
first time. We are a bit concerned about the water we are attempting
to cleanse, because there are a lot of cattle farms and the
water doesn’t flow very much, if at all. We filtered about
two gallons of water. When we reached our campsite, we did some
blessing chants over the water. I’m reading Masaru Emoto’s
book The Hidden Messages in Water, and one of the most beautiful
photos in the book is of an ice crystal from water that a Buddhist
monk chanted over.
don’t know if this will purify our water, but maybe it
will make it pretty.
Water, water, water
- Day 19: A day of firsts - Austin Stewart - March 19, 2005
was a day of firsts. We got rained on hard today while we were
walking. We could be quite miserable right now, but all of our
preparations paid off and I am happy they did. The sky is very
hard to read here. When it is overcast, there is a very subtle
change that tells you it is about to rain. I have gotten used
to the high desert of Colorado where rain is a dramatic thing.
Rare is the daylong storm. Most often one can observe thunderstorms
sweeping across the landscape, blue sky all around. They resemble
jellyfish, the thunderheads are bodies, trailing rain are tendrils
sliding from mountain to valley.
have been at this for nineteen days now and if I look to the
future it seems that Canada is an impossible distance away.
I think that at our current pace it will not be possible to
make it in the time we have left. We have both let go of the
idea of walking the whole distance. We are finding that this
trip really is taking us. We have so little control. That is
much more apparent when you are on foot. We are at the mercy
of the earth and sky, the seasons, and the people we encounter.
Not to mention the limitations of the body. Days pass quickly
on the road; it is amazing how twelve miles can slide past.
The only constant is the present moment and out here it is never
dull. Always something for the mind to grasp at! Lessons are
never far away.
other dealing with water today was purifying our first batch
with the water filter. The filter has two steps. The first gets
out all the microbial stuff and then it runs through charcoal,
for what purpose, I don't know. We added a third level of purification.
First we requested the water from the local Nagas, or water
spirits, and when we returned to camp we chanted a blessing
over it. I do not feel that we are being superstitious, but
that we are being humble. We could have just filtered the water
and drank it without ever considering the string of events that
led us to that particular water source. There is much that goes
on behind the scenes. We are thankful that we are able to live
consuming what we consume.
is very little litter along the roadside here, but whenever
we walk off the Trace it is dense along the road. It speaks
to me of so many things. I believe that it is a sign of decay.
It shows the personality of our nation. Litter laws, adopt-a-highway
programs, and litter awareness have become the norm. It is well
known that one should not litter, and yet we are still swimming
in it! It shows how disconnected and selfish people can be,
a condition I have seen reflected across this nation. I do not
know what would possess a person to throw trash out the window.
Every gas station you stop at has a trash can. The only reason
for it is that we fail to see the consequence of our actions.
We all have the tendency to live like this. We lack a proper
respect for the way the world works. Being mindful of our thoughts,
words and deeds we can begin to observe the impact that our
actions, and even our thoughts have in the world. When we throw
a piece of trash out the window what kind of world do we create?
When we reside in negative mental states what kind of world
do we create? What happens if we pick up litter when we see
it? What happens when we cultivate loving kindness?
Filled with joy and gratitude—in
the rain! - Day 20: south of
Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 20, 2005
an identical morning to yesterday, except there was no thunder
when we got up. By 9 am we had walked nine miles. We sat under
the cover of a display about beavers, and had a light snack.
Did you know Mississippi beavers can reach sixty pounds?
light rain started just as we left the protected cover of the
display. I wear a rain poncho that covers my pack, a pack cover
that Bryant gave me back in Baton Rouge, plus a large umbrella.
With the combination of these three items, we have now walked
for two days in the rain and my shoes only got damp!
tell you, the weather gods are looking out for us and we are
grateful! If I attach to having dry shoes I’m sure to
two miles down the road I saw a man pull into the driveway of
a house which was only 100 yards off the Trace, so we decided
to go and ask for a gallon of water. Here we met our second
hard-selling Southern Baptist! I could have kicked Austin when
he freely offered up that we were Buddhist. Didn’t he
see the large painting of the Last Supper right in front of
defense of Austin, I doubt there would have been a way to avoid
the subject of Baptist beliefs with this man; any conversation
would have led there. The encounter was actually friendly, partly
because Austin and I didn’t take it personally or seriously.
I saw right away that we just didn’t have a common language
to discuss religious thought, and he didn’t seem interested
in finding one.
sent him loving kindness and I was looking for a way to get
out the door without insulting him. Bless her heart, the woman
who owned the house must have sensed my desire and she went
over and opened the front door. She may have been a Baptist,
but she was a Bodhisattva in my mind.
said the encounter showed that our practice is making progress,
but that it also shows we have work to do, as we kept talking
about various things he had said for the rest of the day’s
about the twelve-mile point of the day’s walk we came
across a bridge that went over a small stream and a seldom-used
dirt road. We stopped here to get out of the rain and eat our
meal. Most of the land we passed today was open fields; I bet
they are breathtakingly beautiful when the wildflowers bloom.
We are a couple weeks ahead of spring, which is fine, because
that means we are also two weeks ahead of the copperheads and
ended up walking about fourteen miles before we found a place
to camp. It had stopped raining about a half hour earlier and
it stayed rain-free until we pitched our tarps, then it started
week at Rocky Spring Campground, an afternoon rain shower left
me feeling depressed. Today as we sat under our tarps, I was
filled with joy and gratitude. I was enjoying watching the tiny
slugs make my backpack their temporary home. The sound of rain
was so peaceful and relaxing, and my shoes were still dry (how
did that happen?).
generosity we have received and the well-wishes we are being
sent are helping to make this walk be not only enjoyable, but
a true blessing for all beings.
were expecting to have to walk ten miles tomorrow. We used our
cell phone for the first time to call the Catholic Church in
Kosciusko. Wilma was so happy to hear from us; she wanted to
come out right away to pick us up! We wanted to meet her at
a picnic area the next morning, where there was running water
so that we could sponge bathe and put on clean clothing before
we met her. We predict that site is five miles away, so we told
Wilma to come find us about 9 am. We plan to start walking at
Going soft in the desert
- Day 20: Damp dry - Austin Stewart - March 20, 2005
made easy work of fourteen miles today, despite the rain. In
the morning it was overcast, but the rain didn't start up until
later in the morning. The only time we saw the sun today was
right at daybreak. It peeked out over the horizon, the color
of a hot ball of iron, though lacking the intensity that image
provokes. Dawn was quite beautiful; a light fog that glowed
red with the sun, the forest was wet and still. A few deer tentatively
crossed the Trace. We aroused the suspicion of a few dogs that
barked loudly, but did not approach. We passed a number of horses
that approached the fence and paraded for us. Their movements
were so graceful. We covered our normal mileage quickly attempting
to make camp before the rain found us. In this pursuit we failed.
think that all my years in the high desert have made me soft.
