In the palpable yet comfortable heat of the Hong Kong countryside, Vesak is being celebrated in a way that might have been recognizable to the Buddha himself and his ancient community, should they have stumbled into a time machine and found themselves in 2023.
The Ceylon Farm Village, a project by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Cultural Centre Hong Kong (SLBCCHK), is a facility where congregants can listen to Dhamma talks by founder Ven. Sumiththa Thero, and participate in group meditation. One such event was hosted by SLBCCHK precisely for the occasion of Buddha Purnima, which in Hong Kong was held on 26 May this year.
While the species of foliage and plants in the Sheung Shui area might be different to those that flourished in the Buddha’s monsoon-touched eastern Ganges Plain, one feels a sense of homecoming to a simpler time, perhaps hearing echoes of ancient Ceylon when Ashoka the Great’s son and daughter, Mahinda and Sanghamitta, just arrived on the island.
The Vipassana Meditation Retreat at Ceylon Farm Village was a full-day event, during which participants sat cross-legged, tuning in to their breathing, in meditation tents under the thatched roof of the main building, the vihara. I have been to many temples around Asia and in Hong Kong, but seeing the Village’s semi-outdoor hall was something special. It is spacious and comfortable, and can seat dozens of people. A short walk away are several nurseries growing plants and fruit.
As the central structure of the Village, the vihara easily invokes the viharas of old: those literally from the Buddha’s time, when they were just shelters that were not even intended to be permanent monuments, like their successors at the Ajanta Caves or Mogao Grottoes in China.
Construction of the Ceylon Farm Village went non-stop throughout the years of the pandemic (and securing a plot of land from the Hong Kong government was in itself an arduous process). Ven. Sumiththa Thero and his lay volunteers worked especially hard, barely leaving the site, for months on end. A ceremony of planting a bodhi tree took place on 10 March, along with a large gathering to celebrate the completion of the Village.
Even though only a couple of months have passed, the Bodhi tree, which shares the sacred bo lineage of the Sri Lankan Bodhi tree, itself a descendant of the first at Bodh Gaya, is thriving. The tree’s growth is a sign that Sheung Shui is a repository of spiritual energy, a wellspring of fertile Dhamma practice that Ven. Sumiththa Thero is now tapping into.
The Village now has every potential to become a flourishing example of a new Buddhist hub and commune for not only the Sri Lankan community, but one that will inspire many Buddhists around Hong Kong. This unique environment indicates as much.