Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel
Chapter 8: A tale of Buddhist meeting
As the first day of a new year arrived, Jayadeva was more concerned
about insufferable hot weather than his failed attempts to find a job
during the last eight months. The mercury hit 42 degrees centigrade
warming up Perth as if in a furnace, and stayed relatively high
throughout the night. The few pedestal fans they had purchased were not
good enough to keep his family in tranquil. Both Sunitha and Malini
complained of hot weather whereas small Asela changed his regular
sleeping habits and started crying most of the day though he slept under
a fan calmly at night.
Although the social welfare payments they received fortnightly were
sufficient to cover the day-to-day expenses and rent, the income was not
good enough to buy a car, thus prevented their movements. Having heard
about the Buddhist monks and their activities in Perth, Jayadeva was
very keen to attend Buddhist talks and meditation sessions on Friday
evenings and weekends whereas Sunitha and Malini were keen to visit
A person called Sirimal Chandrasekara, a Sri Lankan born psychiatrist
he met at the Wellington Street fish market had also mentioned about the
Buddhist Centre at Nollamara and offered him a lift on Fridays. However,
Jayadeva didn't want to exploit his kindness as Sirimal lived in a
suburb called City Beach in opposite directions to Nedlands. However,
Dr. Chandrasekara was kind enough to come over and drive Jayadeva and
family to his place for a Sri Lankan meal in November. During the
encounter, he gave a few ideas to Malini about practising medicine in
Perth and encouraged her to take a career path in psychiatry.
Sirimal had worked in New Zealand as a psychiatrist before coming
over to Perth and his wife Nirmala was an English teacher and taught
English at a high school closer to a suburb where they lived.
On the fourth of January, Jayadeva realised that in three days,
Sunitha would turn five. When she turned four years of age while they
were in Sri Lanka, Jayadeva drove all the way from Kekirawa to Kalutara
and visited Kalutara bodiya and offered a Bodhi Puja . Offering Bodhi
Pujas on children's birthdays was an essential ritual for Gamage family.
Jayadeva always found time to attend such rituals without fail as it was
a habit, he had acquired from his parents who were devoted Buddhists.
When he worked in Colombo and Sunitha turned two, neither Jayadeva
nor Malini had issues in finding time to offer a Bodhi Puja as they then
lived in Ratmalana.
It was a less than an hour's drive to Kalutara. However, when
Jayadeva got his new job in Mahaweli as a General Manager in charge of a
large settlement area, it became a problem as it was a long journey from
Kekirawa to Kalutara.
Malini complained about their last pilgrimage to Kalutara saying that
the best place to offer a Bodhi Puja was Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.
However, last year, for two birthday rituals, she had to take three days
leave for each birthday as the long journey consumed a day each for
travel back and forth and another at Jayadeva's mother's house in
Kalutara. With difficulties Malini managed to visit her parents in
Mathugama after the rituals.
Jaydeva was unsure whether he could offer a Bodhi Puja this year, but
Mrs Weerasuriya reminded them about the Buddhist temples in Perth.
She also told him that a group of Buddhist monks who followed
Theravada tradition as practised by forest monks in Thailand were living
in Perth, and that they had two centres; one near the city and the other
in Serpentine hills off the Southwest Highway. Jayadeva wondered how to
visit the far away monastery in Serpentine as they didn't have a
Even the travelling to the Buddhist centre in Nollamara near Perth
City was impossible as they had to take at least two buses to reach
there, and the burden of carrying children.
When he enquired again from Mrs Weersuriya about the need to offer a
Bodhi Puja for Sunitha's birthday, she said: "You should either go to
Serpentine monastery or visit the monks in Nollamara on a weekend.
I could drive you to any of the places but seventh of January is not
good as some of our friends are coming from the Philippines to meet
Lankanatha. This is a crucial meeting for him. We'll tell you some news
Jayadeva realised that she didn't want to share more information on
their friend's visits from the Philippines.
"Why not you rent a car from Perthwater Hire Cars in Subiaco? They
also have two other branches; one in Fremantle and the other in Perth
and she gave information in her usual efficient manner.
When he mentioned that he would to take Sunitha and the family to the
forest monastery in Serpentine hills on seventh of August, Malini's
reaction was negative. "How are we going there? I am looking forward to
go to Cottesloe beach with kids. Damien's Granny said she is happy to
drive us there on a weekend."
