We’ve just arrived in the large city of Kandy for a few days (my birthday being one of them). I’m relaxing on the terrace outside our third storey hotel room. Heaven Seven (for some reason that only those in Sri Lanka understand, the words are reversed). It’s built on the side on a mountain, so I can watch a monk tending his garden below, his orange robes held high to make sure they don’t drag in the dirt as he bends to pull some weeds.

Today was a very good day. We left Habarana and the “cultural triangle” and stopped at the Rock Temple (also known as the Golden Temple) in Dambulla. The weather was cloudy, so thankfully, it cut down on the heat and humidity. To access almost every monument or sacred place in the country, you can pretty much guarantee you will need to climb stairs, and some places have LOTS of them. This temple was no exception; at over 150 metres above the parking lot, it was about a 10-minute climb, dodging hawkers who are trying to sell you everything from jewelry to wooden carvings to mangos. And how I would have loved a juicy mango, in season right now in Sri Lanka. But you then have to navigate around hundreds of monkeys who ALSO want to eat your mango – and they can get MEAN.

The climb was definitely worth it – a World Heritage Site since 1991, the Rock Temple is the largest and best preserved cave temple in the country (of course, I didn’t really appreciate this until we left and I did some additional reading).

I originally wasn’t feeling like going into the temple – after several weeks of traveling around Sri Lanka, I was reaching my Buddha limit. Plus, we had to pay to store our shoes (you can’t wear shoes in the temples and your knees and shoulders have to be covered). But my friend, who had gone in alone, came back out to get me, saying I didn’t want to miss this one. I’m glad he convinced me to part with my 25 cents (the cost of the shoe guardianship).

There are five separate rooms (or caves) containing MANY colourful Buddhas (a grand total of 153, give or take one or two). However, I don’t think that total includes the Buddhas that were painted on the ceiling.The cave closest to the entrance has an impressively large reclining Buddha in it.  The murals alone cover over 2100 square metres. You see what I mean about Buddha saturation?

There is also some evidence that people lived in these caves before Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka. Skeletal remains which are 2700 years old have been found in the area. This temple and several others we visited also have an architectural feature that has help preserve many of the fragile paintings inside. They carved a dripline along the bottom of the overhanging rock to prevent rain from running into the cave. Amazing foresight, I thought, although they probably didn’t think we’d be looking at them more than two thousand years later.

While many of the temples and cities we’ve been to have many Hindi (very popular are Parvati, Vishnu and Ganesha) as well as Moorish-looking figures, this particular temple also had some Christian paintings. Sri Lanka seems to be very tolerant of a variety of religions, although obviously most of the population (70%) identify themselves as Buddhist. Two of the tour guides who led us through the various sites were careful not to call Buddism a formal religion, rather a philosophy, which I also found very interesting. The two other major religions are Hinduism and Islam (Christians make up about 7%).

Obviously we’re visiting tourist attractions and, as such, people from all over the world are gathered there. So there is no real surprise in hearing languages from all over the world and seeing many different shades of skin. I originally thought I would learn more about Buddhism and the practice of it while I was here. But while I have learned a lot about Sri Lanka’s history and about the culture, I don’t feel like I’m any closer to figuring out how I attain enlightenment. Or if any of my fellow travellers have either.

It just so happens that I’m part of two online groups that are exploring meditation this month. So, I’ve been trying to do a bit of meditating while I’m here (when in Rome, as it were…) Well, it’s been hit and miss but I’m a work in progress, there seem to be many stages on the way to Nirvana. I’ll let you know how it goes…

A bit of Buddha fatigue

Buddhas in Rock Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

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