But I have come to realize that the true meaning of pilgrimage is to live free from any attachments, habits, prejudices. Free from physical and mental clutter. Making an outer journey is a reminder of an inner journey, and I discovered that I am always on a pilgrimage. Life is a journey. I want to travel through life as a pilgrim.
Satish Kumar – Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well
I first came across Satish Kumar when I was living in Devon on the edge of Dartmoor. It was a troubled period of my life, and one day I decided to take a therapeutic walk to St Nectan’s Well on Exmoor.
St Nectan’s Well lies on the site of the hut where the 6th century Welsh hermit, St Nectan, is said to have returned carrying his head after being set upon by thieves who beheaded him.
I was inspired to walk there after reading the autobiography of Jain priest and evangelical environmentalist, Satish Kumar, who lives near Saint Nectan’s Well on Exmoor and is a firm disciple of EF Shumacher’s philosophy that ‘Small is beautiful.’
The essence of Satish Kumar’s philosophy is that at this stage of human history we now need a new kind of pilgrim, unattached to any form of dogma – ‘Earth Pilgrims’ who are concerned with this world, not the next, and who are seeking a deep commitment to life in the here and now, upon this Earth, in this world. We need to realise that we are all connected, and through that connectivity we become pilgrims.
Satish Kumar is a former Jain monk from India, whose principles personify peace, love, consideration for all things and living in harmony with nature, chooses to make the Hartland Peninsula in North Devon his home and, over all places he has seen in his global pilgrimages, wishes to end his days here.
“What attracts me about Hartland,” Satish Kumar told a journalist some years ago in his rustically appointed office in an old farmhouse at Hartland, “is that it has a kind of rugged beauty which is not manicured or contrived. It is not organised by humans as much as in other places. It has a more generally natural untamed kind of robustness. The people live their lives here very much more in keeping with the principles with which I was brought up. They live a more frugal and simple life here. People are closer to the land. They work here much more with their hands. There are more craftsmen and artists here. Life is more tranquil and less disturbed, with fewer consumerist distractions, as compared to big cities.”
Satish became a monk in 1945 when he was only nine years old, but chose to give up his orders nine years later when he became inspired by the teachings of Gandhi, who preached that everything in life had to be based in spirituality, and that such a philosophy could apply to everyone, not just those in monastic orders.
“If you do everything with attention, mindfulness, love and total commitment, then it can become a work of art – and what is a work of art is also a work of spirit,” Satish explained, “and that is very much what happens here in Hartland.”
For the past 35 years, Satish has been editor of Resurgence, a magazine started by the economist EF Schumacher whose view of economics was much closer to the Buddhist/Jain philosophy than anything before. Small Is Beautiful, the book that resulted from Schumacher’s world view, is something that captured the attention of certain thinking sections of the public; they could see the value of living life by an alternative set of rules rather than those with which the Western world had become accustomed.
I must admit I had never really given the words much consideration until Satish pointed out the relationship, but ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’, two disparately viewed terms in today’s society, come from the same Greek root, meaning ‘home’. The respective suffixes relate to ‘management’ and ‘knowledge’ and, as Satish sagely pointed out, you cannot really view the two terms in isolation. You can’t manage without understanding what it is you are managing, and to give undue attention to one aspect to the detriment of the other is to court disaster. When that neglect reaches global proportions, as the mismanagement of the world’s’ ‘ecology’ in the interests of ‘economy’ (or greed, put more simply), then it is time to take stock of the situation and view just where mankind is heading.
The day started off well. Overnight it had stopped raining and the weather forecast for the next few days was looking decidedly more optimistic than 24 hours previously.
Over breakfast, Sylvie chatted about her role as a part time French language instructor for immigrants who were unable to speak the language. She explained the challenges of teaching French to Kurdish and Afghan immigrants and the adverse impact Covid had had on language tuition opportunities for recent immigrant arrivals in France.
Leaving Torcenay and heading once more into the woods, en route to Leffonds, brought home the ferocity of the storm that had whipped through the region over the weekend.
I clambered over trees that were strewn akimbo over the VF. Combined with the slippery mud and the deteriorating state of my boots, at times it made for a challenging morning’s walk!
Shortly before lunch I passed the Chapelle Saint Nicolaus de Grosse Sauve. The chapel derives its name from the Latin ‘Grossa Sylva’ and was a staging post on the Roman road between Langres and Besançon. Destroyed by the barbarian invasions which precipitated the fall of the Roman Empire, the chapel was rebuilt as a hospital during the Carolingian era and provided a refuge for pilgrims on the road to Rome.
According to local legend, it is said that in this clearing, the devil “the Foulletot”, is supposed to descend every seven years from Cognelot to come and dance near an old tree, “the Chêne Macabré”, which had the strange feature of having branches gnarled like wreaths.
The rest of the morning was fairly uneventful. I passed some bee hives and a small village with the lovely street name ‘Rue du Paradis’.
Shortly after lunch, I reached the crest of a plateau and in the distance made out the silhouette of what appeared to be another pilgrim walking towards Champlitte.
At first I thought it might be Baptiste, who had set off from Torcenay in the morning some 15 minutes earlier than me. But the figure in front of me was walking far too slowly for it to be Baptiste who is a bit of a speed merchant.
As I neared the figure I thought that it might be somebody riding on a donkey rsther than a bona fide two footed pilgrim. However, as I got yet closer, there was no doubt that the figure in front of me was a biped rather than a quadrupled. What wasn’t in doubt though was the ginormous size of the rucksack. The mantra of ‘ travel light, small is beautiful‘ had obviously been booted firmly into touch!
At around 4.30pm I made it to Champlitte. Vanessa from the Mayor’s Office met me outside the church and accompanied me to the communal gite where I had booked to spend the night.
Situated a stone’s throw from the town church and chateau, I couldn’t have asked for a more convenient or central location. It was time to wash my socks, kick back and plan my itinerary for the next fortnight.
As I settled down for the evening I couldn’t help but think of the solitary pilgrim with the humungously large backpack that I had passed en route to Champlitte during the afternoon. I guess everybody’s pilgrimage is an intensely personal affair. But from my own perspective, in terms of backpacks and other items of kit, there is one thing that is quite clear in my mind – Small is Beautiful!