Buddhism and the Village
BUDDHISM AND THE VILLAGE
Having spent some time here at Polwaththa Eco Lodges, you would have experienced authentic village life in the central hills of Sri Lanka. A striking feature that you would have noticed are the smiling faces all around you. You may wonder how such relatively poor people could be so friendly to total strangers. This behavior is attributed to Buddhism which a vast majority embrace. Love and Compassion - the hallmark of Buddhism, allows them to naturally display their willingness to accommodate you. One of the first lessons that the Buddha taught (and himself learnt) was the “Middle Path” which in simple terms means - living not in poverty nor in luxury or in other words….. lead a simple life. If you look around you when doing a trek through the village, you will find simplicity in almost everything they do – be it their house, their clothes, their mode of transport or the food they consume. If one craves to continuously improve on the basic requirements of one’s needs, it will be a matter of time before he starts to suffer from his inability to achieve all of what he wants. For this reason, most villagers are content with what they have and spend their latent time and energy on others - including you! It is common to see the entire village participating in a funeral – preparing the meals for all who come, digging the grave, keeping vigil and consoling the bereaved. This spirit of participation is extended to weddings, ceremonies, rice-cultivation and even quarrels with their neighbors!
A word of caution: The Buddhism presently practiced here may not always be in line with what the Buddha preached, some of which you have already encountered such as the local Priest chanting through a loud-speaker, people worshipping in fervor at a temple, indiscipline when driving or a lack of concern for the environment and for stray dogs & cats. However, they open a window for you to see a different life-style and if you wish to go deeper, please feel free to talk to Nihal (Owner) who is at most time available at the Lodge.
AN INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM
The number of books written on Buddhism or made available in the internet is so vast that a beginner will not know which to choose nor where to begin - and his enthusiasm is often dampened by too-much-too-soon. This is an attempt by Nihal, the owner of Polwaththa Eco Lodges by no means a scholar but whose “feel” for Buddhism is more by virtue than by acquired knowledge, combined with his experience in the West, to give an idea of what Buddhism is to any one interested.
Buddhism originated in India approx. 2.600 years ago when the young Prince “Siddhartha” became the “Buddha” or the enlightened one. The teaching of The Buddha was in the beginning memorized and passed on to the next generation by a selected clan who were professionally trained to do just that. At a later stage it took a written form – at most times carved on the dried leaf of the Ola palm tree. The language in which The Buddha taught was Pali which was closely associated with Sanskrit which no longer are used in the countries where Buddhism thrives. It has been translated into many languages over the years and in doing so, has at times, not produced the exact meaning of the original text which tends to create some confusion in a few key areas. This is understandable considering the length of time – passed on from one to another for 2.600 years and the depth of His teaching - estimated to be 11 times the size of the Bible. However, the essence of Buddhism and remarkably almost all of what he had preached are preserved and continues to influence the lives of several hundred millions of people in many parts of Asia and beyond with the West showing more interest than ever before at a time when the world is becoming increasingly more hostile to live in.
Buddhism is not a religion nor a Philosophy and can be best termed as a “Way of Life”. Unlike a religion it does not believe in super-natural powers such as that of a God who could redeem a person and instead, puts the onus on the individual to redeem himself. The Buddha taught his followers how – the path to redemption or freedom or salvation. It is also not a philosophy since it is expected to be actively followed in everyday life.
The key words in Buddhism are Compassion, Tolerance, Impermanence, Mindfulness and Craving (avoidance of). If you could understand these words well and convert that into practice in your daily life, it will lead you to a simple life with very little suffering. Is that a big deal? Maybe not right now while you read this paper during your vacation but many moons later when your (impermanent) structure has changed to a weaker state, you will probably think again. Your life is in your hands and your thoughts and actions will determine your future within this lifetime, or…… beyond. With this in mind, The Buddha has shown the path to follow. If you wish to seriously study that in detail, you better read some books that I could recommend such as “Dhamma Reflections: Collected Essays of Bhikku Bodhi” or of Francis Story, available at the Buddhist Publication Society by the Kandy lake or order them via internet. If you wish to benefit from such writings and elevate yourself to a higher level of concentration, you should be prepared to train your mind, the power of which is beyond comprehension to a novice. If you wish to have a light-hearted chat based on Buddhism where we can learn from each other, come join me for a drink.
May you all be Well and Happy