August 2016


Tranquil bliss at thapowanaya
August 2016




Disciplined, every step the monks take reflect their spiritual training

Enter the Garden of Gothama, the meditational retreat for monks and the laity set in a forest of flowers, trees and rocks on the fringes of Colombo.


Words Manu Gunasena | Photography Isuru Upeksha


It may not be that far from the the city's hustle and bustle but the Gothama Thapowanaya off Rajagiriya has served for the last 54 years to be the idyllic seclusion for the restless meandering mind to find inner peace through meditation.


Like a troubled ship on storm tossed seas finds a haven in a safe port, turmoil find sublime release as they strive to gain spiritual bliss in this green enclave of tranquility by following the path of Gautama the Buddha and practising the meditative techniques he expounded.


The site was then an eight acre rubber estate when the Thapowanaya founder the Venerable Kudawelle Wangeesha Maha Nayake Thera happened to chance upon it. The monk, who had undergone training in meditation under a Burmese monk, had been searching for a secluded spot to realise his vision of establishing a meditation retreat for monks and laymen. He found the perfect, idyllic spot here at Kalapaluwawa, Mulleriyawa-New Town, near Ambagaha Thanne. Thus was born the Gothama Thapowanaya as we know it today.


Its purpose was twofold. One it was to be a centre promoting compassion. The other was to promote wisdom. In pursuance of the former, the chief monk established a medical sanatorium for meditating monks in the outstations who came to Colombo for medical treatment and needed a place to stay whilst they recuperated. The monk also established an orphanage for boys with planned programmes to help them upon reaching adulthood. Both institutions still exist with the boys' home and vocational training centre presently having 35 inmates. The centre has also been extended and is now 12 acres in extent.To achieve his aim of the centre becoming one where wisdom blossomed, the visionary monk had to first create the correct ambience to make wisdom bloom. And thus he began his noble task to turn the rubber estate into a forest of diverse trees where, nestled in nature's bosom, the human spirit thrives best. He adopted a novel way of making the forest grow.


Though the chief monk was a strict disciplinarian the methods he used to bring to line the truancy sometimes displayed by the young novices he had taken under his tutelage but used the occasions of mischief to teach a lifelong lesson on the value of protecting and fostering the natural environment, by using to ‘plant a tree'.


As the Venerable Mithabani Thera, who was one of the errant novices and upon whom the mantle of responsibility fell when the chief monk passed away in 1982, describes: "We were never caned when we were naughty. Instead we were asked to slice an empty king coconut into two halves and then to drill a hole at the base of each half. Then it would be left to dry for a few days. Then we had to fill it with soil. When we paid the regular visit to the Thapowanaya that had been set up in Kandy, we had to search for seeds that had fallen from mighty trees that grew there and embed it in the coconut halves. When we returned, we had to plant the saplings that grew in the ‘king coconut nursery' between the rubber trees. That is how this forest of trees was created."

Today these trees... are the endearing result of the late chief monk’s pragmatic outlook on how to discipline to bear a positive fruit.


Today these trees, enduring evidence of childhood skiving, are the endearing result of the late chief monk's pragmatic outlook on how to discipline to bear a positive fruit. Amongst the many trees that have taken deep root are Ebony, Banyan, Blackwood, Mahogany, Sandalwood and Bo.


It is in such serene surroundings, so conducive to dawn spiritual calmness, that today 38 monks in their own individual kutis practise vidharsana bhavana or ‘insight meditation' probing in silent contemplation the reality of the true inner self.


A regiment governs the order of the day. The wooden gong sounds at 4.30am heralding the imminent break of dawn. The monks rise and, after their ablutions, make way to the dana salawa, to partake their morning meal. Then they clean the premises of fallen leaves and sweep the ground, each having being allotted a specific area for which they are responsible. The accent is on a clean environment.


Thereafter they return to the kutis to resume their meditations. None watches over their progress for a monk's spiritual development cannot be forced by any external agency - as best guided but no more. Some adopt the lotus pose, some engage in walking in contemplation referred to as sakman bhavana.


At 10.30 the wooden gong is struck again. It is the signal to leave their kutis to accept whatever food is offered by the laity who line the path with their food utensils ready to fill the bowls the monks carry with them as they come in line at a dignified sedate pace. This is the daily pindapatha. Some return to their kutis to consume their midday meal before the sun reaches high noon as the Buddhist code of disciplines laid down for monks dictates. Some remain in the dana salawa to consume their meal. Thereafter, they are left to pursue their meditations and will not emerge from the seclusion of their kutis or immediately surrounding areas till the gong is sounded again the next day at 4.30am.


Monks of other temples who desire to practise meditation at the Thapowanaya are also welcome. They are required to fill an application form and must be recommended by their temple cheif priest. If they are found to be suitable they will be granted a week's probationary period at the end of which only those genuinely striving to gain higher planes of the mind will be granted extensions.


The same procedure applies to the laity, both men and women who are provided kutis in a different area of the woodland. They too are required to send in their applications with past meditational experience, if any. They will be accepted for a week if found to be worthy by the chief monk of the Thapowanaya.


The same regiment that applies to monks applies to them. Except for one difference. Every evening they must meet the chief monk who will assess their progress and determine whether they had striven with diligence or remained idle through the day. Only those found worthy will be allowed to prolong their stay. Lodging and food for both guest monks and the lay people are free.


On Poya days, from morning to evening a meditational training course is conducted for all. The Gothama Thapowanaya also has five other meditational centres based in Kandy, Mihintale, Kegalle, Padaviya and Kataragama.

 

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    The path leading to one of the meditational kutis

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    The Buddha statue enhances the spiritual environment

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    A tranquil walk through Thapowanaya

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    The magnificient trees shade the tangled web of life's jungle

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    The Samadhi Buddha statue in the temple hall

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