Thursday, 21 July 2016

Dhamma Ramsi Meditation Monastery in Monywa


Established in 2006, this Mogok Paṭipatti Monastery, known as Dhamma Ramsi, offers a ten-day course each month, sometimes filling to capacity and hosting up to one thousand yogis. It is overseen by Sayadaw U Sunanda who, due to high demand, often travels throughout the country giving Dhamma talks and teaching. Because of this, he is able to conduct only one course a year, and around 20 monks reside here full time.

The Dhamma Hall is a large, beautiful structure, with wooden floors and statues of the Buddha and Mogok Sayadaw towards the front. There is even air conditioning, quite valuable for the scorching temperatures this region is known for. Modern kutis are provided for each yogi.

At present, there are five Dhamma Ramsi centers in Myanmar. Its headquarters is in Yangon, where an additional one is being built to international standards, to be staffed by English-speaking teachers and specifically designed to welcome foreign meditators.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Surviving the Burmese Monsoon

The American monk Bhikkhu Obhasa has submitted the following essay, giving some suggestions for fellow monastics and yogis as to how to best survive Burma's monsoon season in full health. 

After the extreme heat of hot season, the coming of the rains is often a welcomed relief. Rainy season, however, can come with its own set of challenges. At the onset of rainy season, the body is trying to adjust from hot dry conditions to suddenly cool damp conditions, and it is common to experience a loss of energy, especially during the initial transition period. While dukkha cannot be totally avoided, excessive unhealthiness of the body is considered a difficult condition for practice.

There are two common causes for difficulty during the rains, slower digestion and increased chance of infection.

According to the Buddha Dhamma, the continually arising body has four sources of nutriment: kamma, mind, food, and temperature. According to the ancient health practice of Ayurveda, the body uses the element of fire (pali tejo) in the form of heat to digest food and the sudden drastic shift in the external environment from hot and dry to cool and damp inhibits the body's ability to do so. The more one can do to prevent the body from further imbalance by avoiding getting cold and wet, the better ones digestion, energy, and overall health will be during monsoon season. Here are some simple tips to follow:

Eat hot food. For one who depends on alms for food, sometimes almsfood cools down considerably between receiving and eating it. If this is the case, reheating the food, which is allowed by Vinaya, can be helpful. One can use the kitchen at the monastery, acquire a small gas stove, or make a small fire to reheat the food. In case of the latter, it is advisable to gather a stockpile of wood before the onset of the rains.

Eat less. In order to assist the body's digestion, don't eat more than the body can easily digest. The digestive stress on the body and the amount one will have to adjust will vary from person to person. For most the amount will be less than it was during hot season. Examining bowel movements, besides being a helpful asubha practice, is one of the best ways to assess the quality of digestion. If the faeces are more loose and less well formed than normal, this is a sign of incomplete digestion. Help the body out and experiment with eating less.

Eat spicy. Food eaten with hotter spices such as chillies, garlic, onion, and ginger make any meal easier to digest. Some even soak these same ingredients with turmeric root in vinegar for a couple of weeks and add both the spicy vinegar and the pickled ingredients to the meal. Considered as medicine, these ingredients may directly requested.

Avoid raw food. Besides the higher risk of contamination during monsoon (see below), raw food takes more energy to digest and is more cooling, the opposite of what is helpful to a weakened digestive system. If the body is weak and digestion poor, it is advisable to eat only simple, well cooked food that is easy to digest.

Drink hot fluids. Drinking cold fluids around mealtime hinders the digestive strength of the body. Some health systems even go so far as to say not to drink at all around mealtime because the cooling effect of any fluid in the stomach inhibits digestion. During monsoon season it is advisable to keep the body warm and so drinking hot fluids throughout the day is advisable. Again, a gas stove or wood fire will come in handy as well as a thermos or insulated flask to keep it hot. One can add ginger root or ginger powder with a little palm sugar to hot water as well for a little extra heat.

