donderdag 17 december 2015

Sri Lanka Pilgrimage - Dambulla caves, Anuradhapura and Kelaniya Temple

Our journey went further North, leaving the tea fields and the Kandy plateau behind us. We arrived at the hot planes of Anuradhapura. On the way, we stopped at the Dambulla cave temple complex. There are five caves with statues, stupas and wall paintings.
Dambulla caves from the outside
Buddha statue at Dambulla caves
Stupa in Dambulla caves
Moving on, we arrived in Anuradhapura, welcomed by a torrential downpour, the likes of which I have not seen very often (although I'm used to Indian monsoons!). Anuradhapura has been Sri Lanka's capital for many centuries, and successive kingdoms have left behind many impressive sites. But perhaps the foremost place to visit, is the Bodhi tree, the Jaya Shri Maha Bodhi. The Buddha had foreseen that Sri Lanka would be a place were his teachings would be upheld for a long time, and blessed the country with three visits. He came, as it is recorded in the sutra's, neither through land nor through water. But at the time of his visit the teachings did not yet spread. That was to happen during the reign of the great king Ashoka, whose very own son Mahendra and daughter Sangamitta came to Sri Lanka to establish the Sangha. It was Sangamitta who brought a sapling of the original Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya to Sri Lanka and planted it here. Now, it is reputedly the oldest known plant planted by humans in the world.

Reciting Miphams practice of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Aspiration to Good Actions
The actual tree is quite small, since it was planted in a golden pot and thus never became very large. It is supported by several beams. Surrounding it are larger specimen of the fig tree.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
The ancient city is huge, and we continued our journey to the Thuparamaya stupa. It is considered the first stupa or Pagoda in Sri Lanka, and was build by King Devanampiyatissa at the request of Ashoka's son himself, Mahendra, to house the right collar bone of the Buddha.

Thuparamaya
Probably the Mirisawetiya Stupa
Ruins in the ancient capital
Our final visit for the day was the Jetavanaramaya stupa. It is a very important stupa, since it represents the tension between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is also the largest structure of the ancient world, and one of the tallest.

Jetavanaramaya stupa

Sculpture of a Mahayana Bodhisattva
Paintings in the small temple tell us the history of the stupa
A lot of planning preceded our arrival, and we were greeted with traditional dances.

Dance performance in front of Jetavanaramaya stupa
Around hundred monks had been requested to bless us with the recitation of a few sutras. They recited the Ratana sutta, the Mangala sutta, the Metta sutta and also the first ever giving discourse by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment, the Dhammachakkappwattana sutta. A recording of the melodious chants can be listened to here. We offered the monks new robes, and in turn the main abbots offered Buddha statues to the three main monks in our delegation.

Distribution of monk robes, headed by Philip and Tashi-laa

Offering of a Buddha statue by the abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist university

The venerable monks
Sutra in Pali script
Wild elephant on the way to Colombo
Kelaniya Temple

Finally, we left for Colombo, where we visited the Kelaniya Temple. Buddhists believe the temple to have been hallowed during a visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, eight years after gaining enlightenment. The temple contains some of the most beautiful paintings in the Buddhist world, made by local artist Solias Mendis. He visited the Ajanta and Elora caves, and mixed Indian with Sri Lankan art. The paintings depict the life story of the Buddha, his visit's to Sri Lanka and also the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

One of the Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka
One of the paintings depicts Buddhagosa, Sri Lanka's most renowned scholar. The interpretations provided by Buddhaghosa have generally constituted the orthodox understanding of Theravada scriptures since at least the 12th century CE. Buddhagosa came from India, and visited Sri Lanka in order to find a commentary which has been lost in India. In Anuradhapura Buddhagosa requested to study all the texts in the Pali canon. In order to test him, the monks asked him to write a treatise summarizing the meaning of the scriptures. He wrote it, but at night it disappeared. Again he wrote it, and again it disappeared. Then finally, the third time it did not disappear. When he went to present his composition to the monks, suddenly all three texts appeared. The texts were identical and thus he passed his trials. This text is the Visuddhimagga, the Path of Purification, which is a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation.

