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Journey To Timelessness

I. The Journey Begins

It began as a simple question, "Would you like to come with us to Sri Lanka?" This simple question created a very high level of excitement in me, but I did not understand why.

In the next few weeks, the purpose of the journey became evident. Bishop Shinkou Iwatsubo and the Hachijoji Temple (Awaji Island, Japan) were being honored for their assistance to the Buddhist Sangha of Sri Lanka. Later I found out that Bishop Iwatsubo was being honored by presenting him with one of Buddha's Relics. I thought simply how nice, Bishop Iwatsubo, His Wife and the Hachijoji Temple members really deserve such recognition.

In the following weeks I began to connect with the "feel" of the ceremony and really looked forward to meeting and seeing several of the Priests from Sri Lanka that we had met the year before in Hiroshima. I remembered fondly the conversations with The Head Priest at the Kalineya Temple, Rev. Mahinda. And I could never forget the graciousness of the invitation to visit Sri Lanka by Madame Premadhasa and Madame Chandra.

The journey began at the Kansai Airport and it was so good to see our dear friends from Hachijoji and the other Temples again. We arrived late at the airport in Sri Lanka and were royally treated through customs by Rev. Mahavinda and The Former First Lady of the Country, Madame Premadhasa. As we left the Airport I was suddenly struck by the number of armed guards. On the way to the hotel, about 30 minutes away, there were at least seven armed guard roadblocks that had to be driven around or where barricades had to be moved.

II.Monkeys, "Elephant Washes" and the Tooth of the Lord Buddha

The next morning was an early wake up call and we went to visit the Buddha Tooth Temple. The countryside was truly remarkable - lush and tropical with exotic trees and flowers. Periodically I would look out of the bus window and see rice fields with water buffaloes. These were not zoo animals but were a part of their everyday life. I saw elephants, and was surprised to see them working to clear brush and trees.

When we got to the Buddha Tooth Temple Complex, we met the Head of the Sect. He was very gracious and in his eyes you could feel the compassion and caring. He is simply a good man, living here on Earth trying to help others, through his kindness, knowledge and humility. We were truly honored by the meeting. Proceeding to the Temple, I was amazed by the contrast; there were about 50 monkeys on the Temple rooftop, elephants near the entrance and armed Guard towers designed to protect the Temple. The Temple had been attacked and bombed by terrorists and there was true bitterness for what was being done by these radicals. The main Temple, fortunately, was unharmed by the attacks.

In honor of the Buddha Relic, everything in the Temple was open to us, we were even allowed to take pictures. This was very rare and a symbol of ultimate respect. I began to experience what it meant to be a Buddha Relic Protector. The paintings, the statues and the ornaments were truly beyond description.

We were allowed to view the reliquary where the Buddha Tooth is stored. The tooth, the left canine, came to Sri Lanka in 345 AD. The kingdom of Ceylon, the former name of Sri Lanka, was Buddhist and the role of the King was to protect Buddhism within the country. This tooth was the symbol of the King, wars fought over it and it had been sent away from the main cities to protect it. I was truly amazed that a country's rule rested on this sacred part of the Buddha.

As we toured the countryside and the city there were shrines to the Buddha everywhere. As I looked out the window I started to notice all of elephants and a building that had a sign, "Elephant Wash." I was very amused to see a place where you could wash your elephant. I had all kinds of visions about an automatic wash where the elephant was washed and brushed like in the car washes in America. The wash was actually more like a self service station where there were hoses and brushes and the elephant was washed by hand.

III. The Ceremony: Dancing, Ritual and Transcendence

The next day was the ceremony and it was scheduled to rain but miraculously the rain did not fall on the ceremony or even later in the day. When we arrived it was a very festive occasion with over ten thousand dedicated followers waiting for us. Preceding our group of 70 people, there were many groups of young children and adolescents, performing sacred dances. There were about 10 groups each having 40-50 participants who were dressed in strikingly colorful local costumes. The dance movements were beautifully choreographed and each child was completely into their performance - it was simply beautiful. The children had captured the elegance of the Dance. As I walked along my eyes filled with tears and my heart was so joyous to see the smiles and laughter of the children and their parents along the parade route. Sometimes I would look into their eyes and a bond was established that I will never forget. Their spirit, the spirit of faith in the Buddha and their respect for the priests (including me) was staggering.

Sri Lanka is rich in the tradition; a country where Shakyamuni Buddha is truly treasured. Here along this same path Shakyamuni had walked in the Eighth year of his Buddhahood. The Temple had been rebuilt (the original was burned by the Portuguese Catholics) but the lifeforce of Shakyamuni was everywhere. Along the river beside the Temple, the ashes of Mahatma Ghandi were sprinkled, in reverence to the place where Buddha had bathed.

