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Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) – Prologue

2 Nov

What Adam’s Peak looks like on a non-monsoon day

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Those were the last words that Adam heard as he was cast out of Eden. And where did his first step fall outside of the Garden? That was where I was headed. It has many names. Names tied to the many religious traditions which have revered it for several centuries. A few of these names are Ratnagiri, Shiva Padam, Mount Rohana, Samanalakanda, Pico de Adão or Adam’s Peak.  In Sinhalese, the proper religious name is Sri Pada or the “Holy Footprint”. It’s not a very tall mountain at 2243m (7,359ft), but it goes vertical from the forest floor to the clouds.  Years of pounding rains and erosion have chiseled it into a cone that dwarfs everything else around it.  At the top of Sri Pada is an imprint of a large human-looking foot in a rock. Legend has it that the footprint was first uncovered over 2000 years ago, when an exiled Sri Lankan King had been forced into living in a remote forest and then one day while hunting a deer he found his way up the mountain and stumbled upon the large footprint. Word of the footprint’s existence spread from there and it was deemed by the Sri Lankan Sangha to have been made by the Buddha’s left foot during one of the 3 trips he had made to Sri Lanka.  Certain Christian and Muslim traditions which took root in Sri Lanka through colonization and trade believed that this footprint was made by Adam himself when he fell out from Eden. Hindus who saw the footprint concluded that it had to be that of Shiva. Regardless of the exact divinity of the footprint, it is an object of deep veneration and during December to April of each year tens of thousands of pilgrims flock en masse to climb the mountain and pray at the shrine that has been built around the footprint. This shrine has metal doors that remain open during the pilgrimage season so that the footprint can be seen. However, the footprint image that is made available to the public is a man-made footprint complete with engraved depictions of the Wheel of the Dharma and other Buddhist symbols. The actual rock containing the footprint (or petrosomatoglyph) is found several feet below the public-facing external image and from what I understand this rock is not able to be viewed by the public. Based on writings of people who have seen the actual petrosomatoglyph, the footprint is nearly 5 feet long and would have to belong to a giant. Some accounts of the Buddha said that he was incredibly tall, but to have 5ft-sized feet certainly could not be possible. The Buddha was just a man who found a path and practice, and then was awakened. He was a giant in mind and purpose, but not in physical size. He could not have flown as Sri Lankan tradition believes he did from the top of Adam’s Peak down to Kelaniya in Colombo. I would have to personally make the climb, get to the shrine, and reflect on all of this.

Train to Hatton, Sri Lanka

I took a train from Colombo to Hatton which is a town in the middle of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.  The elevation and climate of the area combine to produce some of the best tea on earth. Many tea estates and plantations dot the hills and some of these are open for tea tastings. From Hatton, I had to hop on a bus and then switch to a minibus in order to make the last leg of the journey to the village of Dalhousie which is located at the entry to the northern route to Adam’s Peak. Scottish tea planters apparently liked to bestow names from their own country onto the areas in Sri Lanka where they planted. I was staying at a guest house called the Yellow House. When I entered, it was immediately clear that I was only the person staying there. I did a quick recon walk down to the main area of the village and found it was completely deserted. There was not a soul around. When I went back to my guest house, I talked to the owner who said that during the monsoon season everyone left Dalhousie except for just a handful of people who worked in the tea estates around the area and maintained properties in the village.  He told me that if I was going to climb the mountain that it would be unlikely that I would see the sunrise because the mountain was encased in a cloud. He also cautioned that the mountain was extremely windy and rainy and that large chunks of the trail had been completely washed away. I thanked him for the info and said I was doing the climb. I wasn’t here to see a sunrise. I wanted to experience the same walk that the Buddha had undertaken over a millennia ago. I wanted to have my lungs burn, my legs quake, and my back ache in the same way as the Buddha must have felt when he did the steep climb to the summit.  I would leave in the early morning and hopefully get to the summit by noon. Before I left, I would make sure to see the proprietor one last time — just so he could be alerted to my absence if something were to happen and I failed to make it back. It was a morbid thought, but I nevertheless had to cover my base on that.

The first of ten thousand steps – “5km to Adam’s Peak”

So, that was my plan — to climb Adam’s Peak that next morning — come Hell or High Water.  While the High Water came in Biblical proportions, there was no Hell (despite my horribly mangled knees). Instead, there was something altogether different. A communion.



