Sunday, March 29, 2009

On tour in Sri Lanka

Following yesterday’s report from Thailand, Ujukarin has sent us this from his recent travels in Sri Lanka.  The FWBO has a small centre in Sri Lanka run by Saddhavira, with Ujukarin joining him twice a year for retreats and classes.  It’s an instructive tale of the difficulties of introducing a new way of doing things into a traditional Buddhist culture…
He writes –
“Wow! Another Lanka Dharmaduta tour finished, two weeks by Saddhavira and Ujukarin. And it’s getting curiouser and curiouser, as we enter the Wonderland of countryside viharas…
“How many of you have experienced a Buddhafield retreat in the English summer mud? Or participated in a Dharma Talk, including some ‘quite specifically conditioned’ interested grandmothers? Or seen a version of the ‘top-or-flop’ TV show, where the audience votes to keep or dismiss the artist? NOW… imagine a combination of all of these…!
“A main activity during our tour was a 3-day rural vihara retreat at Polpitigama town in Kurunegala district.  It’s a typical countryside vihara on the outskirts of town, with the usual more or less conservative lay audience – and premises that don’t stand the monsoon showers very well. Our party included Saddhavira and 5 mitras/regulars, and the special dimension was that the retreat was around a full-moon day. So we were scheduled to give 3 talks and meditation sessions to the temple audience, numbering around 60-70, including many of the proverbial ‘grandmothers leading a sila life to prepare for their afterlife’ (and wanting reaffirmation of their pious quiet life, not virya or other ‘dangerous’ Dharma elements…).
“The morning talk (on personal mandalas) was loved by our group and by quite a few attending families and some grannies, but not all. Around lunch a group of them visited the senior bhikshu, and behaved like the audience of the ‘top-or-flop’ TV show: “OUT with these artists” (they’re far too dynamic for us…) was what they said. First we were told that the Bhikshus had bowed to their demands, and we’d have to shut up and retreat to our kutis for a mini-retreat for the rest of the day. But one hour later, shortly before the next talk slot, the Bhikshus told us that ‘well we had been invited for the full day and as good hosts they’d stick to that invitation and allow two more talk sessions – any way we wanted it’.
“The afternoon talk was on devas, sraddha and white magic, and was accompanied by heavy showers and lightning – by chance or not :-). And the evening session was experienced by everyone as amazing and inspired because we dived into ‘bringing Dharma to your heart’. So I am glad that we survived the top-or-flop vote, and we definitely felt that we had a new ‘Wonderland’ experience in the twilight zone between Western and Cultural/Ethnic Buddhism. And probably most of the regulars attending and maybe even some locals will find inspiration in this fullmoon day for following up with us!
“Other highlights included a talk in another rural area (Kekirawa near Anuradhapura) by Ujukarin together with a bhikshu who had attended our earlier retreat. At the end some of the audience, teenage girls working as Buddhist Sunday school teachers, asked Ujukarin for magic threads around their waists blessed with mantras – for a number of reasons, including his own Srilankan family life ;-), he backed down. And we had a well-attended day retreat in Colombo, and a weekend retreat at the Sagaraloka centre which was also attended well but NOT by exactly the (at least two) men who had asked to become mitras and could have become so during that retreat. So those ceremonies will have to wait till the fall…
“And in the sidelines we also had organisational progress. A 3-month Dharmaduta visit of an Indian Order Member (Pradnyajeet) is now sure to happen within a year. And we hope that some of the men GFR mitras will start attending the Nagpur ordination courses in India. So all-in-all it was a much more positive picture than last year: our sangha-building investments are starting to pay off!”
You can see more photos from their trip on their Facebook album.

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