First of all I would like to wish all of you receiving this newsletter a peaceful and healthy 2020. The year will be filled with many unexpected events, some inspiring and others challenging. It is important for all of us to begin each day with an attitude of kindness and the intention to put goodness and beauty into the world. A few days ago I saw a movie about the Dalai Lama and was much inspired by his many decades of saying essentially the same thing: cultivate peace of mind and express compassion in all circumstances. Wise advice for each of us.
A NEW NAME OF THE WEB SITE - WORLD PILGRIMAGE GUIDE
If you have been on the website in the past few weeks you will have noticed that it is no longer called Places of Peace and Power, but is now called World Pilgrimage Guide. I changed the name of the website for what is known as SEO, or search engine optimization. This basically means working on the structure of the website so that Internet search engines more easily find and share it with interested viewers. The web site has a lot of great beauty and I want to give that to millions and millions of people everywhere. One new feature of the website, accessible from every page at the top of the right sidebar, is "How to Use This Website" which tells anyone visiting the first time, or anytime, how to best and most easily use the website.
NEW PHOTO GALLERIES
Since the last newsletter I've added several new photo galleries for six countries and eight states of northern India. Each of these are linked below. When viewing these Photo Galleries look closely and take your time. Notice the ways in which each of the photographs are constructed. Look at the four corners, the four sides, and the arrangement of visual elements inside of the frame. What you get with the World Pilgrimage Guide website, in addition to its valuable information, is an opportunity to gaze upon many hundreds of finely crafted photographs. The structures at the sacred sites are some of the greatest art creations of human civilization and the website is wonderful art gallery showing them.
MY RECENT TRAVELS
During the past two years, 2018 and 2019, I slept in 360 beds in 35 countries. For 2019, that meant the countries of Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, United States, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Sweden, Egypt, India and Bhutan. Some of the hotels and beds were pleasant and clean, while others were not. Some of the restaurants were good, others were not. Some of the roads and traffic were horrible (Jakarta, Dhaka, Calcutta), others were excellent (Vienna, Stockholm). Bad or good, it's over in a minute, an hour, a day or a night. Dealing with this gives you the opportunity to notice your skill at letting go - how free are you of being bothered by dirt and noise, toilets that don't work, cold showers, unhygienic restaurants and lots of dangerous driving. Another day another hotel, a different road, a different restaurant: you adjust and move on. Traveling the way I do, moving between approximately twenty places a month, offers an ongoing set of lessons about letting go, not being attached, not getting upset with constant change. Let It Be.
Those of you who read my previous newsletter describing my travels in Latin America in the early months of 2019 will know that I had planned on traveling to Algeria later in the year. Well, on my forth attempt at visiting that country, I was again frustrated. I completed all the necessary paperwork, spent $180 for the visa fee, and more than $500 for the required flights into and out of the country, but then mysteriously and with no reason given by the Algerian consulate in New York City was not allowed to go. While waiting for the Algerian visa I spent six weeks driving around Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Sweden (the sacred site photos from those travels are given in the link listing above) and then returned for my fifth journey to Egypt. I revisited several sites I had previously photographed and also a few I had not been to before, including the fascinating, enigmatic and seldom seen Serapheum.
In Egypt this time I was upset, as I had been a few years ago when revisiting sacred sites in the country of Uzbekistan, with the low quality archaeological reconstructions and maintenance done at numerous important sites such as Karnak, Luxor, Edfu, Dendera, Philae and others. The Egyptian government charges high entrances fees to these sites but too little of the money actually goes to proper reconstruction and maintenance, while some of it disappears in the pockets and off-shore bank accounts of various corrupt politicians and military officials. What can be done about this? Basically nothing, but I do feel it is important to call attention to the matter. I have been visiting and studying the sacred sites of Egypt since 1970 - for more than fifty years - and have been saddened by their progressive deterioration.
