Spent part of yesterday at an amazing World Heritage Site called Sigiriya, where almost a couple thousand years ago a dude named Kashyapa killed his father to become king, but his brother also wanted to be king, and between the people still loyal to his dad and the people supporting his brother, he lived the rest of his life in fear. And out of fear, he built the most impressive castle and evildoers’ lair I have ever seen. There is this giant, huge rock outcropping that rises maybe 20 stories or more, and he turned it into his citadel of fear. It’s stunning, beautiful and yet creepy, cuz you know the guy was never really free. He was always looking over his shoulder for when his brother would finally come and try to take it back. Which he did 18 years later. Meanwhile he had 500 wives, the paintings on the walls are pretty lascivious, basically what you would see in a cheezy Miami Mafioso’s house, and so it’s kind of like an ancient Scarface retreat thing. He invented amazing technology to get water up to the very top, (which scientists still can’t figure out) where there’s all kinds of amenities, including a big swimming pool, amazing views, but also kind of a prison, Today heading to the Golden Temple and the Dambulla Caves.
Today I went with a very good group to visit the most holy shrine in Lanka, Sri Maha Bodhi. The name refers to a tree, but it is much more than a tree. When the Buddha finally got enlightenment, he stood and stared with gratitude for a whole week at this tree under which he had sat as he came into awareness. And so the tree itself became perhaps the most powerful and wonderful symbol of Buddhism. When King Ashoka converted India to Buddhism, his daughter brought a planting from the original tree (which at this point was not that long after Buddha really was there) to Sri Lanka, and in 288 BC planted it, making the tree here the oldest living known plant planted by a human being. Because it’s still there, the original tree. They normally only live 500 years, but this one is 2300 years old! It has a new shoot coming off of the original part, so that means it’s still vital. Even the tree in India died and was replanted from a sapling, so this one is actually older than the Bodhi tree in India. The whole site is amazing, and we had a magical time walking around and just revering it. I wish I could have spent more time here.
Please enjoy this young monk singing one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard, sung under the Bodhi tree.
I have arrived in Anuradhapura, and am finally feeling grounded here in Lanka.
I am going to be spending some time at Islander, an amazing place where Sri Lankans from all areas of the country can come together in a safe space. Islander had a huge role to play when there was nowhere else that people from different parts of Sri Lankan society and culture could safely meet. During the war, Islander was ground zero for peace. Harsha, my host, and Sewalanka, the organization that he founded, are behind it, and so it’s a particularly honorific way for me to be here. I am traveling with some amazing people, including Dharmachari Lokamitra, a Buddhist practitioner who works for the social transformation of Dalits (historically known as India’s “untouchables,” the most subordinated of the Braminical castes). Through his work, over 650 Dalits have found a new life, transformed by the dhamma.
Nirmal, who is my liaison, is helping me make a plan for my stay. Venerable Manjusri Thero, a monk unlike any I have met, is going to be taking me around once Lokamitra and his family head back to India.
We will visit Sri Maha Bodhi, and then Mihintale, and then Wilpattu National Park, and then other historical sites in Lanka. I am starting to get the “I am heading home” feeling.
What I learned in the last 10 days about the plight of the tiger is actually the best news I have heard about this endangered species…ever! Iding Haidir, a Park Ranger at Kerinci National Park, led me on an amazing trek to the heart of the park, and in addition to being my guide, taught me a great deal about tigers, conservation as it’s really done in the field, and a lot about Islam as well.
There is nothing like the rain forest to ground your soul. It was great, but glad to be done; it was grueling. Did not see any tigers in the wild. Thank goodness actually. Saw hornbills, sambar deer, langur monkey, soaked and swam in a hot river (heated by volcanic action), harvested date palm and wild mushroom and we cooked it, probably caught over 200 fish for the four of us, and prepared them every way under the sun.
So this was really a great experience. A lot more to say, and it will soon be said right here. In 10 minutes a cab picks me up to take me to Padang Airport, where I go to Jakarta, then Bangkok, then Columbo, Sri Lanka.
Everything’s approved! We have a guide, Iding, who is none other than the main guy in charge of the Tiger Programme at Kerinci National Park, an amazing porter who I spent most of yesterday shopping with, buying almost one million Rupiah’s of food, and probably another porter, and we’re going to Sipurak, in the heart of Kerinci National Park! Leaving in about ten minutes. Obviously, the chances of seeing a tiger in the wild are terribly small, but nonetheless this is supposed to be an amazing place to trek to, and who knows? And just being where they thrive will be a thrill.