Drink less. During cool damp conditions, the body loses less water through processes like sweating, therefore, less water is needed daily by the body compared to hot season. Stay hydrated as always and also understand that extra water during monsoon is not only unneeded, it only serves to exacerbate the already damp conditions.

Bathe before eating. Deluging the outside of the body with water after eating while trying to digest is also believed to hinder digestion. It doesn't matter whether the water is hot or cold but the effects are even more so when cold. Therefore bathing before meals and then allowing the body to warm up is advisable.

Keep feet warm and dry. When allowed by Vinaya, it is advisable to wear footwear to insulate the feet from the cold wet ground thereby retaining more heat in the body. When barefoot, try to avoid standing for long periods on cold, hard, and/or wet surfaces. Dry and warm the feet as soon as it is possible.

Stay warm and dry. Keep the body and robes dry if at all possible. If the robes get wet, it is advisable to change into dry robes and dry the body as soon as possible. Try to keep the body warmer rather than cooler by wearing extra layers as needed.

The dampness of monsoon season is a condition for greater risk of infections. As the ground floods with water, the filth that lies on the ground can spread more easily into both our bodies and onto our food sources. There are two main areas of concern, feet and food.

Wear footwear. When Vinaya allows, it is advisable to wear footwear. The water on the ground has a higher likelihood of contamination from things like faeces and dead animals and these contaminants can enter the body via the skin of the feet.

Scrub feet daily. After alms round, scrub feet soon after with soap and a brush. Take extra care to clean any open wounds regularly and thoroughly. Consider regularly applying turmeric in water to any wounds to prevent or stop infection.

Remove callouses. When callouses, especially on the heels, become cracked, they can split to form an open wound, thus providing a higher risk of infection. Prevent this by regularly removing the dead skin with a pumous or other rough stone or by rubbing heels vigorously on wet rough concrete.

Avoid raw vegetables. Many areas flood during rainy season including vegetable crops and the possibility of food contamination is considerably higher. When food is well cooked there us no need for concern as high heat is the most effective way to remove bacteria and parasites, the main causes of intestinal infection. However, raw food presents a significantly greater risk and is best avoided during monsoon.

Turmeric. Turmeric, amongst its many other healthy properties, is known to prevent and fight infection. Turmeric root, powder, and/or pills can be found widely in south and southeast Asia and is highly recommended to take internally regularly. The anti-infection properties are especially helpful during rainy season. As mentioned above, turmeric mixed in water and applied to open wounds externally can prevent or stop infection. If the wound is not healing or becomes more red, itchy, or swollen, it is likely to be infected. Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and apply turmeric water or paste immediately. Turmeric can be applied to itchy rashes as well, especially in the most moist areas of the body where bacteria are likely to grow, namely the armpits, belt-line, and crotch areas. For lay people wearing shoes, the feet as well.

Papaya seeds. Papaya seeds are believed to act as an antibiotic effective against parasites, and especially against parasitic worms. Worms start out as microscopic parasites that can enter into the body in a number of ways, one of them being through the feet. They attach themselves to the lining of the digestive tract and papaya seeds are believed to shed such parasites from the lining so they may pass through the body. Whether or not one has worms, a large spoonful of fresh papaya seeds may be taken daily anytime they are available or seek them out if one has any suspicion. Taking a spoonful regularly during monsoon season is recommended.

These are tips I've come across so far. If anyone has more, please do share.

I wish everyone health, happiness, and freedom from all suffering.

Bhikkhu Obhasa

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Webu Sayadaw's Meditation Cave

Before U Kumara (the future Webu Sayadaw) popped up in Kyaukse out of the blue on March 12, 1924, no one was quite sure where he had been spending time. All that was known was that he was in the midst of years of intensive, solitary practice; even his modern biographers and closest disciples have been unable to reconstruct those early years in any detail. And while U Kumara continued his secluded practice here, Kyaukse was also where the next phase of his life began, and from where word about the achievements of the noble monk would spread to the rest of the country. 

