Buddhist Meditation Center in Sri Lanka – Nilambe

My love for Meditation comes from my experiences with Zen meditation in India that I get to practice at Bodhi Zendo. And it is through a fellow meditator I met at Bodhi Zendo that I got to know of Nilambe and I’m so incredibly grateful to her for that.

Nilambe Buddhist meditation center is a place to practice Zen meditation, located in the serene hills of Sri Lanka, about 2 hours from Kandy. The place was designed with inspiration from Bodhi Zendo and therefore the integration for anyone who has been to Bodhi, is seamless.

Nilambe was not a place I heard of from anyone in Sri Lanka, local or tourists alike. Expectedly, I found little information online like where is there nearest place with wifi, or phone connectivity etc. What was most helpful was interacting with Teacher Upul, the resident teacher at Nilambe Meditation center. Upul is available on Whatsapp and often responds within a day.

How to reach Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Center near Kandy

Located about 1.5 hours from Kandy. It’s fairly easy to reach there using public transport.

I took a bus to Gahana (No. 633 from near the train station) and got down at the office junction. This is a small neighbourhood with 2-3 small tea stalls and stores along the roadside. From this point, the center is a 3 km walk uphill. Tuktuk costs SLR 600.

A tuktuk from Kandy city to the center directly would cost around SLR 1500.

Two shack like stores on the left side of a tar road lined with wild trees.
Office Junction (Closest Bus Stop from Nilambe)

Things to Bring

1. Torch

There are a few mellow solar lights here and there but it leaves most sections in the dark, making the use of a torch almost a necessity. They do have some additional torch at the office that you could maybe borrow, but it may not be the case during high season time.

2. Alarm clock

I”m not sure if it’s a general practice but I barely ever heard the morning gong. Fortunately, I was able to borrow one from a fellow meditator.

3. Candle(s)

I didn’t need it but that’s also because I was not keeping very well during my stay, so I would often go straight to bed after the last meditation session.

4. Citronella oil or anything that can repel leeches

It’s in the middle of a forest, there’s got to be leeches. I had four bites in 4 days, so that’s not bad at all. I hear in monsoon it’s a massacre.

I had spent a few days in the village Meemure and was devoured by leeches so I was a bit better prepared (mentally).

Our guide in Meemure village had used a combination of Dettol liquid soap and citronella oil to repel leeches. It did work for sometime.

5. Cash

The center doesn’t have any other means to accept donations and I didn’t see a cash machine at the office junction (the nearest place with shops). It would be a good idea to carry cash from Kandy.

How does Stay look like at Nilambe Mediation Centre

Meditators are given a room each, what is locally known as a Kuti. It’s a simple room with one solar light, a mattress that is to be placed on a cement block, a cloth rack. Linen is given at the time of check-in. The doors can be locked and should be to avoid monkey break-ins.

There are common toilets and showers outside. Most had frogs in them (be prepared), There are also some taps that get hot water that’s very useful for shower as it gets cold there on the hills.

There is no laundry facility, so I did my personal laundry and cleaning of the linens I was given in the shower.

A room with mattress in front covered in orange striped bedsheet with a wooden shelf on top and a folded blanket at the foot of the mattress. Matress is placed on an L shape cement block going around the two walls of the room.
My ‘Kuti’

Schedule

  • 4:45 | Wakeup Gong
  • 5:00 – 6:00 | Group Meditation
  • 6:00 – 6:30 | Tea
  • 6:30 – 7:30 | Mindfulness in Motion
  • 7:30 – 8:00 | Breakfast
  • 8:00 – 9:15 | Working Meditation
  • 9:30 – 11:00 | Group Meditation (Standing/Sitting/Walking)
  • 11:00 – 12:00 | Individual and Outdoor Meditation
  • 12:00 – 2:00 | Lunch, Reflection, and Rest
  • 2:00 – 2:30 | Walking Meditation
  • 2:30 – 3:30 | Group Meditation
  • 3:20 – 4:30 | Tea, Working Meditation
  • 4:30 | Group Meditation
  • 6:15 | Snack
  • 6:45 – 8:00 | Chanting and Group Meditation
  • 8:00 | Group Discussion or Silence in your Rooms

Some things to note here:

  • The wakeup Gong is very feeble, I wouldn’t rely on it to wake up. While the best case scenario would be for your mind to wake up before that, but if you’re not used to waking up at that hour then it can be hard. An alarm clock that runs on batteries (the center has no electricity) would be your best bet. One of the things I learned there was to not rush, walking to the meditation hall is also meditation and doing that in a rush does defeat the purpose a bit.
  • The meditation does not involve a 5 minute walking meditation after every 25 min (like at Bodhi Zendo), all the sessions are at a stretch. Which I surprisingly enjoyed. In fact, for many sessions I chose to meditate longer than usual.
  • Mindfulness in motion is the time you could practice Yoga. There is a room just above meditation hall designed to do that.
  • Working Meditation is the time for Samu/Service. The service is not assigned (at least not when there are few people). Following are some of the jobs one can take up:
    • Sweeping paths
    • Weeding
    • Trimming the plants
    • Watering the plants
    • Collecting ashes from the furnace and throwing it in the compost area

You’re also free to come up with tasks you think needs to be done and let the Staff know.

