Thirty-five Thousand Rupees to Burn, September 28, 2013

Click to see more photos of the dana at Vajirarama
We had already celebrated Ken's birthday in India, but here in Sri Lanka we have established the tradition of offering breakfast dana to the monks and novices at Vajirarama where we teach. This year, we arranged the dana for September 9 to include Ken's, Visakha's, and Shehan's birthdays. Lily and her sister-cousin Soma worked all night to prepare string hoppers, kirihode, kiribath, dahl, and fruit salad. Early that morning, Mike, Jenna, Charles, Manel, and Shehan joined us in three three-wheelers and a motorcycle. Breakfast was delicious, and the anumodana beautiful.

Lily, Soma, and Surangi were again up most of Friday night cooking. As soon as Tissa arrived Saturday morning, promptly at eight o'clock, we loaded the van with food–six curries and a huge pot of vegetarian chili we'd cooked the day before–and laundry soap, hand soap, dry rations, and cleaning supplies. Earlier, we had asked Charles whether any medicine was needed, and he had said that Ven. Amilasiri had assured him that they had everything they needed. A few days later, we had asked him to call once more. This time, he had spoke with the second bhikkhu in charge and had learned that there were indeed a few items needed--antibiotic spray for bedsores, a special cream, and catheters. These were readily available in Kandy, and they were also loaded in the van. A few minutes later, Amal arrived with his driver, Mahinda, bringing a fruitcake that his cook had prepared. Several of our group climbed into that van, and we set off for Kurunegala. At the last minute we grabbed the cane that Mike's mother had come to Sri Lanka with, but hadn't needed on her return. We were ready to celebrate Visakha's birthday again by serving dana to the elderly monks. We had been back in Sri Lanka for two weeks, but they had been hectic. Now, at last, it seemed that we were really back and settled down.

The ride to Kurunegala is always pleasant. It is mostly downhill and the hillsides were lusciously green with teak and rubber trees and bamboo groves. The rice had all been harvested, but--will wonders never cease?--even hot, dry Kurunegala seemed wet and steamy from the late monsoon rains.

We'd followed the changes in the situation at Bodhirukharama with concern, and we wondered what, exactly, we would find. We'd heard that Ven. Amilasiri had shifted to the new quarters he was building. It seems that the monk who was harassing Ven. Amilasiri, trying to evict him and demanding repossession of the monastery, has himself been dispossessed by the Malwatte Chapter. The monk who has been placed in charge has another monastery nearby. He is quite friendly with Ven. Amilasiri and approves of his work, but Ven. Amilasiri insisted that he preferred to move into the new building. Thus, the old monastery stands essentially vacant. This is difficult to comprehend, particularly given the fact that there are more than 300 monasteries in Kurunegala alone without resident monks.

Click any of the photos of Bodhrukarama to see a slideshow of all 21 photos
Happily, the new building is beautiful. It is not large enough to accommodate all the elderly monks who had been at Bodhirukarama, but, for those who have stayed, it seems much more comfortable. The double rooms are bright, airy, and more spacious than the old wards. Thanks to generous donors, the walls are freshly painted and the floor is covered with gleaming tiles. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. That is the only building. There is no vihara, so the Buddha images sit in the entrance to this residence. The dining hall, such as it is, is a temporary structure of tin sheeting attached to a flimsy frame of wooden slats. The floor is packed dirt. Despite this Spartan setting, the monks in charge neatly arranged the metal plates for the elderly monks on the plain wooden table and filled them with rice and curries. With the red beets, the yellow beans, the green salad, the colorful chickpeas with vegetables, the rich Tex-Mex chili, and the orange mango chutney, each plate was an appetizing work of art.

After Charles had offered the Buddha puja, we all carried the plates down to the residence and gave them to the elderly monks. Then we returned to the dining hall, took the precepts, and began serving the resident monks and the novices, who had returned from their studies for the weekend to visit Ven. Amilasiri and the other monks.

In the anumodana after the meal, the septuagenarian monk who had taught meditation in Malaysia years back and who speaks perfect English, compared this birthday celebration to so many others in which one throws a party for friends, with food, booze, music, and dancing. He mentioned how excellent it is to give dana and reminded us that we were actually offering alms to the Sangha of the past, present, and future, with the Buddha at its head, which is, indeed, an act of great merit. He told us how much he admires Ven. Amilasiri, who goes about quietly performing so many good deeds, for example, offering one of his kidneys to a young woman desperately in need of a transplant. He said that he strongly suspected that the chief monk was on the Bodhisatta's path.

We were saddened to learn that, during the night, one of the elderly monks had passed away. He had reached well into his eighties and was, in fact, one patient for whom we had brought the medicine for bedsores. He had spent his last three years in the peaceful environment at Bodhirukharama. His relatives had arrived for the funeral, and the procession to the crematorium was due to begin at two o'clock. May he soon attain Nibbana.

Unlike Thailand, crematoria are not located in the monasteries. Instead, they are managed by the local municipality. A cremation for a monk or a layperson costs 35,000 rupees. (LKR130 = US$1)

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We were able to spend a few minutes with Ven. Amilasiri, but he left shortly after we arrived because he had been invited to dana in the village, and he could not disappoint the family. He apologized that he could not stay to accept our meal, but we assured him that we completely understood how important it was for him to maintain the support of the local community.

He returned before we left, and we had a good discussion with him. As we were leaving, he asked whether we knew how or where he might obtain some relics. He explained that there was a new stupa being built at a site beyond Mahiyangana where he would like to enshrine relics of either the Buddha or an arahat. He was pleased to discover that we have relics on our altar that were given to us by Dhamma friends from Burma and Malaysia and that we were more than willing to share them with him. He promised to confer with the group in Mahiyangana and to set a date for all of us to carry the relics there for the ceremony. He hopes that this can be done before our trip to Bangkok and Singapore in November.

As soon as we could, we posted a few of the photos from our dana on Facebook, and were asked, almost immediately, by a generous donor in Germany whether we could facilitate a donation of robes and funds that he and his friends wanted to make to Bodhirukharama. Of course! How auspicious!

Click either photo to make a donation to the Kandy Intensive Course
Click either photo to make a donation to the Kandy Intensive Course
We just heard from Ven. Vilasagga that the Fifth Kandy Intensive Buddhist English Course (2014) is ready to go. The same as last year, the course will be held at Asgiri Gedige Raja Maha Vihara, but next year it will be longer than ever--twenty days of class plus weekend activities--January 6-31. As before, Lily will lead a team of cooks to prepare lunches for the monks and nuns. Teachers are invited to join, either for the full course or for any part that is convenient. Please send an application with resume. Also donations for lunches are welcome. Lunch for all the students and teachers will cost $100 per day. Each year, this intensive course has gotten better, so next year's is sure to be another exciting experience.

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