* * * * *
Jayadeva, took the bus to Subiaco and walked to the end of the Hay
Street and found the hire car office. There was a large sign:
'We Offer No frill Car Hire'
The man at the reception was not friendly but he explained the
conditions and cost of hiring a car.
"We can offer you a brand new Ford Laser for 25 dollars a day. This
entitles you to travel 100 kilo metres per day and there is no cost if
you keep to the limit."
"Oh, I want to take my family to Serpentine and it is far away from
Perth," Jayadeva said sadly.
"Yes, No worries! You can drive up to Serpentine. What I mean by city
limit is the Perth Region and you can even take the car up to Mandurah!"
How many people will travel in the car?
"Just me, my wife and our two children."
"How old are they?
"Five and two plus!"
"Oh, then you must also hire a safety capsule for the baby. There is
an extra charge for that!"
"Why is that? You have an advertisement to say 'No Frill Hire Cars!"
"That's a Law, mate! I'm just telling you what to do. This is
Australia and we have good road rules!"
"Okay, then I will hire a car for three days!" Jayadeva said calmly.
"The short term rates are different, and if you hire a car for less
than seven days, the daily rate is thirty five dollars! You may have to
take a collision insurance policy as you have an international driver's
licence," the person emphasised.
"Alright!" Jayadeva said with a controlled tone.
"Could I have your credit card please?"
Jayadeva was bit puzzled and replied: "I have no credit cards!
"Oh then you have to leave a cash deposit; three hundred dollars and
if you bring the car without any damage, we'll give your money back!"
Jayadeva calmly walked back to Subiaco town centre to locate an ATM
to withdraw money from his Commonwealth saving bank account. It was
another hot day. Although it was a short walk, he felt as if the sun was
chasing him like a foe.
As soon as Jayadeva reached home, he rushed inside and called Malini
"Look what we have got in the car port!"
"Dad is this a new car? Is it ours? It's small, but I liked it!"
Sunitha said happily.
Malini realised that it was a hiring car as the trade mark of the car
company was visible on the number plate.
"How much it cost you?" Malini enquired.
"Not much!" Jayadeva said as he didn't want to reveal the costs of
hiring a car.
"Thaththa, as we have a car now, shall we go for a drive please?"
Sunitha requested jumping up and down.
"Duwa, it is almost lunch time now, and we'll go for a long drive
tomorrow to meet monks in a Buddhist temple as it is your birthday.
Can't you remember last year, we drove all the way to Achchi Amma's 
house and offered a Bodhi Puja for your birthday?"
"Where are we going for a Bodhi Puja in Perth!" Sunitha asked as she
didn't know the existence of Buddhist monks in Perth.
Malini wanted to make two birth day cakes, one for the monks and one
for Sunitha. After lunch, she sent Jayadeva with Sunitha to Charlie
Carter's Super market to buy birthday candles and a few more items.
The long drive to Serpentine hills was pleasant and Jayadeva drove
cautiously via Albany Highway to Armadale and entered the road to the
Monastery through the Southwest Highway. The large farmlands with lamb
and cattle herds looked like burnt picture post cards due to long dry
summer. Jayadeva had to stop the vehicle several times at the request of
Malini and Sunitha to take photographs.
The temple was located on a picturesque hill. He drove on a narrow
road which spread through a thin space separating a valley on the left
and a hill on the right. The long winding road looked liked a black
rubber belt spread in between the hills and the valley below.
The Monastery was hidden among large gum trees and later they learnt
that all the monks were living in separate kutis-huts-spread across a
large forest land that spread over thousand hectares. The Buddhist monks
depended on alms offered by lay people and lived with no modern
amenities such as running water in their living huts.
Just after 10.30 a.m., the monks arrived and congregated at the
meeting hall. As soon as the monks arrived, the lay devotees who were
mainly Thais stood in a queue and offered rice to monks who came one
after the other based on their seniority. After receiving rice, the
monks went inside the food hall where they were served dana-alms-by
Anagarikas  and Jayadeva knew that they were trainee Buddhist monks.
Afterwards, the monks carried their food bowls to the meeting hall
upstairs where they usually have their main meal of the day. It is the
Buddhist tradition that a lay person must offer sanga dhana  and all
other meals; hence after the monk returned to the meeting hall with
food, the devotees followed them where the Buddhist rituals were
conducted before the monks had their meals.
After rituals of offering were completed the head monk said: "Now you
have offered sanga dana and gathered enough merits. Please go down
stairs and join us for a meal. If you want to see me afterwards, please
do come back!"
