Here, atop the Kudumbigala Rock, experience the ascetic’s tranquil way of life firsthand. Wrapped in an atmosphere of calm, Buddhist monks, who have renounced even the austere comforts of the village temple, lead an isolated existence, absorbed in mediation, seeking the all elusive inner peace. They follow in the steps of their religious brethren, who continuously made this rocky habitat their forest hermitage for 2,000 years. Cloistered from external distractions, ensconced amidst rocks and trees and balmed by a soothing breeze, they strive to attain Nirvana, which Buddhists hold as the spiritual kingdom where freedom of the mind reigns supreme.
Leave behind your emotional baggage, conditioned thoughts, prejudices and perceived notions at the foot of this rock, steeped in history. And begin to take the first step on a pilgrim’s progress to explore the serenity of an entirely different world. The long and winding path to the top of the rock is placidly beautiful with each step inviting you to take the next, which inexorably you do. The soil on the ground is sandy white, clean and pure.
Tall trees and even taller boulders flank the enchanting path as it twists and turns leading toward the summit where the ambience provides one with the opportunity to discover the joys of losing one’s ego. At one point in the trek, you find the path taking you through two giant boulders, a rocky canyon. Rocks rise on either side and some slope away.
On the way, you might happen to chance upon a solitary monk on the path cleaning the ground with a broom. He meets you with a smile and for a moment stops his cleaning activity to greet you. You inquire from him a few details of the place you are in and he smiles and tells you to make those inquiries from the monk at the top of the summit who might find the time to explain such matters. He explains-again with a few words and a smile, not in any apologetic or condescending way but in a matter of fact manner-he has to clean his path in the time he himself has allotted to that task, for time is of the essence. Thus you begin to understand that here on this isolated rock the sense and degree of discipline exerted by its inhabitants towards time management is ever present.
A band of monkeys flitting from tree to tree, from rock to rock, having all the time to spare, follow your movement and keep close guard and watch as you make your progress up the rock, wondering perhaps who it is who dares invade the celestial citadel of tranquility of which they appear to be the self appointed custodians.
Further up you come across a few ‘kutis’, the private meditating and living chambers of the resident monks, quaintly secluded under protruding boulders. Away from the path and deeper in the surrounding forest inhabited by wandering elephants and honey seeking bears, are over 200 archeologically listed rock caves which some monks use as their ‘kutis’.
Soon, after a journey that has taken you half an hour, you take the final step and ascend the plateau. Throughout the climb, apart from the solitary monk doing his cleaning chores, you have not come across any one. But you are not alone and neither are you the first. More than 2,300 years ago this rock was the chosen seat of an ancient monastery of meditating monks, and has been so ever since except for a few hundred years when western colonialists occupied Sri Lanka. The monastic complex was originally established in 246 BC, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, the king who first made Buddhism the religion of the land. As further evidence of this is a small brick built ancient stupa stands at the right end of the tableland. It was built by King Kavan Tissa (205-161BC) the father of King Dutugamunu.
After years of remaining uninhabited during the period when Sri Lanka was under foreign domination, the lost rock of Kudumbigala was discovered in 1942 by Upasaka Maithree, who had been a catholic from the town of Negombo and an employee of the Ceylon Railways. He was also an amateur explorer and one day whilst he was sojourning in the East Coast and foraying into the surrounding jungles he stumbled upon the hidden history of the rock. He was so allured by the spiritualistic air that pervaded the placid atmosphere, he experienced a mystic conversion and 10years later, returned to the still uninhabited rock to take up abode as Upasaka Maithree. He lived and mediated on this rock and then invited an ordained monk to take up residence with other monks, invitations which were duly accepted. He passed away on this rock in 1971 after expressing a wish that his remains should be kept on display in a rock cave. His wish was honored and his skeleton remained on display behind a glass frame until 1994 when it was vandalized and his bones thrown into the jungle.
Kudumbigala, along with its sister rock Balumgala, is part of the Kudumbigala Tapas Vanaya, a 640 acre area under the Chief Monk Ven Palawatte Buddhawansa Thera. Today there are about 15 monks who have chosen out of their own free-will to dwell in this wilderness in pursuit of that eternal goal. They live a solitary existence and have their own individualistic way of attaining it. No rudimentary or regimented codes exist to govern their routine or their conduct. No external authority is imposed upon their lifestyle, no big brother watches to monitor their progress. Here, the individual is totally responsible for himself and has the unbridled freedom to forge his own future.
A small hall next to the stupa serves as a dining area and as a place where Dhamma sermons are preached to the laity when the occasion so demands. But this, too, is limited for there is a general reluctance on the part of these taciturn monks to preach, on the basis that one must first attain higher states of wisdom before one can teach anything meaningful.
This hall is the only meeting place for the monks, but even here in this dining hall many don’t eat but serve themselves from the pots on display and retire to their kutis to partake their food. They will consume any food that is available in the pots which are offered by the villagers and other donors and do not discriminate between the food offered; their purpose is solely to nourish the body that contains the mind, not to gain satiation from sense-based gratifications. The mystic lure of Kudumbigala’s ascetic way of life will hold one in a seductive spell; and draw one back to hark the call of meditation rock.
Kudumbigala Monastery lies 11 miles from Panama and 17 miles away from the Kumana Village.
Kudumbigala monastic complex was built in 246 BC, during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. It was first established as a refuge for the Buddhist monks, who wanted to get away from the busy cities. Archeologists had recovered 200 rock caves belonging to this forgotten monastery.
The inscriptions in Brahmi script and other evidence in the recently discovered cave, Maha Sudharshana Lena, shows that Kudumbigala was established as an Aranya Senansanaya in the pre-Christian era. A stone inscription has it that the Maha Sudharshana Lena was built and gifted to the Arahats by the Giant Warrior Nandimitra, one of King Dutugemunu’s “Dasa Maha Yodayas”, the ten giant warriors.
The importance of the Kudumbigala monastery cannot be expressed in words. The Only Cylindrical Dagaba to survive in Sri Lanka today, is in this monastery.
LTTE terrorists have thrown tar on the head of the Buddha statue. That was the last warning given to the monks vacate the place.
Courtesy of Chula Wickramasinghe, Hiran Cooray and Asoka Kuruppu
Story of Maithree Upasaka
He was a Catholic from Negombo. While working in the Ceylon Railways, he discovered the hidden history of the Sinhalese, which changed his life forever. In 1954, he came to Kudumbigala Monastery and cleaned up the place. There he lived, meditated and safeguarded the place for the future generations of Sri Lankans until he died on September 10, 1971. Today, he is regarded as the hero, who protected this historic place, all alone, while most of the country’s politicians and officials were sleeping with the enemy.
Until 1994, the remains of the Maithree Upasaka were displayed in a rock cave as he wished.
Then the LTTE terrorists smashed the glass display and threw his remains into the jungle.
We thank the researcher who recovered them from the jungle again.
Humans advanced from the barbarian era to a civilized era. While communities like the Sinhalese Buddhists searched for the truth, fairness, and justice for all, many others, led by those who were after political, business objectives, searched for their own ethnic, religious and social interests. They covered their selfishness, fraud and hypocrisy with hair-splitting arguments, lies, and propaganda.