On Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s birthday, villagers of the Tzu Chi Great Love City in Ormoc City completed an hour-long pilgrimage across rocky terrain. Despite aching knees and soiled pants, the 900 participants carried on, inspired by the goodness that they’ve experienced in their darkest hour.
As Dharma Master Cheng Yen turned 81 years old, villagers of the Tzu Chi Great Love City in Ormoc City on May 9 conducted a morning pilgrimage.
Whereas the typical pilgrimage is done on flat surfaces, some 900 villagers and volunteers did so along a rocky dirt road. Despite wearing pants, the participants bore the brunt of kowtowing on a surface riddled with rocks. Adding to the difficulty is the mud made by heavy rainfall days before. Still, the procession carried on without incident.
On the eve of the pilgrimage, Tzu Chi Philippines deputy-CEO Alfredo Li led the concerted effort to level the road as much as they can. Without hesitation, villagers grabbed a shovel and filled potholes and puddles with earth. That night, some villagers laid down markers to guide the participants in the pilgrimage. The markers are a simple construction of old nails and recycled plastic bottle caps
Li, leading the pilgrimage, felt his knees ache despite the repairs done on the road. But he was as resolute to finish the ceremony as the participants.
“When I started bowing, it was easy. But as I continued, I felt my knees ache. This reminded me of Master’s saying: it’s easy to make a vow but difficult to make it happen,” Li said.
Fellow volunteer Jose Yu from Tacloban almost up and quit because of the rocky terrain. “But I wanted to wish Master in her birthday, so I decided to carry on.”
The pilgrimage began just outside the village. Up to the main road, the villagers took a bow every three steps in a slow but steady fashion for over 200 meters. The procession lasted an hour, concluding with a renewal of vows at the multipurpose building by the main entrance to the Great Love City.
Some held flowers while performing the pilgrimage. Others held their infants, unable to leave their children alone at home. Virgilio Baguino even completed the pilgrimage while carrying a stalk of bananas, his gift to the dharma master.
“My gratitude to Master [Cheng Yen] comes from the heart,” remarked Baguino.
In an episode of Life Wisdom (May 15, 2018), Master Cheng Yen was touched by the gratitude in the hearts of the Ormocanons. The people, in return, revere the pilgrimage—as well as the three-in-one celebration—with the same sanctity as a day of religious obligation.
Tzu Chi volunteer Michael Siao said that the path of a bodhisattva isn’t an easy one to take. It demands a great deal of humility and patience, especially in a turbulent society. All the more reason one should make this pilgrimage.
“The bowing pilgrimage is to cleanse our inner selves and purify our deluded minds and be free from worries,” said Siao.
At the end of the pilgrimage, the participants vow to walk the bodhisattva path no matter how difficult for the benefit of all. They also ask for the dharma master’s guidance as they go.