Mississippi River - Buddhist Pilgrimage/Walking on Faith and Kindness - March 2005 - Page #2

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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.

newYou can read/free download the complete journals in PDF -- Mississippi Journals PDF

Jotipalo Bhikkhu

Austin Stewart

Page #1 -- Page #2

24. A 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 the rain!
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 sisters
38. Good Friday—a beauty in joining hands
39. Lifting the body of Jesus from the cross
40. A day of rest
41. Unitarian Easter Sunday
42. Vivid dreams and power spots — four weeks on the road

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24. A generous gift; safe from harm
- Day 18: Ross Bartlett Reservoir, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 18, 2005

Austin 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.

So 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!

Karen 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.

Karen 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.

We 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.

After 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.

We 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.

We 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!

I 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.

Later 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!

25. These sandals are made for walking - Day 18: On the Trace again - Austin Stewart - March 18, 2005

We 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.

I 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.

Our 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.

My 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.

26. A water day - Day 19: Natchez Trace, north of Ross Bartlett Reservoir, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 19, 2005

Today has been a water day.

We 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.

By 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.

By 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!

Today 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.

We don’t know if this will purify our water, but maybe it will make it pretty.

27. Water, water, water - Day 19: A day of firsts - Austin Stewart - March 19, 2005

This 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.

We 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.

Our 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.

There 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?

28. Filled with joy and gratitude—in the rain! - Day 20: south of Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 20, 2005

Almost 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?

A 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!

I 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 suffer, though.

About 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 him?

In 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.

We 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.

Austin 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 walk.

At 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 rattlesnakes.

We 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 raining again.

Last 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?).

The 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.

We 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 6 am.

29. Going soft in the desert - Day 20: Damp dry - Austin Stewart - March 20, 2005

We 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.

I 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.

Everything 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.

30. "What is the purpose of Buddhism—what is your goal?" - Day 20, Part two: south of - Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 20, 2005

Some additional notes and thoughts about our conversation with a Southern Baptist man who gave us water just south of here [see Day 20]:

During that conversation, I mentioned that Austin had grown up in the Catholic Church, and I had grown in Methodist Church.

He said,” Ah, so you haven’t had the true experience of Jesus.”

We told him about a kind Jehovah’s Witness we had met, and the man rolled his eyes.

He 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.

In 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.

As 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.

The man asked me, “Have you ever had the experience of Jesus?”

And I said, “I have.”

Before 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.

He asked an interesting question a couple of times: “What is the purpose of Buddhism—what is your goal?”

I told him: “The ending of suffering.”

I 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.

Austin 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.

We 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.

The 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.

I 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.

Our 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.

Others 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.

31. "Wilma—I just saw your monks on the Trace" - Day 21: St. Therese's Catholic Church, - Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 21, 2005

This marks three weeks on the road—two weeks longer than Austin and I would have predicted if you’d asked us during that first week!

I 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.

Earlier 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.”

“Are you sure it was them?” Wilma asked.

“If I’m sure of one thing,” her friend said, “I'm sure of this: It was them.”

“Were they wearing their Buddhist things,” Wilma asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied.

So 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.

Wilma 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 welcoming.

We 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.

Is McDonald's Bob Barker’s antiaging secret? (See journal entry “A blessing for Eddie J.” for additional background.

The 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 easy chairs.

One 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.

The 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.

There’s 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.

The 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.

We've 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 amazes me.

Bonnie, 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.

Barbara 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.

Barbara 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 computer.

In 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!”

Wilma 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.

I’m looking forward to meeting Louise. Any woman who brought a son up to become a priest is okay in my book.

32. Three weeks of tudong! - Day 21: May we have some water? - Austin Stewart - March 21, 2005

Last 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 William!

It 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.

The 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

This quote is from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ - It was translated to English by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

33. Hardship and burdens lifted by others—I can learn from joy - Day 22: Kosciusko, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 22, 2005

We are amazed at our good fortune.

Today 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?

The 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.

And Barbara and Wilma’s concern for us was so touching and generous.

I wasn’t expecting my faith to be strengthened by good things happening to us.

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 figured it would be like my high school football coach said—“pain is gain.”

I’ve 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.

I never imagined that the hardship and burdens would just be lifted from my back. Just contemplating this, I’m on the verge of tears.

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! And I’m open to receiving that generosity and providing the opportunity for people to do that.

Wilma 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.

While 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 her faith.

At 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.

She 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.

I 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.

Then Louise went to her room and got a St. Christopher medal for Austin. It had this prayer on the back:

"O 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."

While 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 church!

I thought about Ajahn Pasanno’s work with Jay Siriporn at San Quentin Prison.

The 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.

To 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.

So Austin’s hand, cut by a knife a few days ago, is healing really well.

But 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!

So 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!

But at least I haven’t been preaching peace to anyone with a gun lately.

34. One more gift to us - Day 23, Part One: French Camp, Mississipppi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 23, 2005

It's 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, CO.

Wilma 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.

They 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.

We 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!"

I 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."

At 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.

Then they invited us back into the kitchen and asked us to sign our name on the walls, which many people, mostly students, had done.

So Mary—I guess I was special after all!

We 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.

The 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.

Then 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.

Before 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!

35. Little Mountain with a Bodhisattva - Day 23, Part 2: French Camp, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 23, 200

We 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.

It 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.

On today’s walk, though, we couldn't eat anything all afternoon (by rule) and we were pretty tired after walking 12 miles.

Earlier 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.

Tonight 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.

After 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 faith.

The 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."

The man told the doctor, "I can explain that."

