Mindful Steps in Serene Clouds

by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 23 May 2024

How nature and tradition blend to create the ideal monks training sanctuary in Taiping. 

Taiping, Malaysia -- Amidst cloud clad mountains, green hills, and a serene lake shimmering under the golden rays of sunset, one finds the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS), a place fostered to enable one to experience deep spiritual serenity. Located in a hilly area on the outskirts of Taiping, this sanctuary blends seamlessly with natural greenery, offering a peaceful retreat for both monks and lay practitioners.

SBS features a monastery for Buddhist monks and a retreat centre for lay practitioners. Visitors must arrange transport with the office to reach the hilltop. The facilities include a sima hall (shrine), office, multi-purpose hall, dining hall, meditation halls within forested areas, guest lodges, and numerous walking paths ideal for outdoor meditation. Regular meditation retreats are held here.

A Burmese inspired stupa called the "thupalaya" can be seen at SBS

Halfway down the hill, lay devotees have constructed a small replica of a Burmese stupa, called the thupalaya (abode of the stupa). This year's Vesak is special for visitors to SBS as the stupa area is transformed into a dazzling fairyland of colorful neon lights.

Monks, predominantly from abroad, reside at the sanctuary. The current Saṅghaṇāyaka (leader of the community of the monks) of SBS Monk Training Centre is Ayasma Ariyadhammika from Austria. Ayasma, ordained in 2005, became the Saṅghaṇāyaka in 2018. There are currently about 20 monks and samaneras (novices) residing in SBS.

Monks from SBS Training Centre filing in line towards Taiping Insight Meditation Society (TIMS)for dana

Each morning around 8 am, these monks, known locally as "ascetic monks," walk to the Taiping Insight Meditation Society (TIMS) located in a bungalow at the hill's base. This 40-minute walk allows them to collect their daily food, or "dana," from TIMS. This practice, called "dhutanga," involves observing some of the thirteen ascetic practices mentioned in the Buddha’s discourses, such as eating only one meal per day.

Lay person washing legs of a monk

Upon reaching TIMS, one can observe a layperson washing the feet of the monks before they enter the premises. As the SBS monks walk barefoot, washing their feet before entering any abode becomes a common practice. If a layperson is unavailable, junior monks will wash the feet of their elders. This practice, aimed at cultivating humility, is a common tradition in Theravadin monasteries.

Monks partaking in the alms food offered by lay people

This daily ritual offers laypeople the opportunity to provide dana, and in return, the monks sometimes offer short Dhamma sharing or Guided meditation by SBS monastic. Longer Dhamma talks are offered after dana on Saturday, and guided meditation by a SBS monastic on every Sunday.

This interaction symbolizes the interdependence between the ordained Sangha and the lay community, forming the foundation of the four-fold assembly.
Ayasma Ariyadhammika demonstrates how the barks of mangrove trees are used to create dye to colour monks' robes

After collecting their food, the monks return to the monastery to perform daily chores such as dyeing robes using barks from mangrove trees, mending robes, and maintaining their living quarters (kuti). Their days are primarily devoted to Dharma study, meditation, and regular community meetings (Pa?imokkha).

While Sasanarakkha offers modern amenities, it provides an ideal setting that encourages monks to live simply and mindfully. They practice meditation either in solitude or with fellow monks. Their world largely consists of personal and group cultivation, with people from TIMS and the provincial town of Taiping providing support. Such symbiotic arrangements allow the monks to entirely focus on their spiritual journey.

Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of tradition and nature, fostering an environment where both monks and lay practitioners can pursue their spiritual paths. In this serene setting, the daily routines of the monks, the offering of dana by laypeople, and the shared Dhamma teachings highlight the enduring interdependence within the Buddhist community. This sanctuary, with its peaceful surroundings and commitment to mindfulness, continues to inspire those who seek deeper understanding and connection on their journey towards enlightenment.

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