On another note, I feel it is important to once more state that there is absolutely no evidence that any of the pyramids in Egypt were ever used, at least when they were initially constructed, for funerary reasons. Various writers continue to perpetuate this mistaken idea and it really should be stopped. Regarding the Great Pyramid in particular, not only was it never used for burial purposes, it was not even constructed by the Dynastic Egyptians. Read my essay on the Great Pyramid to learn more about its actual age and probable uses.
Following my month in Egypt I returned, for my 16th visit, to India and was finally able to complete my travels to all of the country's 29 states. During four months of travel in the northern parts of the country I returned to the holy city of Varanasi (which I first visited with my mother in 1966) to see my long-time friend Professor Rana Singh who is surely the world's leading expert on the pilgrimage traditions and sacred sites of India. We spent an enjoyable three days together, talking of many subjects, enjoying tasty Indian food (his wife is a superb cook) and drinking fine whisky. Rana will agree, and he should know, that my photographic documentation of the sacred sites of India is the most comprehensive and beautiful ever produced. I encourage you to take the time to look at the India photographs on the links in this newsletter. Some of the images are rare or completely unique.
Many of you will have read in the global news last July that Prime Minister Modi enacted a radical and subsequently much protested political policy in the state of Kashmir (which I have visited five times since 1967). This happened just three days after I completed the difficult pilgrimage trek to the celebrated Shiva shrine of Amarnath. Approximately one-hundred thousand pilgrims make the arduous trek to the Amarnath shrine each summer, during a three month period when the snow and ice have sufficiently melted to allow access to the high-mountain shrine. From what I was able to determine, I was one of only two foreigners to make the pilgrimage this year.
Midway through my travels in India I flew to the country of Bhutan where I spent three weeks driving to more than two dozen remote pilgrimage sites, some of which are hardly ever visited by foreigners. Throughout the country there are hundreds of temples and monasteries, though only a small number of these are actual pilgrimage sites. This is a similar condition you will find in other parts the world: while there are many religious sites, only a small percentage of them are actual pilgrimage places, this meaning that they attract visitors from beyond the area where they are located. It is important to understand this distinction between normal religious sites and actual pilgrimage places.
One of the most notable things you will see in the temples and monasteries of Bhutan - where a form of Buddhism called Vajrayana is practiced - are the paintings and statues of the highly venerated 8th century sage known as Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Originally from somewhere in northern India and considered by many Buddhists to be a second Buddha, Padmasambhava is almost always depicted with a stern appearance. More than a few Buddhists in Bhutan and other regions where the Vajrayana tradition is practiced will tell you that Padmasambhava spent much of his life battling and subduing demons and other harmful entities. While it is mostly an exercise in frustration to debate this matter with Buddhists from these regions - there is no archaeological or paleontological evidence that 'demons' ever existed in Bhutan or anywhere else in the world - it is, for me at least, fascinating to consider the matter of why Padmasambhava is almost always depicted in stern and unsmiling ways.
My interpretation of his unsmiling appearance is not because he is getting ready to battle demons or has just done so, but because he has been engaged with the spiritual delusions of the pre-Buddhist inhabitants of the region, and also with the continuing delusions of the Vajrayana practitioners. In this interpretation, Padmasambhava can be understood to be a necessarily stern teacher because he is dealing with the shallow and very often incorrect spiritual knowledge of people. The 'demons' are not outside running around the mountains causing mischief, but inside the human mind causing even greater mischief.
Why am I bringing attention to this matter? For the reason that in today's world I observe only a very few really effective and wise teachers, or gurus. It is my firm conviction that a vast majority of the people of the world today are spiritually immature and confused, and would therefore benefit from teachers who have the wisdom and ability to instruct their students with sternness, and not with the make-everybody-happy and feel-good rhetoric that is widely found in new-age books and conferences. However, nowadays this may be a contentious matter to suggest to certain spiritual people for the reason that many of them presume themselves to be more advanced or 'enlightened' than they actually are. But, truth be told, if you take the time to investigate the spiritual traditions and practices of pre-modern times you will find extensive evidence indicating the rigors of authentic spiritual practice as contrasted to the (fluffy, mostly shallow, and relatively unproductive) ideas so profitably sold by a number of pop-culture faux-spiritual teachers.
