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Somewhere between nature and the mind

by Maike Winters, The Island, September 4, 2010

A visit to the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre

Kandy, Sri Lanka -- It takes more than an hour by bus from Kandy, a very rocky tuktuk ride up a mountain and exposure to blood-thirsty leeches to get to the Meditation Centre.

But once you are there, even the rain can’t stop you from having the most relaxed feeling on earth. Just looking at all the laymen, foreigners and Sri Lankans practising their meditation skills helps calm your mind.

The Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre is a popular place to escape the worries of day to day life and focus entirely on meditation. It was founded in 1979 by Godwin Samararatne and his Buddhist lay group. After he passed away in 2000, the main teacher of the Centre now is Upul Nishanta Gamage.

Being a foreigner, and an unreligious one, I was very interested to experience the Buddhist way of living. Armed with an umbrella, a torch and with my eyes focussed for the leeches, I joined the Meditation Centre for two days. It was an experience I will never forget.

First on the agenda: learn how to meditate. One of the laymen, Nalaka, took me to the yoga hall of the centre and told me all about meditation. Sounds simple enough; close your eyes and focus on your breathing. But after just 10 seconds I noticed how hard this can be! I was thinking of so many other things. A small selection of the activity in my head; what do leeches do once they are full of blood? How nice would it be to have eyes in the back of your head? I am not flexible enough for this lotus position.But as my teacher told me, just be aware of your thoughts and let them course freely.

So that’s what I did in the next group meditation session. Together with 18 people from all over the world, I closed my eyes again and just let my mind go. Oh, wait - I also have to focus on breathing. Just relax and be aware of your body, as my teacher told me.

20 minutes later I woke up, dribbling on my shoulder. Oops, that was a bit too relaxing! It’s a good thing that everybody had their eyes closed. I imagine I wasn’t the nicest picture to look at.At night some chanting and small snacks were on the menu. Everything happened in a noble silence.

Most of those who make the effort to go all the way to the centre, stay for quite some time. It varies, but on average the meditators stay one week at least. People come for all sorts of reasons - to learn some relaxation techniques, to get more knowledge about Buddhism, or to learn how to deal with a personal problem by means of meditating. The laymen and teachers live there and will teach you more about all the aspects of meditation.

To me, even though I had to keep my eyes closed most of the time, it really opened them. And apart from the numerous leeches on my legs, it was an amazing experience. It definitely gave me food for thought.... Uhm... meditation I mean!

"The simpler you live, the happier you are"



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