A day at the hermitage of the Dombagaskanda forest
A group of bhikkhus dressed in dark brown robes walked in single file, carrying their bowls of alms, silently along the path, for the midday dana under a dimly lit forest canopy.
The female devotees gathered in a corner of the dana salawa (alms hall), joining their hands together for worship, while the male devotees washed the feet of the bhikkhus and served dana (alms) while chanting sadu … sadu …
Then the bhikkhus retired to another alms room a little further on and sat down to take the food they received.
A bhikkhu remained in the dana salawa to confer merit on the faithful who had given alms.
It is a part of the daily routine of the bhikkhus of the forest hermitage of Dombagaskanda.
The hermitage of Dombagaskanda, nestled on the bank of the Kalu Ganga near Dombagaskanda hill on the outskirts of Ingiriya in the Kalutara district, sits under the lush green canopy of a wetland rainforest reserve of about 347 hectares.
The natural tropical forest protects the hermitage from the bustle of the outside world, providing a serene setting for bhikkhus in meditation.
To reach the forest hermitage of Dombagaskanda, take the Panadura-Ratnapura highway (A-8), turn left from Aduragala and travel 1.5 km along the small road that leads to Kalu Ganga.
Before reaching the river, the road branches off to the left and continues for another 1.1 km and arrives at an area where it reaches the foot of Dombagaskanda.
Although the road to the hill is passable, it is best to get out of your vehicle at this point and drive through the forest.
Arriving at the foot of Dombagaskanda, you will find the natural forest reserve and a notice board next to the road warning visitors not to damage or disturb the flora and fauna of the protected area. It also directs you to the road leading to the hermitage.
Although it was a sunny day when we got to the forest reserve, we heard the sound of the rain.
Higher up, we noticed that it was not rain, but the sound of a stream crossing the mountain.
We also got a glimpse of the Kalu Ganga which flows at the foot of the forest reserve. The silence of the serene and unspoiled forest is sometimes broken by the sound of a hornbill or a monkey.
Dombagaskanda Hermitage is one of the most sacred and serene Buddhist hermitages in the Kalutara district.
A neat path took us on a steady climb through the forest. While walking under a forest cover, we first saw the refectory and the kitchen of the hermitage. A group of about twenty people prepared the midday meal (dana) for the meditating bhikkhus.
Some were busy sweeping the paths, looking for firewood, cleaning the building. It is a common spectacle throughout the year because these activities are carried out as shramadana by devotees who come to offer alms.
An interesting feature of the hermitage is the gediya, the small tree trunk used as a bell.
When beaten with a stick, it makes a loud noise. It is hung on a tree and sounds every day around 10 am to call the bhikkhus of the hermitage to gather at the principal dana salawa from where they leave in pindapatha.
The process of giving alms sees a devotee selected for each day of the year.
The great devotee with relatives and friends offers alms to bhikkhus on the day assigned to him. Some came to the hermitage the night before and would spend the night at the Giman Hala (rest room) to prepare the morning and noon dana which will be offered to them the next day.
Most of the devotees come from nearby places while some come from distant places such as Polonnaruwa and Ampara. The history of the Dombagaskanda Forest Hermitage dates back to the early 1950s.
The Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Revatha Thera, the director of the Dharmadeepa Vipassana Piriwana in Kaluwamodara in Aluthgama was the founder of the forest hermitage of Dombagaskanda. He came to Ingiriya to observe the vas at the invitation of the devotees of Raigam Korale. He stayed in a makeshift hut in a cemetery near Ingiriya hospital with seven bhikkhus. More and more people flocked to Ingiriya to listen to the dhamma desana and the meditation practices led by Ven. Olaboduwe Thera. Once the vas season was over, the bhikkhus prepared to return, but the faithful persuaded them to stay definitively.
Fri. Olaboduwe Sri Revatha Thera, with the help of some villagers, visited the thick forest of Dombagaskanda and realized at first sight that it was ideal for a forest hermitage. The villagers and devotees of Raigam Korale built the kutis and other buildings in the Dombagaskanda forest and on June 4, 1955, the completed hermitage of Dombagaskanda was donated to the Sangha. Initially, 12 bhikkhus lived in the small kuti on five acres of forest. It was later expanded to 50 acres during the time of the late Mr. DH Jayawardena, then MP for Horana.
Today, this hermitage has many constructions, including kuti, meditation trails and medical rooms, interconnected and developed as a famous forest hermitage in the country.
While 12 monastic bhikkhus permanently reside in the hermitage, foreign bhikkhus also come for short periods to practice meditation.
To avoid disturbing the bhikkhus, visitors are only allowed to enter the kuti area from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Hermitage Day begins in the dark before daybreak and consists of a tightly organized schedule of meditation, study, instruction, worship, and chanting of the sacred pirith litanies until 10 p.m. The Insight meditation session typically lasts an hour and a half to two hours at a time, twice a day.
The daily programs of Vipassanadhura bhikkhus are predominantly contemplative, in which vipassana bhavana meditation is dominant and is the central theme and experience. Insight meditation employs many techniques and subjects, one of the most widely used being anapanasati, the focus on rhythmic inspiration and the expiration of the breath.
These communities live mainly in isolated wooded hermitage complexes (aranya), in rock shelters, caves, mud huts, collectively called kuti.
Every day at the hermitage is a tightly structured balance of developing the mind, exercises in concentration and awareness, food, drink, rest and sleep, solitude, silence, study, d worship and instruction, in the meditative process, specific activities of mind and body are exposed and worked on in a personal and inner journey towards contact with universal truths and Buddhist virtue.
The austerity of this regime is also very healthy. Many beneficial side effects come from a serene environment, cleansing the mind of tension, stress, worry, guilt, anger and bad thoughts, helping to balance the proper functioning of the blood circulation. , nervous system and vital organs in the process.
This is strongly confirmed by the evidence that most bhikkhus who follow meditative routines live in good health until old age.
We left the hermitage, joy in our hearts, having witnessed its serenity. The happiness we enjoyed spending a few hours under the lush green canopy, away from the sights and sounds of the outside world, was more than words can express.