Spiritual Explorer: Dambulla, Cave of Reflection

Editors Note: This article is part of a series. Follow along as Jacob explores widely different cultures and places and delves into the spirituality, history, and people that make these places unique.

It was a unique challenge presented to me to write of my experiences in the last several articles of this series. Not in the sense that I haven’t made a practice of recording my experiences abroad in exploration of the cities, and countries through which I’ve been fortunate to travel, but instead the difficulty in assessing and recapitulating my emotional, rational and spiritual state throughout this journey in the immediacy of the weekly format.

It is perhaps a fault of mine, or hopefully only my inherent nature that requires sometimes a longer period of reflection upon the events of my life to feel as if I’ve grasped them fully.  To travel is to hurtle oneself without pause into an often chaotic assault of new scents, sounds, time zones, and all manner of alluring sensory overload – a feat to channel into accurate, moving language.

I have, though, done my best. I’ve made every attempt to refrain from superfluous postulation, to give credit to every happening I’ve ingested as beholden of some potentiality, and asked God to point me in the direction I am best able to serve, and learn from this world.

So, if you the reader would allow me some small time to shape my thoughts on the city of Kandy, as I, at the moment of writing, have quit it for a short time for the purpose of renewing my visa and will return, then my mind and spirit which have been moved deeply by this place will be able to share better how so and why with you.

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In the very last article I wrote, admittedly from a point of frustration. I had allowed some very minor interactions overshadow some incredible experiences coloring deeply how I felt about Sri Lanka. I’d felt the occasion to hear from the mouths of the people their thoughts hadn’t presented itself, and I’d been blind to so much of what had been shared with me so far through their history, art, lifestyle, countenance, religions.

Several things have colluded to a point of realization in this moment of writing to you and forced the recognition of how utterly inspiring it has been to be in this place.

From inside the cave temples at Dambulla – just 72 km north of Kandy – I was struck by not only the technical feat of having created such elaborate paintings and carving, but also the inspiration behind them. It was a display of reverence, and a recognition of spiritual purity in the form of art.

I confess to having little skill in painting, and know nothing of sculpting, but as I took in the over 150 statues of Buddha, Hindu Gods Ganesh and Vishnu, and different Sri Lankan kings whom had ruled in the area, I felt the urge to contemplate the motivations of the artists who had left these long surviving wonders in their wake.

A number of reasons came to mind, perhaps the notoriety gained from such accomplishments of indisputable skill, or doubtlessly at the behest of nobles and kings their works had been commissioned without regard to their having wanted to complete them, but this is only conjecture of course. All of the guides and knowledgeable locals on hand at the moment could not then at least answer to those questions of purpose. Although perhaps not based in explicit fact, I resigned myself to consider what I hoped most for.

I do consider myself an artist. Words are, of course, functional in most aspects and used every day for purpose, propaganda, advertising, and a myriad other conceivable functions I’ll leave you to reflect upon yourself, but I do believe that, used properly, they’re capable of moving the reader in ways as such can only fine art. The paintings within caves depicted a great many significant moments in the life of the Buddha with the skill of an ancient mastery of craft. His temptation by the demon Mara as well as the dream of his mother Maha Maya. The relevant significance of this place and palpable spirituality was something that did not register on me initially, as I was so caught up in the excitement of just being there, and everything else that comes with venturing to such a place.

The teaching moment was not realized until now. I did start this journey with a purpose and a hope to learn along the way. It is always my goal to gain as much knowledge of a people and place as I can while exploring, but that sometimes disallows me to delve deeply into who I am amidst the overawing sights I’ve been privy to.

I realize whatever the motivations were behind the creation of the cave temples of Dambulla, the lasting legacy is to the glorification of their divine Lord Buddha. What they were capable of creating and imprinting on the consciousness of the world so much so that it has been cared for and maintained since the 1st Century BC is far more powerful than anything else I’ve taken from that experience.

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They used their God-given talents to create and serve a spiritual purpose, and as history has progressed, it seems apparent that these are some of the most lasting elements of our society handed down with care to the next generations.

What I feel I stand to gain in my personal life is a similar motivation. If it be that God has gifted me with the talent to take my experiences, observations, and reflections and meld them into a form of literary art that moves people than I feel called to allow that to happen. It is often I want to abandon writing. I recognize as a form of expression it has been commoditized in so many ways relegating its worth to sales numbers and readership, but I sincerely do hope that will never become the focal point of my writing.

Thoreau, who also explored this earth in an attempt to seek meaning in life, said once, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I know I will have to apply myself to virulently in the future.

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For now, though, I ask for your patience. At present, I am in Colombo extending my visa and the dense, smog-choked urbanity of the place has worn heavily on my countenance, but soon I will return to Kandy. There is much I feel for that place, and plenty I will have to say, but if you could allow me some time for my thoughts to revolve around all that has occurred there I will be far better capable of writing from a note of confidence of that the spiritual epicenter of Sri Lanka.

Until then, if I could ask of you only one small favor: think of the gifts or talents you have and perhaps wonder how best they could be used.

Follow Jacob’s series “Spiritual Explorer” as he delves into unique cultures, spirituality, history, and people of the places he travels. Let us know whether you agree with his impressions.

Week 1: Exploring Dubai’s Urbanity at Nature’s Expense
Week 2: Soul Searching From Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah
Week 3: God’s Plan vs My Plan
Week 4: To Trust a Smile in Sri Lanka
Week 5: Sri Lanka’s Cash Culture

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About the Author

A writer and world traveler on a planet of roughly 7 billion people who holds firmly to the philosophy that everyone has much to teach, and everyone has much to learn. He's still new to both and therein lies the allure of traveling what appears to him as a wide open, occasionally chaotic, lovely little classroom. Find him on Facebook, Google +, and principemendigo.com/.