Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka 2012 – The Places

Reflections by Venerable Bhikkhuni Seri

Aukana Buddha near Anuradhapura

 I am sharing with you through the prism of a bhikkhuni who visited Sri Lanka for the first time. We visited the major sacred sites and monasteries: Sri Maha Bodhi, The Great Stupa-Ruwanweliseya and the Jetavana Stupa, and Aukana Buddha statue in Anuradhapura, Gal Vihara and Polonnaruwa, Dambulla Rock Temple in Dambulla, Temple of Tooth Relic ( Sri Dalada Maligava ) in Kandy, Malwatta Raja Maha Vihara in Kandy, Kelaniya Temple  in Kelaniya and Ganga Arama in Colombo.

The pilgrimage group at Sri Maha Bodhi Anuradhapura

We went to Sri Maha Bodhi to pay respect and revere the Bodhi Tree which was grown from a cutting of the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha sat and attained Nibbana . I was moved by the people from the pilgrimage group and the people around. They carried Ajahn Vayama in her chair up the stairs to the terrace around the Bodhi tree. They made it possible for Ajahn to join in the puja and offerings. I had been trying hard to learn the verses to venerate the Bodhi Tree. It brought tears into my eyes when we had the opportunity to chant the verses:

The Sacred Bodhi Tree at Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura

Yassa Mule nisinova
Sabbari Vijayam aka
Patto sabbannu-tam sattha
Vande tam Bodhi padapam
Ime ete maha Bodhi
Loka nathena pujita
Ahampi te namassami
Bodhi Raja namatthu te.

The other significance of the Bodhi Tree for me as a Bhikkhuni is that the cutting of the Bodhi Tree was brought by Arahat Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta from India to Sri Lanka. Arahat Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta also brought the ordination of Bhikkhunis to Sri Lanka. I felt the connection to that event, as Ajahn Vayama was ordained in Sri Lanka in 1985. I got the opportunity to train and ordain as a Ten precept nun in Australia in 2004 with Ajahn Vayama. Later, in 2009, I ordained as a Bhikkhuni.

Ruwanvalisaya - the Great Stupa at Anuradhapura

Venerable Seri paying respect to the Great Stupa

This pilgrimage is very special  for me as I had the opportunity to go on pilgrimage to Sri Lanka with Ajahn Vayama who ordained and spent ten years there. Ajahn Vayama pointed out the places that she had sat and meditated during her last  pilgrimage in Sri Lanka in 1995 with her supporters Nanda and Chandra, especially Gal Vihara and Ruwanvalisaya . Nanda told me when they went to meditate at Ruwanvalisaya Stupa in Anuradhapura early in the morning . Two groups of pilgrims came and made a comment that a new statue was erected here when they saw Ajahn Vayama meditating  there!

Reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara

Ajahn Vayama’s favourite place is Gal Vihara. It has four Buddha statues in seated meditation, standing and Mahaparinibana postures that were carved out of one granite rock. They each have a beautifully serene and peaceful face. I also loved the space and surrounding of Gal Vihara. There is a feeling of peace and openness. We chanted  offerings to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as well as the Ratana Sutta.

Meditative Buddha at Gal Vihara

The Buddha Image in seated meditation position at Gal Vihara

At Gal Vihara, a man practising in the Vajayana tradition offered some money to Ajahn Vayama spontaneously. We told him  we do not accept money. After he found out we are from the Theravada Tradition, he made a comment about Theravada practises for one self ,and he practises for all beings. I smiled and walked away.

The Standing and Reclining Buddha Images at Gal Vihara

 I was reflecting upon his comment afterwards. Here we were, a group of pilgrims of four fold assembly, Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, layman and laywomen from different cultural backgrounds. We travelled in harmony, with great faith, generosity, kindness, compassion and patience, all the beautiful qualities that are mentioned in the teaching of the Buddha. We met many groups from Europe, China, Japan, Korea, US and the locals. I noticed the benovalent looks on their faces when they saw us helping Ajahn Vayama in her wheel chair to various places. Because  of our action, especially towards a disabled sangha member, all the beings seen and unseen that we met, rejoiced and were inspired to join in to help and share in the merits.  To me, our pilgrimage not just nourished our own heart but also  touched and benefitted all beings.

The Bodhi Tree at Dambulla Rock Temple

Dambulla Rock Temple left a strong impression on me because we spent some time meditating under the Bodhi Tree on top of the hill. I was also fond of Kandalama. The place that we stayed in was surrounded by forest, hills, water, monkeys, and more monkeys as well as other animals. We had the opportunity to share and to discuss the Dhamma together as a group on two separate afternoons. I also loved o be able to spend time doing walking meditation in the large open area outside our room surrounded by trees and monkeys.

View from Kandalama with Sigiriya in the distance

We arrived at Kelaniya Temple in Kelaniya on Sri Lanka’s Independence Day. The temple was packed with lay devotees in whites ( upasikas and upasakas ).  It was a hot, busy and chaotic day with people everywhere. But I was surrounded and uplifted by a sea of devotion and faith. It was amazing when Phalinee and the tour guide managed to get the white sea parted for us to wheel Ajahn Vayama through.

Looking at the Wall Paintings inside Kelaniya Temple

Ajahn Vayama was telling me about the famous wall painting of Arahat bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arriving with a sapling of Bodhi tree. She made sure I had the opportunity to see the painting. When I bowed down to the painting of Arahat Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta, I was moved to tears. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to follow the foot steps of the Venerable Bhikkhuni.

Wall Painting of Arahat Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arriving with a sapling of Bodhi Tree from India at Kelaniya Temple

I had a very good impression of Sri Lanka. I left Sri Lanka feeling inspired and with a heart nourished with faith,devotion, kindness and compassion.

Stupa at Ganga Arama Temple in Colombo

Ajahn Vayama and myself  especially would like to dedicate the merits of this pilgrimage to Sri Lanka to Millie Wong, a good friend who passed away on 14th February 2012. May she be at peace and may she have a favourable rebirth where she can continue to practise for the attainment of Nibbana!

 

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