Affectionate Splendour: Taking refuge with Pemasiri Thera

David Young and Pemasiri Thera


Affectionate Splendour and A Scared Creature Visits Pemasiri Thera were chosen as the title and sub-title for this collection of talks from Sri Lankan Theravada monk Pemasiri Thera for a couple reasons. For the title, the Pali Text Society Dictionary defines Pema as love and affection. It defines Siri as splendour and beauty. Combining these two terms yields a translation of Pemasiri Thera’s name as Affectionate Splendour. As for the sub-title, when I asked Pemasiri Thera for ideas for cover art for this collection, he responded with a charming idea, “There are various types of scared creatures, including some animals. There’s heavy rain with thunder and lightning and these scared creatures are taking refuge in a cave.” In a way, I am one of those scared creatures taking refuge in the cave of Pemasiri Thera’s teachings.

Pemasiri Thera gave these talks in August, 2010 at Sumathipala Na Himi Senasun Arana in Sri Lanka. Pemasiri Thera speaks only Sinhala, and I speak only English. I thank the translators for exerting great effort in rendering Pemasiri Thera’s Sinhala into lucid English—a difficult task.

After the recordings of these talks were transcribed, numerous critical readers gave feedback on grammar and content. And now, heavily edited, these talks have been approved by students who know Pemasiri Thera’s teachings thoroughly. If not exact to the letter of Pemasiri Thera’s teachings, this collection is definitely in the spirit of his teachings. Pemasiri Thera accepts the result. After editing, the manuscript and cover went to graphic designers.

I thank these professionals for their quality workmanship.

The artwork used on the cover is by Dr. Peter Schuepp, and I feel it suits Pemasiri Thera’s ideas for the cover. Peter told me, “I think the cover looks really good, and your friend Paul Payer did a great job designing it. My only concern now is that I’d like to make sure that the acknowledgment for the cover design is okay. Since it is the reproduction of a mural painted for the Libervida School this has to be mentioned. Perhaps something like ‘Cover design based on, or reproduced from, mural in the Libervida School for children with AIDS, Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil, by Peter Schuepp’. Please confirm because I do not want to shortchange the school, which has a hard enough time, and for whom I made the mural after all. This is important to me.”

Then, just when I thought this collection was in its final stage, a friend asked me several questions. Where are you in your own practice of meditation? Who is this collection for? Who is your imagined reader? What does your reader already know? Do you and your reader face the same burdens?

Finally, what do you hope your reader gets from this collection? All good questions.

Where am I in my practice of meditation? That is a difficult question to answer in brief. I first met Pemasiri Thera at the Lanka Vipassana Meditation Centre in Colombo in 1998. Over the past fifteen years, I have lived and studied with him for a total of five years. Studying meditation with Pemasiri Thera has had a profound and positive influence on my life. To the best of my abilities, I now see the world through the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. As I said in the preface to Walking The Tightrope, a Buddhist Publication Society book, “Pemasiri Thera not only changed my life, but he gave me a life where one didn’t exist. He showed me how to live in a meaningful way. This is a priceless gift.”

I imagine the reader of this collection of talks to be quite similar to me. He or she is a westerner who comes from a non-Buddhist culture and doesn’t know a great deal about this type of meditation. My reader is neither a Buddhist scholar nor a veteran meditator, but knows life is full of burdens. Searching for ways to lighten life’s burdens, he or she is investigating the practice of meditation as taught by the Buddha in the Theravada tradition.

I hope by reading this collection the reader gains an appreciation of a longterm working relationship between a fine meditation teacher and one of his students. If I were to wish for results, the reader would learn a bit about meditation, be inspired to practise, and indeed lighten his or her burdens. At the very least, I hope while in the midst of reading this collection my imagined reader gets some temporary relief.

In gratitude and respect,
David Young
David Young
Sumathipala Na Himi Senasun Arana
Kanduboda, Sri Lanka

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