Deep in the Monga National Park are the headwaters of the Mongarlowe and Buckenbowra Rivers. Whilst the Mongarlowe River flows behind the Budawangs into rugged country covered by snow gums, the clear Buckenbowra flows down the escarpment into a rainforest wilderness before finally reaching the Tasman Sea.
Between the headwaters of these rivers, near the edge of the escarpment are forests of tree ferns and plumwoods. Plants so ancient that pollen spores have been found in Antarctica, from when Australia was once joined to it in Gondwanaland. One of these magnificent stands of tree ferns and plumwoods is known as Penance Grove.
It seems that once, thieves would cut and steal ferns from this forest, when it was unprotected, to sell in nurseries to grace suburban gardens.The stumps of cut ferns can still be seen in Penance Grove.
I have discovered that the Buddha-carita, also tells of the young Buddha visiting a Penance Grove, where ascetics dwelled who pursued a religion of self mortification and sacrifice. The young Prince argued that he would not join the ascetics as penances are paid for passions “for the sake of heaven, — while my desire is that there may be no fresh birth; therefore I wish not to dwell in this wood; the nature of cessation is different from that of activity.”
An old Brahman responded, “…brave indeed is thy purpose, who, young as thou art, hast seen the evils of birth; he who, having pondered thoroughly heaven and liberation, makes up his mind for liberation, — he is indeed brave! By all those various sacrifices, penances and vows the slaves of passion desire to go to heaven; but the strong, having battled with passion as with an enemy, desire to obtain liberation.”
Such ascetics never dwelled in this grove, nor has the Buddha wandered this ancient wood, though perhaps might have found peace here now it is liberated from mortal desires, theft, and vandalism.
Each dawn, every new day, new thoughts spring like saplings in the sunlight. I struggle every night with sleep to reach the next day (I always have), but am glad to visit or camp out in the forests, see the dawn, a sunset, and think of liberation. I dream of being able to touch an ancient sequoia, and know, that it was witness to human history, philosophy and religion passing by while it grew in the sun. Soon I will…
All photos taken in Monga and Morton National Parks with Toyo-View 45CF with Nikkor-SW 90mm f/8 and Nikkor-W 180mm lenses, on Fuji Pro160C and developed in Tetanal C41 two bath rapid kit.