Quick tour – Ritigala, Anuradhapura, Mahintale, Dambulla

Sri Lanka, June 2011

On Friday last week, Ven. Nyanatusita and I took a bus from Kandy to Matale and visited the Aluvihare Rock Temple. There were some interesting paintings and caves converted into small buildings. Many Sri Lankan pilgrims and a few foreign tourists were walking around.

A view looking West from the main gate up the hill toward the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011
A view looking east at a courtyard between boulders at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near a moustached lion figure at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

After walking around, we ate lunch and then took a bus north to Dambulla where we thought we might be able to climb the hill to see the cave paintings. We arrived around 2pm in the hottest part of the day. There were many pilgrims perhaps returning from the Poson Poya (possibly the most significant uposatha day in Sri Lanka – Thursday, 16 June 2011) celebrations in Anuradhapura and Mahintale. We heard a report that there were over 5000 Sri Lankan Police Officers mobilized to monitor over 1,000,000 pilgrims. We decided to visit the Dambulla caves another day and walked across the road to drink tea at the “Tourist Welfare Center”.

We then rode a three-wheeler towards Sigiriya stopping at a national park where we walked around inspecting the remains of an ancient meditation monastery.  I was very impressed with this place. It was quite overgrown in many parts and the paths not clear. We explored many old cave sites and found evidence of kutis being built hanging between large boulders. I felt inspired and imagined the ancient Sangha living on the site possibly over many hundreds of years.  After 2-3 hours we got back in the three-wheeler and continued on to the Pidurangala Temple located at the base of a large granite hill 800m north of the more famous Sigiriya. The young pirivena monks allowed us to stay the night in the dusty local village headman’s office including an ensuite occupied by many varieties of local frogs.

On Saturday morning, we climbed the stairs to view various cave kutis (meditation huts) and ruins. Unfortunately none of the kutis were occupied. Though looking well built on the outside, the kutis stank of bat faeces and needed repairs. We doubted any meditation monks would like to live there now because of the steady traffic of curious tourists and pilgrims walking by. We climbed up the hill and through some boulder strewn areas to reach the flat peak. I didn’t see the easy way at first and took a rather dangerous and steep climb with no supports.  We passed a young English woman on the way up who also later climbed the hard way. After a false start, I expressed respect for mutual bravery. Shortly afterwards some Sri Lankan people and more foreigners arrived (the easy way). The top of the hill is spectacular. The winds were gusting strongly and could be dangerous for people near the edges. There are no railings so visitors must take care. It is best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. The rock would become very hot.  We could see nearby Sigiriya and in the distance also see the hill with the Dambulla cave temple.

A restored reclining Buddha statue at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

A view looking south at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view west at a modern Buddha statue at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view looking north at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. The kuti under the rock in the photo was built over 20 years ago and abandoned. It is now inhabited by bats.

A view looking northwest at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The central buildings of a monastery near Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  The building on the left is used as a dining hall and is built under a large boulder.

Michael climbing the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011




Michael climbing between boulders on the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011



A makeshift ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 





Michael feeling rather nervous after getting off the ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011


The top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A rough path on the side of the hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  This section of the path is relatively easy to walk on.

Michael scrambling down the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011


Sunday , Amarvarti, Abhayagiri Vihara, Abhayagiri stupa, Great Stupa


Monday Anuradhapura Mahabodhi tree, 


Tuesday Mahintale many cave kutis and stupas, Kaludiya Pokuna


Wednesday Mahintale  many cave kutis and stupas

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 
Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The restored elephant tank at the ruins of Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. There are probably 30-40 monkeys not quite visible in this photo, climbing around the framework and making a lot of noise.

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The Great Stupa at night, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. Michael sensed something very special about this stupa.

Looking north towards the Great Stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A water catchment “tank” near the Great Stupa at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Kaludiya Pokuna, Mahintale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

I got safely back to Kandy last night (Wednesday) around 9pm. The 100km ride from Dambulla at night was thrilling. The fare was about 60 cents each with front seats to a rally car race in which out bus was participating. I’ve done it before in Thailand but this was perhaps more intense. I just let it happen and enjoyed the ride and the psychedelic light show above the dashboard glorifying various Buddhist and Hindu deities. Many cyclists with no lights and chaotic traffic weaving in and out, sudden stops and turns. Bald tires, soft suspension and bouncy seats set to a sound track of falsetto vocals and deep bass drums etc. At the second last town the bus filled beyond capacity and I had to keep my arms out to stop people sitting or falling on me.  All a memory now.