Am I being cynical in saying this? Yes, most definitely, consciously and purposely so. In a word, I am being stern. I am nearing sixty-six and have been on the shamanic-spiritual path with a resolute focus since I was eighteen years old. I spent ten years as a member of a monastic order, have done meditation daily for nearly fifty years, have read a large amount of spiritual literature, have conversed with a diverse selection of philosophers and gurus, have done more than 200 journeys on a variety of plant and chemical ethnogens, and have given the past forty years of my life to visiting more than 1500 sacred sites in 165 countries. And still I consider myself a student.
However, having traveled widely (including every country in Europe, throughout the Western Hemisphere, and every country in Asia besides North Korea) I have too seldom encountered higher positioned individuals who admit the same about themselves. Instead, I have met those who, with often only a modicum of disciplined spiritual practice, proclaim themselves as wise, aware and enlightened. Personally, I think that many (but not all) of them are deluding themselves and others.
Am I being judgmental in saying this? Yes, again, most definitely, consciously and purposely so. Will some people find this offensive? Certainly, and in many cases they are the very people who, in my (hopefully humble) opinion would benefit from some stern instruction, some 'tough love' from a teacher or guru of real depth and wisdom. But this will be difficult for them to admit or seek instruction regarding: it is simply so much easier to perpetuate their own shallow attainments. How would the venerable Padmasambhava deal with this exaggerated delusion? He would (and, really, we should be thankful for this) be uncompromisingly stern. He would give tough love where it is so desperately needed. Such are the type of teachers we desperately need nowadays. Not (only) pretty, smiling faces with (easy to 'follow') Best-Seller books, but truly wise teachers who see through the (mostly shallow) facades of contemporary 'new-age' faux spirituality. And, once again, I do recognize that I am being cyclical and judgemental in stating this. This might even bring a (rare) smile to Padmasambhava's face.
Near the end of my travels in India I almost died from another - and completely unexpected - set of epilepsy seizures. Some of you who have followed my work over the years will know that while rock climbing on May 18, 2003 I fell more than 70 feet (23 meters) and sustained more than 50 fractures, including shattering both wrists, both ankles, having multiple skull fractures and losing five front teeth. A year later, because of the skull fractures, I developed a serious case of epilepsy, which requires me to twice daily take a toxic dose of an anti-seizure drug. This medication is supposed to keep me from having seizures. In November, for some unknown reason it didn't work. Late at night in a New Delhi hotel room I had multiple seizures and was unconscious in a pool of my own blood for twelve hours. A few days later I was able to get an appointment with India's leading epileptologist. I asked him if I should take more of the medicine, or an additional medicine, or an entirely different medication? No, he told me, nothing would help and I would most probably experience these seizures again in the remaining years of my life. Furthermore, because of an epilepsy condition known as kindling, each set of seizures that I have increases my susceptibility to more seizure occurrences and quite probably one of the next episodes will result in my death.
True, every person alive could die at any moment, yet because of the type of epilepsy I have and the severity of my seizures I am much closer to death than most people (only people in active-shooting war zones are as close). This was a sobering assessment of my condition and it has had a remarkable effect upon me during the past few months. For many decades, since I first considered the matter, I knew that life was precious because of its potential shortness. Yet this was really just an idea, a notion, an easy-to-disregard concept. However, when you have had these massive near-death seizure episodes, unexpected and unpreventable - and I have now had eight of them during the past ten years - the idea, the concept of personal death becomes undeniably real. Truly, I could die tomorrow.
What this near immanence of my own death has done for me has been profound. My realization has become crystal clear. There is no time for me to waste on anything. There is nothing more important for me to do than the the completion of my work. My service of sharing information about the sacred sites and the value of visiting them is vitally important.