Let me explain the term, high desert: it is an arid climate
that is at high altitude. Gunnison, where I make my home, sits
at 7,700 feet. Most people feel that the desert makes you hard;
water is scarce the sun can burn exposed skin quickly and without
mercy. The altitude and a geographic oddity make the winters
in Gunnison long and cold. To give a sense of cold, in December
it was -29°F without windchill. There are tales of colder
weather that cracked many a radiator. I feel that this has made
me soft because rarely am I wet without my consent. There can
be a lot of snow in the winter, but it is so cold that it does
not melt on you. And as I have described before, summer thunderstorms
pass over quickly. If you are caught unprepared a thunderstorm
at high altitude can be quite dangerous. The risk of hypothermia
is very real as is the risk of a lightning strike.
is damp here. I can feel the moisture on my skin, in the air
that I breathe, and in all of my belongings. I must have lived
the first twenty-three years of my life in the Midwest without
being aware of all this water. I have found that in the cycle
of physical birth and death water is a crucial factor. The more
of it that is around, the denser life is, the more birthing
occurs. The same can be said of it in regard to death and decay.
In my arid home I have found dead standing juniper trees that
have been dead so long that the wind has whittled their branches
thin and oval. Here a tree can be consumed quite fast. Most
downed branches I try to move when setting up camp fall apart
in my hands. Earlier in this walk I would get depressed every
time that it rained. Now I find myself soothed by the sound
of rain on the tarp. I think that we take personal offense at
many of the unfavorable conditions that occur to us every day.
Why does it have to rain on me? It is just raining and I am
out in it.
"What is the purpose of Buddhism—what
is your goal?" - Day 20,
Part two: south of - Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 20, 2005
additional notes and thoughts about our conversation with a
Southern Baptist man who gave us water just south of here [see
that conversation, I mentioned that Austin had grown up in the
Catholic Church, and I had grown in Methodist Church.
said,” Ah, so you haven’t had the true experience
told him about a kind Jehovah’s Witness we had met, and
the man rolled his eyes.
spoke of “meeting Jesus,” and I imagine the experience
had been quite beautiful for him. In terms of Buddhist understanding
and deep states of concentration, it sounded as if his experience
was what is called piti, a Pali word describing joy, almost
to the point of rapture.
the Buddhist sense, you can get to that state when you’re
meditating. But then it gets more and more refined, and becomes
more and more peaceful. So I think this man had a very blissful
experience of Jesus, but I think it’s probably quite coarse.
It’s very energetic and very enlivening, but if you stay
in that state, it’s very exhausting.
you learn to meditate, you can actually get into that state
just by watching your breath, believe it or not; then you learn
to let go of the discomfort of it, and you enter states of real
peace and tranquility. There are different levels of this, but
each becomes more blissful but at a much more peaceful level.
man asked me, “Have you ever had the experience of Jesus?”
I said, “I have.”
I was a monk, I experienced some very profound states of peace
and calm; it came through meditation, but it was what I believe
people might describe as experiencing the Godhead, very personal.
asked an interesting question a couple of times: “What
is the purpose of Buddhism—what is your goal?”
told him: “The ending of suffering.”
think that resonated with his heart—he stopped to contemplate
it, as if he hadn’t heard it before. But it didn’t
fit anywhere into his context, so he immediately changed the
subject. He let it roll off. We got the impression that anywhere
the conversation went, he needed to be right. Anything that
didn’t match his paradigm, he’d listen and take
it in, but then he’d immediately take the conversation
in a different direction.
wrote that this man was doing what he believed was his Christian
duty, but from our perspective what it showed was not his love
for Christ, but a lack of faith.
still can’t get over that one denomination really thinks
they’ve got the only right way. We just drove through
this town of Kosciusku, there must be at least a dozen Baptist
churches in this town—the First, Second, New, Southern,
New Southern—and I imagine each Baptist church argues
with the other about which is the “right” church.
We just find it mind-blowing.
Buddha said that any religion is a true religion as long as
it teaches the Four Noble Truths. It doesn’t have to state
it in those terms, but carry within it the understanding there
is suffering; that suffering is attachment and craving; that
if you let go of the craving, it’s the end of suffering;
and that there’s a path of meditation that leads you there
to that letting go.
would love to see someone take this on as a Ph.D. thesis or
independent study—take all of the world’s religions
and write out where they carry implicitly these Four Noble truths.
I think that would be an awesome project.
conversation with this man probably lasted no longer than ten
minutes. Austin probably would have liked to have stayed a little
longer. I think he was hoping for another 'Eddie J.' experience
[see Day 14, Part one]—I had to kick him in the ass and
get us out of there. (Figuratively, of course!) We’ve
been laughing about that one.
we have met, like Dave from St. Louis, saw us as just two more
seekers on the path. This man did not. But he gave us the water
we needed. He was quite pleasant and we were grateful.
"Wilma—I just saw your monks
on the Trace" - Day 21:
St. Therese's Catholic Church, - Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo
Bhikkhu - March 21, 2005
marks three weeks on the road—two weeks longer than Austin
and I would have predicted if you’d asked us during that
woke at 4 am, sat and packed. We were on the road by 5:45. It
had rained from 4 am to 5 am. We walked five miles to Hollyhill
Picnic Area. It was raining again. We took a sponge bath at
the picnic area and called Wilma in Kosciusko.
in the morning, a friend of hers had been driving on the Trace
and she saw us as she passed by. We found out later that she
had called Wilma and said, “Get your butt out of bed—I
just saw your monks on the Trace.”
you sure it was them?” Wilma asked.
I’m sure of one thing,” her friend said, “I'm
sure of this: It was them.”
they wearing their Buddhist things,” Wilma asked.
yeah,” she replied.
Wilma got up and was driving to get us when we reached her on
her cell phone. At the time she was slowing to admire some deer
beside the road.
made us feel welcome the moment we met her. She offered any
assistance we needed. She offered to drive us to the St. Therese’s
Catholic Church Center where we’d be staying, or to get
some food or to take us out for a bite to eat. She grabbed our
backpacks and helped us with them—she was wonderfully
hadn’t eaten, so we opted for the meal. But Kosciusko
has only fast food restaurants, so we had a Big Deluxe breakfast
at McDonald’s. The first McDonald's food I’ve eaten
in over te years! Like Bob Barker and the Price Is Rightshow
we saw at the laundromat a few weeks ago, I don’t think
McDonald’s has aged or changed in all those years.
McDonald's Bob Barker’s antiaging secret? (See journal
entry “A blessing for Eddie J.” for additional background.
center is lovely. We were given a large, comfortable room that
looks like it could have been any family’s living room
from the 1960s. We have bright green carpet, a gas log in the
fireplace, oak veneer wall paneling, a couch and several golden
night we’re sleeping in a pine forest with spiders and
slugs next to us, the next night we’re sleeping in what
could be the living room from a 1960s TV show. And the heart
is serene and grateful through it all.
center has a laundry, a huge kitchen, and nice huge dining room
and an office with a computer. The church is connected to it
by a covered walkway.
not a priest here anymore—not even a nun. A sad trend
we’ve noticed among Catholic churches. We met Barbara
Stureaum, and she’s the assistant pastor—she does
all the office work and counseling; a layperson doing the pastoral
day-to-day things. The priest visits on Sunday to say Mass for
this and two other churches. The priest we met in Vidalia, Mississippi
and who kindly gave us a ride had come all the way from India
to serve as a priest in the United States.
people we’ve met thus far in the Catholic Church are just
the sort of people we’d hoped to meet. Not just because
they’re being generous to us, but because they’re
fun people, open-minded, intelligent, good-natured.
met five people from this particular parish who say they’re
amazed that we are walking through the South. They’ll
say, “We have difficulties down here just being Catholic—I
can’t imagine what it’s like dressed like you guys.”
