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
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.
©1998, 1999 Shingon Buddhist International Institute