thomas m wilson

Traveling Sri Lanka 2014, Part Two

February 16th, 2014


This morning we rose very early to visit Jetavanaramaya.  This stupa is the largest – by volume – of any structure from the ancient world.  It is 122 metres tall, and in the early morning light it was quite a sight. The lush green field was capped by the floating dome over the tree tops before us.


It had been sacked by invaders, and its cone was broken, but this only made it more evocative.


Ruins of an ancient city were spread over the surrounding area.  We walked through the early morning light, accompanied by no other humans, but lots of bird song.


One of the King’s baths being considered by a stray dog…


Smadhi Buddha Statue, enframed by the green forest that envelops this area of the ancient city. In this beautiful Buddha statue, the Buddha is said to attain nirvana.


The best form of transport to see this rambling, ancient city is the bike.  This country has plenty of vintage classics.



Then we made our way to see Sri Maha Bodhiya.  To visit this tree you pass into a walled courtyard, and then pass over one of these huge moonstones.


Sri Maha Bodhiya is a tree.  It is the oldest planted and tended tree in the world (more than two thousand years), and was taken from a bit of the original tree in India under which the Buddha meditated and planted here. It is probably a calmer and quieter place than the Bodhi tree in India, and as such is, I’m going to take a stab at suggesting, the most sacred place devoted to a tree in the context of religion on the planet.


This is the wall of the surrounding courtyard, not the tree itself.  Pilgrims sitting on the sand by the ancient wall, with the bird song filling the branches of the tree above us. Such is the beauty of this place that as I stood in the cool morning air listening to the various species of bird sing strangely in the canopy and noticing the worshippers leaning against the ancient stone walls of the tree compound, I thought to myself how Christianity never integrates the natural world so deeply as this place does into the consciousness.


In the stone churches and cathedrals Christianity in its Roman Catholic, Eastern or reformed Protestant incarnations, only human babble and human images grace the walls and the ceiling. Being at Sri Maha Bodhi really impressed upon me how an atheist such as myself really does have more time for some aspects of Buddhist worship than Christian worship.