ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 38

A leap of faith will take you to the top

By Vijaya Jayasuriya

I set about reading Marisa de Silva’s article on her maiden journey to Sri Pada (The Sunday Times: 04.02.07) hoping to enjoy at least a vestige of the tremendous pleasure I derived from the journey during my youth, being now nearly unable to take up the trudge in my old age.

I myself have climbed the sacred mountain several times during my youth and have fortunately not experienced the difficulties our young writer happened to face. This is not at all to say that I didn’t have any of the difficulties on this hazardous journey, quite the contrary, for on these many trips we too had to tackle certain mishaps which our youthful exuberance took in its stride.

Sri Pada

Sri Pada is a most revered place of worship highly regarded by Buddhists all over the world, and our rustic villagers who form the bulk of the Buddhist sect called ‘Saddhanusari’ meaning those who follow the path mainly on their faith do not even utter a single sacrilegious word while on the journey. Even "I’m tired" or "I’m hurt", they express more soothingly by saying "Karunawai, Karunawai…"

The truth is that faith is essential to attain higher planes in the spiritual realm. This trip should not be undertaken merely as a pleasure trip but as a pilgrimage.

The writer mentions the spectacular sunrise (called ‘Ira sevaya’ meaning even the sun worships the Buddha’s footprint), yet does not make any reference to worshipping of the sacred footprint which people do with immense devotion by placing their forehead on the granite block covering it.

Faith, is central to climbing the mountain as well as to any other secular enterprise. Can you operate modern science’s latest contraption called the computer without faith in it? Blind faith as some may call it. Faith followed by spiritual upliftment is the beginning of the journey on the path to Nibbana. Hence the expression of faith in the three refuges ‘Buddhang Dhammang, Sanghang Saranang Gachchami.'

Faith even has the power of circumventing danger and trouble. Once on a journey to Sri Pada as A/Level students at Dharmasoka, Ambalangoda we six youngsters were travelling in the train to Hatton one morning and whether seats were there or not were thoroughly enjoying the trip standing on the footboard viewing the idyllic scenery around.

Rupasiri, being a science student, however, had little faith in any religion and was all the way mouthing sacrilegious comments on the whole undertaking. Unfortunately, due to his unbridled horseplay, riding on the lowest step of the footboard he hit his knee on a huge rock when the carriage lurched taking a bend before entering a tunnel. He yelled in pain and his leg quickly swelled like a football so that when we got off the train at Hatton station he could not walk and had to be helped to a nearby bench by two of us.

We were now in a terrible quandary as to what to do for we could not proceed without him nor could we carry him in that condition. This was when a person with long hair and a long beard, clad in saffron robes approached us, and put his hand on Rupe’s head whispering something we were at loss to decipher. At last he said looking keenly at Rupasiri, have faith in the Buddha! He walked away disappearing in the distance.

After a deep sleep we resumed the journey and Rupasiri now could walk with a little limp, and after worshipping the footprint he climbed down with us without much difficulty.

Our writer had been fortunate to have started the journey at midnight and reach the summit in time to view the sunrise, for, due to big crowds sometimes it takes more than eight hours.

A young mason who helped me recently to build a new shrine room and raise a heavy Buddha statue onto it related to me his experience in climbing the sacred mountain which he said he did every year without fail. In one of these journeys he said he had to wait nearly half an hour on the 'Mahagiridamba’ the final lap just below the summit hanging onto the rails. A strapping lad, his youthful élan had on another occasion prompted him to carry a hefty old mother up the Mahagiridamba with the help of a friend too when this lady had slumped down exhausted at the foot of the rock! (Imagine how she had managed to make the long trudge this side of the rock!) After they took her on to the ‘Maluwa’ she had conferred merits on them saying: ‘Puthalata hath parak hime venda tharam pin’ (This merit is equal to worshipping the footprint seven times). Now Amith says he has made the journey 14 times including those seven conferred on him by that unknown mother!

A final point about the anatomical side of the enterprise is that you have to be relatively fit physically to complete the trek successfully and in one piece! My very first trip was made as a schoolboy and the last as an undergrad of Colombo University in 1965. In all these journeys we almost ran up the mountain without feeling any fatigue at all. This is exactly because our bunch was a ‘physique conscious’ lot dabbling in everything ranging from Yoga exercises to Martial arts. The only exercise the average student does today is carrying that ‘Sagatha Malla’- the huge bag of books called a rucksack on their back.

So it is not the fault of the sacred mountain if you happen to trip up on the journey there, but your own fault not being adequately equipped for it physically. Most important of all is, however, entertaining the necessary faith in undertaking the task.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.