A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 10 November 2008


The Way exists but not the traveller on it. Ancient Buddhist dictum

For the pilgrim the road is home. Reaching your destination seems nearly inconsequential. Andrew Schelling

A few days ago I made a comment on Singing Bear's excellent blog Flying Down Zed Alley about certain sympathies between Buddhism and Christianity, particularly early Celtic Christianity. I write about Buddhism from time to time on this blog - but Christianity also attracts me (and repels me at the same time, but that's another story!); and, of course, the whole culture, history and 'holiness' of Christianity underpins the Camino I'm on.

With all this mind, I was intrigued to read just now this short paragraph in Nicholas Shrady's book Sacred Roads: Adventures from the Pilgrimage Trail: Had either the Buddha or Christ chosen a secluded, stationary life, there would be no footsteps to follow. As it was, they both exalted the peripatetic condition, and they both showed us a Path; that one leads to Nirvana, and the other to salvation and eternal life, are two very different spiritual prospects, but in both cases it is the pilgrim, the soul seeking enlightenment, who must set off on the journey. As the Buddha lay on his deathbed, he offered his followers a simple, if telling, imperative: 'Walk on!'

Ultreia! or Ultreya! is a word deriving from the ancient Galician language (and originally from the Latin word ultra) which is difficult to translate exactly, but means something like 'Walk further!', 'Walk higher!', 'Onward!' or 'Walk on!'. Camino pilgrims often come across this word scrawled graffiti-like in underpasses, on walls and alongside the ubiquitous yellow arrows which point the Way.

Ultra means 'further', 'extreme', 'radical', 'beyond the norm'. The true end of the Spanish Camino is Fistera, Finisterre, Finis Terra, The End of the Earth, the Furthest Point West in Spain. The romance and promise of the West pervades much folklore, mythology and many spiritual and quasi-spiritual beliefs (eg there's the story of the lost kingdom of Atlantis).

As I approached Toulouse by the Canal du Midi this September, a cyclist on the opposite bank called out to me 'Ultreia!' in recognition, greeting, encouragement and blessing, with one arm held high in the air, the fingers of her hand pointing skywards.


Karen said...

Thankyou for your words and wisdom on el camino and Ultreia.
It is refreshing to read about the way from both Buddhist and Christian viewpoints.
I have just returned from the camino de Santiago- not yet having completed it , and I miss my friends who continue onwards through Galicia singing Ultreia!

Anonymous said...

i started the camino in 2010 - and i never returned. i didn't reach santiago (yet) and i am back "home" but i'm still on my way. daily life gets in the way and so i miss my camino so much. all i want is everything with an open mind.

huo c j said...

i am glad my Google for ultreia took me to your blog, which has been bookmarked. The search was a follow up on http://unascamino2011.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/what-is-a-pilgrimage-really-about/#comments reaching C de Santiago.
Must admit that your 4 trips along the Spanish was has me somewhat envious, but who knows when and where, after all, the Journey only be gins at the end. Meegwetch

Richard Gross said...

My wife and I walked the French Way last year. This year we walked part of the Portuguese Way. A slight correction to the Blog is that Cabo da Roca in Portugal is the most Westerly point in Continental Europe. Finnesterre is the most Westerly point in Spain. Buen Camino!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your correction, Richard. Buen Camino to you too!