“The eyes which do not look at the symbolic representations of the Personality of Godhead Vishnu [His forms, name, quality, etc.] are like those printed on the plumes of the peacock, and the legs which do not move to the holy places [where the Lord is remembered] are considered to be like tree trunks.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.22)
बर्हायिते ते नयने नराणां
लिङ्गानि विष्णोर्न निरीक्षतो ये ।
पादौ नृणां तौ द्रुमजन्मभाजौ
क्षेत्राणि नानुव्रजतो हरेर्यौ ॥
barhāyite te nayane narāṇāṁ
liṅgāni viṣṇor na nirīkṣato ye
pādau nṛṇāṁ tau druma-janma-bhājau
kṣetrāṇi nānuvrajato harer yau
“I have some questions on the benefit of visiting tirthas. These are pilgrimage sites. Sacred places, if you will. If you spend a week in one of these places, even accidentally, you accumulate a ton of sukriti. You have this bank of meritorious credits, which will pay off later on.
“I understand that saintly people on the highest level of devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead have a keen awareness on the usefulness of everything around them. They don’t want to let anything go to waste.
“For example, the sunrise. That is the time for juxtaposing with the beginning of spiritual activities. Calculate brahma-muhurta, and begin your day at that time. You can apply the same to the sunset. There is the sandhya-arati ceremony, wherein you worship the Supreme Lord in a formal way. This is right around the time of dusk.
“You have the support from shastra, such as in the verse from Shrimad Bhagavatam. There is a comparison to tree trunks. The legs are basically useless unless they take a person to sacred places. The eyes should view God’s transcendental form. The ears should hear about the gunas of Bhagavan, and so forth.
“I get the idea. Trust me. I agree with the sentiment behind such comparisons. At the same time, I believe I have heard it said that a person should not be eager to travel to such places. They shouldn’t feel this intense longing to stay in Vrindavana, for instance.
“They shouldn’t be obsessed with opening temples and accepting countless disciples. Do you see the contradictions here? Which is it? Should we be visiting sacred places or not? Why is there a warning against it?”
The warnings are based on practicality. If you can conduct your necessary work sufficiently at a local office, what need is there to travel to the home office of the company? That other office might be on the opposite side of the country.
Should you pack up everything and move there? What if you don’t like it? After moving, what if you learn that you were better at doing your job in the previous place? Though you were separated by a significant physical distance, in spirit you were completely aligned with the needs of the business.
Within the Vaishnava tradition, certainly there are areas of equivalence. It is important to know these truths. There is no difference between the name of God and the person God. There is no difference between the person serving the Almighty and the Almighty Himself. These are just two ways of viewing the same concept. The complete picture is oneness, though there is distinction in terms of roles.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has declared that there is no difference between Krishna and His land. That is how tirthas are identified. They have some relationship to Krishna or one of His avataras. Because of this relationship, devotees consider these areas to be special. They have added significance.
Visiting is an ordeal, an adventure of sorts. There is the planning phase. There is anticipation. There is the inevitable meeting, when the potential becomes reality. Then there is longing after separation. There is desperation to once again return to the sacred place.
Those different states are actually identical in terms of the impact on the consciousness. In this way, we see that a person can be in Vrindavana without physically traveling there. They can turn their immediate surroundings into a sacred place. By always chanting the holy names and describing the glories of the one who is both nirguna and saguna, they have essentially inserted a saintly person into a region. They become the example, the shining light, to help others see the way.
The saintly person, the sadhu, is like a travelling tirtha. This means that explicit shifting of place is not necessary. A person can be as much conscious of God the person while in a foreign land as compared to living in a sacred place. That is the meaning to Absolute as it relates to Krishna.
Desperate that hurdle to clear,
That moving to tirtha near.
Because the teaching stirred,
Of benefit to visit heard.
But since Absolute in principle set,
The same in any place can get.
Where glories and holy names singing,
A sadhu to local area bringing.