Buddhist ritual practice in Sri Lanka is a beautiful tapestry of devotional chants, veneration of nature and sacred spaces meant to awaken the body and spirit to a higher purpose. Like with so many ancient religious practices, some areas of local customs can remain inaccessible to a novice spiritual traveler. Unraveling the threads of symbolic ritual significance on a picturesque temple visit in Sri Lanka offers an insightful glimpse into a sacred Buddhist culture that has retained its spiritual allure throughout the millennia.
Calling forth a spiritual vibration
The drumroll summons the devotees to attend the evening "puja" offering ceremony on a special auspicious full moon "Poya" day. It is customary in Sri Lanka, to spend this day at the temple observing religious principles of "rightful speech", "rightful thought" and "rightful action." The drumming can be heard well outside the complex of the temple, where bustling city life still offers the possibility to purchase flowers, incense and oil-lamp offerings from the local vendors. We step into the temple grounds -- surrounded by a sea of "white-clad" devotees, we remove our shoes and we find ourselves immersed into the serenity of a space resounding only with the rhythmic calls of the drum. We feel an instant connection with the vibration, as though something very familiar and very primal has been awakened deep inside our bodies, a visceral memory that penetrates all that is connected. We are reminded that it is in our presence that we offer a container for the sacred, the temple and our body merging into one space to hold the eternal wisdom.
Watering the seed of devotion
All life begins with a seed, a sapling, an offspring. Buddhism in Sri Lanka centers around the veneration of nature as a reminder of our own humble beginnings. Every temple offers refuge to a magnificent Bodhi tree, a descendant of the original ficus religiosa in North India, where the Buddha gained ultimate insight into the nature of things. We make seven circumambulations around the holy tree, pausing to water its roots from a clay pot while reciting the "Bodhi tree puja". Just as the tree has once offered refuge to the Buddha himself, steadily positioned under its shade in his relentless pursuit to understand the root cause of human suffering, we join in our efforts to preserve all future life on earth. A Buddhist pilgrimage in Sri Lanka offers visits to many sites centered around the same lineage of the sacred bo-tree family. Circling around the mighty trunk we remember that all life is cyclical and we are just one particle in the vast network of an interconnected existence.
Beyond the smoke and the mirrors
The senses have a way of placing us here and now. The aromatic smoke of burning incense fills up the space around us, creating an instant awareness of our multi-dimensional existence. Our sense of smell awakened by the beauty of our natural environment, our sense of sight fixated on the "slithering" upward-moving smoke -- there is a mystical quality to our senses working together to create this illusion of self. Like a hall of mirrors, the brightly-lit rows of dozens of oil-lamp flames flicker in our consciousness, purifying us of delusion, and offering us a reflection back onto our reality. What is revealed is only in the eye of the beholder!
Making sense of the nature of illusion
We step into the image house. The walls are adorned by painterly murals with visual representations of the various stages of the Buddha's life. We glide through the narrative of a young prince dissatisfied with material worldly existence, we enter the ascetic period of deprivation and self-cultivation, until we witness the ascension of a Buddha. On this guided visit of the inner sanctum of the temple, expertly curated by a scholar of art and Buddhist Ayurveda, we discover that the means an artist uses to render our multi-dimensional reality into visual forms, are the same means that we use to construct our own illusion of reality. Religious art inspires devotion because it mirrors our own perception-based constructs. Navigating these halls saturated with vividly picturesque temple paintings, we are guided to bare witness to the impermanence of all existence fading away like a natural pigment exposed to the bright light of awareness.
Sacred travel designed for a spiritual holiday
It may not be for everyone, but more and more people are seeking deeper inspiration from their travels. Navigating sacred sites through a curated experience brings the meaning of ancient practices back to life. Spiritual journeys with Sriseeker are designed to awaken in us a deeper connection to the people and their living ancient cultures.