The Social Diary ~
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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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** photos, video and writing on this site are the
of the author, The Social Diary, San Diego Social Diary, margomargo.com
and Margo Schwab.
reproduction of any part or parts is allowed without written permission
by Margo Schwab