~ The Social Diary ~


Welcome to beautiful, exotic Sri Lanka, with Mahaila McKellar

April 28th, 2006
The Social Diary Spiritual Columnist & Photographer Mahaila McKellar

When Margo first invited me to write a column on spirituality, I wondered.. where to begin? I was on my way to Sri Lanka at the time, literally! We emailed back and forth, me with my blackberry miraculously working from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and even into the jungles of Sri Lanka. So the questions begs: why was I in Sri Lanka?

I journeyed to this far away island by invitation to tour the country with an international group of 27 people, headed by Dr. Deepak and Mrs. Rita Chopra. Each day before our lunch and daily tours and exploring, we would first meditate together followed with Deepak speaking to us about the essence of the spiritual teachings of Buddha, and how it relates to our lives today.

Margo asked me to write about meditation and spirituality in general. Shortly after I arrived in Sri Lanka, I found something specific I wanted to write about: The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka... not as a sales pitch for this unique people's self-help organization, but to put it in the spotlight as an expression of the basic laws of spirituality. It accomplishes this by using an integrated, holistic approach to development, peace and spiritual awakening. Founded more than 40 years ago by Dr. A.T.Ariyaratne, then a school teacher in Colombo, the capitol of Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya has helped countless families and enriched its nation.

I was privileged to first meet the founder, Dr. Ariyaratne (fondly referred to as Dr. Ari), in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in December of 2005. He was then receiving an award at the Alliance for the New Humanity's third annual conference for his work in fostering peace in the world through his Sarvodaya organization.

a photo montage from the Sarvodaya web site

Translated from the Sanskrit, Sarvodaya Shramadana means "the awakening of all through shared labour.." In modern context, this means the voluntary sharing of resources, especially time, thoughts, and efforts: This a gift that spontaneously evolves from heart felt compassion, a compassion that is naturally and spontaneously present when people are connected with their spiritual wholeness. Dr. Ari has managed to organize this sharing of resources in order to promote human-centered development that improves the quality of life for the poorest people in the country. Its methods are designed to preserve traditional Sri Lankan values while promoting national peace.

I think Sarvodaya is a wonderful model.. using spiritual ideals with the most down to earth positive results. I share this with you because it is a magnificent example of spirituality manifesting at its highest. Here the principals of wholeness are implemented by those in the organization and nurtured in those they assist. Here spirituality is not held as a separate piece of their lives. It is integrated into the lives of people in their daily expression and experience.

I learned about Sarvodaya my first night in Sri Lanka. Dr. Chopra was asked by Dr. Ari to speak to a group of 200 health care practitioners on mind/body medicine at the Vishna Niketan International Peace Centre in Colombo. When word spread, over 1,000 doctors showed up to hear Dr. Chopra speak. It was all quite exciting. I was invited to come along that evening with a couple of others in our group, and during the event I had the distinct pleasure to spend time with Dr. and Mrs. Ariyaratne. They are both such loving and lovely people. You can feel the sweetness of their energy just being in the same room with them.

Dr. Ari and Mahaila, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Dr Ariyaratne has been honored countless times, including receiving the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1996, the Niwano Peace Prize, the King Beaudoin Award and many other international honors for his work in peace making and village development

Mrs. Neetha Ariyaratne, Dr. Ari's lovely wife, works tirelessly as a social worker with Sarvodaya. A typical day for Mrs. Ari looks like this: Traveling to sign the papers for renting a house for the Children's Home in Galle.. then a board meeting at the newly updated Ratnayake Child Development Centre in Akuressa. From there, checking on the progress of the home for adult women with disabilities in Matara. They had just fixed it up and moved the women from the home they had shared with pregnant teenage girls and young mothers in Lunawa, near Moratuwa. Quite a full day. What an inspiration is this grand lady!

Mrs. Neetha Ariyaratne and Mahaila

Yes, it was indeed an inspiring evening at the Vishna Niketan International Peace Centre, and even more so because after the talk, as a few of us rode back to our hotel in a van with Dr. Chopra and Dr. Ari, these two doctors began a casual discussion of Dr. Ari's efforts and successes in having peaceful talks with both sides of the warring factions in Sri Lanka. This talk evolved into a plan by Dr. Chopra and Dr. Ari to create a million-person meditation for peace. They weren't talking about coordinating a million people meditating together throughout the world, but to literally have one million people come together in person in Sri Lanka to meditate for peace with a web cast to invite the entire world to join in. To hear these two men speak with each other from their hearts, so humbly, all of it coming from their dedication and devotion and quiet passion to help the world - this was a moment of awe for me, and one in which I felt gratitude for the opportunity to witness.

