Out of retreat for a week
I came out from Na Uyana on Monday, 22 March, this week, went to Kandy for a day to shop at the Buddhist Publication Society. On Tuesday, 23 March I took an early train to Colombo, extended my Sri Lanka visa for another 3 months until 30 June and went to the Buddhist Cultural Centre bookshop at 125 Anderson Road, Nedimala, Dehiwala (southern suburb of Colombo). I’ve also been shopping for new reading glasses and other small items. While in Kandy and Colombo, I’ve been keeping eight precepts as usual and going around dressed in white shirt and loose trousers. Perhaps some foreigners looking at me might imagine that I forgot to change out of my pyjamas before leaving my hotel… I have two sets of these clothes that I had tailor-made in Kandy back in January. I wash one set each day.
I’ll head back to Na Uyana tomorrow, Sunday, 28 March and be out of e-mail contact again until the end of June 2010. I plan to return to Perth, Western Australia to look for a job, save money and maybe travel again a year or so later. During that period from June onwards, I should be able to make regular updates to this blog and write e-mails. [UPDATED]
Stuart Keyes, an Irish meditator and I are jointly purchasing about $1000 of Dhamma books for the Na Uyana Aranya library. The Pali Text Society books are the most expensive. Their high cost is one of the obstacles to further spreading the Dhamma. We bought some Roman text Paali books such as the Vinaaya Pitaka, some translations into English of some of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the entire Vinaaya Pitaka and many of the translated commentaries. We also bought other books requested by some members of the Na Uyana Sangha about the early history of Buddhism and other topics. At the last minute, I also bought a selection of recently published Sinhala language books on Buddhist topics including the Visuddhimagga and two Abhidhamma volumes (not sure what because I can’t read Sinhala).
These donations and other merit (pu~n~na) accumulated in this life may be a cause for the arising of wisdom in the future and may support the realisation of Nibaana. We plan to ceremonially donate the books on Tuesday next week. We will share the merits with departed relatives and invite the devas to rejoice.
Na Uyana Aranya
Na Uyana is a great place for experienced male yogis to meditate, notwithstanding the great library collections. There are about 10-15 foreign bhikkhu and samanera and currently about 4 foreign lay yogis on eight precepts (including me). Among the foreign robed monastics, about 5-6 appear to be of East Asian origin. There are also one or two Indian origin bhikkhus. There maybe about 100-150 Sri Lankan bhikkhus and samanera and about 15 Sri Lankan lay men practicing on eight precepts. This is a male only monastery. Women may visit during the day, especially the mornings, but never stay overnight. There is a nearby nunnery for women, though I don’t know much about it.
The senior teacher and abbot is Venerable Na Uyana Ariyadhamma. He is away on a 6 month teacher’s retreat at Pa Auk Tawya, Myanmar and may not return until late June or early July. So right now, Venerable Ariyaananda is the acting abbot and main teacher. Ven. Ariyaananda is excellent and very skillful in the Dhamma as well as managing the largest monastery in Sri Lanka – about 500 acres.
This monastery maybe the main meditation monastery for the Galduva sect of the Ramanna nikaaya. The Galduva sect may be the most strict in vinaaya within Sri Lanka and seem to have some friendly connections with the Pa Auk Sayadaw and Ajahn Chah traditions. Ven Pa Auk Sayadaw and some of the Ajahn Chah bhikkhus have visited Na Uyana in the past. There is even a special kuti built for Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw to use whenever he visits.
The land covers a large area with many hills covered with trees. There are lovely views from the tops of hills and on some look-out spots. I’ve walked around most of it. There is a lot of variety in vegetation with some jungle areas, some regrowth forests apparently managed by the Sri Lankan Government as a renewable timber resource (not sure though). There are no elephants or large animals except two varieties of monkeys. There are snakes and many kinds of insects.
There are some concrete paths to kutis but many paths are not paved and become muddy in the rains. Food is always vegetarian and suits me and the other foreigners I’ve spoken with. Neither I nor the others have any tummy problems, so this suits us more than Myanmar. The weather varies with the seasons. It was cooler when I arrived in January. Now it is warmer. It hasn’t rained much in the three months so far. They tell me it will rain more from mid April onwards.
In my opinion, Na Uyana may not be a good place for beginners because yogis are supposed to be self-motivated and largely on their own as far as practice goes. You get out of it what you put in to it. There is no background course in Buddhism or anything else for that matter. It seems that most foreigners who come here have a lot of experience already and have come to consolidate and practice intensively. Even so, advice on anaapanasati meditation is available. Also yogis may be encouraged to do Buddhanusati, Asubha (32 parts of the body) and develop metta among other objects.
Ven. Ariyaananda has practiced Mahasi Sayadaw method of vipassana meditation and is relaxed about yogis doing this if they prefer. The Pa Auk system is the default system of meditation here though. There seems to be some exchange of bhikkhus between Pa Auk Tawya and Na Uyana, though during the past three months there have been no Myanmar Monks (or Thai monks) at Na Uyana Aranya.
Michael’s kuti and meditation
My own kuti is exposed to the afternoon sun and a little hot then. Even so, I’m comfortable enough and grateful to sleep in a kuti at this wonderful place. It is very quiet and peaceful, not counting animal noises. My kuti is halfway up a tall hill facing west and at the end of a path. Usually my only visitors are one or two troupes of monkeys who drop by to play on my kuti roof and eat from the nearby trees.
