Simplicity and contentment
A glimpse of Aranya life:
Ven. Kadawedduwe Sri Jinawansa Thera
The first emotion we experienced was an overwhelming sense of
calmness. It's a wonder that a source of such peace can be situated so
near a city. We were at an aranya called the Thalawathugoda Meditation
Centre, not far from the Pelawatta junction.
An Aranya is usually a forest based monastery established for the
main purpose of meditation. Belonging to the Kalyana Yogashrama
Sansthawa the Thalawathugoda Meditation Centre, was clearly different
from modern day temples, although there was no forest to discern it as
The Thalawathugoda Nyanarama Meditation Centre was built and offered
to the Maha Sangha over 20 years ago by a Mr. Weragoda. But it was
incorporated in to the Kalyana Yogashrama Sanstha only in the year 2000.
Ven. Meegahawatte Pagngnasiri Thera of the Thalawathugoda Meditation
centre explained that the history of Aranya Senasana of Sri Lanka runs
back 1951, when Ven. Kadawedduwa Sri Jinawansa Thera, with the guidance
of Mathara Siri Nanarama Thera, founded it by ordaining 12 children in
the Galdoowa Aranya, which was to become the Centre point of the Kalyana
Ven. Kadawedduwa Sri Jinawansa Thera himself was ordained at the age
of 13, and founded the Thebuwana Granthakara Piriwena when he was only
25 and served as Pariwenadhipathi for over 20 years. He started the
Kalyana Yogashrama Sansthawa at the age of 45, and enjoyed a long life
of 98 years.
Following the way of the Buddha he strongly believed that all the
riches of life meant nothing without Vimukthi and that the pleasure
derived from letting go was incomparable to any other. Consequently he
left all his students except for one,Ven.Gatamanne Wimalawansa Thera,
who accompanied him in his quest for a fitting dwelling for deep
meditation. The support rendered by Ven. Gatamanne Wimalawansa Thera and
Mathara Siri Nanarama Thera in this quest, was immense.
To commemorate the 2500th Buddha Jayanthi Ven. Kadawedduwe Sri
Jinawansa Thera founded the Kalyana Yogashrama Sanstha on 18th June
1951. Nimalawa Aranya Senasanaya in Kirinda was selected as the first
aranya of a number of aranya senasana that was to be named Kalyana
Yogashrama Sansthawa. With the passage of time the fame of Kalyana
Yogashrama grew. People in many walks of life flowed in to the Aranya in
search of the authentic way of meditation.
But setting up the Kalyana Yogashrama Sanstha was no easy task.
Although most ley persons were attracted to Ven. Kadawedduwe Sri
Jinawansa Theras extremely eloquent sermons, there were people, the ley
and monks alike who resented and envied his success.
But thanks to his conviction the Kalyana Yogashrama Sanstha now has
over 150 Aranya with over 1500 monks.
The Meditation Centre at Thalawathugoda
The Kalyana Yogashrama Sanstha has expanded to include Aranya like
Kurunegala Ruwangiri kanda Aranya, Meethirigala Missarana Aranya,
Buththala Budhu Gallena Aranya, Ampara Piyangala Aranya, Colombo Sri
Kalyani Ashrama, Thalangama Sri Shanthi Yogashrama, Kurunegala Nathagana
Aranya, Malsiripura Na Uyana Aranya, Padaviya Galpiyum Aranya, etc.
Ambalangoda Galdoowa Aranya acts as the main centre with the guidance of
Ven. Naauyane Ariyadhamma Thera.
All the monks in all the Aranya belonging to the Yogashrama Sanstha,
work according to the same time table. They all worship three times a
day. They start the day at four a.m. and meditate for an hour. Unlike in
temples of today the main focus of an Aranya is meditation.
This can be predominantly observed in Aranya such as in the Naauyana
Aranya, where the monks can be observed spending most of their time
meditating in separate chambers in the surrounding forest. They meditate
according to the "Vissuddhimagga" where it leads from Samatha to
Vidharshana, as recommended by the Lord Buddha himself.
The monks of the Aranya tradition meditate in individual chambers set
in the wilderness. Sri Gunawardhana Yogashramaya in Galdoowa,
Ambalangoda - the main centre - is probably one of the most unique
centres of the world.
Situated on a peak of a mountain, this aranya is the perfect picture
of beauty and exhibits to perfection, the natural and spiritual
qualities of an ideal aranya, with many species of trees; wild birds
such as parrots, ravens, nightingales and mammals such as mongoose,
hares, porcupines roaming free, making it a meditators haven.
Places of worship such as the Bo tree and Dagaba are situated on high
cliffs ensuring the preservation of their esteem and protection. More
over unlike in city based aranya like the Thalawathugoda Meditation
centre, there are separate chambers based in the wilderness for any
From one to five p.m. the younger monks engage in studies. But
nothing concerning worldly aspects are taught in these aranya piriwena.
Only Tripitaka Dharma and Pali studies are conducted.
Monks of Aranya tradition are forbidden to attend university, if they
do so they will be expelled by the disciplinary committee. From eight
p.m. onwards they chant pirith, and conduct what's called 'Wath bana'
where one monk a day has to give a sermon in front of all other monks.
"This is a very significant ritual since it improves the eloquence of
There are many differences between monks of normal temples and ones
coming from the aranya tradition, apart from not attending university.
Their lives are ones of simplicity.
They are forbidden to handle money, they do not eat after 12 noon,
unless it's due to a grave illness. They dye their own robes, and pathra
(alms bowls) using gingelly oil.
They use palm leaves instead of umbrellas, most of them do not even
wear slippers. But above all they are forbidden to vote. But life in an
aranya like Nimalawa or any other aranya belonging to the Kalyana
Yogashrama Sanstha is quite different from any other temple. Ven.
Meegahawatta Pagngnasiri Thera claimed that the public is less
respectable to some monks because of their own behaviour.
He believes that respect is some thing that has to be earned. Upon
visiting the Thalawathugoda Meditation Centre I personally felt that the
lives of the monks of the aranya system is much similar to the life lead
by the Lord Buddha himself - one of simplicity and contentment.