They can have a difficult time here being Catholic—this
who had just moved here from Chicago, also came to welcome us.
She had some wonderful questions. She was intrigued about what
we were doing, and what Buddhism was about. She was going through
the process of joining the church, and she was telling us about
her own spiritual search.
and Wilma were concerned about our being on the road the next
day, as severe thunderstorms were predicted, with a potential
for tornados. They asked us to consider staying for two nights.
We decided that the Lord was providing for us, and we stayed.
allowed us to use her office. I spent about five hours reading
emails sent to us and answering them. I was grateful, both for
the correspondence and Barbara’s allowing us to use her
the meantime, Wilma and her friend Lou (the woman who had seen
us on the road earlier) took Austin to Wal-Mart for much-needed
supplies. He enjoyed his time shopping with them and commented:
“They sure are wild women!”
invited Austin and me for a meal. She takes care of her elderly
mother and she wanted us to meet her. Wilma’s mother,
Louise, is from Peru, Indiana. And one of her sons is a Catholic
priest outside of Indianapolis.
looking forward to meeting Louise. Any woman who brought a son
up to become a priest is okay in my book.
Three weeks of tudong!
- Day 21: May we have some water? - Austin Stewart - March 21,
night the rain continued well after dark with small waves of
sprinkles coming in all night. While we packed up this morning
a heavy mist fell around us. Everything in the forest was shining
with moisture. We had a short walk and then called Wilma, our
contact through the Catholic Church, who was already out looking
for us. She is wonderful, in fact all the women we have met
today have been very gracious. They are so willing to help.
We have decided to stay here an extra day due to the forecast
of tennis ball-size hail and tornados. If it weren't for Father
William we would probably be out in that. Blessings to Father
is amazing to me how narrow a person’s view can be. Yesterday
we saw a house right off the Trace and went to ask for water.
It was a Sunday morning and the folks living there happened
to be Southern Baptists. I would not call what transpired a
conversation, nor was it an argument. I think that you must
speak the same language before either of those can occur. Our
spiritual language barrier made most communication fruitless,
though it is pretty sure that we are headed for the gates of
Hell. We are not alone. Catholics, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses,
and everyone else, except Baptists, are walking beside us right
into the fires of eternal damnation. We will see you all there!
I am attempting to understand how such a narrow view comes about.
He and I are both human beings. Therefore, my mind must be capable
of that level of self-righteousness. I am beginning to see that
his self-righteousness is not a sign of strong faith, but of
weak faith. Any doubts that arise must be silenced rather than
contemplated. The faith is so weak that a blind adherence to
the dogma of his particular faith is all he has got. There is
no room for anything else. That is why a thorough knowledge
of the scriptures is commonplace in faith of this sort. Weakness
of understanding is veiled in fervor and intellectual knowledge.
I may be very wrong in my assessment of this man. There is a
chance that he is right. I don't know, but I do know that living
as the Buddha taught allows a sustained sense of peace to arise
in the mind. I hope that he may find peace within his faith.
last time that we were preached to with such fervor was in Louisiana.
We lost our appetite and felt ill the rest of the day. This
time we left with smiles on our faces and peace in our hearts.
I think that is a sign that the practice is working. We did
hold on to our conversation with him all day, a sure sign of
work left undone. Here is the Buddha’s advice on how to
evaluate self-righteous teachings.
As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed
One, "Lord, there are some priests & contemplatives
who come to Kesaputta. They expound & glorify their own
doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate
them, revile them, show contempt for them, & disparage them.
And then other priests & contemplatives come to Kesaputta.
They expound & glorify their own doctrines, but as for the
doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show
contempt for them, & disparage them. They leave us absolutely
uncertain & in doubt: Which of these venerable priests &
contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?"
"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are
in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born.
So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by
traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference,
by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability,
or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When
you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful;
these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized
by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out,
lead to harm & to suffering' -- then you should abandon
them. . .
"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions,
by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies,
by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by
the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know
for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities
are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these
qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare &
to happiness' -- then you should enter & remain in them."
AN III.65 - Kalama Sutta
quote is from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/
- It was translated to English by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Hardship and burdens lifted by others—I
can learn from joy - Day 22:
Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 22, 2005
are amazed at our good fortune.
as the bad weather came in, Austin and I were talking about
this: We’ve been on the road for three weeks, we’ve
lived through three thunderstorms in the forest that have practically
skipped over us; we’ve been in several rainstorms but
without getting our feet wet; then the one storm that hits with
conditions ripe for tennis-ball-sized hail and tornadoes, and
we already had this place given to us where we could stay. Who’s
looking after us?
one really violent storm that hits happens to do so the morning
we’re safe inside of a Catholic church. Some would call
that luck—I’m not so sure.
Barbara and Wilma’s concern for us was so touching and
wasn’t expecting my faith to be strengthened by good things
happening to us.
guess I expected faith to come from having to endure hardships
and suffering. I thought the test would show me strong enough
to overcome the difficulties. I figured it would be like my
high school football coach said—“pain is gain.”
carried this belief that you only learn through suffering. No
pain, no gain. But this last week I’m finding that I can
also learn from joy and happiness.
never imagined that the hardship and burdens would just be lifted
from my back. Just contemplating this, I’m on the verge
thought the faith would come because I would the one strong
enough to overcome. But I’m discovering faith because
others are looking after me! And I’m open to receiving
that generosity and providing the opportunity for people to
came by at 9 a.m. and drove us to the house where she and her
mother Louise live. Wilma made us a good old Southern/Indiana-fusion
biscuits and gravy breakfast, complete with fried eggs and sausages
and orange juice and coffee.
Wilma was cooking, we had a wonderful conversation in the living
room with Louise. She mentioned that she had just finished her
prayers when we walked in. She was interested in our journey
and seemed to see little difference between what she believed
and our journey. She was so accepting. A wonderful conversation,
in which she asked us about our walk, and we asked her about
mealtime, she asked us to do a Buddhist blessing. I explained
to her what it was, and we spoke it in Pali. Then I asked her
to do a blessing, and she did.
told us stories about her own travels, how when she had problems,
she had said a prayer to St. Christopher, and how miraculous
things had happened to her. Things similar to what we've experienced
during our walk.
was thinking in silence how wonderful it would be to carry a
St. Christopher medal with us on our walk. Just then Wilma pulled
out her prayer chain, with images of St. Christopher, St. Francis,
Jesus, and Mary, and she gave it to me! I'm wearing it now.
Louise went to her room and got a St. Christopher medal for
Austin. It had this prayer on the back:
Saint Christopher, hear our prayer keep me in your loving care
whatever the perils of the way let me not add to them this day.