23 Jul

With his strength restored, Siddhartha crossed the river. On the other side he walked down a small hill and entered a grove of large canopy-branched trees.  One particular tree caught his eye. It was cheery with bright green spade-like leaves. It was still a young tree, but it provided just the right amount of shade for him in order to sit underneath. He would not sit without some comfort this time, and so he bunched together clumps of grass and fallen leaves and made a cushion for himself.  His stomach was full and his mind clear. He positioned himself to face where the sun would rise and he would not get up from his seat until he had discovered the answers to what he was seeking. When that had happened the last vestige of the prince would be gone forever.  He then lapsed into a sublime meditative state, but the threat of what Siddhartha may become should he succeed was a threat to the ignorance that kept so much of the world spiritually comatose.  Evil had taken notice and would not sit idly by while Siddartha began to tap into the source of the light. Christ was baptized in the Jordan River and after that he wandered into the Judean desert where it is said he fasted for 40 days and nights in order to steady his resolve and prepare for his earthly ministry.  As with Siddhartha, evil took notice of Christ’s meditation in the desert and was determined to lead Christ astray by tempting him 3 times. The devil — one who had fallen from the light — first tempted Christ by enticing him to turn stones into bread.  Despite his pangs of hunger, Christ rebuffed the devil. So, the devil next took Christ up to a high temple and implored Christ to jump as the angels below would catch him and break his fall. Certainly, the angels would not let Christ’s feet hit one stone below.  Again, Christ refused. Lastly, the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world from atop the lofty peak of a mountain and told Christ all the below could be his if only Christ fell to his knees and worshipped him. Christ’s defiance was absolute. “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” With those words, the devil vanished and Christ was now ready to begin.  As Siddhartha sat, the powers of Mara — the Lord of Evil — began their relentless bombardment. Mara hoped to break Siddhartha’s concentration through planting seeds of doubt, hatred, and violence in his mind. The skies darkened and a punishing storm threatened to uproot the tree and wash Siddhartha away. Yet, he sat firm and unmoved. Next, Mara sent his 3 daughters before Siddhartha to dance and entice with him sensual delights. When that had no effect, Mara sent visions of Siddhartha’s wife and son.  Such visions would have to thwart Siddhartha and remind of him of his longings. But nothing. Frustrated and angry, Mara attempted to take Siddhartha’s seat.  But, it was as if Siddhartha had grown roots that tied him to the tree. Mara shouted at Siddhartha and said no one could testify as to what he was doing and that he was worthy to have the seat.  Then, Mara’s forces all yelled their support of Mara and that the seat was rightfully his.  What would be Siddhartha’s response to this? His 5 companions had deserted him and he was completely alone. Then, a curious thing happened. While still in the throes of his meditation, the middle finger of his right hand moved and gently touched the earth. The skies suddenly opened and the sun shone again as if to say “I stand witness.” And with that, Mara retreated into the darkness.


