Travelling is a funny business – especially for those of us born and raised in the west. Inculcated with the erroneous belief that all men and women are equal, and that too bolstered with the inevitable conceit that comes from the comfort of growing up to live in first world economies.
Venturing beyond the New World and Europe, that most incredibly significant peninsula of the old world, into the personally unclassified and unknown territories of Asia and Africa, puts our assumptions to the test, perhaps even placing them in the ‘Hands of the Gods’ – as we like to say in the monotheistic world from which we came. More than that, it shows the low regard that the traveling westerner has for their own culture and it’s achievements.
Tales told by transient travellers of tremendous temples, ornately adorned and divinely ordained sanctuaries for spiritual advancement; unparalleled in their openness and universality, in their proximity to the esoteric. They return home (inevitably) to recount their route towards enlightenment and profound self-awareness, blissfully unaware of the Basilica de Saint Thérèse or of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, or the pleasure of having exerted themselves on the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela, or en route to the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Lourdes. They travel so far to experience what is right before them, with them, in their own backyards. These shrines and sites of pilgrimage are all over Europe, no corner of it untouched by the magick of the mystical, the enigma of the esoteric.
Apparitions, resurrections, relics as well as miraculous manifestations and occurrences have blessed the soil of Europe’s ancient realms every bit as much as the distant lands of the subcontinent or the orient. For some reason the magnificent temples of Bali or Bengal, of Tibet or Nepal, attract the spiritually unhinged more so than those that have grown out of the heartlands of France, Spain or Italy.
The artworks that decorate the walls and ceilings of all the world’s ancient monasteries, basilicas, temples and shrines are equally psychedelic; metaphorical and meaningful. Architectural marvels that were conceived of and engineered to glorify the magnificence of The Almighty, to bring one “closer” to the Divine, and to offer the opportunity to go and be there in the House of God – or the Goddess, for that matter. The fragrant scent of the same incense hangs in the same earthly air, breathed in, tasted and exhaled, back into the ether. Brass instruments clang and chime, are rung or blown by devoted souls dressed in not dissimilar habits, sworn adherents to the disciplines of their doctrines. Mantras and prayers reverberate on the eardrums of congregations who are now unfamiliar with the language that is no longer spoken and listened to colloquially.
Perhaps if a worldly wise traveller actually noticed the cathedral as they walked home through Salisbury, and took the time to step inside and sit, silently, they might recall that time all those years ago, when they sat in the congregation at Rumtek Monastery and listened in ignorance and awe to the evening mass. They might also realise the commonalities shared by the two experiences. They are not really intrinsically different to each other at all. Neither of them are any more or less than the other, neither any farther, nor any closer to the truth of the reality of our existence.
The key to the locked door is more often than not, not lost but misplaced, and it is usually to be found close by, in our own space. Of course differences are there, Notre Dame is not the Sacré-Coeur and neither of them are the sacred shrine at Tarapith, in India, but they are the same – an opportunity to experience the Divine in oneself. Why to waste precious time to find what we already have, to pursue difference where there is similarity? Europeans must hold up high the spiritual work of their ancestors, as do the present day generations of Nepalis, Indians and Thais, and cherish their inheritance, otherwise it will die through wilful neglect. When that happens there will be no miraculous resurrection. Don’t abandon your Christ, cherish and serve him. Live and breathe him. He was after all, a magikal incarnation and manifestation of compassion and forgiveness.