So to our caution and attention, we add a prayer for your protection,
and beg God's blessing on this journey that we may travel safely
near and far."
watching the Weather Channel this morning at the Church center,
we found out that the storms that passed through had indeed
been very strong, some producing golf-ball sized hail. The type
across the bottom of the screen noted that the Catholic Church
had released a national poll showing the majority of Catholics
now oppose the death penalty. I was encouraged, and amazed to
be reading such news on the Weather Channel, and inside a Catholic
thought about Ajahn
Pasanno’s work with Jay Siriporn at San Quentin Prison.
execution was actually against international law, as Jay wasn’t
a U.S. citizen. I thought about Jay and the people who have
come to our monastery and supported us as a result of that tragedy.
hear that the Catholic church was coming out stronger against
the death penalty was encouraging. As was hearing Jerry's stand
against the death penalty last week. It's a subject that has
come up in discussion several times during our journey.
Austin’s hand, cut by a knife a few days ago, is healing
this morning, I was shaving my head and I set my razor in the
sink. I was shaking some shaving cream off my hand and my little
finger struck the blade and I nearly cut my fingernail in half!
we’re learning all about faith, patience, and endurance,
and starting to have real joy, and our meditation is going quite
well; still, we haven’t developed mindfulness of sharp
objects or discernment around knives!
at least I haven’t been preaching peace to anyone with
a gun lately.
One more gift to us
- Day 23, Part One: French Camp, Mississipppi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 23, 2005
been another day of blessings. Got up a bit later than our "normal"
in the woods schedule, but still early by my standards. We packed
our packs after spending another night in the safety of the
St. Therese Catholic Church. Miraculously I found a few items
I could part with and sent them off to Austin's brother in Gunnison,
and Lou arrived at 8:30 to take us back to the Trace. First
we stopped at the post office, Austin mailed a hawk feather,
which we found on the side of the parkway, to a friend. Lou
treated us to refreshments and I got a strawberry freeze. I
couldn't get warmed up again until we started walking.
drove us 10 miles up the Trace to a village called French Camp.
It is a beautiful re-constructed historical site where they
run a Christian Academy. The student population can be as many
as 200, and they have about 180 right now.
ate our meal at the French Camp Cafe with Wilma and Lou. Mary
Brewer was our hostess. She warned Austin and I about the size
of their sandwiches, especially because we ordered potato soup
and brocolli salad (which were both excellent). Mary said, "You
need to ask about the size of sandwiches when they sell whole
and half sizes!"
accused her of putting more roast beef on my sandwich than she
does other customers. She joked, "No I didn't, you are
not special. You are in the South now. We treat everybody special."
the end of the meal, Mary said she didn't want to be rude, but
she just had to know where we were from. That led to her asking
what we were doing. She was amazed at our story. I asked if
I could write about her in my journal and Mary introduced us
to her co-worker Melody Boatman.
they invited us back into the kitchen and asked us to sign our
name on the walls, which many people, mostly students, had done.
Mary—I guess I was special after all!
really enjoyed the food and camaraderie at the cafe. Since we
wouldn't order the Mississippi Mud desert, Mary told us she
had just put some fresh peanut butter fudge in the gift shop.
So we went to investigate.
cashier at the store warmed up to us when I mentioned Mary Brewer’s
name, and she told us a bit about French Camp and the Academy.
The school seems to do good work and the entire place gave off
a sense of peace.
we said our farewells to Wilma and Lou. They kept thanking us
for coming into their lives. Austin and I had received so much
warmth, hospitality, and generosity from these women—we
were the ones to be thanking them. Their gratitude was one more
gift to us. I will always remember Kosciusko with a warm spot
in my heart.
leaving French Camp though we saw a school bus full of kindergarteners
arrive for a sack lunch and an Easter Egg Hunt. One of the volunteers
told us they had just hidden (semi-hidden) 800 eggs. The kids
were all so excited! Ah, the joys of finding the unexpected!
Little Mountain with a Bodhisattva
- Day 23, Part 2: French Camp, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 23, 200
didn't start walking until 11:15 am, but fortunately it was
a cold and overcast day. The clouds looked like they could let
loose at any moment, but never did.
turned out to be perfect walking conditions, except we were
walking in the afternoon. What we do in the morning, is walk
5 miles then stop for a light snack and maybe take another at
8 or 9 miles, usually dried fruit and bread. The energy from
this helps to give us the strength to walk for 10 or 12 miles.
today’s walk, though, we couldn't eat anything all afternoon
(by rule) and we were pretty tired after walking 12 miles.
along the Trace we had been walking along the southern edge
of the Mississippi Delta. Not anymore. We were into hillcountry
now. Very beautiful, and it reminded Austin and I of our childhoods.
we are staying at the Jeff Busby campground. Many Canadian Snowbirds
are staying here. These campgrounds have been a fun place for
us to stay, as we meet many people here. The sites are not as
quiet, but they are nice for a change of pace, plus campgrounds
have bathrooms and water.
settling into our site we went for a walk to the summit of Little
Mountain, the second highest peak in Mississippi at 603 feet!
Before walking up we met a man who was traveling with his wife
from Georgia back to Texas. He was incredibly kind and he talked
to us for a long time, and we shared stories about prayer and
man told us some amazing stories about his wife’s fight
with cancer. Right before her surgery the doctor came to tell
him, "I've never seen anything like this before—your
wife’s numbers are all normal. I can't explain it."
man told the doctor, "I can explain that."
the doctor said.
It was prayer."
the Doctor said that the man's wife still needed chemotherapy,
and he gave him a recommendation of several doctors.
not Dr. Jones in Beaumont?" the man asked.
he is one of the best in the country, and it would take four
months to get an appointment with him. Your wife can't wait
one of my relations is his secretary and she took the liberty
of asking the good doctor if he would take my wife as his patient.
The doctor said if I had her papers to him by Friday, he could
see her on Monday."
doctor smiled, shook his head, and said, "I'll have her
papers ready by Friday. And keep up those prayers!"
we returned from our mountain climbing (beautiful views from
the summit, I must admit), the man came to our campsite.
can only say, 'Yes Sir', as this isn't coming from me,”
he said. “Right after you left, God told me, ‘That
young man doesn't have a coat, give him one of yours.’”
he gave me what felt like a four pound coat! We talked some
more and he said, "My wife asked if you guys were Christians,
I told her I knew you were by the way you talked."
told us of a friend who, as he explained it, "fell into
a church that believes that their faith is the only faith that
will lead you to heaven.”
man had told his friend, "Don't be surprised if when you
reach heaven, we (Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims...) are
all there to lovingly welcome you.”
leaving, he joined hands with us and said the most beautiful
prayer of thanksgiving (for meeting us), wishing us safety on
and I saw this man as a Bodhisattva.
the four-pound coat, I found that the pockets were filled with
fresh fruit and dollar bills. So, the coat is now nice and light,
but Austin's food cache, being over stuffed alreadyfrom Wilma
and Lou, might cause Austin nightmares!
and I have noticed that the goodwill coming our way, even just
smiles and waves, seem to be coming more frequently and at closer
time intervals. I don't think I will ever cease to be humbled
by people’s generosity. It makes us feel so good, and
those that give tell us they feel such joy in making the offerings.
will tomorrow bring?
