"I could call this walk a cross-country alms prayer pilgrimage. In the Soto Zen tradition, the practice is called takuhatsu, alms begging. In this tradition we walk without money, asking for everything we need. In a traditional takuhatsu practice, you don't say anything; you simply stand in front of a place with your begging bowl and take whatever is given. I thought it a little more practical in this country to ask, because we could have stood in front of a church for days and people might not ever have understood why we were there. If we had not talked, we probably would have come in contact with the police even more frequently.
"People don't commonly do this sort of thing in America. I know of a few people who have made various sorts of cross-country journeys they've walked across, they've run across, and they've bicycled across. A woman who went by the name of Peace Pilgrim walked back and forth across the country for years. She wore a smock with a big peace sign on it and carried everything she owned in the pockets of her smock. She was supported by the generosity of the people she came in contact with. That was her life. But spiritual pilgrimages are rare.
"Pilgrimage as spiritual practice is quite common in Asia and Europe. It's a powerful practice, and it's challenging to describe the nature of the learning one experiences to someone who has never been on one. There is no escape from the nature of your suffering in this practice. When you walk, you are constantly confronted with your self, your attachments, your resistance. You are confronted with what you cling to for the illusion of security. And in this practice, if you continue to cling to those things, it is sure that you will pay a heavy price.
"You'll be in a constant state of unhappiness because you'll always be fighting with the practice, attempting to control it in some way. During a pilgrimage, your attachments can also hurt you physically. It is often easy to determine how much suffering (emotional, psychological) a person is carrying by the amount of unnecessary things they carry in their backpack and how desperately they want to hang on to these things even at the cost of physical injury in the form of blisters, back strain, shin splints, and so forth.
"The whole purpose of this practice is to let go to let go of all expectations, all attachments, and just deal with what is presented in the moment. Living in this way is living the reality of life, living in the unknown, allowing the unknown to become our teacher. If you don't have a place to stay, if you are not provided food to eat, then you must deal with that reality."