Mahaila; Dr. Ari; Jose Basquets of Spain, a member of our group and a devoted supporter of Dr. Chopra's charity and peace efforts; and Dr. Deepak Chopra. This photo was taken just moments after the car journey I just described. I think this picture captured the love and compassion both of these great doctors carry in their eyes

The next day we left the capitol of Colombo by bus and journeyed into the wilderness to Dambulla, where we stayed for 9 days at a spectacular 5-star hotel built into the hillside of a real live jungle. The bus ride to our hotel took several hours. Along the way we stopped for refreshments ... soft drinks and bottled water? No… something more "local".

sipping fresh coconut water at a roadside pineapple stand

Then onward and another rest stop to visit an elephant orphanage, a place that cares for elderly and injured domestic elephants.

These elephants just had finished their mid-day meal and were enjoying time in the river. Friend, yoga expert, and fellow traveler Price extends a hand to say hello.

A little computer enhancement by a friend of Price's depicts the magic feeling these majestic and gentle animals bring to the moment.

My favorite picture: near our hotel was this man-made lake, a tank as they call it there. There are no natural lakes in Sri Lanka. All are man-made! This one was swelling up after the rains - you can see the partially submerged trees. Over 100 species of bird live in the area. Some of them silhouetted in the tree.

A canoe styled boat with local fisherman and their fishing nets in the background. I'm relaxing on our little boat in the same area where I took the previous photo.

I'm about to climb the steps up 600 feet to the top of the world famous Sigirya with a member of our group, and newcomer-to-La Jolla, Renee duPont.

Halfway up the long steep climb, Joanna - fellow teacher and traveler - offers water.

Near the Top

From the top

Our last day of our touring, we visited the Dalada Maligawa in the town of Kandy, a temple that enshrines the tooth of Buddha, taken from Buddha's funeral pyre. It's requested that visitors to these temples have covered shoulders, underarms and knees and preferably wear white. We were also instructed that if we were to have any interaction with a monk, we were to give and receive with only our right hand. To use the left hand is an insult.

We had special permission and special escort to go into the guarded area where the tooth relic is enshrined in a golden casket. They guided us through, giving us each a brief time to bow and give our respects with gifts such as flowers.

At the Dalada Maligawa: All the folks in the picture are in our group, walking happily with our flowers and candles to place at the tooth shrine in love, respect, and gratitude

Just imagine entering a temple like this one… the scent of incense, of flowers and of burning candles; the sounds of bells chiming, wild monkeys chattering about, a procession of drummers announcing we're not sure what; seeing the exquisite silk hangings, the bright robes of the monks, fellow tourists mixed with local worshipers and devotees. The sights, the smells, the sounds: All of it a true immersion in the exotic for a westerner to experience.

Inside the drumming hall of the temple: Beautiful silks and spangles, drums and bells, and elephant tusks from elephants who died of natural causes. This is in the main hall and below the area where the tooth relic is enshrined.

Price strikes a yogic pose outside another beautiful temple area at the Dalada Maligawa.

Young Buddhist monks stand out with their orange robes and bright smiles.

Our group is about to take a steam engine train back to Colombo - the first leg of a long passage home - loaded down with souvenirs and great memories of an inspiring journey.

And thus ends my trip. I hope you enjoyed our little picture journey through Sri Lanka!

Many Blessings to you in your journeys, and along your spiritual path.


** Mahaila McKellar has studied and practiced meditation for most of her adult life, with the past 11 years focused on the relationship of meditation and mind/body medicine taught by Dr. Deepak Chopra. Her studies with Dr. Chopra have taken her beyond the United States to spiritual centers in Tulum, India and Sri Lanka.

In addition to her years of learning from the esteemed Dr. Chopra and an extended stay of study and meditation at Osho's ashram in India, Mahaila has studied various philosophies, meditations and methodologies with inspiring internationally recognized educators including Debbie Ford, Tony Robbins, Deborah Rachel Kagan, David Morehouse, Shawn Randall, Roger Gabriel, Chandrakala, Brent BecVar, Dr. Francesca Picciotto, and Dr. David Simon.

Mahaila is based in Los Angeles and happily combines her love of teaching and her love of travel. In addition to her classes in Los Angeles, she has been invited to teach Primordial Sound Meditation and conduct meditation sessions in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Chicago, New York, La Jolla, Miami, Philadelphia, Galway, Paris and other cities in the U.S. and abroad.

Mahaila's motto is "Have Mantras, Will Travel."

reference links:

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka. www.sarvodaya.org,

About Dr. Ariyaratne http://www.sarvodayausa.org/founder.html

Alliance for a New Humanity www.anhglobal.org

Dr. Deepak Chopra www.chopra.com

Mahaila McKellar www.MahailaMcKellar.com


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copyright of the author, The Social Diary, San Diego Social Diary, margomargo.com and Margo Schwab.

no reproduction of any part or parts is allowed without written permission by Margo Schwab





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