“The moving tendency of the human being is misused by visiting places for sightseeing. The best purpose of such traveling tendencies could be fulfilled by visiting the holy places established by great acharyas and thereby not being misled by the atheistic propaganda of moneymaking men who have no knowledge of spiritual matters.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.22 Purport)
The serious transcendentalist of the Vedic tradition faces so many rules and regulations. No eating meat. No gambling. No intoxication. No illicit sex. No mental speculation. No talking about matters that don’t pertain to spiritual life. No disrespecting others. No eating food that is not first offered to the deity. No inattentiveness during the chanting of the holy names. No excessive sleeping. No excessive eating. No eating for sense pleasure. No reading just for the sake of reading. No watching rubbish programs that will take your mind away from spiritual life. Add to this list “no sightseeing.”
“So I can’t sightsee either? What the heck? I’m just supposed to sit around like a robot all day? Why don’t I place myself in a quiet room and just stare at the wall the entire time. I won’t tell anyone else where I am; this way I can avoid the offense of trying to give the appearance of being a holy man when I am not one. Let me just stay in the same state, day after day, week after week, month after month. This way I’ll avoid all the don’ts and not offend anyone.”
Sightseeing is a pleasurable activity because the mind craves variety. Variety is the mother of enjoyment, and so to get a chance to escape from the daily routine every now and then is healthy. Why would you want to do the exact same thing every day? Imagine if you only got one type of food to eat. After a while you’d probably get sick of it. With the exact same routine each day, you start to notice the patterns, and pretty soon every moment loses its uniqueness. A long time can pass in this cycle, and you can go crazy in the process, feeling like you are in a prison.
With sightseeing, you get to explore new places and things. You break away from the daily grind and travel to an exotic destination. With all that there is to see in the new place, you’re constantly filled with anticipation. You always have something to look forward to. And the “something new” keeps your mind fresh; it keeps your mind actively engaged. And when the mind is engaged, you will feel better. The mind can be the best friend, but also the worst enemy. If it is situated properly, you will have a wonderful friend within close proximity to help you out.
External surroundings can be used to help the mind reach the right place, a fact which indicates yet another area where bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, excels. The mind is a product of consciousness, and bhakti-yoga can also be translated to mean Krishna consciousness, where Krishna is synonymous with God. Have a consciousness focused on God and your mind will turn into the best friend you could ever ask for. Just as with sightseeing, use your external surroundings to foster the divine consciousness. Use your room as a place to sit and chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Use your car as a place to hear musical variations of the same mantra. Use your job as a place to earn money to support your living that is focused on bhakti-yoga.
The same tendency for travelling can be applied to bhakti-yoga. In India, the famous sages who taught by example, and were thus known as acharyas, established so many pilgrimage sites. These areas first became significant when Krishna or one of His notable avataras visited them. The Supreme Lord makes descents to earth every now and then. He is free to do this, as He is the original proprietor of everything. His travels are documented in sacred texts, which are then passed down through disciplic succession by acharyas, who are devoted to Krishna in thought, word and deed.
From consulting scripture, we know where the sacred places are, and though the passage of time has made these areas harder to find, the notable saints of the past have found them again and established a spiritual culture there. The true benefit of visiting a sacred place is the association of the saintly men, as they prefer to live in areas important to the Supreme Lord. Everywhere is God’s home, but in the pilgrimage sites there is added significance due to the related history. For instance, Vrindavana is important because Shri Krishna spent His childhood years there. Ayodhya is important because Krishna’s incarnation of Lord Rama appeared there. Chitrakuta is where Rama lived in exile with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. Mathura is where Krishna first appeared, and Mayapura is where Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation as a preacher, appeared.
The tendency for travelling can be applied to areas such as these or even to the many temples established around the world by celebrated acharyas. In the absence of the relation to bhakti-yoga, sightseeing will not have a lasting positive effect on the consciousness. We may visit one area for a period of time, but then soon after we must return to the previous routine. Either that or we’ll have nothing to do in these areas except enjoy the senses, something which can take place anywhere. If I’m going to spend my nights drinking alcohol, why not just go to the local pub instead of flying thousands of miles away?
All activities in bhakti-yoga aim to make a permanent, positive impression on consciousness. They bring the mind closer to God. So in this way visiting the sacred places has a much longer lasting effect. There is constant chanting of the holy names and discourses on the glories of the Supreme Lord at these places, and so when these sounds penetrate through the ears, the mind can get altered for the better, hopefully leading to a desire to further practice bhakti. And when that desire exists at the highest levels at the time of death, a trip is booked to the best vacation destination, the spiritual sky, where Krishna’s lila is enjoyed every day.
Enjoying the senses can be done at home,
Whether at local pub or in room all alone.
In sightseeing at new places can marvel,
But for sense pleasure no need to travel.
Yet from monotony it is important to break,
Variety necessary for mental health’s sake.
In devotional life to new places you can go,
From pilgrimage sights more of God to know.
Make best use of travelling tendency with bhakti,
In travel or at home, devoted soul God always to see.