Buddhist monk begins 1,800-mile Mississippi pilgrimage

by Steve Charles

March 2, 2005

The last time Tan Jotipalo ’88 undertook such a long journey was in the foothills of the Himalayas, where he had a near-death experience that led to his eventually becoming a Buddhist monk.

On March 1, the former Wabash art major was hoping for a little less drama but no less illumination as he began a six-month, 1,800-mile walking pilgrimage along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Jotipalo and Buddhist layman Austin Stewart of Gunnison, Colorado will survive completely on donations in the Buddhist tradition of wandering known as Tu Dong. Theirs is the first walk of this kind in the United States.

"By giving people the opportunity to participate in the walk (by offering food or shelter), we hope to open up people’s hearts—to be be a catalyst to inspire other people to do good."" Jotipalo told the  Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.

"Our walk is also a physical demonstration of renunciation, and a return to simpler values," Jotipalo said. "For me, this is training in giving up comfort. It’s learning to improvise and deal with hardships—thunderstorms, tornados, not knowing where you’re going to stay that night. . . . Learning how to deal with those kinds of emotions."

Those emotions crept up on the monk soon after he arrived in New Orleans Sunday night.

"Taking the train from Chicago to New Orleans made me feel like we have an impossible task ahead of us," Jotipalo notes in his first journal entry. "It seems like an eternally long way. A little bit of doubt has crept in."

"But on the train, I was reading John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, and he mentions a similar apprehension at the beginning of his journey. This morning we just decided to go for it—if I wait until my health is great, I'll never get started. And today is an absolutely beautiful day in New Orleans."

Jotipalo will update his online journal weekly through the Wabash College publications office.


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