You gotta love a country where every full moon is a national holiday. On this "Poya Day", no meat or alcohol can be sold, everyone (every Buddhist, that is, which is about 70% of the population) goes to the temples to worship, the streets are empty and all shops are closed (except the gem store by my hotel which stayed open for the tourists.)
Better yet, June is "Poson Poya", a special day commemorating the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka a couple thousand years ago. All over the country, people set up temporary lean-to's ("Dansala" - literally "a place to give alms") and give away free food and drink to anyone passing by. As we drove under the bright moon toward the temple, we slowed down at every dansala and people reached into to give us pineapple juice, cookies, ice cream cones, tea and iced coffee. We could have stood in longer lines to get a full rice and curry dinner. There was a genuine Joy of giving at each dansala, people just excited by the chance for unadulterated Sharing and connecting. We often had 2 cones thrust upon us, and big cheers from all around as we accepted them. Like Halloween back when we all trusted each other and just played silly together, except this is for adults and with a spiritual strength behind it.
We felt free and welcomed at the huge temple our friend brought us to. Like all temples it had three main areas of worship: the round white pagoda (in some of which are ashes or remains of the Buddha or others), the Bodhi tree (under which Buddha was enlightened), and the inside temple. Incense and oil lamps burned everywhere, flowers were laid on any altar or statue people could reach, and people meditated, prayed, bowed, wandered, talked, sat, whatever moved them to worship or experience in a way meaningful to them. There is much more worshipful devotion to symbols and the Buddha than I'm used to as a Quaker, but I also witnessed and had explained to me that each person finds their own way to experience and express their faith - bowing to the statue and lighting incense are just some of the more visible (and beautiful to watch) ways. Buddhism is a philosophy, my friend explained, not a religion (a point much debated when you google that question).
To complete the sacred carnival melange, we crossed the street to join a long line-up in a field, paying 40 cents to enter a large round barn structure not knowing what mystery it held. Turns out it was a huge carousel-like moving diarama of merchants moving around a circle with their oxcarts, while a man told the historical tale over the microphone. It was tacky and huge and beautiful and mesmorizing, made me feel like Almanzo or Obidiah at the old-fashioned country fair. The picture below doesn't even begin to capture how absurdly perfect an ending it was to a perfect holy day. Happy Poya, friends.
Write to Renew - One of our previous graduates, the talented Jay Nahani, is leading us in a Write to Renew workshop June 14th. For writers and non-writers alike, this one-d...