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The blooming of the Sakura flower

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People reduce the volume of their radios and lower their voices around 5pm, everyday. That’s the time when Rev. Kenji starts beating his drum. That’s also the time when folks at Mandana Town drop in at Sakura Temple, a Japanese Monastery, for religious observances. Children go there because the priest is kind and offers them sweets.

Anyone going to the temple gets the feeling that one has entered a nature reserve. One doesn’t hear people speaking. Rev. Kenji lives alone in the temple. The priest receives Japanese monks for training. That happens seldom, sometimes twice a year the most. There is a board in the temple courtyard which says, ‘Please don’t waste time talking’. The few sounds one hears are of the leaves of trees rattling in the wind and the sound of a river flowing close to the monastery.

The priest is known in Mandana Town as Japan Sadu (Japanese priest). Rev. Kenji likes Peni Komadu (watermelon), but priests are not permitted to entertain such thoughts. He knows the dangers of entertaining such thoughts. He knows not to fall prey to traps which prolong samsara (The long cycle of birth and death). He savors the Peni Komadu if a devotee serves him the fruit, but he doesn’t crave for it.

The priest is pious and has a steady flow of visitors to the temple during visiting hours. The times to visit him are restricted. He entertains visitors around 11am and then again at 5pm. Most visitors bring him pirikara (offerings). The priest puts them in a room he occupies. No one has seen him take these offerings for personal use.

There was a time when this temple was overflowing with priests. There were as many as 35 resident monks in this temple. But one pilgrimage they made 20 years ago to a historic village, 140km away from Mandana Town, changed the life of this monk. The monks in the temple had planned a trip to Vijithapura, famous for ruins of an ancient kingdom which existed over 500 years ago. The head priest had hired a bus from the Public Transport Board to make the journey. They began the journey as early as 5am in the morning.

The bus ride was rough and they had traveled nearly 75km. The passengers requested from the driver for a quick stop. The driver, Weerasinghe, who always wore a smile, was unnerved by the request to stop. The bus traveled through paddy fields, lush greeneries and then entered a lonely stretch where the road seemed to stretch till eternity. There were no signs of people living in this part of the village. The bus had traveled some distance on the road when a boy, barely in his teens, appeared from nowhere and started running towards the vehicle. He had a letter in his hand and all his indications were that he wanted to hand it over to the passengers in the bus.

Those traveling in the bus experienced uneasiness. Why was this boy continuing to run towards a bus which was progressing at a steady pace? The driver of the bus became uneasy and slowly shifted his right foot over the brake pedal. The bus had now slowed down to half the speed at which it was traveling. Then the boy ran off the road. The next moment a shower of stones spread in the direction of the bus like in a film. By this time, the bus had come to a halt.
The pelting of stones halted for a few seconds. No one moved or spoke. Then there was the sound of motorbike engines. The bus was soon surrounded by as many as 15 bikes where the riders and pillion riders were in camouflage unifirms. In no time they boarded the bus. It didn’t take long for the men in robes to figure out that those who had entered the bus were carrying forearms, knives and swords. The leader of this gang was the first to board the bus. He spoke in a language foreign to them and checked the identities of all the priests. The leader was calm, but became agitated when he was checking the identities of the last few passengers in the bus.

From the rear end of the bus he yelled out a command. The other gangsters, who had entered from the front of the bus, pulled out knives and swords. They began attacking the monks, the elderly priests first and the novice monks later. Birds in the area chirped in a strange and ugly manner. The weather turned cold and the sun hid behind a cloud. There was no one neither to witness this gruesome act nor help these monks who were being butchered. Everyone except two Japanese monks, who pretended to be dead, lost their lives. Rev. Kenji didn’t have a scratch on his body, but his fellow Japanese monk suffered a head injury from a blow meant for an older monk.

After lying around dead bodies for about two hours the two novice monks slowly got off the bus. They heard the sound of villagers from afar. Soon, all the men and women from the neighboring village flocked Vijithapura. Law enforcement officers arrived much later, but no one complained. The majority of passengers in the bus had died a good 2-3 hours before the police arrived.

Rev. Kenji was just 15 years old when this incident took place. The other monk, received treatment, but succumbed to his injury. The young monk was depressed for a while. But he soon found some meaning in life through religious teachings. Alone in the temple, he spent most evenings doing walking in meditation.

When he was not meditating and studying the scriptures, he used his designing skills and decorated the temple and redesigned it so that the place resembled a Japanese monastery. The Japanese architecture and designs made him forget that he was in Sri Lanka, a country where he had witnessed a brutal act like monks being hacked to death. He continued to live alone in the temple and established himself in the community.

Rev. Kenji received a novice monk for training. He was from Japan. The young monk was amazed at the number of visitors that flocked the temple. He was also inquisitive to see what Rev. Kenji received as gifts and to have a peep into the room where all the offerings went in.

One day, Rev. Kenji asked the young monk to clean this room. The young monk was amazed to find that the room contained a table, a chair and the bed that the Rev. Kenji slept on. He thought to himself, ‘where did the offerings go’. Rev. Kenji didn’t tell the novice monk about the gruesome incident because he knew the monk who came for training was not ready for such a shock. But Rev. Kenji gave the guest monk a surprise when he said that he distributed most of the offerings to the needy people of Mandana Town the next day itself and held on to nothing.

Last modified on Saturday, 07 March 2015 11:14

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