Meditation & Health #22- The Pearl That Is Sri Lanka


Meditation & Health No 22-table of Contents



The Pearl That Is Sri Lanka

       By Xi Ti & Narom Chea

      For tea lovers, Ceylon tea is a real delight, and for those who enjoy Ceylon tea, Sri Lanka is a paradise. The world-renowned Ceylon black tea comes from Sri Lanka, which was known as Ceylon during the British colonial period. The country became independent in 1948 and was renamed Sri Lanka in 1972.

     As Ceylon tea is well-known throughout the world, the government of Sri Lanka decided to keep the name.



Beyond the Search for Tea


       When you visit Sri Lanka, make a trip to one of the hometowns of the black-tea plantations — Haputale — in the highlands. To reach Haputale, take a train from the city of Kandy. The ride passes through mountainous regions dotted with tea plantations, offering one of the most panoramic views in the country. The fresh crisp air together with the lush greenery and beautiful, fleecy white clouds gives the sense of ascending to Heaven.

         Haputale is a small town with a relaxed pace. It’s best to wake at dawn to catch the sunrise amidst the fog or from the summit. When the rising sun’s first golden rays gleam, there’s a sense of peace and an appreciation for the beauty of the world around you as the sleeping town is at its quietest.

         After daybreak, indulge in the serene atmosphere of the tea plantations. Pick a tea leaf, crumple it and soak up its sweet lingering fragrance. Walking along, you will be greeted by the smiling faces of the tea-picking women working in the plantations; pause to take pictures with them or of the scenic mountains with rushing waterfalls in the background. Alternatively, relax and take a breather, and enjoy a pot of fragrant local black tea to keep the body warm.


Dreamlike Train Ride


          In the acclaimed Japanese animated fantasy film by Hayao Miyazaki titled Spirited Away, there is a scene featuring the main character Chihiro’s train-ride experience. It is said that Sri Lanka is the inspiration behind this segment. A railway line that links the major southern city Matara to Colombo runs along the Indian Ocean, with a section of the track only one to two meters from the edge of the sea. When the train travels slowly against a backdrop of azure sea, there is a dreamlike magnificence that is astounding. For those fortunate enough to experience such beauty, it is an opportunity to appreciate Mother Nature and give thanks for her bounty.


Rich Buddhist History


          The dewdrop-shaped island is also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” and is home to six cultural sites and two natural sites selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Much of Sri Lanka’s history is religious in nature.

         Ancient Sri Lanka was home to several eminent Buddhist philosophers and scholars, and today many of the locals are devoted Buddhists.Famed Chinese Buddhist scholar Xuanzang, in his classic text The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, referred to Sri Lanka as “The Sinhalese Kingdom.” Today, this name refers to the numerous Sinhalese kingdoms that ruled the country, beginning in 543 BC.



          The Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Sacred City of Kandy and the Golden Temple of Dambulla are Buddhist UNESCO heritage sites. The latter has been a pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. Making a journey through Sri Lanka is to follow in the footsteps of Xuanzang, who made a legendary years-long trip through Central Asia and India in search of Buddhist scriptures and relics.


Rediscovering a Ruined City


          Anuradhapura, the largest and oldest of all Sri Lanka's ancient cities, was once forgotten in the dense mists of time. It was rediscovered in the 19th century by the British. There is a rich collection of stupas as well as Buddhist temples and monasteries. Walking through this picturesque ruined city, it seems that time has stood still for 2,500 years. Its aura of peace takes one’s breath away.

          The Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura was planted in 288 BC. Indian emperor Ashoka’s daughter, Princess Sangamitta, took a sapling of the Bodhi tree under which Sakyamuni Buddha meditated and attained enlightenment, and planted it. It has grown lush and tall. Being one of the most famous religious gems in Sri Lanka, it is said to be one of the longest-surviving trees in the world.


Enduring Bond of a Bodhi Tree


        There are steady streams of pilgrims under the verdant shade of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, meditating with calm minds, connecting with Buddha, or seated quietly under the tree experiencing the peace and tranquility.

       The Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which Buddha attained enlightenment has died, but a new tree propagated from the Sri Maha Bodhi tree now stands in its place. The Bodhi tree signifies a bond just like that between a mother and her child, and the enduring cycle of life. This bond and the endless cycle are in turn symbols of the true meaning of rebirth as taught by Buddha — that our immortal Buddha-nature has no beginning or end.



The Sacred Golden Stupa


       The Maligawa Temple, otherwise known as the Temple of the Tooth, is a must-see. Located in the city of Kandy, the temple was built in the 15th century and became famous for its sheer scale after several rounds of renovation and expansion. Maligawa Temple is heavily guarded and everyone has to clear security checks before entering. Every visitor has to be appropriately dressed and no footwear is allowed inside.

        The temple enshrines and worships the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. Legend has it that Princess Hemamala hid the relic in her hair and smuggled it to Sri Lanka from Kalinga, India, in the fourth century BC. The tooth relic is encased in seven golden caskets shaped like a stupa. These caskets are studded with precious gemstones. The golden stupa is usually not open to the public, and many visitors can only pray and offer flowers outside the temple.


Wondrous Murals of Dambulla

         The renowned cave monastery known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is more than 2,000 years old, with five mystical sanctuaries containing 157 statues spread over an area of more than 1,000 square meters. The walls within are decorated with precious religious and secular murals. Admire the hard work put in by the devoted pilgrims and craftsmen as you move from chamber to chamber. You will feel a deep respect for their devotion, which sparked the creation of such wondrous artworks as early as the second century BC.

          Sri Lanka is a remarkable country, small but overflowing with culture and history. Its friendly people live a simple lifestyle; they are openhearted, making you feel totally at ease. Its historic Buddhist monuments, cultural traditions and customs, and stunning landscapes are unique. It is no wonder that the beauty of Sri Lanka has one calling it “Buddhist Heaven.”


Meditation & Health No 22-table of Contents