- Day 24: Jeff Busby Campground, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 24, 2005
night before falling asleep, I realized that it has been about
two weeks since I've felt negative. I wondered how much longer
that would last.
got up at 4 am and did our walking routine. It was 40 degrees
at 4 am, and I think it might have dropped to closer to 35 degrees
by dawn. Good thing I had a nice warm coat! My feet were really
sore from a few "hot spots" and I have one blister
on the inside of my right heal. That blister really threw off
my normal walking gait, plus I was tired and my body felt very
heavy. For some reason my backpack feels like it weights 50
I have thought of few more things that I will send ahead of
me. I designed this robe that I am required to carry as part
of my vows to be more functional for this walk than the robe
normally would have been. But with all the modern polyester
and fleece clothing I am using, I have yet to wear that robe.
So, though I love dearly the polyester, I think it will finish
the journey via the United States Postal Service.
talked Austin into sending the stove, the new cook shield, the
fuel bottle and the cooking pots to his brother. Austin said
his brother hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail last year
and he mailed back eight packages of gear. So, we are following
a noble lineage of modern walkers, casting off gear via the
post office. Also we couldn't get the water filter to work today,
so, unfortunately, we will send it back to Abhayagiri.
was moving so slowly today that we only made 8 1/2 miles in
4 1/2 hours. We stopped for our meal at this point and I slept
for a half hour. Austin meditated. Then he fixed a hot meal
using the soup that Dave and Michele offered to us one week
ago in Rocky Springs. After lunch my energy picked up some,
but it was difficult walking with the blister. My legs felt
like lead. My mind was tired too and I found myself talking
to Austin about all kinds of trivial things. I wanted to be
more composed and level headed with my thinking, but it just
wasn't to be. Austin was kind and didn't tell me to stop talking.
He is great.
walked 12 miles by 2 p.m., found a thick grove of old pines,
and called it a day. I was exhausted and it appears Austin is
coming down with a cold. I'm glad be didn't try to walk any
are close to U.S. Highway 82 and we hear the trucks off in the
distance as a constant hum. Nothing like the industry on the
levy in Louisiana though.
in camp I notice the beauty of the unpolluted forest floor and
the health of the trees. The pine needles that drop from the
older trees have created a cone around the base of the truck
that are sometimes 24 to 30 inches tall. The tiny pine cones
are beautiful, too, and I'm admiring the spirals that emerge
fron the base of the cones. There are many tiny puff ball mushrooms
on this forest floor. At lunch we noticed a pinkish-red mushroom
looked right at home in Alice’s Wonderland.
and I discovered today that it takes 24 days before you start
telling your hiking partner stories that you have already told.
Enlightened conversations with the sisters
- Day 25: Houston, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 25,
was tempted to just sleep under the stars last night. Good thing
I didn't. We got a light rain that started around mid-night.
But by the time I awoke at 4 am, besides a little water on my
tarp, you could hardly tell it had rained.
was worried we might have to walk in a thunderstorm all day,
as one was predicted for tonight and Saturday. But when I got
up, the stars were out again. Austin was still feeling the effects
of his cold, and the cold medication he took made his mind kind
of warped. He wanted to walk, though, so we headed off at 5:45
noticed that we might be able to start walking about a 1/2 hour
earlier now, so might start getting up at 3:30. That isn't so
bad when you go to sleep at 8 pm!
sun came up like a red-hot iron ball and it was a warm day.
Luckily we were walking only slightly slower than our normal
pace and made 8 1/2 miles before 9 a.m. We walked another hour
and stopped for our meal after walking 11 miles.
evening we had called the sisters at the Immaculate Heart Catholic
Church in Houston, Mississippi. They said they were glad to
come pick us up on the Trace as long as we didn't call too close
to their 5 p.m. mass. I had hoped we would get closer to Houston
before calling, but with Austin not feeling well and looking
very tired, I called Sister Rosemary. We struggled with a weak
cell phone connection, but we finally got enough info passed
between the phones breaking up so that she knew where we were,
and she set off to pick us up.
Sister Rosemary and Sister Pat are wonderful. I've been sitting
at their computer typing the past three days journal entries
and checking emails between enlightened conversations with the
feel very welcomed here, and my experiences and beliefs are
so similar to the sisters that you would think I was Catholic!
have been discussing the war in Iraq, race issues in the south,
prayer. Sister Pat asked where I was from and upon hearing I
was from Crawfordsville, IN, she told me that staying at the
Crawfordsville Holiday Inn was part of their family tradition.
Her family used to travel from Dayton, OH to Dubuque, IA all
the time, and they always stopped in Crawfordsville for the
night to break up the journey!
the sisters have roots in Iowa, so I hope Austin gets to feeling
better. I'm sure they will have a fun time talking to each other.
morning early on the walk a man pulled up in a pick-up truck
very slowly and came to a stop 20 feet behind us. I heard his
truck door open and I thought, oh no—prepare yourself."
we heard a shout of, "Hello.”
I turned around I heard him say, "Are you a Therevadan
monk? I'm a Zen monk and have been trying to reach you on your
cell phone. I live just a few miles from here and wanted to
put you up for a night. I'm off to Jackson though and won't
be back until Sunday."
name is Tony Bland and he is the teacher of Bebe Wolfe—the
woman who hosted Austin and I at her Zendo in Jackson. We will
try to connect with him Sunday evening, as he knows where we
hope to be camping that evening.
I'm tired and need to go check on Austin. The sister's just
brought me some orange juice for Austin, and I've yet to shower
myself. We are planning to attend the 7:30 pm services and I
need to get clean.
Good Friday—a beauty in joining
hands - Day 25, Part 2: Houston,
Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 25, 2005
has a fever and is very tired. He slept all afternoon while
I was visiting with the sisters and doing some computer work.
both took long showers in the newly remodeled bathroom (I must
believe that if I shower only once every three days, longer
time under the shower will make me cleaner).
new bathroom was created by a Catholic mission from Minnesota.
The church in Minnesota comes down to Houston several times
a year and does mission work here, building and helping the
community with Bible study (bringing all the materialst hey
need at no cost tothe community here). A friend was telling
me that the Catholic Church now sees the United States as a
target mission country. It is good to see this church receiving
Rosemary asked how long I have been in robes. Usually, when
I say five years, people are surprised and impressed. Sister
Rosemary just nodded. I asked how long she has been ordained.
we don't count the first two years," she explained. "But
I entered the order in 1955."
So, I guess I'm just a beginner,” I said.
grinned in her beautiful way.
your next 45 years bring you as much joy as mine have brought
me," she said. That joy is visible.
I was telling Sister Pat what I had written earlier in my journal—that
listening to our conversation, some might think I was Catholic.