We were then taken into the Temples inner chambers and the ceremony began. The ceremony was performed by Headmaster Mahavinda and was meant to transfer the Buddha Relic to Bishop Iwatsubo. This ceremony to transfer the relic was performed in front of their main Deity, Shakyamuni Buddha.

Following the ceremony we proceeded outside for the ground breaking of the "Shinkou Iwatsubo Awaji Hachijoji Child Welfare Center." Bishop Iwatsubo, his wife and the Hachijoji Temple Members had donated enough funds to construct a child welfare center within the Temple school complex. The school has over 3,000 students that will be serviced by this new facility.

We later sat down for a ceremonial lunch along with the 145 priests from Sri Lanka that attended the ceremonies. They were given offerings (by Hachijoji Temple) of robes, books and food. In the Sri Lankan tradition offerings were given to the Priests and then shared with the community. There were over 3,000 people served food at the ceremony and had to be quickened because in Sri Lanka the Priests do not eat after 12 noon.

It is truly a wonderful tradition to share the food with everyone. While seated at the ceremony I was facing a large statue of Mahavairocana. I realized how the symbol of the lotus is purity, but it is also the symbol of separation. This beautiful separation into our essence allows the lifeforce of consciousness to cross the expanses of the Universe. When there is only one there can not be movement and transformation. Separation, growth and then realizing our oneness are all a part of the Mahavairocana Realm.

At the luncheon, there were traditional Japanese dancing and Goeika (the singing of Buddhist Hymns). The Dancers and the Goeika members performed very well and everyone cheered their performance.

After lunch was the ceremony to thank the Kalinaye Temple for the gift of the Buddha Relic. Bishop Iwatsubo performed the Rishubo (the Ritual of the Wisdom Truth Sutra) while eight of us Priests recited the Chuka Rishukyo. While we were reciting , there were eight priests in each of the directions. We were setting a sacred boundary to protect this Buddha Relic. Each of us became a part of a Vajra wall and our individualness was fused into one set of protectors. I could feel the change in me as I accepted my role as a protector of this Buddha Relic. As he performed the Rishubo I could see Bishop Iwatsubo as he united Heaven above and Earth below through his spirit of faith and practice. His size extended infinitely above and below, uniting the lifeforce of all time and space through his precious reverence for this relic. Ultimately it is our feeling of preciousness that we take with us to the realm of Mahavairocana. We leave behind all of our anger, confusion, jealousy and other emotions.

I was then that I understood the seriousness of this relic: this tooth was part of a person, Shakyamuni Buddha, that had transcended everything and was now one with the lifeforce of Mahavairocana - the Great Radiance of the Universe.

After the completion of the Rishubo, we paid our respects to the local Deities and then returned to our Hotel.

IV. True Faith

The next morning we visited more Temples and were permitted to view the most treasured statues and scrolls in their possession. We visited the Jayawardene Center for culture and as they presented 50 scholarships to students from rural areas. I then realized how extensive the connection with Hachijoji Temple was: donations of Buddhist artifacts, The Child Welfare building, Sutras and books, food and clothing and funds for each of the Temples. There was a wonderful balance of the donations that were made by Bishop Iwatsubo, his wife and the members of the Hachijoji Temple.

A rare honor was later bestowed on us as we were allowed to enter the Parliament complex. The Parliament is in the center of a lake and only a narrow road connects it to the shore to prevent terrorist acts. The Speaker of the Parliament, K.B. Ratnayake greeted us and hosted us for Tea and dessert. The interior of this building was designed with gold and silver ceilings and many symbols of the rich heritage of Sri Lanka. The Speaker had the air of a true statesman and I was honored to be in his presence.

Returning to the Hotel, we packed and headed for the airport. We stopped on the way to visit the home of the Mayor of Colombo, the Capital of Sri Lanka. He was also quite gracious and we enjoyed his hospitality and stories.

At the airport, as we waited for our flight, I visited one of the gift shops and talked to the young woman working there. She was very devout Buddhist and was selling statues of the Buddhas. She told me of her dreams to visit other countries but said, "We are poor in Sri Lanka. We do not have money to travel." I could see in her a richness that can only be felt when one has true faith, whether it is in Buddha or any of the other Gods. This faith that permeates much of Sri Lanka is the true richness of this Earth. I was so Thankful to have experienced such faith.

    Rev. Eijun Eidson
    December 1998

©1998, 1999 Shingon Buddhist International Institute