The first site of note at Webu Sayadaw Monastery in Kyaukse is Dhat Ma Shaw Well, situated on the right side of the road, between the inner and outer monastery gates. After leaving his formal studies behind at the Masoyein Monastery in Mandalay in his mid-twenties, U Kumara spent some time living in remote caves and forests; perhaps given these hardships, he was frequently afflicted with stomach illnesses. 

One story goes that he was once travelling by train from Shwebo when someone advised him about a well near the Webula Hills that was known for its medicinal qualities. (In one version this was a holy man or pilgrim clad entirely in white. In another, it was a woman who met him before the train, and when U Kumara suggested that he may go home to Ingyinbin seeking a cure, she diverted him instead to Kyaukse) Soon after, he had a dream in which a being directed him to come here and search for a well of clear, bluish water. When he found the well, it is said that the same supernatural being appeared to personally offer him the water, and after drinking it, the monk’s stomach pains ceased. U Mya Thaung wrote that following this event, Webu Sayadaw never again laid down, had a cold, or spit. Those who wish may drink from this well, but note: pilgrims do so at their own risk.

Dhat ma shaw carries a couple of different meanings. Translated literally, it means “the knife falls down,” a reference from the 12th century when King Alaung Sithu is believed to have passed through here, back when the village was known as Paung. At that time, one of the royal attendants accidentally dropped his knife in this well. But when “knife falls down” is said quickly in Burmese, it can be heard as “the diarrhea has stopped,” a reference to the curative effect the well water had on Webu Sayadaw.

The words “ye phyu ye pya,” (or “white water, blue water”) came to be associated with the famous Kyaukse well that healed Webu Sayadaw. The white color refers to the water found naturally throughout these hills, while the curative water in Webu’s story was blue. Located around Webu and Weba Hills, this gave rise to the clever ditty, “Ye phyu ye pya, webu weba,” which references the geography, water quality, and famous monk all at once.

Beside the well is a stone tablet with a Burmese inscription, telling the Phaung Daw Oo story of the magical royal barge that carried King Alaung Sithu by air around the country. The king constructed a pagoda wherever he stopped, and so today many pagodas carry the name Phaung Daw Oo, meaning “the prow of the royal barge.”

Today, only serious meditators are allowed to enter and meditate in this cave, which is still standing today. Below is a photo of an inscription on this cave, with the translation below:

"Follow the tip of the nose - align with mindfulness,
To other object - (mind) should not be let go.
Contact and mindfulness - should be known continuously,
(thus) the difference between body and mind - will be known without fail."
The benefactor Venerable Webu Sayadaw
Champion 1998"

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A Dutch Monk in Myanmar: "My whole life is about devotion to the Buddha’s teachings"

Bhikkhu Agga is a Dutch monk living in Myanmar. While back home for a short time, he was interviewed about his life decision to take on robes, found here. Following is an excerpt of his interview:

