The Ganges River, Mecca, Bethlehem – all of these places hold considerable meaning and deep respect for people of various religions. Growing up I loved going into my church – not going to church but entering the building. It made me feel calm, serene, and at peace. It was in that building that I believed in something “greater”.
Recently I watched a show on the Buddha’s travels. Due to the reverence felt for the Buddha, a bamboo grove he once frequented is considered a holy place. The cave where he stayed for a period of time is a place that people enter into and feel his presence, feel calm, at peace.
The Ganges River is a mystery to people who do not have a lifelong history with it. Outsiders see the River as dirty, unhealthy and something to be “fixed”. Hindus, though, view it as flowing with holy water that can heal and ensure passage into the next life. Hindus who visit the Ganges sometimes will take water back to their homes to aid in religious practices or strengthen the dying to allow them to make that transition even if they are unable to return to the Ganges. The place, in this instance, can go with the people and provide the comfort and assurances no matter how far they are from the source.
People make pilgrimages to the Ganges as others do to Mecca or Bethlehem. The importance of being in a particular place appears to be not just a requirement of followers, but an innate need. The pilgrimage to Mecca, for instance, is considered to be a way to demonstrate solidarity with other Muslims around the world. The need to be in THAT place which will bring that sense of something “greater” is not always understood by people who do not feel that pull.
Although perhaps it is hard to understand the importance and power of place, I think it is critical that we respect that need in others. Like so many aspects of life today, it is really a personal decision how to acknowledge and practice your beliefs. It should not be something that is within anyone else’s scope to dissuade or question.