I’m flying to London on Monday 27 June. Not long now. I’ve been sort of preparing by downloading travel guides for England and Scotland and even reading the text of Macbeth which I hope to see performed at Stratford Upon Avon sometime in July or August.

Maybe England first in early to mid July and then Scotland in late July-August.

Note: I didn’t get around to writing this posting in as much detail as I’d planned.

Advertisements

Six principles of cordiality and a seven-point test for stream-entry

I paraphrased this sutta using Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Nanamoli’s English translation.

Six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
1.  Maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
2.  Maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
3.  Maintain mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
4. Use things in common with virtuous companions in the holy life, without making reservations, sharing any gains which accord with the Dhamma and that has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dhamma, including (for monastics) the contents of one’s bowl [one is generous-caaga, not stingy or miserly].
5. Possess in common with virtuous companions those virtues (siila) that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended and conducive to concentration [five precepts are the basic precepts].
6. Possess in common with companions the view that is noble and liberating and leads one who practices in accord with it to the complete destruction of suffering [sammaaditthi right view].
Of these… the chief, the most cohesive, the most unifying, is (6) the view that is noble and liberating…  And how does one know whether this view is held?
Seven-point test for stream-entry-sotapanna
1.  Ask yourself:  Is my mind obsessed with sensual lust, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, [five hindrances] speculation about this world and the other world [life after death or annihilation etc.], taken to quarrelling and brawling and deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers. Obsessed in this way one’s mind is not well disposed for awakening to truths.
If there are no such obsessions, this is the first knowledge that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people. [Sotapanna and sakadagaami people occasionally experience sensual lust, ill-will and so forth. However, they are less bothered by these hindrances and can easily concentrate their minds if they wish to. Anaagaamii have destroyed lust and ill-will and have very highly developed samaadhi-concentration. Arahats have destroyed all the aasava-taints and are not disturbed by these hindrances at any time. Some puthujjana-worldlings who have not attained any stage of awakening, but have skill in attaining deep concentration states such as the four jhaana-mental absorptions and the four formless bases may rarely be bothered by these hindrances.  However, most puthujjana who have never trained their minds or studied the Buddha Dhamma are obsessed in this way.]
2. Ask yourself: when I pursue, develop and cultivate this view (that is noble and liberating), do I obtain internal serenity, do I obtain stillness? – If yes then this is the second knowledge… [this refers to the ability to calm the mind through samatha meditation. For those sotapanna who have not attained jhaana-absorption, they are still able to obtain internal serenity by practicing the six recollections such as Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Siila, Caaga and Deva. They can also practice recollection of peace and use other meditation objects to obtain internal serenity with relative ease. ].
3. Ask yourself: is there any other recluse or teacher outside (the Buddha’s dispensation) possessed of a view such as I possess? If no, then this is the third knowledge… [this means that one believes that right view is only possible within the Buddha’s dispensation and one doesn’t believe that anyone outside Buddhism can attain a stage of awakening such as stream entry-sotapanna].
4. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) characteristic of a person with right view?  Such a person immediately confesses any offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down. Just as a baby at once draws back when he puts his hand or his foot on a live coal…  If yes this is the fourth knowledge … [This refers to moral shame and fear of wrong doing – hiri and ottappa.]
5. Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) characteristic of a person with right view? Although such a person may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has regard for training in the higher virtue, higher mind and higher wisdom.  Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes, watches her calf. If yes this is the fifth knowledge… (heedfulness – apamaada) [A sotapanna may sometimes neglect training but not for long. Because they wish to help fellow monastics or fellow lay Buddhists, or even non-Buddhists, they usually find contentment and satisfaction in the training. Heedfulness is closely related to mindfulness and other skilful qualities that sotapanna have in abundance].
6. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) strength of a person with right  view? When the Dhamma and Discipline (Dhamma-vinaaya) proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all one’s mind, hears the Dhamma with eagerness.  If yes, this is the sixth knowledge… [in this way one would suppress the nivaarana-hindrances to samaadhi-concentration and one’s mind would be pliable, bright and in the best possible state for understanding the Dhamma].
7.  Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) strength of a person with right view?  When the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. If yes, this is the seventh knowledge… [this is not something that a sotapanna would have to consciously cultivate – it would be natural and automatic].
A noble disciple possessed of these seven factors is well on the way toward the realisation of the fruit of stream entry [this is someone who possesses the path of stream entry – sotapanna magga]. A noble disciple who possesses these seven factors, possesses the fruit of stream entry [sotapanna phala].  

