Subscribe iStudy iGap

Asia - Inspirational Trips for Religion and Spirituality

By Laura Blake

Posted: 25th June 2014 14:32

The western world is notorious for fast-paced, hectic lifestyles, in amidst bustling, eclectic cities that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  It is easy to see the appeal of having every amenity constantly available but when the city doesn’t sleep, neither do the inhabitants.  This means that entire communities are completing high-pressure work days, surviving on a caffeine buzz alone. 

When the cappuccino wears off and the deadline is drawing ever closer, it can all prove to be too much, which is why many of us go in search of eastern ideals.  Once you have shed the rigid office clothes, said goodbye to your material possessions and taken that much needed breathe of fresh Himalayan air, you will likely start to forget what stress feels like. 

Asia is a continent rife with religious and spiritual prospects, so if you are hoping to reach new levels of enlightenment, the far-east is definitely the place to start. 

Tibet

Before the 1950s, between 10 and 20 percent of all Tibetan men were monks and despite Chinese attempts to exile the Dalai Lama and replace images of Buddha with Chairman Mao, Tibet still remains a uniquely spiritual place.  With a myriad monasteries steeped in to the foothills of the Himalayas, this country has the ability to change the way you see the world. 

Tibet is home to Mt. Kailash, a revered peak which is the source of several of Asia’s most significant rivers.  Devout pilgrims from a plethora of religious backgrounds flock to the mountain to walk the 52 kilometre circuit around the base in the space of a day.  Even for the spiritually challenged this experience promises to evoke a sense of the divine. 

Not to be missed is a chance to sit in on a talk with the Dalai Lama.  The current spiritual leader of the Tibetan people is the 14th Dalai Lama and gives numerous talks covering topics that help others to understand the philosophy of Buddhism.  Often sessions give the audience a chance to ask His Holiness questions and although the sessions are taught in Tibetan, they are mostly translated into English. 

Sri Lanka

As the first country outside India to embrace Buddhism, many people look on the island as a sacred realm, almost on a par with India itself.  It is also believed that the island has actually been sanctified with the presence of Buddha.  Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and was the centre for Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest surviving branch of the religion. 

In the highlands of Sri Lanka, sits a mountain that offers a variety of meaning to an assortment of religious backgrounds.  The summit of Adam’s Peak, it is believed, is where Adam first set foot upon earth.  Other people believe the footprint belongs to Buddha, Shiva or St Thomas.  The pilgrimage is popular and the views of the Sri Lankan capital from the highest point are sure to enlighten your spirit. 

If a footprint isn’t convincing you, then how about a tooth?  Many avid worshippers flock to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth to feel a proximity to Sri Lanka’s most important Relic.  It was rumoured that the tooth made its way to Sri Lanka after being snatch from Buddha’s funeral and smuggled in the hair of a princess. 

Japan

The largest religion in Japan is Shinto, which is practised by nearly 80% of the population.  The religion is based on the belief in and the worship of spirits called Kami.  Shinto views each and every natural object as the abode of Kami, and Kami are believe to be especially concentrated in the mountains. 

Visitors to Japan will be able to witness the practice of Shinto in one of the many shrines.  The rituals have strong aesthetic elements with extravagant costume, dance and language all designed to impress the Kami.  One of the most renowned shrines is the Itsukushima shrine, which is believed to have been built in the 6th Century and is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan. 

If you are after a more structured and challenging experience, then Japan can offer you that too.  The Shikoku Pilgrimage attracts over 100,000 pilgrims every year and although many people nowadays go by bus, there are still a number of people who choose to go by foot.  The pilgrimage, which can take from five to seven weeks, circles Shikoku Island and visits 88 temples on the way. 

Bhutan

If you are looking to visit a country which understands what is really important in life, then you will certainly find it in Bhutan.  Bhutan manifests its Buddhist heritage in many ways.  Here is a place where Gross National Happiness outweighs the importance of Gross National Product.  A system has been coined to measure the quality of life and social progress of the inhabitants rather than simply focussing of the country’s financial wealth. 

Immerse yourself in the Bhutanese way of life and discover that happiness can be found in the poorest of places.  Whether you choose to volunteer on a farm with the local Bhutanese people or spend time meditating at the famous Taktsang Palphug Monastery under the guidance of a monk, it is impossible to ignore the uplifting spirit of Bhutan. 

Bhutan is the last upholder of Vajrayana Buddhism, a spiritual practice known to be one of the most profound schools of teaching in the Buddhist world.  The country keeps in close contact with its past and views the ultimate goal of humanity as happiness and though it remains relatively unexplored, there are many lessons to be learned from the Bhutanese way. 

Mongolia

Mongolian Shamanism has been practised in the country since the beginning of recorded history.  It is an all-encompassing system of belief which focuses on a proximity to the spirit world.  To channel the spirits, the presence of a shaman is required.  This individual is almost a fusion of a priest and a medium and is said to be able to provide a bridge between the human world and the world of the gods, demons, spirits and ancestors. 

Those travelling to Mongolia are able to visit the Shamans, or even embark upon a journey to witness a complete Shamanic ritual.  Often the rituals have been believed to have healing powers and many will travel far and wide to experience shaman healing. 

This fascinating and ancient religion is hallmarked by ecstatic trembling, involuntary speaking and singing and involves worship without and books or scripture.  This may be a far throw from the forms of organised religion that most are used to, but those who choose to embrace it are sure to reap the spiritual rewards.