Buddhagosa presenting his composition

Also the ceilings are filled with exquisite paintings 
The statues doing their daily job of upholding the temple
The story goes that one of the times the Buddha visited Sri Lanka (you can read more about the Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka here), he came in order to pacify a conflict two kings where about to engage in, because of a huge jewel. They offered the Jewel to the Buddha, who then sat on it. He said 'now it is mine', but then he gave it back, after which a stupa was build to enshrine it.

The stupa build at the spot the Buddha visited Sri Lanka
That concluded the pilgrimage. Needles to say we need to thank Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche, all the other lamas and monks, and everybody else who volunteered to make this pilgrimage possible. Special mention should be made however to venerable Manjushri, who relentlessly helped organize everything, and was an unfathomable source of information.

Bhikkhu Manjushri 

Buddham saranam gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go to the Sangha for refuge.






Sri Lanka pilgrimage - Kandy and the Sacred Tooth Temple

With three buses almost a hundred people we continued the journey to other sacred places of Sri Lanka, first in the direction of Kandy. Thanks to Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche and other courageous volunteers, we travelled in style and firstly enjoyed a grand buffet at the outskirts of Kandy. 

Buffet near Kandy
The first thing scheduled was a dance performance of the famed Kandyan dance style. The dance, just as any practice done at most Tibetan monasteries, started with a blowing of the conch. After that, when the drums started, the whole audience was mesmerized. I'm not someone who visits theatres a lot, but this was certainly thrilling. Dance acts followed up in rapid succession, never becoming boring. 

Kandyan Dance

video
Most of the dance is performed as an offering to the Buddha. At the end the dancers showed their courage by walking on burning coals, and rolling flames alongside their body and on their tongue. The fire dance goes back to the myth of Seetha, Ram, and the demon Ravana.

Playing with fire

Description of the dances part 1
Description of the dances part 2

The next day the main attraction was planned, the Sacred Tooth temple, or Sri Dalada Maligawa. 

Temple of the Sacred Tooth from across the lake
When the Buddha passed away, he was cremated in a sandalwood pyre. Then, the Arhat Kema
obtained the sacred tooth of the Buddha. It was kept in India, in Kalinga, until it was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. In the main hall, beautiful paintings portray an elaborate history of the tooth relic. The tooth has a special shrine room dedicated to it, and musical offerings are made a few times a day. It is only displayed to the public once every few years. Since we travelled in a large group we were fortunate and were allowed to -quickly- visit the inner shrine room.

Main shrine hall (thanks to Boon for the photo)
Painting portraying the Arhat Kema obtaining the tooth relic
Bodhi trees abound in Sri Lanka. This is the one at the sacred tooth temple
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Lighting candles
For budget travellers, Kandy certainly has some cheaper places to stay and dine. We stayed in a double room for 2000 rupees and had an elaborate breakfast for 4 persons at a large middle class restaurant for only 800 rupees 






woensdag 16 december 2015

Sri Lanka pilgrimage - practice at Sri Pada and climbing the peak

Sri Lanka's holiest mountain is called Adam's peak, since Christian's and Muslims believe it is the place where Adam first set foot on the earth. For Buddhists, it is called Sri Pada, meaning 'sacred or glorious foot', referring to the footprint the Buddha Shakyamuni left on the peak of the mountain. Buddhism is known for it's various teachings, differing according to beings perceptions. Not surprisingly, there are thus also different views regarding this place. The Theravadins assert that lord Buddha Shakyamuni came here and blessed the place with his footprint, in one of his three visits to Shri Lanka. Vajrayana Buddhism does not dispute this, but the place takes on an even greater significance, since this is the place where the tantras have been taught for the first time in the human realm. Here we also come across names like Mount Malaya, or Namchag Barwa, which means 'blazing meteorite iron mountain'. It is here where Vajrasattva appeared in actuality, and where the Five Excellent Ones of Sublime Nobility received the tantras of the mahayoga and anuyoga. Therefore we can say that for tantric Buddhist, this place is comparable to Deer Park, where the Buddha Shakyamuni gave his first sermon. 