I’ve been doing anaapanasati most of the time with Buddhanusati, Asubha and Metta here and there. I have made some progress but still have a way to go yet. I feel contented most of the time.
I haven’t posted any photos of Na Uyana Aranya yet. I may do so when I have more time after returning to Australia, maybe sometime in July 2010?
Men who have already been to Wat Pa Nanachat and Pa Auk Tawya, and would like to investigate another place before committing to ordination should consider Na Uyana as an option. There is good support for Samanera and Bhikkhus. Ordinations take place once a year in June. It seems that usually, candidates for ordination spend a few months practising as an eight precept layman, then a year as a samanera before possibly ordaining as a bhikkhu. This is the same whether one is a foreigner or a Sri Lankan. There is an expectation that ordination is for life though there is no control of that. Temporary ordinations are becomming more popular in Sri Lanka at other monasteries in other sects/nikaayas but not with Galduva. Temporary ordinations are a relatively new concept in Sri Lanka. The vinaaya is strict so no money is used or kept by monastics. Most of the monastics are in full-time retreat though there seems to be flexibility to work on various projects as preferred. The foreign monastics use Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes 1 & 2 as the main text for studying the vinaaya. All monastics seem to be very well supported at Na Uyana. New kutis are being constructed here and there in the forests. Most kutis are constructed from concrete and brick with concrete roofs. They all have mosquito screens on windows and most have ensuite shower and toilet. A new daana saala (food hall) is almost complete and this will facilitate donations by visiting lay people as well as provide a more comfortable place to eat meals.
These notes about Na Uyana are not official in any way.These are my own observations and comments only. I prefer not to take queries on Na Uyana. Instead I recommend that all questions be directed to Ven. Ariyadhamma or Ven. Ariyaananda at Na Uyana.
Where is Na Uyana Aranya?
Na Uyana is near Pansiyagama village. Many Sri Lankans in Kandy and Colombo have never heard of Pansiyagama or even of Na Uyana Aranya. It depends on one talks with. Pansiyagama is a small village on the road between Melsiripura and Na Uyana. Buses stop there.
Na Uyana Aranya
From Colombo or Kandy: Take a bus or train etc. to Kurunegala.
If you are coming from the north, via Dambulla, then travelers don’t have to go as far as Kurunegala, just get off at Melsiripura and find a bus going to Pansiyagama.
From Kurunegala: Take a bus to Pansiyagama via Melsiripura. Get a bus from the main Kurunegala bus terminal (about 40-50 km? it takes about 1 hour travel time with many stops, no luggage stowage – you carry on board)
From Pansiyagama: Take a three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) to Na Uyana Aranya (about 7km? costs about 150 rupees).
There are no trains passing through Melsiripura or Pansiyagama.
It is possible to hire a car or van with driver to take you one way from Kandy or Colombo to Na Uyana and this would be best if you had a group or were carrying a lot of gear for donations or whatever. A car or van with driver from Kandy may cost about 6000 plus rupees (A$60) while from Colombo (which is much further) it may cost about 8000 rupees (A$80). Trains and buses are much cheaper. A traveler might do the trip one way and buy water to drink along with way with the change from 500 rupees ($5).
Mailing books here and there…
This morning I went to Sri Lanka Post and arranged for 13kg of Dhamma books to Perth, Western Australia for about 4500 rupees (A$45). They will go surface mail. I’m not sure how long that will take. I don’t mind since I’ll be in retreat for the next three months. If anyone is considering mailing books, I recommend you put them in a sturdy cardboard box and don’t seal it until you’ve shown it to the post office staff. I went to the main post office in Colombo on the south side of the Fort Railway Station (the main Colombo railway station). The post office is open on Saturday mornings! The staff provided great service and there were not many customers when I was there. You might consider bringing along a roll of wide sticky tape to tape up the box. If you don’t bring it with you, you can buy it from another part of the post office about 100 metres away on the other side of the building. You will also need to label the “to” and “from” addresses and fill in a form with details. While I was there I chatted with staff about meditation, Buddhism etc. They all seemed pleased to meet me.
I also hired Pronto couriers to pick up and deliver 30kg of books from the Buddhist Cultural Centre in Colombo to Na Uyana Aranya for about 2500 rupees (A$25). They told me they would deliver within 24 hours of pick-up. I was lucky the Buddhist Cultural Centre found a suitable large box for the books. This was a relief for me since I didn’t have to hire a car or van to carry the books and take me to Na Uyana. It meant a saving of over 5000 rupees (A$50).
In many places I go in Sri Lanka, especially in shops and offices in Sri Lanka, people will ask me about my background and what I’m doing here. They are very friendly and impressed that I’m a Buddhist and come to Sri Lanka to meditate and study Dhamma. They usually smile and ask more questions.
Those who have studied Dhamma and meditated are the most impressed and most happy. They appreciate how rare it is to find the Buddha Dhamma and how rare it is for people to understand it and practice it. For example, yesterday I had a good chat on several Dhamma topics with the manager of the Buddhist Cultural Centre, Mr Sumedha Wijeyaratne. The BCC is a relatively large shop with a very good collection of Theravada Buddhist books. Unfortunately, the main shop is a bit far from the centre of Colombo and inconvenient to travel to. They are planning to open a new much larger shop in a more central location soon and this will be more convenient for travelers interesting in buying Buddhist books. Their website also has a online shopping facility.