Recently Tan Thanavaro and I took up the practice of “tudong”. Walking from the small town of Westport, CA to Boonville, CA, mostly following Rt 1 along the coast and Rt 128 through redwood forests and along side the Navarro River.
The word ‘tudong’ is derived from the Pali word “dhutanga”, meaning ascetic practices. There are 13 ascetic practices that the Buddha allowed and encouraged for assisting monks and nuns in their Dhamma training. These practices include, for example, eating one meal a day, eating only from one’s bowl, living in the forest and meditating in cemeteries. These days when forest monks and nuns walk on faith or pilgrimage, it is often referred to as going tudong.
Tudong is meant to be something much more profound than mere travelling like a tourist. The purpose is not to accumulate new and pleasant sensory experiences but to understand the truth of our experience. Sometimes the simplicity of living close to the elements means having to put up with some difficult situations, so tudong encourages the practice of developing patience and endurance. Travelling outside one’s comfort zone can bring up a range of reactions, and this is a valuable opportunity to learn more about oneself.
Tudong also encourages us to look at uncertainty, “Will we get alms food offered in this small town? Where will be sleep tonight? Is it going to storm?” Tudong can be used as a period of time to set down the planning mind that tries to control the future. In such situations the mind can become more sensitive and intuitive. Allowing oneself to surrender to the present can provide the opportunity for many wonderful, unplanned and nearly magical situations to occur.
Tan Thanavaro and I set off on May 7th with the blessings of the community to be away for a week. Debbie and Beth offered to drive us from the monastery to the tiny town of Westport, CA about 16 miles north of Fort Bragg. Mettika, the founder of Three Jewels Dhamma Hall in Fort Bragg put out word to several people about the tudong. As a result we had places to stay in Westport and Fort Bragg.
Finding places to stay ended up not being that difficult and we received food in every town that we walked through (and Westport has a population of 60 people)! In the towns of Albion and Elk, we weren’t even going on alms-round and received food offering (the population of Albion is 168 and Elk is 208). The most difficult aspect of the walk was the hardness of the road surface and after two days of walking my feet were really sore. If I do a tudong in the future, I’ll hopefully do several months of training before setting out.
It’s hard to say what was the best part of the tudong: the natural beauty of the land and sea, the people we met, the generosity, the solitude and time for meditation… Certainly all of these were present during this tudong and it probably isn’t important to pick one aspect as a favorite.
The tudong ended with an invitation from our good friends at Pomo Tierra Ranch, near Boonville, CA where we spent the last night. The next morning we were offered a home-made breakfast and one of the residents drove us back to Abhayagiri.
“Just Enough”, a talk given by Ajahn Jotipālo after returning from this tudong