Magnificent views of Sri Pada on the way to Kandy
Headed by Neten Chokling Rinpoche and Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche, and Mindroling monastery's Gyalse Rinpoche, Dakpo Tulku and the Umdze, Tulku Jikdral, we performed an elaborate drupchen practice of Vajrasattva, the Minling Dorsem. The Minling Dorsem is renowned for being one of the most authentic practices, since it's revealer and composer, Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje, followed the tantras to the letter. Therefore, it has been placed by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche as the very first sadhana in the great collection of revealed treasures, the Rinchen Terdzo, which contains over a hundred volumes. Thus it was more then appropriate to perform this particular practice. And as the Theravadin monk Manjushri said in front of a large gathering of Bikshus and the abbot of Abhayagiri University, it is probably the firs time ever a Vajrasattva practice or drupchen has been done in Sri Lanka

As always, the great mastermind behind everything was Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche. The drupchen and pilgrimage had been in the planning for years. Since Sri Lanka is quite expensive as compared to other places in the Himalayan region, the logistics of performing a big practice and feeding over a hundred people in a this remote area, and other reasons, it took many years before it could finally happen.

Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche giving an introduction
to the place and the practice

Neten Chokling Rinpoche bestowing the Abhisheka

Placing the substances in the mandala house

Elaborate offerings were made


Light offerings

Orgyan Tobgyal Rinpoche answering questions about the practice
To enhance this sacred place even further, and to ensure that no breakages or faults would be able to obscure it, we did an elaborate 'descent of blessings' written by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, which took around 20 minutes. An excerpt:

The glorious heruka delightfully liberated
All the classes of dualism's demons.
Then from their aggregates, the immeasurable palace arose.
All you, inhabiting the vajra city of the three seats;
Protectors of the realms, protectors of the directions, nagas,
And mamo's of the sacred places and lands,
Come here to this sacred vajra place!
Bless this place as indivisible
From the great blazing charnel ground,
And transform it into a grove for vidyadharas to gather!

Bringing down the blessings


Most of the time, Sri Pada was shrouded in clouds.

It was only possible to hold the drupchen off-season, and the monsoon was not completely over yet. We experienced nothing but clouds for two weeks. But at the day of receiving the siddhis, the clouds wondrously opened up and the sky was completely clear.
Finally, the clouds cleared a bit and Sri Pada could be seen fully
The receiving of the siddhis

OTR personally handed out the sacred pills
which were blessed during the drupchen
Climbing to the peak

Without break, after having concluded the ritual, we ascended Sri Pada. Most people started climbing at 12 o'clock at night, but some of us left at 3:30 and arrived before 6 am. Normally, that would be on time to see a grandiose sunrise, but the clouds would not let it. 

No breathtaking sunrise, only clouds. 
Prayer flags were hung and we performed a long smoke offering from the Chokling Tersar.


Hanging prayer flags on top of Sri Pada
Smoke offerings are made on top of Sri Pada
Chokling Rinpoche himself hoisting the offering tormas
We had been told the shrine holding the sacred footprint would be opened at 6 am for an hour or so, but unfortunately the shrine was not opened at all off-season.

The little shrine of the Buddha's footprint
But nevertheless, while descending the clouds occasionally cleared and we could still enjoy some nice views.


While descending the clouds cleared slightly and we still had some spectacular views

The peace pagoda at the foot of Sri Pada

The local god Saman or Samantha, who is the guardian of the mountain,


Most likely Ganesh, another guardian god for the Buddha's teachings.
Buddha in reclining posture
More information and references can be found at at Wikipedia,  Buddhanet and so on.