Many Westerners are not aware of the fact that Buddhism originated in south Asia. Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal and traveled widely throughout Nepal and India spreading his philosophy where he could. In the 3rd century BC, Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka where it took hold and, unlike India, never let go. It was in the great Sri Lankan cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the Theravada school of Buddhism was refined before the philosophy moved on to Burma and Southeast Asia. Not surprisingly, many of early Buddhism’s greatest monuments are here in Sri Lanka.
But somebody was asleep during Buddhism class. After two thousand years of talking about rejecting materialism, you would think that some of that philosophy might have seeped into the super-Buddhists’ heads. But no, Theravada-land has decided to honor Buddha by charging foreigners extortionate fees to visit all the monuments dedicated to he-who-rejected-wealth. In a land where much of the population earns a few dollars a day, foreigners are charged $25 US a pop to visit each of the more famous sites. Or, you can purchase a Cultural Triangle Pass for a mere $50 US which allows foreigners to visit all the sites except those which are not included. (You seriously need to read the fine print.) I can say without any doubt that Buddha would be appalled.
However, if you follow our blog, then you know I’m an architecture junkie, and Sri Lanka is the king of the giant dagobahs. If you want to see the history, you’ve got to pay up. But don’t think I didn’t share a few thoughts of my own on Buddhism at the ticket booth. Since we payed though the nose (and since it was quite beautiful), we thought the Cultural Triangle merited a full pictorial of its own.