A Sri Lankan pilgrim in her sixties told me local pilgrims a few hundred years ago would transfer title deeds to their land or property to family members before attempting the Sri Pada pilgrimage. They expected a lot of obstructions and difficulties and the real possibility of not returning from their journey! But this was long before before the construction of the winding concrete paths and metal railings aiding the trek up and down the sacred mountain.
I recently made my second pilgrimage to Sri Pada with a group of close friends. It had been on my "must-redo" list for a couple of years now, but timing and circumstances hadn't worked in my favor till now. Unlike my first visit, I was really inspired by my friends to put more into this pilgrimage. And I have to say it paid off in spades... some things were realized during my time on the mountain, while other things are to be realized further down the track.
On this pilgrimage we visited over four days taking the Hatton-Nallanthanni trail, which offered glimpses of life on and around the sacred mountain; observing the vast array of visitors making the pilgrimage, some opportunities to connect with people in the area and to open up to the vibrational frequency of Sri Pada.
I found this second pilgrimage to Sri Pada to be a series of profound lessons or blessings and this is what I'd like to share with you in this blog post.
Generosity is expressed when something is given freely without any expectation of a return. It could be kind words, material items, a helping hand or even a smile. In today's fast-paced society it's normal to think only of ourselves, how best to be independent and forget about our inherent dependency on others.
There are many opportunities for generosity to manifest on Sri Pada - planned and unplanned.
Sometimes groups of people organize a dansel in the form of offering free food and drink, or people provide free assistance or support to the elderly on their journey up and down Sri Pada, or businesses offer free tonics and balms (e.g. Siddhalepa).
On this trip, near the peak of Sri Pada, we offered a dansel throughout one evening (i.e. we offered hot tea/coffee and biscuits, bananas and sweets) right through to the morning (i.e. we then offered breakfast of rice and curry, medicines and hot tea/coffee).
It was so satisfying to see our preparations and organization (let me just say, it's not an easy task to get kilos and kilos of supplies up the mountain!) come to fruition up on the mountain for the benefit of others!
I cannot begin to describe the enormity of the gratitude and good wishes we received from pilgrims. It was overwhelming, but at the same time energizing and deeply moving. I don't know where I found the energy to serve food and drinks for almost seven hours. We made our offering on a weeknight, however, over the weekends during the season there can be as many as 20,000 pilgrims making their way up Sri Pada.
On the way up and down Sri Pada we also observed and experienced unexpected generosity firsthand and it was joyful in both giving and receiving. Some examples were people carrying bunches of flowers and other gifts to offer at the Shrines at the summit of Sri Pada. We also witnessed youngsters offering helping hands to the elderly all the way up to the mountain, while others chanted together to keep their energy and spirits buoyant.
On our ascent we connected with a family and we shared some sweets with them as we all camped out at one of the shops to avoid the heavy rain. In turn they shared some cream crackers with us. After that we didn't see them till the next morning when they came to our dansel for breakfast, and just before they left they further gave some homemade sweets. We offered some of their sweets as dana to some Buddhist nuns who were having breakfast at the dansel sharing the merits of the offering. It was a truly lovely and unexpected exchange all around
And on our descent, I cannot tell you how many times I felt gratitude for all the kind words of encouragement as I struggled to make my way down the mountain. I was so exhausted. I guess I miscalculated the strength in my leg muscles, or rather, overdid things!
When generosity is demonstrated Buddhist pilgrims bless you by saying "ping sudu wewa", which means "may you receive much merit (from this good deed)". If you get the opportunity or determination to be generous at Sri Pada, my advice would be to go ahead and make the most of it. The blessings or happiness (i.e. happy energy) are immeasurable.
If we're honest, we can admit that the society we live in today doesn't always encourage us to be humble. In fact, we're taught to be individualistic and to an extent, conceited, competitive and boastful (i.e. putting our faith entirely on ourselves). Yes, yes, of course there are reasons for this. But, I'm just offering a contrasting perspective in this blog post...
