Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka 2012 – The People

Reflections by Venerable Bhikkhuni Seri

The sangha at Sri Maha Bodhi

Ajahn Vayama and myself went on a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka from 25th January to 7th February. I was touched and inspired by Sri Lanka, all the beautiful and auspicious sacred sites and especially the people, the people that we travelled with and the people that we met in Sri Lanka.

There were 11 of us in the pilgrimage group: Ajahn Vayama, Ajahn Apichato, Ajahn Nissarano who joined us in Sri Lanka, Venerable Jhanaratto and myself, Phalinee, our group leader from Perth, Trevor and Merry from Perth and Phalinee’s family, some of them from Thailand. Our tour guide and drivers were Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

Our pilgrimage group at Gal Vihara

The removalists at the Ganga Arama Temple in Colombo

I was touched by the kindness and generosity of our tour leader Phalinee. Out of faith to the Triple Gem and her gratitude and love to Ajahn Vayama, Phalinee especially organised the pilgrimage for Ajahn. Because of Phalinee’s determination and effort, there was nothing impossible and that can’t be done for Phalinee during the pilgrimage. Her kindness and generosity inspired others to join in to make merits and to help . She managed  to get Ajahn Vayama, who is disabled and sick in a wheel chair, to go to most of the sacred sites such as Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Gal Vihara and various temples. Phalinee and myself as well as the rest of  the group needed to help Ajahn Vayama up and down from the bus and even in and out at most of the disabled unfriendly hotels. It is amazing everything went smoothly and well.

Having a cuppa at tea outlet just out of Kandy

Everyone on the pilgrimage was very kind ,compassionate, patience, practising all the qualities of a spiritual warrior. There was no anger or agitation because we had to wait or go slowly  due to Ajahn Vayama’s disability. Everybody waited with a smile on their face with a readiness to help when we were going up and down into the tour bus. Trevor was Ajahn Vayama’s volunteer chauffeur, pushing her and her wheel chair all over Sri Lanka, from the hotels to the sacred sites. Out of his gratitude to Ajahn Vayama, Trevor made this beautiful determination to be Ajahn’s chauffeur. I asked him one afternoon when he was sending us together with Merry to our room that he must be feeling the pain in his shoulder and  back. He turned around and smiled and said he could not understand it but the wheel chair seemed very light in his hand!

Ajahn Vayama, Venerable Seri and Trevor, Ajahn's chauffeur entering Ganga Arama Temple

The pilgrimage was very special to me. This was my first visit to Sri Lanka. But I felt deeply connected to a country that mainly speaks Sinhala, a language that I could not understand. This is because of my teacher Ajahn Vayama. Throughout the pilgrimage, Ajahn was telling me and us about the coconuts, the villages, the people and the places that she had been. I also felt connected to the faith and confidence of the people in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

Ajahn Vayama told us that she met Venerable Nynaponika at Uda Watte Kele,  in Kandy, the first monastic she ever encountered during her first trip as a tourist to Sri Lanka in 1977. He advised her to read more Dhamma books and she did!

Ajahn Vayama, Venerable Seri and Chandra in Kandy

We also got the opportunity to meet up with Ajahn Vayama’s supporters in Sri Lanka. Those supporters who helped her all the way back since she ordained in 1985. We met Chandra who was Ajahn’s  “mother” in Sri Lanka. Even though Ajahn Vayama had not been back to visit her for more than seven years  Ajahn could give instruction to the driver to take us to Chandra’s place in Kandy! Merry and myself were at awe with Ajahn Vayama who reminded Chandra of all the kindness and generosity that Chandra had offered to Ajahn while she was in Sri Lanka.

I was very touched by the supporters who made so much effort to come to see Ajahn. I saw the love and respect in their eyes.They have so much gratitude and appreciation for their podi mani( Ajahn Vayama ) who became a loku mani. Their loku mani, Ajahn Vayama even brought a podi mani ( Venerable Seri ) that she trained in Australia to Sri Lanka. Ajahn Vayama loves the life in the village. She said she loves the simplicity, straight forwardness, and devotion of people . They accepted Ajahn Vayama as she was. Lumbini said that Ajahn left Sri Lanka to return to Australia, because she would like to share  what she learned with the people in Australia. Because of Ajahn Vayama ‘s return to Australia, there is a training monastery and ordination for Ten Precept nuns, and finally the first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia in 2009 led by Ajahn Vayama. When Phalinee thanked the supporters  for coming, they  turned around and said:” We do not only love her, we adore Ajahn Vayama. We used to think that she is saintly, now she is more saintly than before, and she looks so pure and has not changed much!”

Ajahn Vayama, Venerable Seri, Dayasili ( on the right) and family

Dayasili, a helper to the nuns dating back to Parappaduwa Nuns Island, came with her family. It took them three hours to travel in a three-wheeler to Colombo to see Ajahn Vayama. She only speaks Sinhalese and Ajahn Vayama could understand but could not speak much Sinhalese. I was amazed at how they could ever communicate with each other. Ajahn Vayama said they understood each other. And it was great to watch and be there to witness that!  Dayasili brought some sweets that they made in the village .When the time came to part, Dayasili’s eyes were filled with tears when she paid respect to Ajahn Vayama. She walked away without looking back. My eyes swelled.

We also had the opportunity to met  Ajahn Dhiravamso and Ajahn Guttasila at the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy. I was inspired to see the venerables including Ajahn Nissarano, contented and happy practising in solitude and in a basic and simple environment, going on pindapat ( alms ) in the villages for their daily dana. It demonstrated to me that it is still possible in this day and age to live a simple contemplative life as a monastic.

Chanting of the Ratana Sutta in front of the Buddha Statue

We went on pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Sri Lanka. Without the warmth, devotion and sincerity of the people to practise the Dhamma, a sacred site would only be an empty and cold shell. I was delighted to find the Dhamma still alive in Sri Lanka.

Venerable Seri and Merry at Grand Palace, Bangkok. All the photos supplied by Merry

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