In search of insight | Sunday Observer

In search of insight

24 June, 2018

The attraction for pilgrims on Poson Poya is Anuradhapura with Mihintale which is of enormous spiritual significance to Sri Lankans as the cradle of Buddhism. While the feeling of seclusion and tranquility still exists in this lovely, relatively isolated location, I decided to take a glimpse into the hermitages (Aranya Senasanayas) that support a community of meditative Bhikkus.

Sri Lanka’s Buddhists follow the classic, historical Theravada teaching. Guided by monastic orders and the ancient Pali canon, meditative practice varies from the simple to the profound. It is practised by all ordained monks to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the routines of each hermitage.

The Vippassana Dhura Bhikkus are mainly contemplative, in which Vippassana Bhavana insight meditation is the dominant and central theme and experience. These contemplative communities live mostly in secluded woodland hermitage complexes (Aranya), in rock shelters, caves, cob huts or cells, collectively called kuti, which blend simplicity and serenity and provide a subdued but effective expression of the essence of Buddhism.

In fact, insight meditation employs many techniques and subjects. One of the most widely used is Anapanasati, the concentration on rhythmic inhalation and exhalation of breath. Though not mandatory, stylised traditional practices are often used in meditation as they lend rhythm and form to the routines. These include sitting in cross-legged posture and walking with a slow measured tread.

­­However, it is not an exaggeration that Buddhism is always associated with Nature, trees and streams. So far, some forest reserves in the island have been protected due to Buddhist hermitages which are located inside these forests. Thus, the essential spirit of seclusion and solitude of hermitage life is preserved while protecting forest reserves­.

The tradition of secluded contemplative hermitages goes back to the pre-Christian beginnings of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. At Arankele, Ritigala and a few reputed Buddhist hermitages around the country, rock shelters and a strikingly handsome meditative walkway (Sakman Maluwa) or dressed granite slabs, give a fascinating glimpse of an ancient contemplative life. It is rich in history and natural beauty with wooded forests. It always remains one of my favourite photography destinations.