"My whole life is about devotion to the Buddha’s teachings and to apply this, and this gives my practice much more strength. It’s like an engine in one of this small toy-cars (flywheel) which keeps rotating and supporting you the more you turn it… 
I feel before, and maybe this is because of Gonkaji’s way of teaching, my meditation practice felt more like: ‘you sit your hour and then you do other things and then you sit your hour and the only thing that counts are your hours on the cushion’, it felt a bit like on/off Dhamma. But now it feels like there is not so much division in meditation or in Dhamma, that division is not there anymore, it’s much more like a whole thing and that I think, it’s very important to create momentum and give strenght and power to meditation. You see Dhamma manifesting in much more places and that’s very beautiful, you can see Dhamma almost everywhere. 
Another reason is that as a monk you have a higher sila (morality). 5 precepts is very essential, 8 precepts is very strong, but I feel like when your whole life is based on the sila, this base becomes really strong, and then you can see clearer how karma works… When you make small mistakes in sila you realize: “this is really hurting me, this sila is for my own protection”, so for me, more rules are more protection in that sense, and I think it’s nice to have more protection. 
Another reason is that when you are practicing for example vipassana from Goenka, you depend on an organization , and now as a monk I don’t depend on organization any more, I only depend on the goodness of others. In Myanmar there is a whole culture that supports monks, meditators, so I can go anywhere in Myanmar with a begging bowl and I get food and I get support and that gives me independence from organizations. That makes me very happy. Before I felt like I had to go to the meditation centers because that was the only place where I got the support and I had to addapt and sometimes even not be authentic to myself in order to follow the organization wishes in the form of rules or regulations, and I was adapting to that because I wanted to be able to stay inside the organization, because I wanted to keep sitting my long courses so I would behave as I was expected to behave just to stay inside the organization and that was not healthy for me. 
I also did long time service (long volunteer period) and I realized after a while that sometimes I was not following my heart. I was more following the rules, but not following my heart. Sometimes I felt I could have looked more to the particular situation and not so much to the rules and then for myself decide what was the wisest thing to do. Then out of fear I dind’t follow my own intuition and after some time I realized it was not good. It’s much harder to surrender, to be open, to listen, to be in the present moment and trust in your wisdom at that point and be honest to yourself and decide what’s the best thing to do every moment."

Monday, 6 June 2016

Ingyinbin Journal: Pottery Making and Vipassana Practice

John, a meditator from New Zealand, spends extended periods in Ingyinbin each year, the home of the revered Webu Sayadaw and with his friend Ashin Mandala. This winter, he has decided to keep a journal, which he has kindly offered to share with us. His journal alternates between observation and poetry, between meditation practice and commentary about Burmese Buddhist society, from his learnings and his questions. The full collection of his musings can be found here.

1 February 

Day trip to the pot-making factory Kyaukmyaung, near the Irrawaddy, west of Shwebo
Kyaukmyaung pottery: orange mounds of stone
crushed to fine dust, doused
& struck on the wheel: Vipassana.
Soon on to the Hanlin Museum commemorating the Pyu people’s civilisation, but before that the group is shown various artefacts and scrolls assembled in the upper monastery room occupied by the visiting Russian academic, researching nineteenth century Buddhist Sangha texts - co-incidentally the same person we met a couple of visits back in an ancient cave in the Sagayan hills where he was painstakingly taking photographs of images in the cave and appeared equally distracted. But Kyaukmyaung: a tiny aperture low at the rear of one of the five or six large brick kilns (each some 20 meters in length) allows us to view the fire capering over the pots, a wafting and deadly light. A worker feeds different grades of pre-cut firewood into another of the several kilns: one day to build the fire, having it burn for three, letting it cool a further three. The young woman who carries a few bricks at a time from a large pile of bricks wears cloth mittens, her clothes thick with dust. Children in the adjacent field containing piles of uncut logs carry and drop bits and pieces. In a bamboo chair, a worker, enjoying Uposata, watches a Burmese soap on the old tube television housed in a dusty box of wood. Women in yet another shed produce more than 50 small elegant clay pots each day: one shapes, taking only a few minutes per individual pot, while her companion spins the wheel in a regular motion by swinging her own leg to and fro with a push with each swing, reminding me of the boatmen on Inle Lake. The larger pots made elsewhere are transported using a 6 inch diameter length of bamboo pole, the pot suspended between two Burmen doing the carrying. Jamie can’t resist, and as carrier he does a fair job, just as he did swinging his leg and spinning the pottery wheel."

Friday, 3 June 2016

Ingyinbin Journal: "Vipassana Begins"

John, a meditator from New Zealand, spends extended periods in Ingyinbin each year, the home of the revered Webu Sayadaw and with his friend Ashin Mandala. This winter, he has decided to keep a journal, which he has kindly offered to share with us. His journal alternates between observation and poetry, between meditation practice and commentary about Burmese Buddhist society, from his learnings and his questions. The full collection of his musings can be found here.

