To practise meditation, first of all one has to look first for a suitable place. According to Lord Buddha, an appropriate place is a place which offers the necessary seclusion for meditation and it should also please the eye. Kalugala Aranya, surrounded by a wet, dense forest, fits both criteria.
Reaching Kalugala is no easy task. The road ends at a small village called Gurulu Bedda and then it’s a two-and-a-half kilometre hike to reach the monastery. The hike involves traversing slippery and muddy treks that suddenly turn in to waterways.
The silence of the forest is only broken by the sound of water in the stream that runs across the forest, crashing onto the rocks.
“When one walks up the path, one can see a marked difference in the flora and fauna. That is because you are entering the Sinharaja range,” said Dasanayake, our guide. “The cement steps that we see on the last leg of the journey were only built recently. Before that it was much more difficult journey.”
According to Dasanayake, this was the creation of the mythical Samaradivakara Ralahamy. “Although there is evidence that this place has given shelter to meditating monks from ancient times, it was engulfed by the wilderness when Samaradivakara Ralahamy found the place. It was he who built everything that we find today.”
Samaradivakara Ralahamy: The legend
The monastery was found in the early 1940s by P. Samaradivakara Ralahamy, a renowned philanthropist of the area. According to the residents of the area, he was not an ordinary human being.
“Samaradivakara Ralahamy was a member of a very wealthy family in the Ratnapura area. But when he was young he renounced all worldly possessions and came to this area to meditate,” said Dasanayake.
Dasanayake added that according to legend, Samaradivakara Ralahamy had miraculous powers. “Samaradivakara Ralahamy was a man who could perform miracles. My father once told me that when he needed money to build the monastery, he used to go in to the forest and return with precious stones. There are stories that assert he could travel enormous distances in seconds. He lived months and months in the forest with no communications or supplies but no animal would harm him,” he said.
Monks and devotees
The monastery houses dozens of monks who have made meditation a daily ritual in their search for a path to Nirvana and many devotees from far and wide visit the place everyday to offer alms to these monks.
“Although it is difficult to reach the monastery, people come here everyday to offer alms. Sometimes people come from places like Anuradhapura and Kandy. Some of these people have been coming here for decades,” said Dasanayake.
Pushpa Wimaladharma has been coming here since she was 12 years old. She said she has been coming here every year on the same month and same date for 40 years to give alms to the meditating monks at the monastery.
“I can remember coming here with my parents to give alms. Although they passed away some time ago, we wanted to continue the family tradition,” she said. “Back then the journey was more difficult and carrying the items necessary for the alms giving was a major problem but now things are much easier,” she added.
These devotees are provided with the basic facilities necessary for the preparation of alms, but as Wimaladharma explained, it is no easy task. “There is a small electricity generator but it is only used in the morning and it only provides electricity to light up the kitchen. Sometimes we have to spend the night here if we have to prepare Dane in the morning but there is no electricity provided for the rooms. The whole place is lit up using kerosene lamps,” she elaborated. However, she asserted that it was the last thing on the mind of most of the devotees. “We do our best to do the cooking without making much noise because we know that if we do make noise, it will disturb the monks. We only see these monks during the Dane and it is the highlight of the day for us.”
Yes, it is these monks or their renowned good qualities that have attracted these devotees from all parts of the island and these monks are only to be seen during the meal time. But one can catch a glimpse into their world by taking a look at the main meditation area.
At the centre of the mediation hall is a Buddha statue and a human skeleton, a constant reminder about the fate of all humans. At the highest place of the monastery is the Akasa Chaithya where one can get a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. “Sometimes I come here at night after meditating for a long time to see the stars dancing in the sky and to bask in the mellow moonlight,” said one of the resident monks.
It is said that the human mind is like the wind, untamed and restless; however, the Kalugala Buddhist Monastery is a haven for those who seek to find peace of mind through meditation.