29 December 2022

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous articles]

Sometime in the early eighties, my father gifted me a copy of Rev Nyanaponika Thero’s ‘The Heart of Buddhist Meditation.’ The book was shared among my friends, all AL students in the mathematics stream. One of them had a book titled ‘Dynamic Meditation’ or maybe it was some book on meditation with the word ‘dynamic’ in the title. My friends Kanishka Goonewardena and Chamath Abeygunawardena had long and deep conversations around that time on the topic and meditation was referred to as ‘dynamite.’  

This is not about meditation, though, but I will get back to it later.  

The years passed. Chamath and Kanishka entered Moratuwa University, the former would study engineering and the latter architecture, then planning and eventually the politics or rather the political economy of space from a post-Marxist perspective.  Back then, however, we were all young, hormonal and energetic.Forays into philosophy didn’t stop us from doing fun stuff. Like camping and hiking.

There was a camping trip to Maha Eliya where Kanishka, Chamath and I were joined by Kanishka’s batchmate from Moratuwa, Channa Daswatte, now a top architect, writer and guardian (of sorts) of the Geoffrey Bawa legacy.  This was in December 1986. A year or two before that we planned a trip to Sri Pada. The plan was to climb the sacred peak on the last day of the year, watch the new year dawn literally and get back later in the day.  

Back then, at least in the case of some of us, we had to get permission 'from home' (gedarin ahanna ona). Gedara, home, was of course either the mother or father or both. Kanishka and I could swing it. Chamath had to get past his father, who grilled him on all aspects of the intended trip.  

Objections were raised on account of terrorist threats — this was in the early stages of bombs being set off in crowded places. Chamath must have fielded the questions well, for his father had moved on to other details.

Kawda yanne (who else is going)’  


Our fathers had worked together, so he could come up with another red flag: ‘Ugra vaamaanshikayek (an extreme leftist)!’ He knew that my father was a rebel in his university days. A quarter century had passed and he was by then not a Marxist but a Buddhist, but his radical history was never forgotten by those in power who wanted to shove him from one obscure government department to another. Chamath’s father found it convenient in relation to his objective — denying permission.  

I am not sure if questions were asked about Kanishka. If so, he may have claimed that Kanishka’s father, B.S. Goonewardena (a German teacher and scholar, and a voracious reader who would spar with his son on matters political and ideological well into his eighties) was an unrepentant communist!  

After exhausting Chamath with such questions, he had finally asked when they planned to leave.

‘We are leaving on the 31st,’ he said, throwing in an ad or sorts, ‘we will be able to see the first sunrise of the new year!’  

His father had looked at him with an expression that must have been a mix of amusement and contempt: ‘anith davas valata vadaa venas athi neda (it must be different from the sunrise of other days, right)?’

QED. The proof of the argument was complete.

Chamath didn’t go. I didn’t either, for very different reasons.  

It’s the same sun. It rises in the East and sets in the West. And yet, the sunrise looks different from different locations and different elevations. I had read that the shadow of the peak generated by the morning sun seems not to rest on the thick forest cover of the Peak Wilderness below. So I noticed on the three occasions I made the pilgrimage. The power of suggestion maybe.  

We make what we will of the sun, the sunrise and sunset, of cloud formation (Kanishka, watching the play of cloud, light and wind in the skies from the parapet wall outside the Arts Theatre of Peradeniya University said softly, ‘infinite poetry’) and other elemental configurations. We make what we will of that which is before us, that which came before and what we imagine will come later. Different days, different moments, different eyes and thoughts. One truth: impermanence.

From the top of the sacred mountain, if you could fracture a moment into a thousand slivers and had the satiya (awareness) to consider each infinitely tiny flake, they would all have different and distinct signatures. All mountains are sacred, by the way. All plateaus, all alleyways of mind and matter, everything, everyone — all sacred. And the sun is a ball of fire now, and again just a flame of a candle, a spark in the heart and a glow in the mind.

The sunrise of the first of January in the year 1985 was indeed the same as the one on December 31, 1984 and each sunrise of the first day of all the 37 years that followed, but Chamath, who reportedly spends all his time in deep contemplation of eternal verities (dynamic or otherwise we don’t know), may have the answer he didn’t have back then. 

He may say nothing and if so he would have a reason which will not get said or written and about which we should not speculate.



Other articles in this series:

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road