While I had grown up hearing about the characters like Sujata, Anand, Angulimal, Ajatashatru and their stories of discourse of Gautam Buddha, but I had no idea about your own crucial role in the history of Buddhism. Only after coming to this ancient monastery located close to the famous beach town of Bentota (Bhimateertha – the haunting spot perhaps referring to hundreds of deadly reptilians who would stay in the dense riverines here), I heard about your presence here in form of your tooth relic.
Amongst all the 10 key disciples of Gautam Buddha, eventually it were you who was chosen to the leader of Sangha post his death and also lead the first Buddhist Council which gave the world a structured record of the life lessons given by Buddha. Just realized that the person often depicted along with Ananda on either side of the Buddha is yourself. It certainly shows how big a role you have played in the history of Buddhism in Indian subcontinent and the world. Its rather amusing to note how Mayana School considers you as the chief disciple of Buddha whereas the Theravada School considers you as third chief disciple – reminding of so many such narrow rifts which routinely keep causing the split in religious orders.
Little did I know that you are the founding father of Zen Buddhism which is mentioned in the Flower Sermon – the origin story of same. When the great Buddha was looking at the white flower with amazement, it was you alomgst all the disciples who truly understood the wordless teachings of Buddha and smiled looking at that flower. In line with the great Yogic history of our subcontinent, it is this wordless form of transmission from a Master to his disciple which is most celebrated aspect of Guru-Shishya Parampara in our tradition.
While India has in many ways forgotten about you at least no longer carrying any visible imprint of your life, it is nice to see that this small monastery located amidst the pristine forests along the course of Benthota Ganga has held your memorials in terms of your tooth relic.
It was amazing to see the ancient remains of a once mighty gate showing the Nari Latha the dancing damsels (Apsaras) in the climbing creeper form which refers to the legend of such creeper taking the form of enticing women who would seduce the meditating sages of Himalayas. of the gate reminding of the classical Dravidian temples’ Gopuram entrances.
Further inside, one happens to see your Dagoba which enshrines that tooth relic of yours which was found by one of your relative when you had eventually left your body at the age of 120 years after your intense Sadhana. One shall remain thankful to the benign rulers of Lanka like Dutugumnu, Devanampiyatissa & Parakrambahu who from time immorial have ensured that grand legacies of our anicent past remain intact and the children of this country continue to find opportunities to see these places and enquire about the great people from our land.
Quite like most temples of Srilanka, it is a tragedy that even this temple was destroyed by Portuguese armies. But quite like the regenerative spirit of India, even here once again your memorial has shone again. Inside the temple, I could see the 9 planets with their mounts just the way we have got them either in form of sculptures or as ceiling on top in major Hindu temples. Just kept on wondering how closely knit are the two cultures with each other. As I depart, I go ahead with an excitement to find many more such similarities. I hope one day my soul gets to see what you could see whene the great master gave the wordless sermon to you. Ciaos!!!