In the relatively well-known eightfold classification of noble ones (ariyapuggala) there are two pairs of four and eight individuals. Two sotapanna, two sakadagaamii, two anaagaamii and two arahata. In each pair, the inferior one is on the path (magga) while the superior one has attained the fruit (phala).  Here is a list of eight ariyapuggala in descending order of superiority:

Arahata phala
Arahata magga
Anaagaamii phala
Anaagaamii magga
Sakadagaamii phala
Sakadagaami magga
Sotapanna phala

Sotapanna magga
The sotapanna phala person is not equivalent to a sakadagaamii magga person. Though they both have already attained sotapanna phala, the sakadagaamii magga person is superior because they are on the path to the higher attainment whereas the sotapanna phala person is for the time being stable and not making significant efforts to reach a higher state. This principle applies to other stages in the table above until finally the arahata phala person has no more work to do since they are fully awakened. 

The exegetical Paali Commentaries to the Abhidhamma Pitaka prepared by Ven. Buddhaghosa (about 1500 years ago) and the tradition of later abhidhammika scholars divert from the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka (basket of discourses). 

In the Introduction to the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Philosophical Psychology of Buddhism, Abhidhammaattha Sangaha, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
… a few of the Abhidhamma conceptions that are characteristic of the Commentaries but either unknown or recessive in the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself. One is the detailed account of the cognitive process (cittaviithi).  While this conception seems to be tacitly recognised in the canonical books [of the abhidhamma pitaka], it now comes to be drawn out for use as an explanatory tool in its own right. The functions of the cittas come to be designated by way of their functions. The term khana, “moment,” replaces the canonical samaya “occasion,” as the basic unit for delimiting the occurrence of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomenon. The division of a moment into three sub-moments–arising, presence, and dissolution–also seems to be new to the Commentaries…

In relation to awakening, proponents of the Commentary theory of cognitive process claim that during awakening there is a single very brief moment of sotapanna magga citta immediately followed by a similarly very brief moment of sotapanna phala citta with no other citta (moment of cognitive process) in between magga and phala. However, this theory is not supported by the suttas. There are many suttas where noble ones who are path attainers (magga) are walking around without yet having attained the fruit (phala). We should always prefer the suttas to later teachings elaborated in exegetical literature.

In later blogs I intend to write some short articles on the less well-known sevenfold classification of ariyapuggala and on the first stage of awakening – sotapanna magga based on reading suttas. 

Wat Pa Nanachat – International Forest Monastery

I came to Ubon Ratchathani for a short visit to the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pa Nanachat). Despite 27 years visiting Thailand this is the first time I’ve been to this famous monastery. I am glad to have finally made it.  

The community at the monastery is preparing for an important meeting of senior monks (Thera) from the international network of forest monasteries (in the tradition of Ajahn Chah). This meeting is due to begin next week. I met briefly with the “Guest Monk” – who has the duty of anwering queries from temporary visitors such as myself. Ven. Nyaniko Bhikkhu told me he ordained at Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood, California, United States seven years ago.

This trip helped to straighten out some misconceptions I previously held about Wat Pa Nanachat/International Forest Monastery and the international network.

I had previously assumed that the views of Ajahn Brahm from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia and Ven. Sujato from Santi Forest Monastery, New South Wales, were representative of the entire forest monastery network.  When living in Australia, I did not wish to visit either of these Australian monasteries due to controversial views expressed by Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sujato. This was despite living close to both monasteries at various times during the past 15 years. Ven. Nyaniko told me that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sugato have chosen to leave the network for the time being. I did not pursue the details of this break nor ask questions about what may be the cause etc. I found out belatedly after returning to Bangkok. It seems that Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sugato may have hurt the network as a whole. Maybe one day they may both reconsider their views, apologise and return to the network.