The tools to perform the above jobs are in tools room, next to the dining area.

For retreats – do look at their schedule here.

Note: Be mindful of the leeches during monsoon season
A black rectangular cushion over a cement bench against a stone wall. A tea cup on the cushion.
That’s my Spot.

What does the Food look like Nilambe Meditation Center?

The center serves vegetarian meals twice a day – Breakfast and Dinner. Supper is usually bread slices with jelly, butter, and some other spreads.

Breakfast

Breakfast is usually something local like savoury semolina, millet, fruits, bread, Dosa. It’s filling, fresh, and really yum.

Lunch

Lunch was my favorite meal there, It’s traditional Sri Lankan food but the curries would change everyday and was just really delicious. To see the chef bring a piping hot food from across the dining hall where his kitchen is located, was a delight to watch. The steam wafting through the cold air of Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Center, against the backdrop of lush Sri Lankan hills.

Supper

Supper is not really cooked. It’s a food box that one is free to use to leave behind their leftover food as well. It usually has cookies, bread slices, various spreads, butter, cream cheese if you’re lucky.

Peeping into that box was like looking through a photo album of guests who have been. I wondered who brought the marmite in, who left the crackers behind and who was so generous to have left a jar of cheese spread that we used ever so judiciously.

Something I admired at the Nilambe center was that the teacher ate in the end. He ensured everyone else had had their meal before he picked a plate. There was enough food but just in case. This created a sense of sharing among everyone. People were mindful of who was eating after them and often went for a second serving only when everyone had taken their first.

Cost of Residential Meditation

The center itself doesn’t have a fixed fee so one can make donation basis their capacity. I had been travelling in Sri Lanka for nearly three months so I had a fair idea of what I spend outside for food, snacks, a room etc.

I paid what I would pay for a basic private room outside, two meals along with tea or coffee.

Had I not had a paid project going on, I would have paid less. The intent is to give back but it doesn’t always align with who want to give back to and it’s something I have learned to make my peace with.

What a day at Nilambe looks like (My experience)?

Feet at the bottom resting on floor and overlooking trees and a garden.
About 90% of my time outside of Mediation was spent here

In the pitch of darkness, my tiny alarm clock would go off breaking the silence, I was embarrassed by the sound but the one day I tried waking up without it, I was late by 30 minutes.

A quick change of clothes later, I would slowly tip toe to the meditation hall in the torch light. The wall clock in the meditation hall was helpful in keeping on schedule because in non-retreat days, there is no gong playing. I had terrible case of sinusitis just before I reached Nilambe so I would use every opportunity to sit with a glass of hot water and just stare at the trees and listen to the birds.

Taking from my past experiences, I chose not to borrow any books this time and just enjoy the sounds of nature.

Most meditations were long-term practitioners so there was a healthy environment to practice in silence. I would keep an eye at the clocks in Dining room to go back from next session.

After the last meditation that ended at 8 pm, I would go to my room and lie down immediately. There was no urge to scroll through anything or look at a screen.

In essence, my time at Nilambe involved a lot of slow walks, looking at sweet nothings, listening to birds, drinking hot water, and lots and lots of meditation (I did some of my longest single sitting meditations there).

Things to be mindful of at the Meditation Center

Sound

Nilambe Meditation Center is designed for silent retreats and silence is greatly appreciated by all. People travel long distances to seek that peace, please be mindful of that and keep any conversations to a bare minimum.

Interaction with the other gender

Male and Female sections are separate and interaction with the opposite gender is not appreciated. You may have opinions on it, but we follow the rules of the host.

A stone pathway going through a wild garden leading to a cement house.
Way to our Rooms

Carry your Waste back

Being located on a hilltop, it’s a task to carry the waste that cannot be recycled at the center. It’s best to carry it with you back. Any leftover food or anything resuable (like candles, toiletries) can be donated at the center for other meditators to use.

Keep your ‘Kuti’ (Room) and surroundings clean

Keep our room (Kuti) and surroundings clean is seen as part of the daily meditation practice and it is encourage that meditators clean the room including linen before leaving.

No Electricity

There really is no electricity there. There are some solar lights here and there that lights like a candle but I barely ever used the one in my room. I had already gotten my devices put in the safe, so didn’t have any use for electricity anyway. If you have a dependency then the nearest place with power would be very close to the junction which would mean a 45 min walk down or a tuktuk ride.

I went to Nilambe as a closing activity to my Sri Lanka trip but fell in love with it almost immediately. One of the reason I would go back to the country for would be to experience the beauty and kindness that exists at Nilambe Meditation Center.

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