Rathmalkanda International Meditation Centre, Ella, Sri Lanka

Mahasi method, quiet centre in the hills

Location: On a hill just outside the very popular tourist town of Ella, near district capital Badulla.

Tradition: Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana. Taught by the Venerable Upali Thero from Kanduboda.

Practice intensity: Maybe 5 out of 10. Up to you as there is little to no schedule or checking up.

Accommodation: Individual room with bathroom. Some rooms have multiple beds but I’m told foreign yogis get to stay one to a room. Hot water showers.

Food: Provided twice daily by local supporters, mostly vegetarian, sometimes fish or meat. Can choose between dishes.

Min/Max stay: None.

Cost: Donation.

Clothing: No strict standard. The local people who come to meditate every Saturday and for occasional formal retreats wear the standard all-white outfits.

Transport: Can get a tuktuk from nearby Ella town for the equivalent of a few US dollars. About 15 minutes. Ella is on the main tourist trail and so it’s easy to get to. A good option is the very scenic train journey from Colombo or Kandy, to Ella.

Contact: www.meditation.lk, madawala8@gmail.com, +94-572050234 (landline), +94-77-3681065 (mobile). As far as I know, the email and phones are answered by a lay helper, not the monk in charge.

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. Note that visa extensions can be done at any time during your stay, and the extension is just added on to your original stay duration.

– –

Disclaimer: I visited in July 2019 for a morning but have not stayed here yet.

This centre is a lucky find, nestled in woods on a hill, at 1,200m above sea level, on the outskirts of a very popular tourist town known as Ella. The abbot, Venerable Upali Thero, is a veteran monk/teacher who spent a quarter century down at sea level at the Siyane Vipassana Centre, also featured on this website. He moved up here in the 2000s to establish a new unrelated centre on a donated property.

Back in his earlier days, he trained with the legendary Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw on one of his stays in Sri Lanka. So for those eager to get advice on their Mahasi method practice, this could be an excellent choice of place.

The centre’s look and style is quirky, with towering concrete accommodation blocks that are surprisingly private on the inside, with all necessary amenities including an electric jug for boiling water, a hot water system for showering, decent mattresses, linen, etc. The dining hall is clean and fairly small but the centre only houses around 20 meditators, which I had the impression almost never happens, as it’s usually very quiet and under-occupied. On my visit, there was only one foreign meditator and one local meditator. Bhante Upali said that on Saturdays the centre opens up to local meditators to come and spend the day in sitting and walking practice. I expect you could avoid any disturbance this might cause by sticking to your room for the day.

There is also a set of walking meditation paths in the woods nearby, and there seemed to be many spots for sitting including the very scenic rooftops. The meditation hall was large and well-equipped.

Being fairly high up, the weather is cool all year round, and there were no mosquito nets in the rooms since, as I was told, there are no mosquitoes here. Not bad!

The venerable himself spoke English very well, and was easy to chat with. He’s happy to give interviews to yogis as often as they need, or he’s happy to stay out of their way. He has a huge collection of science books as well as a surprisingly well-equipped laboratory for his science experiments, including an EEG machine for reading brain activity during meditation. Above his lab is a library for yogis with mostly Dhamma-related books in various languages.

My overall impression was that this is an excellent place to withdraw to from the noise and crowds and get deep into one’s practice. Being close to a major backpacker town I don’t doubt some travellers might stay from time to time, but the accommodation options are sufficiently spread out that you should be able to establish a secluded and quiet routine. Highly recommended based on everything I saw!

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Sign at the entrance, show to driver (email spelt wrong, should be madawala8)
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Accommodation blocks
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Accommodation block
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A 3-bed room, for single occupancy
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Decent facilities
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Dining hall
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Meditation hall
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Equipment in meditation hall
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Forest paths for walking meditation
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Multilingual library
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Bhante Upali meets yogis in this veranda space
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Overview from rooftop
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Shrine room from outside
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Shrine room interior
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Sign at bottom of hill near Ella Station, show to driver

Author: Peter Stuckings

Australian, living all over Asia. Explorer of the mind illuminated. Scholar of cognitive sciences, Buddhist & Pāli studies. Plant-powered. (Pic of EEG brain activity testing at Hong Kong U - yes a brain was detected!).

3 thoughts on “Rathmalkanda International Meditation Centre, Ella, Sri Lanka”

  1. Thank you very much for this article, Peter. I’m heading to Sri Lanka later this week, and have arranged to stay at Rathmalkanda for an extended duration. It will be my first time in Asia, and apart from a dialog with Rev. Upali, the choice to work in Sri Lanka (and this center) started with your words here. Thank you – your time and work are very much appreciated! After I leave Sri Lanka, I’ll comment again to share some tips and other information regarding long stays at Rathmalkanda – there’s not too much out there, other than your page and some vague reviews on the centres unofficial Facebook page.
    I can add a few things already, based on my interaction with the head monk, the venerable Rev. Upali:
    1) there are very few strict rules, in fact, other than being expected to maintain the 8 precepts, only two additional rules are given: “Stay quiet, and stay clean”.
    2) Shamatha practice is permitted and supported in addition to Vipassana.
    3) as you stated, no strict schedule exists, with mealtimes as the only fixed events in the day.
    4) serious and deep practice is encouraged/supported, however, there are no group sittings apart from the optional Saturday sits with villagers.
    5) while guidance/instructions are available (but optional), every yogi’s must be able to practice independently and stay on track.
    6) for more information or to confirm there is room to accommodate your stay, either email or call the center. The head monk Rev. Upali answered my emails reliably, although it always took 2 or 3 days for a reply to arrive.

    My impression is that the center is very well suited to experienced meditators. I think that new/inexperienced yogis could find it hard to stay on track, unless they had unusually strong self-discipline and motivation. I’ll try to inquire and provide an update on this when I return from my trip – I could be wrong. Best idea is to contact the center and ask. Since all instructions are individualized to some degree, speculatively, it’s possible that more guidance about daily structure is provided to newbies, and/or they are held accountable/monitored in some way to help them stay on track and progress.

    With metta,
    David

    Like

    1. Hi David. Thanks for the excellent information! After your stay there, please use the Contact page to send me any new info directly so I can add it into the main blog post. It’s possible readers don’t see the comments posted further down the page. All the best!

      Like

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