Saturday, December 1, 2007

pollonnaruwa - gal vihara

Buddhas in Pollonnaruwa, Ceylon
Photograph by Thomas Merton
Thirty-nine years ago today – December 1, 1968 – Merton visited the Pollonnaruwa, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Within this city are a group of 4 giant Buddha Statues known as the “Gal Vihara” temple. It was here that Merton had an astounding insight. [also described in this blog here.]

Somewhat worried that he had spoiled the experience by trying to speak of it to acquaintances, he does not write about it in great descriptive detail until 4 days later (December 4th – pp. 322-324 “The Other Side of the Mountain”).
The place is remote, quiet, uncrowded:

“I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything – without refutation – without establishing some other argument …

“Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. … The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no “mystery”. All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life is charged with dharmakaya – everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. ….

"I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguises. This is Asia in its purity, not covered over with garbage, Asian or European or American, and it is clear, pure, complete. It says everything; it needs nothing. And because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we, Asians included, who need to discover it.”

going nowhere

  Leonard Cohen “Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can s...