By Vipula Wanigasekera –
Nestled atop a serene hill in Sri Lanka, the Nihanda Arana Retreat beckons seekers from all walks of life with a simple yet profound message: “Be it Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, you are just another seeker of truth in the silent wilderness! A silent haven is a temporary shelter for the seeker and a practical guide on your journey of self-discovery.”
My journey to this enchanting retreat was devoid of any specific purpose. I was drawn by the captivating sermons of the venerable Abbot Ven Aluthgangoda Gnanaweera Thero. It was a decision that would lead me to experience a transformational sojourn.
My arrival at Nihanda Arana coincided with a series of enlightening programs led by renowned figures. Sanjaya Nirmal delved into the profound teachings of the Vimalakirthi Sutra, unraveling the mysteries of nondualism and the doctrine of śūnyatā. The sutra, with its exploration of the illusory nature of the world, left us pondering the nature of reality itself.
Following this enlightening discourse, we were treated to the screening of “Dark in the White Light” and an engaging discussion led by acclaimed film director Vimukthi Jayasundara. Vimukthi’s extensive spiritual journey in India, which included experiences in Sathguru and Osho Ashrams, enriched his program.
He skillfully guided us through various activities and techniques, revealing life’s profound realities. The program was a resounding success, captivating both resident monks and lay participants alike.
Nihanda Arana’s resident monks left a lasting impression on me. Their friendly demeanor and willingness to engage in diverse conversations were truly remarkable. These monks were not only well-versed in spirituality but also tech-savvy and open-minded.
The chief abbot, Ven Gnanaweera, originally from Brisbane, brought a wealth of experience from various traditions, enriching his regular discourses and enabling other speakers to touch upon a multitude of topics.
During my stay, I had the privilege of meeting Nuwan Rajapaksa, a renowned life coach. Despite our limited interaction, the wisdom he shared with me left a lasting impact, serving as a beacon on the path to realization. Emil Hettiarachchi, another life and corporate coach and my friend Janith Chaturanga , researcher were other contributors throughout the sessions.
Such encounters with exceptional individuals like Nuwan are a testament to the unique atmosphere that can only be found at Nihanda Arana.
However, the most poignant moment of my visit occurred in the most unexpected of places: a communal restroom. As I approached, I noticed several compartments within. To my surprise, a young female monk, her robe donned, was diligently cleaning the facilities. Not wanting to intrude, I hesitated at the entrance. In response, she graciously said, “You can use the first one while I finish the others.” This simple act of kindness conveyed a profound message, challenging the misconceptions often associated with social norms.
My experience at Nihanda Arana Retreat was nothing short of liberating. It was a journey of self-discovery, guided by the wisdom of the retreat’s residents and the unique atmosphere that permeates this serene haven. I can attest that Nihanda Arana is a treasure trove of enlightenment waiting to be explored by seekers from around the world.
*Writer is a former diplomatic envoy, head of the Tourism Authority, academic, wellness tourism expert, and healing therapist