What is it all about: Recollections of the Olympic tudong walk
On the first day, we walked from Chithurst Buddhist Monastery for pindapata in Midhurst. We received as food offerings: a loaf of bread, cheese and two glasses of pasta sauce which was supposed to be warmed up, but we ate it cold with the bread, sitting under a small roof by the church. Earlier that morning, the Olympic torch had been carried through the town, so we called it an "Olympic tudong walk" -- the Olympic games were about to start in London in 2 weeks' time. People and especially children were still walking around with small flags which were also hanging on shop windows.
It seemed like an auspicious beginning, although the weather forecast for the whole week was solid rain. We had rain ponchos and umbrella as a protection against rain, but the wind was blowing strongly and so our robes got wet from the knees down. Not only that, all the forest paths were also very muddy after several weeks of heavy rains in southern England. Even though the sun came out later on, it was not long enough for the wet ground to dry out. We had sandals and three pairs of socks, one of which we designated as "mud socks" and kept the rest for dry weather or going into towns. Fortunately, we spent the first night at a friend's house where we could dry our robes and wash our socks as well.
For two days we followed the South Downs Way, which is a walking trail that follows the hills a few kilometres off the coast. The hills are made of white chalk and are covered with old trees, especially yew and beech and oak. Then we came down towards the historic town of Arundel which has an old castle as the main attraction. From there we continued walking along the Arun river (strangely, this name sounds like the word for "sunrise" in Pali) and camped in our tents and sleeping bags in a nice forest near Worthing. The next day we were invited to have our meal (and a shower) at the house of another friend nearby. Then we followed the coast which was exciting in spite of the rain and strong wind blowing from the sea.
We found a hill on the map which was supposed to have some trees growing on it, so we walked up there looking for a place to camp for the night. But there were only hawthorn bushes growing there and cows and sheep grazing among them. Luckily we found a hollow space under one big bush where we could seek shelter from the wind and rain. Then we took off the wet robes and boiled some hot water on our gas stove to make a cup of tea. We carried some sugar and dark chocolate to refill our energy in the afternoons. On average we walked about 16 kilometres every day, but once we walked 22 km and felt rather exhausted in the evening. Some blisters started forming on our feet, but it was not so bad, we also had plasters with us. There were some big forest mosquitoes but we managed to avoid being bitten. However, I was bitten by a tick after walking through tall grass in an area where animals also roam. So we carefully checked especially our feet every evening before going to meditate and sleep.
Waking up in the morning on the hill, we packed our things and a beautiful view of the sea opened up as the rain stopped and the sun was shining. We spent some time meditating and then started walking down the hill towards the town. Some people came towards us, they were walking their dogs and were obviously surprised to see us. One woman called out to us: "What is it all about?" For a moment, my mind stopped because the question sounded like a Zen koan. What is it all about? What is the meaning of life? Perhaps I was on the verge of satori (enlightenment which transcends the conceptual mind). Then I realized that she just wanted to know a conventional answer, so I said that we are Buddhist monks doing a pilgrimage walk, which satisfied her and she walked off with her dog. We also walked further with our almsbowls.
People would normally recognize us as some kind of Buddhists and greeted us in a friendly way. As we walked in the sun along the beach past the harbour and towards Brighton, we could feel a different atmosphere of this seaside town which is known to be a very alternative scene. There are also several Buddhist groups there. The Brighton pier is a place of entertainment, as a sign written in big letters on the wall proclaimed: "I have great desire. My desire is great." But as we walked along the beach further, the clouds came back again and we reached the Marina where the white cliffs begin. At the bottom we saw some flowers which were left there, and when we climbed to the top we realized why: this was the favourite place for suicides to throw themselves over the edge of the cliff. Another sign said: "You are not alone. If you are finding life hard, it can help to talk to someone..." Heaven and hell can be found in the same place: we preferred to take the middle way.
After walking past the Royal Pavilion which was built in the 19th century as a copy of Oriental architecture in India, we rested in a cemetery sitting on a grave stone and overlooking the town below. A man greeted us and asked if we were meditating. It turned out that he had been a monk in Thailand more than 20 years ago and he invited us to have a cup of tea in his flat. We needed to return to the monastery the next day, and another friend drove us to Chichester in the evening where we joined the meeting of the Buddhist group discussing the best way to spend our time. Somehow we felt that the time on tudong was very fruitful and our experiences were useful in practising Dhamma.
The following morning we went to visit the Bishops Gardens at the cathedral and to collect pindapata food in the street with a farmers market. Different people approached us with a different attitude: One man from Sri Lanka was obviously inspired by monks collecting food in the traditional Buddhist way and offered us food and drinks, then invited us to accept a meal at his house on a later date because his wife was expecting a child. An English woman inquired what exactly we wanted to eat. She said that she was part of a Nichiren Buddhist group and doing regular chanting for world peace, and that seeing monks representing something spiritual on the street was very nice, that we were "the conscience of the town". Apparently she never wanted to ask any questions and just accept life at face value just as it is, but then she realized that sometimes it is necessary to ask, like in the case of monks collecting almsfood. She had assumed that we want uncooked rice or pasta that we will carry back to the monastery, but one monk explained to her that we don't cook for ourselves and only eat in the morning whatever food is offered to us. I told her that according to the Buddha, inquiring and asking questions leads to wisdom. Then another friend who used to be a monk in Thailand turned up with offerings of food and we ended up eating in his garden. From there we walked back to Chithurst via Kingley Vale, a wood of ancient yew trees, and over the common covered with flowering heather plants.
Photos:http://picasaweb.google.com/gavesako/Tu ... ndJuly2012