Monday, July 19, 2010

Sri Lanka 6 - Kandy: The Buddha's "Sweet" Tooth

On Saturday, two of my students - Umesh and Isuru, both Catholic - took me to the famous city of Kandy.  It is in the hills, or what is called "up country" here.  It is most famous for the Buddhist Shrine that holds one of the Buddha's teeth.

Buddha is a title meaning "awakened one."  When the title "Lord Buddha" or "The Buddha" is used, they mean the famous Siddartha Gautama. Sri Lanka is primarily a Buddhist country, although it has active Hindu, Islamic and Christian minorities as well, all living in close proximity and in peace.

Both Buddhists and Catholics appreciate the spiritual journey. So here is my little journey into a corner of Buddhism...

We took the seven am train. The boy in front of me kept poking his head out of the open train window the whole trip. He got a little too close for my comfort to the train coming in the opposite direction! The very young always want to know when they will arrive. "Are we there yet?"  But a big part of the spiritual life is learning to love the Way as much as the end.

The train was full. Umesh and Isuru stood for half the three hour trip so I could have the one available seat. Umesh hung out the open door most of the time. He asked me more than once if I wanted to join him. He certainly had the best view! Whenever we would go into one of the numerous tunnels, the train would fill with acrid diesel fumes and the school-girls on a field trip in the car in front of us would let out a loud scream! Young people have so much of the journey to look forward to and so much joy ahead of them on the Way. As a teacher, I am truly blessed to be in their company so often.

We arrived on time. A short walk and we were on the path to the great shrine at Kandy.  We were joined by hundreds of other pilgrims as well.

Soon we were in line.

Lotus flowers and jasmine were for sale everywhere along the route.

Shoes off.  This is holy ground!
Many devout Buddhists carried lotus flowers to place in front of the statues or relic of Lord Buddha. I did not.  I find the line between custom and worship difficult to figure out in my experiences with Buddhism. I come always as an observer and a friend.

There is a beautiful entrance way, befitting a holy place.

Now a flurry of activity as we are whisked by The Buddha's sacred tooth!

I did not see it!
It all happened so fast.
I glanced in the direction, but it was too late. 
The line had to keep moving.

But,there was a beautiful Buddha hall afterward where we rested for a bit...

and monkeys all around the place...

and wonderfully aromatic camphor and incense...

and an elegant elder who lost her Way. Umesh and Isuru helped her in Sinhala....

Heading back.  Holier for the journey together.

from The Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate 2, 1965.
Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. ... The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.