This photo-journal records a pilgrimage made in Sri Lanka in November of 2019. I had been invited numerous times to visit this ancient
seedbed of Theravāda Buddhism but, prior to this present occasion, had always declined the offers. The reason for this was not a disinterest in the country, with its ancient Buddhist traditions and numerous holy places, rather it was that, if I was going to go, I wanted to go quietly
as a pilgrim and not on a teaching tour or part of a bustling group of devotees. Sometimes I wondered if I was being too fussy or narrow on this score but, in retrospect, I am very glad to have waited for forty years to make the journey.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s I would make brief visits to Amaravati Monastery every year. I was living at Abhayagiri Monastery in California during that time and I would come to the UK once annually to attend Elders’ Council meetings with the Sangha in Europe. I first met Ajahn Vinita in 2005 on one of those trips and, subsequently, we crossed paths on many occasions. He had always impressed me as one who was cheerful, unselfish, fully committed to the monastic life and to the practice of the Forest Tradition ways under the guidance of Luang Por Sumedho. When I moved to Amaravati in 2010, to take over as abbot on Luang Por’s retirement, Ajahn Vinita had always been helpful and supportive in every way.
Within the first few years after I had arrived and settled in at Amaravati the question arose of whether I would be interested to go to Sri Lanka one day. After all, I had named the monastery in California after a famous Sri Lanka institution, the original Abhayagiri Vihāra having flourished for about 1250 years, between roughly 80 BCE to 1170 CE. I mentioned to Ajahn Vinita the concern that I had, that I would like ‘to go quietly as a pilgrim’ and he was completely sympathetic with that. It took a few more years for the conditions to come together but eventually, by sometime in 2017, we began to make serious plans.
The account of the journey, and the reflections around it that are gathered here, should be considered the perspective of a single Western bhikkhu, encountering the shrines, forests and lanes of Tambapanni for the first time. It is not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on Buddhist history, or Buddhist practice in the present day – some places were missed, some people have certainly been forgotten along the way – rather, dear reader, it is intended to be a collage of impressions, assembled and arranged to represent one angle of view upon a unique spiritual culture, set among the living jewels of the Copper Isle.
May any blessings that come from these pages be of benefit to all beings and conduce to the peace and well-being of Sri Lanka.