Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Three Temples

When Vay and I decided to go to Sri Lanka, we agreed that we wanted to experience some culture, as well as, have some adventures. Neither of us had ever been East of Kuwait and we wanted to learn something about the beliefs held on this gorgeous little island.

Quite quickly it became clear that Buddha was very valued on the island, as every city, town and village had numerous statues on street corners and in shrines. It was also clear that they were quite used to tourists as every Buddha (even the one in the airport) had a sign in front of it that clearly stated "Please do not take photographs with your back turned toward the statue."

Seeing the Buddhas on street corners was not enough for us, though. We wanted to visit a temple. We were assured that the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy was a good choice. So after 2 days of hiking and camping in the jungle we arrived at the temple at 7 at night.

Our arrival at the temple was fortuitous, as we were able to see many of the rooms due to it being a time of worship, but also awkward, as most of the people arriving at the temple were there as pilgrims, not tourists with cameras in hand. Still, we were glad to walk through the rooms, and even get to glance at the golden casket that holds the Buddha's tooth. It was interesting and different to see the practices of this culture.

The following day proved to be even more educational, though. Our Sri Lankan "mom", a woman who had taken us under her wing, invited us stay in her home and had made us home-cooked meals each day, offered to give us a tour of the three temples winding up the hills of Kandy. We willing jumped at this offer, and so, instead of spending our morning killing time waiting for the train, we instead tuk-tuked from temple to temple learning about the practices and art of Buddhism.

The temples we visited that day were gorgeous. The first two were all built of stone, even the ground was melted rock. The third was intricately carved wood and stone together. All three temples were still actively used and hosted processions each year. The art and statues were well cared for and the views from the temples were amazing. 

Recent offering were laid at each temple and our "mom" and driver would bow and whisper to each statue. Many times throughout the trip it was explained to us that Buddhism was a way of life, not a religion, whereas Hinduism was a religion that at times might incorporate Buddhism. This mixing of beliefs became clear at the temples where a Hindu temple would be located on the same ground as the statue of Buddha and, although, I was never really clear how the two mixed, everyone, the pilgims, our guides, our "mom", our drivers and others, seemed to mix the two beliefs effortless. It was inspiring to see.


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