Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Two Days, 137 Miles, 60,000 Breaths"

Spirit Rock by Jodene.

Photo by Jodene on flickr. Spirit Rock Meditation Center

In 2002 a group of Buddhist friends and “cycling meditators” embarked on a journey – a pilgrimage as it turned out – from a meditation center in Marin County to a monastery up the road in Mendocino County. At the end of their second day, the 80 riders, accompanied by 40 volunteers, completed what was probably a first in the Buddhist world: a pilgrimage by bicycle. They’ve been doing it every summer since.

The Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage (BBP), as the ride became known, has settled into a familiar route. Riders gather at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin County and then follow freeways, small roads, and bike paths through towns and cities on the way to the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery near Willits in Mendocino County. Riders stop briefly at different monasteries or Buddhist centers, such as the City of 10,000 Buddhas, for spiritual talks and meditation. Monks travel with them, but so far only in the vans. The average age of riders is in the mid-30s, and most have has previously gone on retreats or belong to a meditation house. But not all.

NOPA resident Leon Sun has biked in the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage for eight years, and the ride has become part of his personal practice. He doesn’t have a teacher or belong to a sangha, however, as other Buddhist practitioners often do. “I’m wary of religious groups,” he explained over tea in his Turk Street home recently. “I’m kind of an anarchist in that way.” Instead, he mostly reads books about Buddhist teachings and practices meditation on his own.

In the first part of this profile published in an earlier post, Leon described the spirit of mindfulness he tries to bring to his everyday activities, including bicycling in San Francisco. “Being mindful while biking helps me get into personal, inner change,” he said. Leon found that bicycling itself often helped him with personal development. “I work out personal issues, or “inner demons.” He explained that as a boy, he lived in very sheltered surroundings in which sports was discouraged and studying was exalted. Only later did he discover that he was good at athletics with a natural ability, strength, and endurance. But even then he found that “you can go overboard in proving yourself.” Today biking and meditating help him maintain a balance on his personal journey. "Cycling lends itself to being in the moment; a long ride is like a pilgrimage,” he observed.

How is the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage (BBP) different from other weekend recreational spins or benefit rides? Leon explained that BBP cyclists see the pilgrimage as a spiritual ride. “It’s not a sporting event,” he said, “where the cycling machismo often kicks in.” He added, “Our ride isn’t about performance. We’re not trying to do our personal best times or get in better shape. It’s more like a tour, a time to appreciate our surroundings.” Another difference for the BBP is the group’s decision to not charge any fee or require any fundraising obligations for those participating in the ride. Instead riders donate what they choose in appreciation for the event. Each year the pilgrimage covers its costs and donates the remainder to the monasteries that host them.

This year’s ride takes place on September 25 and 26; registration opens August 20. For more information, visit the BBP site: DharmaWheels: Turning Our Wheels for the Dharma. From the perspective of these wet winter days and nights, a mindful summer spin through Northern California seems just the thing. Leon Sun encourages newcomers. I asked how well someone who practiced yoga and meditated on their own might manage the pilgrimage. Leon’s ready response: “They’d fit in very well.”

No comments:

Post a Comment