In India there exists the Jain order, wandering monks, who believe in non-violence to an extreme degree.
They wear gauze across their faces so insects won´t accidentally fly into their mouths, eyes or ears.
They stare at the ground to ensure that no living creature is crushed by their feet.
They brush the ground before they sit to prevent nothing is harmed by their weight.
They walk thousands of miles barefoot across India, learning to recite sacred passages, meditating and giving sermons.
Each monk´s sole possessions are a begging bowl for food and a cloth to cover his body.
How do they do this?
On 1 January 1953 an elderly woman known to the world only as “Peace Pilgrim” set out from Pasadena, California, vowing “to remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace“.
She set out with nothing more than the outfit she wore (navy blue pants and shirt, tennis shoes and a navy blue tunic) and her pockets contained nothing more a comb, a folding toothbrush, a ballpoint pen, copies of her message of peace and correspondence she would answer on the road.
She never carried or used money for the rest of her life.
She walked 25, 000 miles in nine years for peace and kept walking but stopped counting the miles.
She walked for a total of 28 years.
“I walk until given shelter, fast until given food. I don´t ask – it´s given without asking.
Aren´t people good?…
I usually average 25 miles a day walking, depending on how many people stop to talk to me along the way.
I have gone up to 50 miles in one day to keep an appointment or because there was no shelter available.
On very cold nights I walk through the night to keep warm.
Like the birds, I migrate north in the summer and south in the winter.”
She walked through all kinds of weather and through all the US states and Canadian provinces and in Mexico as well.
How did she do this?
Laurie Lee, author of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and Cider with Rosie, at the age of 19, left his home in the Cotswolds on foot with only a tent, a violin, a change of clothes, a tin of biscuits and some cheese, out his front door and into the unknown, travelling on foot to Southampton and London and eventually to Spain.
How did he do this?
Here in Switzerland and in my former homes in Canada, the US, the UK, South Korea, Luxembourg and Germany, the general consensus is that these people are crazy and that it is impossible to do what they did.
We have jobs, families, responsibilities.
We have to pay the rent, medical insurance, pension plans and bills almost too numerous to count.
We all seem, as Thoreau wrote, “to lead lives of quiet desperation.”
I remember in my own hitchhiking adventures in the US, I ran out of money in Laughlin, Nevada, a casino city like Reno or Vegas but on a much smaller scale.
I approached a church seeking shelter and food for the night.
The minister there, resplendent in three-piece suit and fancy tie, gold watch and rings on his chubby fingers, gave me a proper tongue lashing, calling me every uncomplimentary name under Heaven.
I was a bum, a freeloader, a drain on society, a plague on good decent hard-working folks like himself.
He angrily ordered me out of his church for the audacity of asking for his help.
In the thousands of kilometres I have hitched or walked on three continents, his reaction was the only time I ever received a lack of hospitality.
I remain awed and honoured by just how many good people there are worldwide, though as a rule of thumb I discovered that the richer the area, the less generous the population.
One would think the opposite to be true…that the more one has to give, the more generous the person would be.
Yet, with the exception of those needing money to feed an addiction, never have I witnessed kinder people than I have in poorer parts.
Here in Switzerland teenagers already are planning their retirement, obsessed with getting “good” qualifications, for getting “good” jobs, so they can buy things they don´t need to impress others whom they don´t like.
Clearly the Peace Pilgrim wasn´t Swiss.
Laurie Lee would probably have never left home were he Swiss.
Jains do not thrive in Switzerland.
The Swiss have gained the world, but in their pursuit of profit have they lost their soul?