With the completion of my recent travels in Bhutan and north India I have finally completed the pilgrimage phase of my photography of the sacred sites. I am now ready to shift direction to the teaching phase of my work, which is to more widely share the sacred site photographs and the information associated with them. With this in mind I will continue to improve the website with what I learn about search engine optimization and will also begin to promote it widely in specific countries around the world. The past few months I have been doing this in India with the result that the World Pilgrimage Guide website is now the most used and trusted source of information on the pilgrimage traditions of India. The next countries I will be focusing on are Japan, France and Spain, and after that I will conduct an enormous global promotion using all the techniques I have learned. Stay tuned to what I am doing and be part of a very inspiring gift to the people of the world.
A GROUP SHAMANIC EVENT
During the past thirty years I have given several hundred slide shows to more than 150,000 people. It has always been interesting for me to listen to the responses of people who have attended these slide shows. Very often I heard people say they experienced remarkable feelings of attraction while viewing particular photographs. What could this mean, I wondered? Over the years I came to understand that different people resonated with different sacred sites and that the photographs in the slide show somehow elicited or caused these experiences. Based on this understanding I then designed the slide show to facilitate the possibility of a resonance between people and particular sacred sites. The audience responses were amazing. More and more people reported feelings of being powerfully attracted to specific places and it dawned on me that the slide show was performing a shamanic function.
Over the past five years I have traveled nearly constantly photographing more sacred sites and because of this have only given a few slide shows. This May 15 in Sedona, Arizona at the Earth Origins 2020 Conference I will again present one of the shows, yet in an entirely new form as a Group Shamanic Event. What do I mean by this term, a Group Shamanic Event? Open your mind and consider the following.
Based on the comments I received from people who attended my previous slide shows I believe that particular sacred sites have a spiritual or mystical magnetism for certain people. Furthermore, I contend that while different photographs are showing there will be several people in the audiences feeling a magnetism, a resonance with the particular place being shown. While that resonance, that excitation is being felt by those specific individuals it causes for each of them a corresponding emanation of energy and consciousness outward into the space of the auditorium and, thereby, into the field of consciousness of the entire audience. Each photograph, each place is shown for precisely 15 seconds, activating and amplifying the energy field of a number of discrete individuals in the auditorium. Then an entirely different sacred site is shown and an entirely different set of individuals is touched by that new site. This occurs on and on and on in a mantric and hypnotic repetition of four pictures per minute for sixty minutes to create a shared and constantly charging field of tremendous potency, itself able to catalyze new awakenings of individual site-person resonance and the further empowerment of those already established resonances. This is a very rare opportunity to see, to witness, to personally experience an event of monumental power.
Here is an extensive YouTube interview I did regarding the slide show:
THE STORY OF MY LIFE AT THE SACRED SITES
Over the past thirty years a lot of people have asked me to tell the story of how I began studying and visiting sacred sites around the world. I've told the fascinating story to several friends but thus far have not written it down. During the coming months I'll be doing that and will share it in an upcoming newsletter.
A NEW AND EXPANDED PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK
For several decades I have been wanting to produce the quintessential photography book of the great sacred sites of the world. The book Sacred Earth, which Barnes and Noble published in 2007, was beautiful. Yet I always knew that one day, when I finally completed all my travels to 1500 sacred sites in more than 160 countries, I would produce a full volume of my work. Now I am ready to do that. This new book will be titled Places of Peace and Power. It will have nearly all of the photographs from my previous books plus an additional 100 from the many sacred sites I have photographed in the past fifteen years. National Geographic made the maps for the Sacred Earth book and will do so for this new book. And I will be the production editor and printing supervisor this time so I promise that every single part of the book will be perfect.
I hope to finance the production of this book using a crowd-funding platform such as Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Additionally, I intend to have one of the best publishing companies manage the actual production. I want the book to be simultaneously published in ten languages and with a large print run size so that the per copy price is inexpensive and affordable for even budget-minded people. Certainly my World Pilgrimage Guide website, which has all of the book's photos (and many more) is always available, yet it will be splendid to see the pictures in a large, beautiful photography book. In my next newsletter later this year I will give you more details about the book and how you can help make it a reality.
SOME INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT LINKS