27 January 

"Leaving the breakfast hall, in the overcast sky I see a spread V shape of birds, up to 80 ibises in dark shadow, moving to the east, above the pond and tamarind. Sharp at the leading edge, and splaying outward from there, a few individuals cross from one side of the V to the other, edging in there. As the group moves, the lines of the shape undulate, as if it better belonged to the sea. Extraordinary.

One evening, returning from our daily walk to the canal and back, we see in succession three or four such formations, each one containing up to sixty birds, dark in outline, outliers to the main group forming of between two to five birds, soon re-assimilated as the direction pointed is headed in. Children near us, stopping at their top-spinning game gaze upward, reciting something that expresses their own amazement. Similar sights pull our eyes and thoughts upward in the coming days and weeks.

I walk by myself to the hut. Vipassana begins. The mind moves to observe sensations in the body. Attention narrows. Language itself oversized:

                                    Thoughts too large to   
                                    pass through this mental sieve -
                                    inexact fragments!

Sitting is very quiet and soon I cannot remember a happier time being so still a couple of hours. Contented, centred, tranquil, not wanting anything to be otherwise.

                                    Initially confused - does it contain
                                    or is it contained? - or perhaps body’s simply the element
                                    of wind, blowing about.

Very quiet:

                                    An orange peeled
                                    sealing nothing -               
                                    this body!"

Friday, 13 May 2016

"They were building a bathroom!"

Parami Sasana Yeiktha

Overseen by Sayadaw U Waseta, this monastery was founded in 2010. The Sayadaw was trained in the Sayadaw U Pandita tradition, and taught meditation overseas for years before deciding to settle into this mountain refuge, located just outside of the city. U Waseta follows the rigorous practice as characterizes that of his late teacher U Pandita, and as he speaks English, is willing to teach foreign practitioners who come to the Golden Land for Dhamma practice. Yogis can expect an 11-hour practice day, replete with walking and sitting meditation. Visitors to the monastery can also expect a very quite and secluded site, with sometimes the Sayadaw residing here entirely alone, although it enjoys a quite supportive local lay community. 

One American, Zack, ordained here as a Buddhist monk in May 2016, and he tells his following story below:
"When I arrived in Myanmar, I had no specific plans to cultivate Dhamma. I didn’t even know what the word meant! Though Buddhism had long piqued my curiosity, I wasn’t yet even a beginner when I arrived. 
Nonetheless, soon after I learned about the unique possibility, I decided to dive into the deep end and get ordained as a monk, if only for one week. For some reason, the opportunity just called to me. 
Rural Burmese monastic life is a far cry different from California layperson city-life. Though I was completely willing to understand and learn this different way of life, it doesn’t just come to you overnight.
One of the puzzles for me was bathing. Though I had read about outdoor bathing practices, I still wasn’t sure, e.g. what I should wear or take off, where and how discreetly I should scrub, whether it was okay to do this all with other (especially lay-) people around, or whether I should wait for privacy. It didn’t help that I was the only monk at the monastery aside from the Sayadaw! So I didn’t get to look to anyone for an example. 
I did the best I could for the first few days, deciding to clean more private areas in the confines of the toilet room and less sensitive areas outdoors. If unideal, this worked for me, and I felt clean. 
But on day four, curious if I was missing something, I asked the Sayadaw if this was an OK way to do things. “Oh, I forgot!” he exclaimed, “that you’re a Westerner and you shower indoors!” I assured him that I was okay bathing outdoors, and that I simply wanted to make sure I didn’t offend, but he still seemed distressed.
The next morning, a truck full of concrete, bricks, and other building supplies pulled in the driveway. A team of volunteer construction worked filed in from the neighboring town and began excavating for a foundation. The Sayadaw himself directed the team with a tape measure and a level. 
They were building a bathroom.
Of all the hospitality I’ve experienced in my life, this gesture stands unrivaled. And as my friend, who’s spent several years in the country, put it laughingly: “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that happens in Burma.” 
How magical and impactful to be invited—and as an outsider and a beginner!—so warmly into this culture of support and generosity."