She jumped in immediately and said, "Or we are Buddhist!"
really like these sisters. They live very simply and humbly,
too. When they were showing us the Parish house and opening
up the cupboard and offering us everything that was there, one
noticed reassured us:
the expiration date shows this expired 4 March 04, but I've
eaten one of these bars every morning and I'm fine."
invited us over to their house for breakfast tomorrow. They
thoughtfully asked, "What would a meal for a Buddhist monk
would you normally eat?" I asked.
just a bowl of oatmeal."
suggested vegetarian, which was not a problem, and rice.
just returned from the Good Friday church service. Everybody
welcomed me warmly, and several people came up to me after the
service to hear about the walk. The service was simple, and
I appreciated several things about it.
to the readings I had the insight that Jesus's death on the
cross doesn't free us from our sins in a one shot deal, but
that the death on the cross is significant because of the way
Jesus did it. He was terribly misunderstood and he didn't fight
that. He was mistreated, but he was humble.
death was a beautiful example for humankind as to how to face
the suffering that we all must face. And if we can face that
suffering with the same courage and compassion that Jesus did,
we will be saved. I told this to Sister Kris, after the service
and she said, "Amen!"
was also touched by the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. It
was the second time in three days I've joined hands with others
to pray. I felt a power and a beauty in joining hands—
we don't do anything like this in Buddhist devotional practices,
and I think the lack of touch in the last eight years for me,
heightened this sense of touch.
was also amazed that I remembered all the words of the Lord’s
Prayer. I had been watching several little girls who, during
the service, were more interested in sneaking peaks at me and
playing under the pew than to listening to the service. Yet
I imagine thay are benefiting from being here, as even I remembered
the Lord’s Prayer from my own days as a kid in church:
me my sins as I forgive the sins of those who have trespassed
against me.… Lead me not to temptation..."
a beautiful prayer.
Kris also raised the question, "Why do we suffer."
on this I saw our walk in a new light. The suffering and difficulties
that Austin and I are willingly putting ourselves through are
helping us to see the pain that all beings can suffer.
mentioned this before, but I really do see that I am much more
in tune with others who are in need, and I hope that I will
be more kind and willing to offer support when I see somebody
Lifting the body of Jesus from the cross
- Day 26: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, - Houston, Mississippi
- Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 26, 2005
was feeling better this morning, but his fever seems to come
and go, so he is hoping to take it easy again today. We did
go over and had a wonderful meal with the sisters. We discussed
the service and the insights I had, plus several other relevant
topics. It amazes me how similar our views are. Of course, the
sisters didn't see eye too eye on all subjects, but neither
do we Buddhist monks.
the meal, the sisters needed to set up the church for tonight’s
services. An extension ladder miraculously appeared, and they
asked if I could assist by doing some of the harder physical
work. I was asked to help lift the body of Jesus from the cross!
all think there was some significance to the fact I was here
and able to do this task. Don’t you?
or maybe fortunately, no camera was easily available. I might
have gotten run out of Houston if the photo got into the wrong
we are expecting to get picked up around 9:30 am and be taken
into Tupelo to attend the service at the Unitarian Church. The
Unitarian Church in Thunder Bay, ON was very supportive of the
walk and offered any assistance we needed. We have only been
in a few cities that have a Unitarian Church and we had other
contacts in those cities, so this will be our first contact.
those services we are planning to be dropped off at a camp site
just outside of Houston. The Zen monk we met yesterday, Tony
Bland, will try to connect with us that evening too.
have been enjoying the e-mails I’ve gotten while on the
walk. If more people start writing, we may need to third person
just to read our mail for us! Below are parts of a few letters
we got (re-printed with permission), most of them were in reference
to the Southern Baptist encounters. I hope you enjoy them as
much as I did.
Ajahn Pasanno (co-abbot of Abhayagiri)
is always good to have the unwanted side of existence somewhere
on the radar. Just in terms of keeping you on your toes so that
you aren't shaken by it is a good thing.
well, it helps to have the reminders of disenchantment close
to hand. As monastics, we have the opportunity to relate to
the world with compassion, kindness and a certain lightness,
but the reflections on the limitations of samsara are crucial
for raising the heart to a place of real stability.
remember Ajahn Liam's reaction when I asked permission from
him to go on tudong to India—"Great, now you can
go somewhere where people will curse and revile you!" He
immediately pointed to the things that would aid the internal
faculties of discernment and equanimity, rather than the opportunities
of boosting faith by being in the Land of the Buddha. You are
definitely not in the Middle Country, so there is lots to work
with to keep the sights on disenchantment and dispassion.
have had many encounters with the so-called "self-righteous"
Bible beater. I have learned that my contempt for them arose
from a lack of certainty in my own practice. The more I practiced,
the more I found the things these folks expound arose from fear
and lack of understanding. The more I understood where they
were coming from, the more I could let go of their criticisms
and sometimes insults.
would wonder] "Well that is really not true, so why is
it bothering me so much?"
realized that it was only because I was putting my "views"
in opposition to theirs and holding that my beliefs were right
and theirs were wrong.
could they be so stupid" was a common thought. It was not
until my practice produced results that I lost my doubt and
gained a certainty based on experience, rather than dogma.
have found that people don't really remember the way you looked
or what was said, but rather the way you made them feel. Since
all wish for some type of comfort and happiness, making others
feel at peace, nomatter what their background or belief, is
key. If others see one as peaceful and content, they may become
interested and want to know more. I found this is the best way...
safe and don't let the Baptists bother you. You may be going
to hell in a hand basket but they are living there. We manifest
our own realities remember. They focus a lot on that hell stuff,
it can't be good karma.
got these guys, you just enjoy the trip. They are just around
for a little bit of contrast. They are just window dressing
to make folks like me shine a little brighter.
A day of rest
- Day 26, Part 2: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, Houston,
Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 26, 2005
fever was lower this morning, but returned in the afternoon.
We had planned to attend the Saturday evening church services,
but when we got there, Austin’s fever was burning, and
I was feeling under the weather. So, we went to the beginning
of the service to say “ Hello” to Father Pete.
a ceremony outside of lighting a fire and ceremonially lighting
a large candle, Father Pete led the congregation back into the
church; Austin and I returned to the Parish House. We apologized
to the Sisters before doing this, but they knew Austin was not
well and gave us their blessings. Austin and I went back and
meditated for an hour and chanted the Buddha’s words on
loving-kindness before calling it a night.
in the day, I spent a few hours on the computer, sending e-mails
and writing journal entries, while doing a load of laundry.
I, too, was slightly feverish and took a long nap. My Dad, over
the phone, told me that the state of Mississippi was experiencing
a fever outbreak.
Pat gave me some reflections on Holy Week that look very interesting.
I took the printout with me and hope to read it while on the
road. We called it an early night, but I took inventory of my
gear before going to sleep.
list of Jotipalo’s belongings:
tin coffee mug
(2) hand washclothes
one pair of running shoes
spoon and small pocket knife
small address book
journal and pen
ID and phone card
(2)quart water bottles
(1) gallon water jug
almsbowl and stand
ditty bag #1 (bottle of soap, deodorant, hand lotion,
needle and thread)
ditty bag #2 (straight razor and blade, Sensor razor
and blade, dental floss)
ditty bag #3 (long sleeve shirt, long underwear, two
polyester t-shirts, a fleece-hooded pullover, three pair of
socks, and a windbreaker)
ditty bag #4 (9x9 tarp, 8 tent stakes and rope)
ditty bag #5 (water filter)
Zip-loc bag #1 (zinc oxide spf 45 sun protection, Bic
lighter, lip balm)
Zip-loc bag #2 (towelettes, hand sanitizer)
Zip-loc bag #3 (disposable camera, carrying temporarily)
Zip-loc bag #4 (first-aid kit)
large Zip-loc bag #5 (maps and journal)
Zip-loc bag #6 (chanting book)
Zip-loc bag #7 (Buddha amulets)
Zip-loc bag #8 (cough drops and Rescue Remedy)
loose in pack (toothbrush and toothpaste, headlamp, and
elastic ankle support)
I complain about my pack weighing 50 pounds, perhaps it actually
most of the items are quite small, and the total weight is probably
only around 30 pounds. It is amazing to me that we use just
about everything in this pack, everyday, or we have it because
if we need it we will really need it (example: mosquito netting)
The extra weight comes in when we have to carry lots of water
(sometimes 20 pounds) and food.
