My country is the World. My religion is to be Human.

Sri Lanka – poor country with rich people

Before I begin writing more about the culture in Sri Lanka, I want to clarify the meaning of some terms concerning peoplelivign there and Buddhism in general. If you are not interested, skip the next suheading.

People who live in Sri Lanka are divided into Sinhalese  – 70% and Tamils 20%, the rest consists of minorities. They have separate languages: Singalan and Tamil. Sinhalese come from Northern India and the majority are Buddhists unlike Tamil people who are mostly Hindus. There is a small number of Sinhalese and Tamils who are Muslims or Catholics and they mainly live on the coast but the heart of Sri Lanka is exclusively Buddhist.

It was only when I arrived in Sri Lanka that I found out that Buddhism is divided into two branches: Theravada and Mahayan Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhism originated from India, while Theravada originates from Nepal (fun fact: Buddha was born in Nepal in 500 B.C.). Sinhalese, who are the majority, are Theravada Buddhists. Unlike Mahayana, Theravada Buddhists are those who preach the original teachings of Buddha that are over 2500 years old. What is common to these two bracnhes of Buddhism is that most of them do not believe in gods. Buddhism is just a way of life and vision, it is not a religion.

Very interesting fact is that Mahayana Buddha has a swastika on his chest. That’s how you can recognize what branch of Buddhism it is.  I do not know what to think about this, but I know that Mahayana Buddha had this on his chest long before Hitler used this symbol (what I did not notice previously but later found out from my friend that Hitler turned the sunrays into a different direction).

mahayan buddha

Also, I thought that Buddha is a fat little man with a big belly. It’s a big mistake! Buddha is thin and tall. See pictures below:

Nije Buda!

Jeste Buda

The person with a big stomach is only a talisman which they hold in places where they want to enhance prosperity and their financial situation. Some believe that he is the next Buddha who will come in  2,500 years from now, but since they cannot know what it will look live, then they are represent him in that existing form.

Buddha said that his era of Buddhismis will last for 5000 years bfore a new era starts.

Sri Lanka is mainly a Buddhist country and this fact has greatly influenced tradition and beauty of a culture that is still cherished. Everyone who sonsiders themselves Buddhist must comply with at least these 5 rules:

  • do not kill
  • do not steal
  • do not lie
  • do not take drugs, drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes
  • do not lie

Very devoted Buddhists have eight rules while monks (Theros) have ten rules that they respect.

In Buddhism it is forbidden to kill animals and therefore most Buddhists are vegetarians. Modernization has led to some of them eating meat but they do not kill animals themselves. Muslims and Catholics do this for them.

As I have written, one of the forbidden things are cigarettes. You cannot find cigarettes in stores. You can only get them if you have a connection, or if you go into a dark alley and ask for them.

They are very proud of the fact that Lord Buddha, as they call him, has visited Sri Lanka three times. They are also proud because the tooth of Buddha is in Sri Lanka. It is located in the temple called the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa). This is one of the most historically significant places in Sri Lanka because it was necessary to own the Buddha’s tooth in order to rule the island. I had a unique opportunity to attend a special ceremony in this temple which is held once a year and only 13 people have the opportunity to be there. The ritual consists of many parts one of which is serving food to the monks who guard the Buddha’s tooth.

In addition to this place, they have another one that they are particularly proud of and is located in a city called Anuradabura. It is a tree that is 2 300 years old and it is a seedling tree under which Buddha experienced nirvana. It is the oldest descendant of that tree, India took a seed from the tree in Sri Lanka because theirs was destroyed.

Do you know what is Nirvana?
The world outside of Buddhism adopted Nirvana as the word that has the following meaning: a transcendent state of mind and body. Buddhism describes Nirvana as a cessation of birth, the liberation of tortures of living. Buddha believed that everything is torture, feeling is torture, living and moving your body, as well. He thought it was all in vain since we will all die one day and reincarnate into something else. If you were good in this life, you will be born as a rich and handsome man in the next one, then you have to help the poor … And this cycle repeats over and over again. So, a rebirth is torture. That is why Buddha aspired to reach nirvana and judging by people’s beliefs he managed to reach it. Nirvana is achieved through meditation and is manifested through reaching the state of mind where you forget about everything and cleanse your mind from everything you know. Then your consciousness is destroyed, it disappears and that is how you end the cycle of rebirth, the cycle of torture.
I personally do not agree with this because, for me, life is beautiful I enjoy every day and do not need nirvana.

I learned a lot about Nirvana from one local self-taught painter and sculptor. He started his art career at an early age, and today his paintings are famous wordwide, mostly in Japan. He never promoted himself but others recommended his work. He only knows how to paint, make sculptures and that’s all. Because he has no money to invest in exhibitions, he made gallery in one room in his humble home. I had the honor to see his works. I was left speechless because he does not copy others, as he says: I brought a new style of paintings into the world. I promised that I would make a free website for him, when I return to Serbia, through which he will be able to sell his paintings

Buddhism has greatly contributed to the fact that people who practise Buddhism are peaceful. For them the most important thing is their mental health. They do not go into wars, do not argue, do not shout, they solve everything by talking with each other. Sti Lanka came to me as a therapy after the Balkans. Everyone is smiling and happy. Most people are very poor, living in some houses in the woods and eating rice for every meal with a little something on the side, because it is cheaper. A lot of people have a salary from 100 to 200 EUR. And besides all that, they are always smiling and joyful. For them, dreaming is very imporant because it’s all they have left. And they have everything they need.

Perhaps Sri Lanka is a poor country but they have rich people because they have serenity a joyful life that dedicated to nature. It’s amazing, you have to see it to believe it. They have a rich beautiful history that is over 2000 years old. For them it is ok if you eat the same dish every day, what can you do, at least you are not hungry, and that is the most important thing. So, they are really peaceful and in harmony with their psyche. It makes you reconsider the systems of values that we, so-called modern people, have. It makes you ask yourself: What the hell are we doing  and are we normal?


  1. Madhuranga Prabhath Mallawaarachchi

    17th Jun 2016 - 12:54

    I can give you a thumb up for nicely describing aspects of Buddhism (because i’m a buddhist sri lankan)i popped in to this article by searching poverty in my country so better change the topic. i was searching reason,how much people are poor that kind of details.And why nobody commented this article before? nobody interesting in my country?? 🙁 and its 2016 :O

  2. Thilackumar

    13th Feb 2017 - 09:05

    Dear Sir,

    Greetings from Sri Lanka !!

    Thank you for your article and as a Sri Lankan I am very much proud to read your lines.

    Thanks again

    Sri Lankan

  3. Anna

    29th Sep 2017 - 03:04

    I enjoyed reading about the people from Sri Lanka through your eyes. I am from the USA and could only dream of being peaceful and not constantly being stressed out.
    Thanks for your lovely story.

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Milica Radovic-Mandic