"Oh?" the doctor said.

"Yes. It was prayer."

Then the Doctor said that the man's wife still needed chemotherapy, and he gave him a recommendation of several doctors.

"Why not Dr. Jones in Beaumont?" the man asked.

“Oh, 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 that long."

"Well, 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."

The doctor smiled, shook his head, and said, "I'll have her papers ready by Friday. And keep up those prayers!"

After we returned from our mountain climbing (beautiful views from the summit, I must admit), the man came to our campsite.

"You 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.’”

So 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."

He 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.”

The 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.”

Before leaving, he joined hands with us and said the most beautiful prayer of thanksgiving (for meeting us), wishing us safety on our journey.

Austin and I saw this man as a Bodhisattva.

Investigating 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!

Austin 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.

What will tomorrow bring?

36. Alice's Wonderland - Day 24: Jeff Busby Campground, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 24, 2005

Last 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.

About ten hours.

We 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 lbs.

Maybe it does.

Amazingly 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.

I 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.

I 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.

We 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 further.

We 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.

Here 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 that would

have looked right at home in Alice’s Wonderland.

Austin and I discovered today that it takes 24 days before you start telling your hiking partner stories that you have already told.

37. Enlightened conversations with the sisters - Day 25: Houston, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 25, 200

I 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.

I 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 am.

We 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!

The 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.

Yesterday 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.

Both 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 sisters.

I feel very welcomed here, and my experiences and beliefs are so similar to the sisters that you would think I was Catholic!

We 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!

Both 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.

This 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."

But we heard a shout of, "Hello.”

As 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."

His 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.

Well, 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.

Happy Good Friday!

38. Good Friday—a beauty in joining hands - Day 25, Part 2: Houston, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 25, 2005

Austin has a fever and is very tired. He slept all afternoon while I was visiting with the sisters and doing some computer work.

We 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).

This 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 that support.

Sister 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.

"Well, 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.

She grinned in her beautiful way.

"May your next 45 years bring you as much joy as mine have brought me," she said. That joy is visible.

Later 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!"

I 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:

"Oh, the expiration date shows this expired 4 March 04, but I've eaten one of these bars every morning and I'm fine."

They invited us over to their house for breakfast tomorrow. They thoughtfully asked, "What would a meal for a Buddhist monk look like?"

"What would you normally eat?" I asked.

"Oh, just a bowl of oatmeal."

I suggested vegetarian, which was not a problem, and rice.

I 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.

Listening 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.

Jesus's 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!"

I 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.

I 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:

"Forgive me my sins as I forgive the sins of those who have trespassed against me.… Lead me not to temptation..."

What a beautiful prayer.

Sister Kris also raised the question, "Why do we suffer."

Reflecting 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.

I 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 in need.

39. Lifting the body of Jesus from the cross - Day 26: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, - Houston, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 26, 2005

Austin 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.

After 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!

We all think there was some significance to the fact I was here and able to do this task. Don’t you?

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, no camera was easily available. I might have gotten run out of Houston if the photo got into the wrong hands.

Tomorrow 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.

After 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.

I 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.

From: Ajahn Pasanno (co-abbot of Abhayagiri)

It 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.

As 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.

I 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.

From: Jude

I 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.

[I would wonder] "Well that is really not true, so why is it bothering me so much?"

I 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.

"How 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.

I 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...

From: Tamara

Be 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.

I 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.

40. A day of rest - Day 26, Part 2: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, Houston, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 26, 2005

Austin’s 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.

After 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.

Earlier 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.

Sister 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.

Itemized list of Jotipalo’s belongings:

quilt/sleeping bag
pack raincover
tin coffee mug
mosquito netting
sleeping pad
ground sheet
sun hat
wool cap
small towel
(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
three robes
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)

When I complain about my pack weighing 50 pounds, perhaps it actually does!

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.

41. Unitarian Easter Sunday - Day 27: Unitarian Church, Tupelo, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 27, 2005

We 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.

Oops—the 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.

My 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.

I 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 day.

Just 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.”

Before 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.

This 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.

I 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!

The 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 own away.

John 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.

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.

About 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 efforts.

After 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.

After 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.

I 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.

42. Vivid dreams and power spots — four weeks on the road - Day 28: Davis Lake Campground, Mississippi - Jotipalo Bhikkhu - March 28, 2005

Today may be our last day walking with backpacks for a while.

We 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.

It 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?

Austin 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.

Last 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.

We 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.

Tony 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.

It 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!

It 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 these sites.

Tami 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.

The 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.

We 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.

Later, 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.

We 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).

I 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.

John 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.

Mississippi Pilgrimage is Refining Buddhist Monk's Faith

by Steve Charles - Wabash College -
March 28, 2005

On 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.

On 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 Cross.

Twenty-six 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.

Lately, the unexpected has brought hospitality, fellow spiritual seekers, and a deeper understanding of his faith.

Such blessings weren’t apparent during the first days of the walk.

Walking 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.

It felt as though a man couldn’t walk across his own country anymore.

"I 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.

"It 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."

Stewart 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."

The 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.

"We 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 better received."

Soon the two were on the Natchez Trace, where long walks with heavy packs were rewarded with unexpected beauty and kindnesses.

"The 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."

Strangers 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.

One 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.

"These 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 them."

It 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.

"I 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 are Buddhist!"

"I 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.

"But 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!"

Charles is editor of Wabash Magazine - Wabash College - Copyright © 2005 - Crawfordsville, IN

newYou can read/download the complete journals in PDF -- Mississippi Journals PDF

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