Monk heads north on new adventure

By Stephanie MacLellan, Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, January 11, 2005

Ontario, Canada -- Sometimes the best way to make a spiritual journey can be to make a literal journey. That was the motivation for a monk named Jotipalo to plan a walk from New Orleans to Thunder Bay.

?What I want to do is dedicate this walk to the whole world, peace for the world,? he said Monday.

The 39-year-old has been a monk in the Thai Forest tradition for just over five years. As part of their monastic training, monks often engage in travel after their first five years.

He chose New Orleans because it will take him through the American midwest, where he grew up. He was born in the small town of Crawfordsville, Ind.

?Something in my heart said this is a good place to do it,? he said.

Jotipalo will depart New Orleans on March 1 accompanied by Austin Steward, a layperson who has studied with the forest monks. Steward?s help will be crucial on the trek, since Buddhist monks aren?t allowed to own possessions or handle money to buy food.

They?ll have minimal supplies with them on the road, like sleeping bags and a tarp, but any more would detract from his goal to live on faith and inspire kindness in others.

?By giving people the opportunity to participate in the walk (by offering him food or shelter), it will hopefully open up people?s hearts,? he said. ?If one person does something like that, then maybe that will encourage other people to do similar things, in their own ways. It?s a catalyst to inspire other people to do good.?

He said living simply will also allow him to be an example to others.

?It?s a physical demonstration of renunciation, and a return to simpler values,? he said.

He said he?ll teach people meditation if they?re interested, or help them find information about Buddhism if they want to learn more.

He also hopes the uncertainty of his travels will be a learning experience, after the predictable day-to-day life of the monastery.

?For me, this is training in giving up comfort,? he said. ?It?s learning to improvise and deal with hardships. You know, thunderstorms, tornados, not knowing where you?re going to stay that night. . . . Learning how to deal with those kinds of emotions.?

The traditional term for walks of this style is a peace walk, but Jotipalo said he?s leery of using that title in the United States.

?In the U.S., the word ?peace? is almost political now,? he said. ?I feel like if I go out and promote this as a peace walk, it will divide people more than it will unite people.?

Instead, he?ll spread a message of the kind of peace people can find inside themselves.

?Inner peace can actually affect other people,? he said.

Jotipalo has been on a shorter walk in this style in California, but nothing of this scope. He?s aiming to cover about 20 kilometres each day, coming back to the Arrow River hermitage about five months after he leaves New Orleans.

But that?s about the only thing he?s expecting from the trip.

?I?m trying not to think about it too much,? he said. ?I really have no idea what will happen. Anything I project on it is not going to happen.

?But there is some excitement. It will be a new adventure.?