Unitarian Easter Sunday
- Day 27: Unitarian Church, Tupelo, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu
- March 27, 2005
got up at dawn and meditated. Austin made the last of the hot
chocolate, as we were about to ship the stove to Minnesota.
I called a friend from high school, named Bindi, who has repeatedly
offered support for this walk. I’d never needed anything
when she offered, though. So I called and asked if I could mail
the stove and stove parts to her. This will be nice because
we might need the stove again when we get to Minnesota.
previous sentence should read, “...if we get to Minnesota.”
Ajahn Chah said if a statement doesn’t take into account
impermanence, it isn’t Dhamma.
talking to Bindi was timely, as during our senior year in high
school, we were in a classroom together when a fellow student
walked in and started shooting another classmate. This was in
1983 when school shootings were very rare.
had only briefly heard about the school shooting in Red Lake,
Minnesota. Father William wrote and told me how that school
had recently been a mission for St. John’s, and some of
the monks knew the students involved. Not being around the media
and news makes me pretty unconnected to worldly events. This
isn’t bad, though, because we are seeing suffering every
today, when John Wages was driving us to Tupelo, we had pulled
off the Trace at the Davis Lake exit. When we were about to
get back onto the Trace, an elderly woman flagged us down. She
was disoriented from the stress caused when her mother had a
stroke and had just been rushed to the Tupelo hospital. She
had driven past Tupelo a good 15 miles and didn’t know
what to do. John offered to lead her to the hospital, and we
actually drove all the way to the emergency entrance. The woman
yelled out, “Thanks. What do I owe you?” John said,
“Nothing.” She yelled out, “Blessings to you.”
John and Gwen picked us up, we had another fabulous meal with
the Sisters and a friend of theirs named Elaine. Sister Rosemary
said that Elaine was one of the best cooks in Mississippi, and
she meant it. Later, Sister Pat wanted to break Lent with a
huge rhubarb pie. Sister Rosemary asked Elaine if she knew how
to make rhubarb pie. Elaine responded, “I’m the
queen.” And she meant it.
reminded me of an elderly couple who used to live behind our
house when I was very young. Occasionally, my friend Terry and
I would go to their back porch door and ask our neighbor, whom
we called Mr. Rhubarb, if we could have some rhubarb.
remember him as being very old, but he would get up from the
kitchen table, where it appeared he was always sitting drinking
coffee with his wife. He would slowly walk out to his garden.
He would look for just the right stalk, and cut it with his
pocket knife, then, slowly walk back to the kitchen, where his
wife would wash and cut it up for us. We would eat it raw. As
I well telling this story to the Sisters, and just now as I
was telling it to John as we are typing it in to the computer,
they were all were surprised to hear you could eat it raw. I
was surprised nobody else ate it that way!
Sisters fed us way too much food and we didn’t have room
for the rhubarb pie. So, they saved it for later in the day.
The day before, I saw the friend of theirs who brought them
this pie. I was facing the Sisters as they received this gift.
Never in all of my life have I seen a more beautiful receiving
of a gift. All three of the Sisters’ faces lit up with
joy and love as they accepted the gift. They really looked divine.
If everybody could receive gifts like these Sisters, I think
the world would be filled with everybody giving everything they
and Gwen arrived at 9:30 to take us to Tupelo. John is a fascinating
person. Besides many other things, he organized a peace vigil
in 2003 right before the current Gulf War, and last week he
organized another vigil to end the war. Sister Pat attended
that vigil, and told us a bit about John.
was also the first Green Party member to win an election in
this county—a seat on the Lee County Election Commission.
It’s surprising that he won, as we met three of the total
of five official Green Party of Lee County members today. Austin
sat in the back of the car with Gwen, so he will inform you
about her. She sounded equally as interesting as John.
20 people gathered for the Unitarian meeting. Hank Jaeckel had
been a delegate to the National Rehabilitation Association who
visited China to give a series of presentations. He gave a very
interesting and informative slide show about the visit. At the
time of his visit to China, not much was known about acupuncture.
Many of the slides focused on this aspect of Chinese rehabilitation
Hank’s talk, several of the members stayed and talked
with Austin and myself. One young man had spent several years
in Korea and was interested in Buddhist meditation. I had a
long conversation with him about the difference between calming
meditation and insight meditation. He seemed very appreciative.
We gave this man Tony Bland’s name, as he was looking
for a teacher. That felt good.
the meeting, a woman named Valerie Angeloro said she would open
her health food store (“Years to Your Health”) for
Austin to purchase some groceries. Several people, including
John, Gwen, and Margi from the church, made donations. Then
they refused to let Austin pay for any of the groceries we got
at Kroger or at Valerie’s. And, Valerie didn’t charge
us for our goods either.
am amazed at all the generosity, and I tried my hardest to look
angelic with the offerings. I hope someday my face looks as
angelic as the Sisters at receiving the simplest of gifts.
Vivid dreams and power spots — four
weeks on the road - Day 28:
Davis Lake Campground, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March
may be our last day walking with backpacks for a while.
camped last night at Davis Lake National Forest Campground.
It is a beautiful site on a small lake, with a new bathroom-shower
facility. The building is brand-new, but already falling apart.
The men’s bathroom door is falling from its hinges, toilets
don’t stop flushing, and no place to hang clothing while
you shower.... Impermanence is always at work.
rained on and off all last night with some very strong winds,
but we stayed dry. Neither of us slept very well—maybe
too much rest in Houston?
was feeling much better last night, and I was feeling okay too.
This morning, Austin was very sore, I hope it’s just because
of the amount of time lying down and not a cold.
night, I remembered that Tony Bland, the Zen monk we met on
the Trace Friday morning, had given me his phone number. We
were in an area that got questionable cellphone service, but
we connected just long enough to pass information between us.
and set up a meeting for this morning.
plan to eat a late lunch and hopefully walk about 8 miles by
3 PM, setting up camp halfway to John and Gwen’s. Tomorrow,
John hopes to join us in the walk. Gwen will drive him to wherever
we are on the Trace. She will then take our packs to their house,
and the three of us will walk the rest of the way.
arrived shortly after 8 a.m. in his hybrid Honda Insight, the
same car Luke uses in Jackson—60 mpg. We had a nice meeting
with Tony. His lineage is from the Soto Zen school of Japan,
and his teachers are mainly from France. The two biggest centers
he goes to for receiving teachings are in New Orleans and Bloomington,
Indiana. Tony has students mainly in Starkville and Jackson,
MS, and Tuscaloosa, AL. Tony is from the area, and I think very
pleased we are doing what we are doing in Mississippi.
was a short visit, but I’m grateful Tony made the effort
to join us and drive to Davis Lake to meet us. He had offered
us a place to stay, one day before reaching Houston, but the
day we passed, he was in Jackson, MS. Austin took a photo of
the two of us beside the lake. We met a REAL Mississippi monk!
was cold all morning, and very windy. We ate a big meal and
headed out on the road at 11:08 AM. About a mile down the road,
we came across a cluster of Indian mounds. At the base of the
largest mound, we chanted the Buddha’s words on loving
kindness and circumambulated the mound three times. From the
signs around the mounds, it appears that archaeologists do not
know what the sites were used for, but they expect that it was
ceremonial. Few artifacts have ever been found during digs at
told us that there are “power spots” along the Trace
and I wonder if the Native People’s prayers and rites
created these spots. Just after leaving Jackson, and Ratliff
Ferry campsite, that night I had a very vivid dream that Austin
and I were chanting in that forest (where we were camped). During
the dream I looked over my shoulder and saw the entire forest
behind me was illuminated and hundreds of Devas (angels) were
sitting and chanting with us.
next morning I shined my flashlight to the area where the most
light was coming from and it hit the largest tree in that forest.