When you make walk with other pilgrims on the Sri Pada trail, what you notice are the vast numbers of pilgrims and monastics who make the journey fueled by their faith in something beyond themselves. Remember, this is a holy site for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
It is this faith that makes them humble towards every step on their pilgrimage. It's not a race for them, nor is it a fashion show (i.e. many wear predominantly white clothes) nor party atmosphere. If you listen carefully, pilgrims never complain about the distance or steepness of the climb, nor do they ask "are we there yet? or "how much further?". They don't do these things because they feel a natural reverence or honor towards being able to do the pilgrimage. They feel gratitude and with that, comes humility.
Even if you don't have similar faith to these pilgrims, it doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't aspire to find something humble or deeper about the experience. Mission impossible? Well, should you choose to take it, this is your mission...
So what does humility lead to ? I guess one could say humility leads to greater harmony and appreciation for ourselves and everyone around us. It could also be said it leads to greater happiness too, and who doesn't need more of that!
We all lead very busy lives whether we like it or not. This is especially true if we find ourselves living in one of the many urban centers around the world, where time is a rare and precious commodity. Stress levels run high as we commute to and from work, try to meet the demands of our work, family and other activities. It's increasingly hard to avoid fatigue, and truth be told, illness of many varieties! Essentially, we're lost in a sea of activity chasing our dreams and losing our inner stillness or calm. When we go on trips, pilgrimages or holidays, a part of is searching out that inner stillness or calm whether we know it or not.
Sometimes you see people who make the climb, ignore others, avoid the dansel, snap a few photos, take in the 360' view, maybe wait for sunrise, then hurry down the mountain.
Then there are other people you see, who climb slowly (and mindfully), keep their intentions clear, connect with fellow pilgrims, show gratitude for the dansel, bow their heads to the sacred footprint (i.e. Buddha for Buddhists, Shiva for Hindus, Adam for Muslims and St Thomas for Christians), sit and meditate for as long as the can endure the cold, wait quietly for sunrise, participate in the morning puja, make offerings to Saman deva (i.e. the deity who protects Sri Pada), and make a slow descent down the mountain.
And, there are other people who feature somewhere in between the two...
My point is this... Take Your Time.
It's a bit like the saying "take some time to smell the roses". I mentioned something in my opening about the vibrational energy of Sri Pada. The good vibrations are there if you choose to attune to it. It's why so many people take their wishes (written on white cloth wrapped around a coin) up the sacred mountain and tie them at certain places, such as Indikatupana and next to the shrine at the peak.
Those with faith, may see their wishes and intentions fulfilled. The "payment" for this would appear to be acts of generosity, kindness, humility and sharing of merits.
So, when you're climbing Sri Pada, take some time to reflect on your inner self. A sacred place like Sri Pada is probably one of the safest places to contemplate or reflect on such things. There's a kindness to the energetic field.
Whatever you experience on the mountain take note of it. Were you physically or emotionally challenged? Did you resist something? Did something good happen? Was there something you you learned about yourself? Are there questions about your life that came to your mind? Where did find beauty? Was there a feeling of calm at any point on the journey?
As with most things, the more you put into it the more you get out of it. So true!
Whatever your experience on the sacred mountain, take some time to remember it, honor it and maybe, if you're lucky, take the goodness with you as you go back to the hustle and bustle.
There are experiences that bless you with energy, joy and leave you feeling uplifted. Experiences that take you outside of your usual expectations or which resonate with you at a deeper level. It differs from person to person, but I think it depends on one's level of openness to the unexpected and the attitude you have going into the experience.
If you give your heart to it, Sri Pada is one such experience...
If you're interested in reading about my first visit to Sri Pada, take a look at my blog post "Travel Monday: Sri Pada - Pilgrimage, Faith and Spectacular Sunrises".