--What a different kind of Buddhism these monks practise? Though
their accent is different when they chant Pali Buddhist sutta, these
monks must be practising the purest form Buddhism as followed by Buddha
and his disciples for over two thousand and five hundred years. What a
privilege for anyone to be a monk in a monastery like this!
After the monks and Buddhist devotees had their meals, Jayadeva and
Malini went up and met the head monk.
"I'm Ajhan Buddawamso and our Abbot is away today. What can I do for
you? You must be new to Perth as I have not seen you before! How are you
and welcome to our monastery."
"Yes, Venerable ...Bhanthe..." Jayadeva got mixed up his Pali and
English ways of addressing Buddhist monks but Ajhan Buddawamso sat
calmly and serenely.
"We arrived from Sri Lanka in Perth only last June. We didn't have
means of coming over. I'm still unemployed and we haven't got a car!"
"Do you know that all our monks are not employed in the job market?"
The monk said pleasantly.
"Oh this is the fifth birthday of this young lady and I saw a cake
with five little candles in the dining hall. Thank you for offering
This is our birthday girl, Sunitha who turned tuned five today,"
"Oh, she is then elder to me, as my birthday falls on tomorrow, eight
of August! We would have met previously in Samsara for us to meet again
in Perth," the monk said jovially but Jayadeva thought that there was a
deep Buddhist philosophy in that simple statement.
"Venerable, when we are in Sri Lanka, we took both our children to a
temple on their birthdays and offered Bodhi Puja and we came to do the
"It is a great thing that you bring your family to a Buddhist temple
on their birthdays. As Buddhist we must learn that birthdays are there
not to celebrate! It's important for children to learn that they would
go through many births in different forms in different lives. Let me
give you blessings. Now please bow down three times for Buddha, Dhamma
and Sanga," Ajhan said in a serious tone this time and recited a few
stanzas from Maha Mangala Sutta.
"Please take your time and walk around. We normally close the gates
at five o'clock. You must also come over to Nollamara regularly and
meditate. It's sure a way to learn the path for liberation!"
Afterwards they found a Bodhi sapling to which they poured water
reciting Bodhi Puja stanzas in Pali.
The family walked up the stone steps and reached the main Sangha
meeting hall of the monastery. As soon as he entered the hall Jayadeva
felt the deep silence inside. He sat on a corner and took a deep breath
and attempted to mediate but his mind was like a kite without a string
but his mind found the serenity of silence at least for a minute or two.
All Buddhist monks must be having this experience of deep silence. I
wonder whether it is easy to be a Buddhist monk and meditate everyday to
end all the sufferings of this life? What about my family and my
commitment for them, I'm not only a husband but also a father!
Little Sunitha saw her silent father and came running from one end of
the long hall to the other and took his hands and asked:
"Are you okay, Dad? Why are you closing your eyes? Shall we go home,
Dad? I feel a bit tired. It's very hot day today!"
Jayadeva drove calmly and Sunitha looked around and gazed at the
picturesque farms in Serpantine-Jaradale region.
"I think we should also have a small birthday party at least for a
few friends from the kindergarten as Sunitha was invited for a few
parties by her friends!" Malini said looking at sleeping boy in the
"Let's see," Jayadeva said and pressed the accelerator unconsciously.
"Yes, Dad, I would like to have a party with my friends at Hungry
Jacks. I was invited to several parties there!"
Jayadeva felt as if the conditioned air in the hiring car paralysing
his lungs. He opened the windows and attempted to breathe fresh air from
the outer atmosphere. As soon as the hot air invaded his lungs, he felt
as if warm water was filling every tiny air pocket in his lungs. He
closed the window of the car to prevent warm weather invading him and
 Bodhi Puja -The worship of the Bodhi-tree (Sacred Fig; Ficus
religiosa and Bo-Tree in Sinhala) has been a popular ritual in Sri Lanka
from the time a sapling of the Bodhi-tree at Bodhgaya, India (under
which the Sidhartha Gautama attained Enlightenment) was brought and
planted at Anuradhapura during the third century B.C.
 Achchi Amma - The Sinhala word for grandmother.
 Anagarika - In Theravada Buddhism, an anagarika is a lay
attendant for monks. The term also means one who has left the home life
for a homeless life in a Buddhist monastery. The word implies
relinquishment and renunciation.
 Sanga Dana - Offering gifts including food to the Order of
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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and
incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used