I felt relieved to hear that the forest monastery tradition is open to many different Buddhist meditation practices including Mahasi method vipassana.

I also apologised to Ven. Nyaniko for previously considering Ajahn Chah monks to be overly obsessed with vinaya (monk’s disciplinary rules) and the outward appearance of monastic life with insufficient focus on meditation and spiritual attainment.   I realised many years ago that this was incorrect and was glad to be able to apologise face to face with Ven. Nyaniko as a representative of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Another reason for relief.

Wat Pa Nanachat has a very peaceful atmosphere and seems to be a delightful place to ordain and live the monastic life. I visited on Tuesday morning and spoke with Ven. Nyaniko and again on Wednesday morning to donate flowers, fruit and soy milk. It was Uposotha day on Wednesday so I undertook 8 precepts and listened to a wonderful Dhamma talk in Thai by Ajahn Jayasaro, who appears in many excellent videos you may download from Dhammatube. The talk was about the four divine abodes:

  • Metta – loving-kindness
  • Karuna – compassion
  • Mudita – sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha – equanimity

The talk focused mainly on Metta and Upekkha. I was previously familiar with the four divine abodes and enjoyed listening to Ajahn Jayasaro deliver the talk in fluent Thai. He spoke Thai and delivered the Dhamma talk more competently than most Thai monks I’ve heard. I prefer a structure, cause and effect, small amount of repetition and some illustrative similes. Ajahn Jayasaro delivered all these very well.  [In response to a request from one of the students I met at Wat Mahadhatu last week, I plan to write a blog article on the four divine abodes soon.]

On Monday evening, I left Bangkok on an overnight train and arrived in Ubon Ratchathani on Tuesday morning (yesterday).  I began writing this at an Internet cafe in Ubon near the Warin Markets.  The returning train departed Ubon around 18:30 Wednesday evening and arrived in Bangkok around 06:00 Thursday morning. I paid for second class air con. sleeper, lower bunk. It is fairly comfortable though if the bed was another 10cm longer it would be a better fit. I stayed last night at the Pathumrat Hotel. I booked it via Agoda and got a big discount. The room was very comfortable and way above my usual standard of accomodation. I had air con. TV, ensuite, a fridge and so on.

At the Ubon train station just before boarding, I met Brian Johnson, a fellow Dhamma tourist, who had just finished a 2 or 3 week (not sure of the length of time) period living at Wat Pa Nanachat. I didn’t notice him when I was there. He is a few months older than me and we boarded the train and swapped stories about our Dhamma experiences. It was one of those rare moments when I felt as though I’d met a long lost brother. We talked fast and four hours passed quickly before a train official said it was time to sleep and go to our separate carriages. I hope to meet Brian again one day or at least to have e-mail contact from time to time. Brian has a website with useful information about the teachings of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. I encourage readers to check it out. www.paauk.org I promised Brian I would post an article about Dhammanusari and Saddhanusari before I fly to India on 3 December.

New Job and New President

I start a new public service job on 11 November. I have a 4 month contract until mid March 2009. This suits me fine. The salary will be sufficient for me to save and to continue on my journey.

My primary goal is to travel to Myanmar and do a 6-12 month intensive meditation retreat. I may decide to ordain as a monk or I may decide to return to Perth, find another 4-6 month job, save money and then go back for another retreat. Although the global economy seems to be slowing right now, I am confident I can find work when I need it.

I was offered the job a week ago and was glad my new employer asked me to start next week. I’ve become obsessed with the US general election and been following it very closely on the Internet. I’ve followed many blogs such as the Huffington Post, Think Progress and FiveThirtyEight. I’ve been up late and up early, especially this week. I was up at 3 am yesterday morning (UTC/GMT+9) to follow the voting and watch the acceptance speech live on TV around 2pm.

I am very inspired by the Obama campaign and how it appears to be transforming American and global culture. Barack Obama and his team have been so cool and professional. Amazing. I watched speeches on online and read so many political articles. The presidential acceptance speech at Grant Park was brilliant. I’ve been touched so many times watching this campaign… The impact on African Americans and everyone else is profound. Healing. I really believe this will change the US and the world. I particularly admire the way that the Obama campaign has appealed to the better side of human nature. Extraordinary. Hug somebody. Cry tears of joy.