Baffled by Buddha - Smiling Sri Lanka - CycleBlaze

February 13, 2020

Baffled by Buddha

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ANARADHAPURA - We left with instructions to follow a road through the jungle and pass lakes and wildlife that, we were told, only the locals knew. We know we're clear of wandering elephants because houses no longer have strings of empty cans hanging across the entrance to their land. The strings hang in a gentle arc at a little more than a human's head height and the idea is that a short-sighted elephant will walk into it, set the cans jangling and scamper off.

At the end of that quiet road came too the end of paradise. Our way ran out on to the main A19. When a main highway runs ruler straight to a city, you know that no manner of human ingenuity is going to make it interesting. So we sat there and pedalled the rising and falling bike lane and reached the town at the cost of a bottle of pop and then two freshly squeezed oranges.

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Honour to Buddha
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Anaradhapura is strong on Buddhism, a religion - or is it a philosophy? - I wish I understood. One moment it appears a calm path towards human understanding and kindness. And the next it's a religion like all the rest, with adoration of a central figure who, like Judaism and Christianity, is a recognisable and earthly prophet.

A rather jolly figure, Buddha, sitting benignly everywhere with his paunch and beatific smile. I find him a lot more comforting than the forbidding or mournful prophets of other faiths.

I thought that as we walked barefoot round the outside of a giant temple. I wanted to feel what other people felt as they carried flowers to place beside their man, flowers eagerly supplied at a price by salesmen waiting just beyond the limits. The faithful who chanted and prayed were getting much more out of it than I was, or at least thought they were.

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At the root of it all, I suppose, is the teaching of what to outsiders seems a blinding glimpse of the obvious, as though everyday observations had been made insightful by the religious weight of the man who made them. Moses could have as easily have shouted that everyone should stop coveting other people's oxen, but they wouldn't have taken any notice. So he said he climbed a mountain and, there, heaven granted him ten rules written on stones that he neglected to bring back down with him.

It doesn't take a lot to know that pork goes rancid faster than other meat. But a far better way to stop a griping stomach was to insist that a deity had banned pork entirely. And if any meat was likely to be off by the time markets reopened at the weekend, how much more sensible it was in a seaside community in a hot land to order that only fish should be eaten on Friday.

I'm sure they're seeing something that I'm missing - or is it just a glimpse of the obvious?
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Anyway, whatever the origins of dogma and the rituals that follow it, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka got off to a pretty good start. It was here that they established the island's capital. Three thousand people developed a town and lived in monasteries long before Paris or London made their own start.

Their undoing was an army of Indians who came scurrying south to drive the Buddhists off the land. The enormous stupas remained for the most part untouched but the centuries covered them with grime and even bushes and trees. It was the British who cleared and cleaned them.

We toured all that today, riding from site to site, finally calling it a day with a third of the possibilities still unexplored. It is hard to grasp that a building or its remains are 2,000 years old. The figure is just too large to understand. And the more of these marvellously old places you visit, the greater the bewilderment and sense of diminishing returns.

Tomorrow, then, we will move on. We'll take a train further north to escape a lot of rice fields and then we'll start riding over to the east coast before turning southwards and inland to the mountains.

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Mike AylingG'day Leo

Leviticus permits the consumption of fish with fins and scales (which therefore excludes shellfish which can as with pork go off quickly as evidenced by the Australian saying "Off like a bucket of prawns in the sun"
The bit about eating fish on Fridays came in much later and was introduced in the early Catholic Church.

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4 years ago
Leo WoodlandThanks, Mike. Nice to hear from you again
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4 years ago