Refugees dominate the news recently. My heart breaks for all the people called to risk their lives journeying to unkown shores. The situation is bleak, and makes me wonder. What is the difference between a refugee and a pilgrim?
Aren’t we are all refugees?
To become officially “Buddhist” we commit by “taking refuge.” It’s not that we are taking refuge in anything particular, but rather we acknowledge that there is no other choice than to accept the fact that there is no solid ground to call home forever. Impermanence reigns and until we accept this, we will suffer. The illusion of stability lulls us into believing we have solid ground under our feet. But we all know things can change in an instant. So a Buddhist is essentially a permanent refugee, or if you prefer, a pilgrim. A pilgrim is someone who embraces this inconvenient truth and uses it to fuel a spiritual path.
A refugee travels to seek a home in a new place. A pilgrim travels to seek a new home inside.
I feel the pain of all who are homeless and cold and hungry. I was also “homeless” for many years while I was working in South Asia. I never had to worry about food or shelter, but I didn’t really have a permanent place to call home. I had a series of temporary assignments, and stayed in a variety of lodgings that ranged from dilapidated shacks to luxury hotel suites. There were times when I felt acutely the fact that when my contract was up I had no idea where I was going next. Sometimes I went on retreat just because I had no idea where to go. And things always worked out.