Location: Area known as Kanduboda, not far to the east of Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, and next door to the related (previous) centre also known by the area name Kanduboda. (The other centre’s full name is Siyane Vipassana Centre.)
Tradition: Mostly Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana.
Practice intensity: 4 out of 10. UPDATE February 2019, there is now a daily meditation schedule with 4 group sitting sessions, and so this rating has changed.
Accommodation: Kutis, some twin kutis with 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom.
Food: Mostly vegetarian, sometimes a fish/meat dish.
Min/Max stay: No limits.
Clothing: Preferably all white, as normal throughout the country, but they seem lax about this so can wear almost anything.
Transport: 15km by road from nearest railway station Gampaha. 28km from downtown Colombo. (Install the PickMe app, a Sri Lankan Uber-style service, for excellent local rates.)
Contact: Sumathipala Nahimi Senasun Arana, Heelbathgala Rd, Kanduboda, ph: +94-11-2402805 (office landline, usually someone there Mon-Fri). http://senasunarana.blogspot.com/, email@example.com (unsure if anyone checks this email address).
Visas: 30 days on arrival, can get online at http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/, then can extend in Colombo at the ‘Suhurupaya’ Immigration Dept for 60 days, then again for another 90 days, totalling 6 months. Can then get 1-year residence permit via certain (major and well-organised) meditation centres.
Take care to distinguish this centre from the Siyane Vipassana Centre immediately adjacent, both centres often being referred to as Kanduboda. There was a rumour they were joined, but in fact while they have a related history, they are not connected now. I did not stay at the neighbouring one despite it having a website and larger online presence, as local people and foreign monks pointed out that the teacher here at Sumathipala, Bhante Pemasiri, is the real draw. Apart from that reason, I do not know of any important differences.
The centre is large in area, and seems to have facilities for a lot of meditators, yet the density of people is very low. It’s possible to have either of the 2 meditation halls to yourself for hours at a time. There are 15 monks resident at the centre, along with several nuns, although most of the monastics are rarely seen. There were 4 other yogis (meditators) staying there when I visited.
On arrival I was briefed thoroughly by a Czech monk named Vinita, who showed me around and told me of the rules – very few! He said you’re welcome to follow 5 or 8 precepts, and no need to take the precepts formally. Unusual! He also said yogis are free to practice however they please, and no interviews with the teacher or instructions would be given unless staying longer (perhaps more than 2 weeks) and unless this was requested and agreed to.
The teacher, Bhante Pemasiri, is a smiling, gentle-looking monk, who is well-known and highly respected throughout the country. (See the blogspot website listed above for details on him.) He gives a daily talk at 5pm, which seems to be of a chatting format, where we could ask questions, and often the hour would then flow from that response into all kinds of stories and reflections on the Dhamma and the monastic life.
The dining hall was another unusual experience. The meal times are 6:30am and 11:15am, but people seem to drift in and out starting around that time and going on for a while afterwards. So no need to be punctual. The food was the standard Sri Lankan spicy breakfast and diverse lunch, and is prepared by kitchen staff, not delivered by the public. Sometimes monks can be seen leaving the centre barefoot with bowl in hand to go collect alms from the nearby communities.
There are 2 meditation halls. The main one is quite large and well-equipped, including toilets and cushions and mosquito nets, but is set down into the sloped landscape, and so has little to no breeze, which is a problem during the daytime in summer. There are ceiling fans. The second hall is pretty much unused but I found it far preferable. It’s the open rooftop floor of a nearby 3-storey building, and so catches the breeze, but seems dangerous during the big summer lightning storms.
There is a well-equipped library which you can borrow from at any time.
The kutis seem to be mostly new as of writing, and there is construction of new ones going on. They seem to be mostly 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom jobs, which I personally find awkward since kutis normally afford lots of privacy and peace and quiet. The beds and rooms and bathrooms are the usual very basic but adequate affairs.
Popular with Czechs, I believe there are (or have been) some monks from the CR resident there. And word is that the teacher gives temporary ordination to foreign individuals who pique his interest.