Rockhill Monastery

Back near the beginning of December, 2008, I wrote about being “adopted” by several “families” here in Sri Lanka. In this post, I continue the story of our retiree acquaintance, PP, whose family has adopted us. In the previous post, I wrote about how PP took us on our first trip out of Kandy to a tea plantation and to see the countryside about Kandy.

Well, PP and his family outdid themselves a few weeks later. As before, PP came by the house to visit, this time bringing his older son. As we chatted over tea, the topic turned to Buddhism. This led PP to ask if we wanted to visit a monastery and also to have lunch at his house. Sure! So off we went, the older son driving.

PP had not warned his wife we were coming to lunch, but he did stop at a bakery in Peradeniya Town for “short eats,” a kind of Sri Lankan fast food, if you will. We then proceeded toward their house.

Hill country "paddy"

Hill country "paddy"

On the way, we were treated to our first close up look at “paddy,” the rice fields. (Where we would say “paddy fields”  or “rice paddies,” Sri Lankans say just “paddy.” ) PP owns some paddy, which he leases to farmers, and so was something of an authority on rice cultivation in Sri Lanka. We learned that the irrigation of rice is different in the hill country of Sri Lanka as opposed to the dry zone region further north. Here in the hill country, paddy is planted with rice to coincide with the two rainy seasons each year. The water for the fields is channelled from streams in the hills to the paddy fields. The farmers depend on the regularity of the rains (and control over drainage) to keep the paddy flooded for the first three months of the four month growing period of the rice plant. If the rainy season ends as expected, the paddy is drained for the last month of the growing period. There are two monsoons in Sri Lanka, so farmers expect to get two crops each year.

This is in contrast to rice farming in the northern part of the country. In the north, Sri Lankans over the centuries have created enormous reservoirs to control irrigation water. For some odd reason, the British, presumably not ignorant of the word “reservoir,” called these reservoirs, “tanks,” and that is what they are called by English speakers today. In regions with tanks, rain water is stored in these large reservoirs until needed to flood the rice paddies. This gives the farmers more control over the the water level in the paddy and, consequently, these regions are more productive of rice than paddy in the hill country.

PP told us that ever since the tsunami (in 2004) the farmers have noticed that the monsoons are not as predictable as they used to be. They are getting heavy rain during times when the weather has been hot and dry in the past. Too much of this rain at the wrong time can, and has, ruined the rice crop. Now it is hard to imagine that the tsunami could have had anything at all to do with the change in weather and four years of weather data is not a large data set, but PP is among those Sri Lankans who believe that they are seeing the early effects of global warming.

After stopping to see the paddy, we finished our journey to PP’s home. His wife seemed pleased to see us despite the surprise. We were introduced to another of PP’s sons and one of his two daughters. After a bit of a visit, we were invited to go on to the monastery with the promise that lunch would be waiting on our return. So off we went, with the older son now driving the family four wheel drive pickup and the youngest son riding in the truck bed.

Ancient temple caretaker

Temple caretaker

The 4WD was a blessing as the road was in poor condition. Fortunately it was not far. Our first stop was an ancient Buddhist temple, the caretaker of which is pictured to the right. The old temple was locked up, but its exterior had some interest. There were some beautiful, carved wood, inverted lotus blossoms over the entry way. The moonstone at the entrance was in pretty good condition. And, even though the temple is considered an archaeological site, it is obviously still used for worship. There are triangular niches that are used to burn oil in small bowls. The small bowls are made from some fruit husk. The bowls seemed too small to be coconut, but that was what theyresembled. The bowls had obviously been used within the last few days. The temple grounds also contained a sacred bodhi tree, the type of tree under which the Buddha was sitting when he found enlightenment.

bikkhus

novices

From the ancient temple, we went to a modern monastery and meditation center, called Rockhill Hermitage and International Meditation Center. The monastery was built through the efforts of Bhante Kassapa. (Bhante means “venerable sir” and is the title used in Sri Lanka for Buddhist monks). We were introduced to Bhante Kassapa and he spent quite a bit of time with us, including giving us a personal tour of the monastery.

Bhante Kassapa told us that he came to this area and began living in a rock cave. Over the years, he acquired a following that eventually built up a 15 acre monastery, including quarters for both monks and nuns, and a meditation center where anyone can come to study meditation technique. In addition to teaching meditation and  tending to a local following, Bhante Kassapa travels internationally to teach meditation techniques to cancer patients. He told us about participating in controlled clinical trials in Australia that demonstrated improvements to several measures of health and improved the quality life of the cancer patients. In addition to Australia, he has also taken his treatment techniques to Malaysia.

Some things about the monastery seem exotic to the visiting Westerner. A hollow log is struck in the morning and the evening to remind the residents for miles around that it is time for prayer and meditation. The sound is low and musical and carries forever through the hills and valleys. Bhante Kassapa’s rock cave has been improved over the years. A front wall makes the entrance look like a (very) small cottage with two floors. The rock face has been plastered and painted. It is the only rock cave I know with electricity and phone service. In recent years, Bhante Kassapa has moved into new quarters that serves as his home, his office, and his reception hall.

The site really is lovely and we appreciated very much the time that Bhante Kassapa spent with us.

We left the monastery and returned to PP’s house, where  his wife had put together a feast. PP’s older daughter had arrived home while we were absent, so we met her for the first time. We stuffed ourselves on all sorts of good food, but especially an excellent chicken curry. Finally, it was time to say goodbye and we were driven home by PP and his elder son.

It was a remarkable day and one that we could not have had without the generous solicitude of PP and his family. Their kindness toward us once again illustrated the remarkable Sri Lankan trait of adopting people they have barelymet.

Tim

More photos from this day (and better quality versions of the photos included on this page) are on my Picasa website.

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1 Comment

  1. Jim said,

    January 24, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Tim, I originally began my visits to SL to go bird watching in 2003. I really like your pictures and appreciate the loose and candid views of taking pictures of creatures that just won’t settle. May I ask what youy are using for equipment?I used to use a point and shoot but recently spent a bit more money on a major step up. I’ll be in the Sinharaja area soon and look forward to spending time with binoculars and lugging around the camera…just in case.
    Thanks. PS- Dambula Hotel…really worth the $$?


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