20 Jul

There had to be complete emotional and physical detachment. Both were difficult. The emotional came first when Siddhartha told his father his plan to leave the palace and his family. His father did not understand this and was angered. He absolutely forbade Siddhartha to leave. Guards were even stationed at the palace gates that night. Siddhartha did not argue with his father and did not attempt to explain what it was that he was after. This was a quest and one that Siddhartha himself did not yet fully comprehend. He knew only that he had to get on the wandering path. Next was his wife and child. How could he explain his leaving to them? When he entered their room his child was asleep in his wife’s arms and so he let them lay. He wanted to pick up his son and hold him one last time. But, he feared waking him so he did nothing but observe. He took in every detail. His wife may have him felt Siddhartha’s presence and the beating of his heart standing above her. She was still though. It was as if she knew nothing could change his mind and so she slept. Then Siddhartha walked towards the gates and there – wondrously – his father’s guards slumbered! He could not believe his luck. As he readied himself to cross beyond the walls that had nested him for so many years, he saw his faithful driver. The same one that had taken him out on that first day. Siddhartha told him to tell his father and family that perhaps one day he would return after he had discovered a way out of suffering. Then they could truly be happy. There would no longer be the horrible invetability of decay and death hanging over them. His driver nodded and kissed him. Siddhartha disappeared into that dark night and walked deep until his legs tired. Now came the physical detachment. As he sat in a forested area, he began to shear off his hair. His hair was long and luxuriant. He cut off big locks at a time that soon covered the area around him like the remains of a kill. He continued until he could cut no more. He then stripped off his royal silk garb and put on the simple cloth wrap like the wandering man he had seen. He removed his footwear and sank his bare feet into the earth. He would know this world through only his senses from now on. It would start with the touch of his feet and continue to his hands, nose, ears, and eyes. He was not embarking on a life of self-denial as it would appear. Rather he intuited that to position himself to find the answers he sought, he had to start with no obstacles or hang-ups. This was his renunciation and was truly a blissful moment. It took such great courage to detach in this profound way and something that if done in the same manner today would certainly cause the same anger as that of his father. Compare this with what the Gospels tell about Mary. The Annunciation. “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” The ring of truth in this is her reaction to when the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will have the son of God. And what is her first reaction? She is troubled. Many Italian frescoes that still survive from the 13th century depict this moment and what is telling is that in nearly all of them Mary is shown in a very accepting and accommodating manner. She actual bows to Gabriel in many of them. Yet, there is one painting that is true to how the above describes Mary’s reaction. Mary is shown recoiling in horror and has her dress held above her as if to shield her eyes from Gabriel. So, now even the Annunciation appears to be, at least initially, an act of denial by Mary. But, 2000 years hence we do not remember this. It was the most joyous of occasions with no fear or doubt. Siddhartha had no otherworldly encounter that brought him to his moment. He had earthly visitations that had done so. So, when he made the decision to cast off his attachments -all his worldly possessions and emotional ties- it was only so that he would be free from those things that had to be responsible for bringing suffering. Without them, he would be free in his journey. But, how would he survive? Surely he would have to eat and take shelter. He worried about these things like any other man would. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. But, he had monkey mind. He needed technique and training to master this. He had no idea where he would go or how long it would take.


18 Jul

Plato wrote of humans chained in metaphoric caves of their own minds. We were content to watch the shadows on the walls from our chained positions and believed those shadows were reality.  How they danced and entranced us. We sat there watching them skip, move, fade in and flash out. Most people would never be able to unbind themselves from the trappings of their minds and get outside themselves to see what caused the shadows. To find the light.  Was it then so strange that Siddhartha was baffled at what he saw?  Though he was 29 what had he known?  The shadows had captivated and nurtured him.  He lived in the garden so to speak, but he also knew desire and had accepted its sensual gifts. While on this day the Apple of forbidden knowledge appeared before him, there was no fall with Siddhartha. The dichotomy of the East and the West appears. Adam was cast out of Eden after the bite.  Knowledge had specifically been kept away from him.  With greater understanding into his world and deeper insight into himself and Eve what would have happened? Imbalance, fear, and suffering? Siddhartha would learn of such things too, but after his taste there was first wonder. An ashen faced man doubled-over and feverish was in front of Siddhartha. The poor man tried feebly to muffle his cough in front of his Prince, but his hacking only got worse. His eyes welled up with puss and his skin was knotted and hanging off him in places. “This is sickness,” his carriage driver said. Siddhartha’s eyes got big. “Sickness?”.  He had heard that word somewhere. Perhaps in the tales he had heard as a youth. But, it was just a fantastical concept. He had never seen a sick person nor had he experienced sickness himself.  Now he was face to face.  His wonder began to fade.  If this man was sick, who else could have such sickness?  He felt something stir inside. It was an odd feeling and one that he could not place. It was guttural as if in his stomach. His heart and mind were still clear, but the stirring was to make its way up. It was moving. Siddhartha had to return to the palace. He turned away from the sick man and thought about his father, mother, wife, and child. Could they all become sick too? He could not banish the image of the sick man from his mind. He had to get outside the walls again.


16 Jul

DSCN1443It would have been easy to create out of indignation.  That was the initial mantra though and it was sitting there. Stirring back and forth – ever precarious and ready to ejaculate into the universe. But, he slurped it back in and swallowed hard. He thought back to an old church marquee he had seen years ago somewhere in the sawgrass outlying areas of the coastal South: SAILING A CALM SEA A SKILLED SAILOR DOES NOT MAKE.  Now, the storm churned and with it the Sisyphean onslaught of whitecaps, swells, squalls. Eyes become slits. Focus…breathe…and alight.  He had to let go and so he started up.

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