A path to tranquility and mindfulness
|A resident Bhikkhuni at the Samatha Vipassana Meditation Centre in Kundasala, Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna describes her own discovery of Buddhism and work at this centre that was started in 1991.
About five kilometres from Kandy on the Teldeniya Road at Pallakelle, Kundasale is the Samatha Vipassana Meditation Centre. It is located in a section of the former ‘Gam Udawa’ a concept of the late President R. Premadasa.
|Bhikkhunis at the Centre making their way to the Dana Sala for thir midday meal
A few meditators or yogis as they are called were at the Bodhi tree near the entrance. Further on, a ‘Sil Meni’ was in worship. Another was concentrating on ‘walking meditation’. Yet another was meditating in an ‘Anapanasati’ (breathing in and out) stance.
Calm and collected, Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna came out to meet me from her ‘Kuti’ (a small abode) surrounded by trees. A few parrots were perched on the branches but on hearing our voices they flew away with a squawk perhaps annoyed that their peaceful afternoon rest had been disturbed.
Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna received an award at the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand on March 7, 2005 as part of the UN International Women’s Day activities, in appreciation of her work as a teacher of Dhamma.
The Ven. Bhikkhuni’s early education was at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo and later at Gothami Balika. This was in the 1950’s and 60’s, she recalls. Interestingly when she sat for her SSC examination (the present day GCE O’level) and received a Distinction for Buddhism, the Principal seeing her results, remarked, “you can be a meheni”.
|The Meditation Centre
Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna remembers that she did not take much notice of this statement at that time. She never dreamed that the Principal’s words would come true one day.
After her higher education – HSC, she started teaching English at a school in Kandy and later joined Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala.
Meanwhile, her parents who were from Galle were keen to get her married. There were many proposals, but she met a Tamil Catholic businessman in Kandy and married him. They had three sons. Meanwhile she continued her Dhamma studies, reading many books and growing more interested in the subject day by day. Buddhist philosophy fascinated her.
She gave up teaching to look after her three children, now businessmen.
Then came the period when she started giving alms at the Thapovana temple in Udawattakelle near the Sri Dalada Maligawa and also began observing ‘sil’ once a month on Poya days.
As a student of Dhamma, she went to the Pothgul Viharaya in Kandy to listen to Dhamma talks and discussions. “At this time, I heard that a monk was visiting this Viharaya from Colombo to give these talks and to teach meditation. I didn’t know anything about Vipassana Bhavana.”
“The visiting Bhikkhu was the late Ven. Amatha Gavesi Thera. On an invitation by the Dayakas (lay followers), the Ven. Bhikkhu started the Samatha Vipassana Bhavana Centre in Kundasale in 1991 and my husband allowed me to go for meditation sessions to this centre,” she recalls.
Thereafter, some of the ‘Sil Menins’ wanted to be ordained as bhikkhunis. “A senior Bhikkhuni, Ven. Keselwatte Chandra who is called the ‘Loku Meniyo’ (she is still in charge of the centre and is venerated by all the Bhikkhunis and yogis) was brought to guide us. At first four of us were ordained and there were four ‘Samaneris’, students.”
“I was in my 50’s and studied the ‘Vinaya’ (rules of discipline) and was ordained in Dambulla on March 3, 1996,” says the Ven.Bhikkhuni. There was a 21-year-old girl from Mahiyangana among the four who were ordained. Now there are about 25 resident bhikkhunis at this centre.
Very fluent in English and Sinhala, Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna says the resident nuns have to instruct and help the meditators, local and foreign, to follow the Noble Eightfold Path and develop their minds.
There are many foreigners who come to this centre to find the tranquility they search for. There are both male and female meditators. “We built the kutis and there are about 70 – 100 Bhikkhunis, Sil Menins and meditators in residence every day. Alms are received from the dayakas the whole year round,” she explains. The dayakas come the previous evening with dry rations and prepare the meals in the centre’s kitchen. The gong is struck at 3.30 a.m. for every one to get up. ‘Kola kenda’ is served at 3.45 a.m. They are served breakfast at 7 a.m and the ‘Daval Dana’ (the afternoon meal) is at 11 a.m.
The Bhikkhunis walk upto the ‘Dana Sala’ (hall) on pindapatha (with their begging bowls) to receive their food. After a discourse they have their meal. The meditators too have their meals in the ‘dana sala’. At 3 in the afternoon they are served with a cup of tea without milk. Again at 7 p.m. another cup of tea is served, which is all for the day.
At 4.30 p.m. every day, the bhikkhunis and yogis gather at three locations, near the Bodhi tree, the chaitya and another open area to recite the ‘Pansil’ (five precepts) and other ‘gathas’ (verses of the Buddha’s teaching) conducted by three bhikkhunis.
The Vippassana Meditation Centre conducts two-week resident meditation sessions and people from all over the world come here to train themselves in meditation.
At the Meditation Centre they train 30 to 35 people at a time, male and female, who agree to spend two weeks as resident trainees. A group of nuns assist them individually.
For the benefit of foreign students, Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna has published a booklet,The Path to Nibbana, briefly explaining the Buddha’s Dhamma and the principles of meditation they teach at the Meditation Centre.