Infinite Ways to Infinite Bliss
Excerpts from the discourses/writings of HH Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji of Chennai, India.**
However, a trip undertaken to these sacred spots without the knowledge of the sthala purana (history/importance of the kshetra), in the company of friends, while gossiping all the way, placing greater importance on comfortable boarding and lodging, or visiting the temple according to one’s whims and fancies, can be deemed only as an excursion and not as pilgrimage.
When one decides to undertake a pilgrimage, the sthala purana should be learned from a bhagavata (true devotee) or the Sadguru. Undertaking pilgrimage along with the Sadguru is the best way. To go in the company of good, devoted, religious-minded people is madhyama (i.e. not ideal, but the next best option). All other ways are adhama (not good).
This is because it is not possible for ordinary mortals like us to comprehend the ancient incidents that took place in these kshetras, or the experiences of mahans (great saints) who had lived there in the past in bhakti bhaava (mood of immense devotion). But when we go in the company of a mahan, he explains the special features of the kshetras and enjoys it all with bhaava. This makes us feel a deep involvement in them. Worldly matters do not arise in our minds when we go in the company of the Sadguru or in a satsang. The pilgrimage then is greatly enjoyable as there is incessant Nama Sankirtan and pravachanas (spiritual discourses). Every pilgrimage should be undertaken only in this manner.
If even a visit to a kshetra is possible only due to merits accrued in earlier births, then what to speak of those who live in those kshetras? Therefore, one should not hold any grudge against any ‘demanding’ priests or beggars in such kshetras. One should not say things like “how can we call this river holy when the gutter flows into it”, etc. Such thoughts/speech would earn us grave sins!
One should deem all residents of the kshetras as verily sadhus. While going to and returning from a kshetra, one should perform incessant Nama kirtan or Nama japa or think of Bhagavan or do dhyana. If these are not possible one can remain in silence.
Poorna Phala (complete benefit) of having undertaken a pilgrimage is obtained only if the pilgrimage is undertaken in this manner. “