I think that was one of the “spots.” We also feel
the kindness we received at Mt. Locus, Rocky Springs and Jeff
Busby may have been caused partly due to those being “power
spots” as well. So I don’t take these sites lightly
and treat them with respect.
stopped at a trailer house right before getting onto the Trace,
four miles from Davis Lake, to get water. It appeared a tax
auditor was helping the residents fill out tax forms. Sister
Pat told us the State of Mississippi provides free tax help
for families who earn less than $36,000 a year. They were intrigued
by what we were doing, but Austin was afraid I was going to
kick him in the butt, and he told them we were doing it just
to test ourselves.
I told Austin, “Hey, that guy wasn’t wearing camouflage,
and I didn’t see the Last Supper hanging on their wall.
Maybe we could have told them.” It’s tricky to know
what to do. We decided that when people ask what we are doing,
maybe we should mention it as a peace walk. And, if people further
question, and they seem genuinely intrigued, maybe we’ll
mention that we’re Buddhists.
walked about 7 1⁄2 miles, just to the edge of the National
Forest. We walked a good 200 yards into the forest and found
an absolutely lovely grove of pines. The pine needles formed
a bed often 6 to 8 inches deep. We decided to sleep under the
stars, only the second time this trip (the first time being
the first night out, at Destrehan Plantation).
called John, and he hopes to meet us at 6:30 AM. We may have
a connection in Oxford now. John and Gwen knew someone from
the Quaker Meeting named Nan, and she has offered us a place
to stay. We’ll see what the Internet brings when we get
to John’s, in terms of connections at Ole Miss.
also informs us that the local newspaper wishes to do an interview
on the 30th. They will send out a photographer tomorrow to photograph
us walking on the Trace. I have turned down several interview
requests, but decided to do this one as we are about to leave
Mississippi Pilgrimage is Refining Buddhist Monk's
by Steve Charles - Wabash College - March
Good Friday, Wabash alumnus and Buddhist monk
Jotipalo Bhikku joined hands with the nuns and
parishioners of Immaculate Heart Catholic Church
in Mississippi and said the Lord’s Prayer.
Holy Saturday, when the nuns needed help preparing
the sanctuary for Easter morning, Jotipalo’s
task was to lower the likeness of Jesus from the
days into an historic six-month walking pilgrimage
from New Orleans to Thunder Bay, Ontario, the
Therevadan monk from Abhayagiri Monastery in California
finds one recurring theme—expect the unexpected.
the unexpected has brought hospitality, fellow
spiritual seekers, and a deeper understanding
of his faith.
blessings weren’t apparent during the first
days of the walk.
along the Mississippi River levee between chemical
and industrial plants in the notorious "Cancer
Alley," Jotipalo and Buddhist layman Austin
Stewart were met with stares and an occasional
kindness, but landowners wouldn’t give them
permission to pitch their tarps, they couldn’t
find safe public places to sleep, and very few
people were at all interested in knowing more
about their journey.
felt as though a man couldn’t walk across
his own country anymore.
think every cell in both of our bodies is screaming,
"Stop this! End the walk!" Jotipalo
wrote in his online journal that week. The two
men with shaved heads and traditional Buddhist
monk’s robes had just been called "the
Devil’s seed in our midst" in a LaPlace,
Louisiana fast food restaurant. They ended the
day with an exhausting 22-mile walk, looking in
vain for a place to sleep.
feels as though Louisiana isn’t ready for
Buddhist monks," Jotipalo wrote. "We
have met some very kind, generous people here,
but when taken with our exhaustion and our discouraging
encounters with others, it’s just not enough
to sustain you emotionally."
wrote as they eyed the next state on their journey:
"If anybody says they have no fear of death,
I challenge them to walk through Mississippi the
way that we are dressed."
men’s Buddhist practices of meditation and
evening chants kept them off the edge of despair,
and a ride from a Catholic priest from India and
his three retired friends out for a day trip from
Vidalia, Mississippi, helped turn the tide.
had a great time with this man and his friends,"
Jotipalo said. "They said that if we wrote
about them, I should call them ‘the Old
Farts!’ This was really our first contact
since we’ve been here with people who were
actually interested in what we were doing. 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. It felt nice, like
we’re in Mississippi and being a little
the two were on the Natchez Trace, where long
walks with heavy packs were rewarded with unexpected
beauty and kindnesses.
Trace has been good to us so far," Jotipalo
wrote in his online journal on Day 10 of the walk.
"The extra weight has been heavy, but not
the impossible task I had envisioned."
in campgrounds offered money and food, a ranger
pointed out good places to spend the night along
the Trace, and connections through the monastery,
meditation centers, and the Catholic Church began
to bring Jotipalo the restored faith and hope
for humanity he’d envisioned discovering
on the walk.
Catholic group in Kosciusko, Mississippi gave
the two men shelter from severe thunderstorms
for three days, as well as food and hospitality
in their homes and at St. Therese’s Catholic
Church. Both men now carry St. Christopher medals
received as gifts from those parishioners, for
whom the monks chanted Buddhist blessings.
women kept thanking us for coming into their lives,"
Jotipalo said. "But Austin and I had received
so much warmth, hospitality, and generosity from
these women—we were the ones to be thanking
all led to remarkable interfaith exchanges during
Holy Week in Houston, Mississippi, where the monk
and Stewart were welcomed by the parishioners
and nuns at Immaculate Heart Catholic Church.
feel very welcomed here, and my experiences and
beliefs are so similar to the sisters that you
would think I was Catholic!" Jotipalo wrote.
"Later I was telling Sister Pat that listening
to our conversation, some might think I was Catholic.
She jumped in immediately and said, "Or we
wasn’t expecting my faith to be strengthened
by good things happening to us," Jotipalo
wrote. "I guess I expected faith to come
from having to endure hardships and suffering.
I thought the test would show me strong enough
to overcome the difficulties. I’ve carried
this belief that you only learn through suffering.
No pain, no gain.
this last week I’m finding that I can also
learn from joy and happiness. I never imagined
that the hardship and burdens would just be lifted
from my back. I thought the faith would come because
I would the one strong enough to overcome. But
I’m discovering faith because others are
looking after me!"
is editor of Wabash Magazine - Wabash College
- Copyright © 2005 - Crawfordsville, IN
can read/download the complete journals in PDF -- Mississippi
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