Bardwell Smith’s Top Books on Pilgrimage

14 April 2016

Professor Bardwell Smith, who will be giving a talk on walking the pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku in Japan this Thursday, April 7th, handpicks his favorite 15 books on pilgrimage and journeys:

1. Phil Cousineau: The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred

Geared toward the modern-day pilgrim looking for inspiration and spiritual tools for the road, The Art of Pilgrimage weaves stories, myths, parables, and quotations from famous travelers of the past with practical suggestions and accounts of people on the sacred way today.

2. Oliver Statler: Japanese Pilgrimage

‘Japanese Pilgramage’ is Oliver Statler’s account of walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a thousand-mile trek around the fourth largest island in Japan following the path of an ancient Buddhist master. It is a fascinating story of a spiritual journey that shows the many sides of Japan.

3. Rene Grousset: In the Footsteps of Buddha

Sketches of the portraits of some of the great characters of the time, from the founders of Chinese imperialism and of the T’ang dynasty to their contemporaries Hsuan-tsang and I-ching, the pious pilgrims whose travels across the Gobi desert and the Pamir plateau or along the shores of the South Seas equal in interest those of our most daring explorers, down to the thinkers and sages whose speculations attained, in the realm of metaphysics, horizons yet more vast.

 4. Monk-Hui Li: The Life of Xuanzang: the Tripitaka-Master of the Great Tzu En Monastery

A biography of Buddhist monk Xuanzang translated from Chinese under the auspices of the San Shih Buddhist Institute.

5. Arthur Waley: The Real Tripitaka and Other Pieces

A scholarly but readable account by Arthur Waley of several great Buddhist pilgrims, including Hsuan Tsang, Ennin, and Ensai, as well as many other stories from the Chinese and Japanese. 

6. Samuel Beal: Si-yu-ki, Buddhist Records of the Western world

These records derive from the travels of numerous Buddhist pilgrims from China and Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent and its sacred sites and universities, beginning in the early 5th Century.

7. Ennin’s Diary: The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law

A Translation of the diary written in Chinese by the Japanese Buddhist monk Ennin, or Jikaku Daishi during his travels in China between 838-847 AD.

 8.  Edwin O. Reischauer: Ennin’s Travels in T’ang China

A companion novel to Reischauer’s translation of Ennin’s diary providing the reader with detailed information and a richly cultural, religious, and historical perspective of T’ang dynasty China in the ninth century.

9. D. B. Mokashi: Palkhi: An Indian Pilgrimage

A vivid account of Marathi novelist Mokashi’s 1961 experience for fifteen days by foot on Warkari pilgrimage from Alandi to Pandharpur. 

10. Shiro Usui: Pilgrim’s Guide to Forty-Six Temples


11. Tsutae Nara: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

The volume covers Nara’s experiences in China from 1939 to 1946 and is basically about Christianity in action during World War II as seen through the experience of a man who was a long-term representative of the National Council of YMCA’s of Japan. 

12. Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World

A sailing memoir about Slocum’s circumnavigation around the globe sailing solo in his sloop, the Spray.

13. Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloe Sayer: The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico


An exhibition catalogue depicting the enormous variety of festivals, artwork, rituals, and ofrenda offerings connected with ‘dias de muertos’.

 14. Bill Bryson: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

15. John Muir: Nature Writings: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth; My First Summer in the Sierra; The Mountains of California; Stickeen

In a lifetime of exploration, writing, and passionate political activism, John Muir became America’s most eloquent spokesman for the mystery and majesty of the wilderness. A crucial figure in the creation of our national parks system and a far-seeing prophet of environmental awareness who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, he was also a master of natural description who evoked with unique power and intimacy the untrammeled landscapes of the American West.These essays highlight various aspects of his career: his exploration of the Grand Canyon and of what became Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks, his successful crusades to preserve the wilderness, his early walking tour to Florida, and the Alaska journey of 1879.