Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Ledi Mu Monastery

This monastery is one of twenty nationwide aligned with the Ledi Mu organization, established in accordance with Ledi Sayadaw’s pariyatti and paṭipatti teachings. There are both single rooms and kutis for accommodations, and foreign yogis with proper documentation may request to stay. The compound is quite large and there is a spacious Dhamma Hall. Life-sized wax figures depict Ledi writing at his desk, as well as outside his forest cave while instructing his pupil Ledi Pandita (Ledi Pandita was also known by his lay name U Maung Gyi, and sometimes by both names together, “Ledi Pandita U Maung Gyi”.) Interestingly, this display includes the actual kerosene lamp that Ledi Sayadaw used when writing, and depicts Ledi Pandita, ever the dedicated disciple, preparing to light its wick—a task he no doubt did countless times throughout his life for the prodigious scholar. Regular English classes are here as well for monastics and lay supporters, and meditators are welcome to volunteer as a teacher here. Occasional workshops are also held on Buddhist topics, and foreigners may register for them.

Bonus: A Much More Serious Wrong Turn
Ledi Sayadaw looked to impart his Dhamma wisdom even in ordinary situations. Once, when he and his student Ledi Pandita were on an alms walks together, he took the wrong turn, and Ledi Pandita pointed this out. Replied the Sayadaw, “If you take the wrong way on alms round it means you will miss a meal. But if you take a wrong turn in life, it means you will miss nibbāna and keep on in samsara.”

Friday, 21 October 2016

Meditation at Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Hotel

“Something of both the relative and absolute scale of it all can be grasped by noting that Myanmar is a country with 53 million people and a whopping monastic population of over 500,000. Those 500,000 live off donations alone. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in the world, and yet the society somehow manages, through extraordinary generosity, to unfailingly support its bulging monastic population. Much of this generosity comes in the form of a single spoonful of rice given daily. Indeed this generosity, and the faith and understanding that inspires it, is legendary. This spirit of giving has created a softening effect on the country, such that despite the poverty, and despite the political oppression there is an air of friendliness and safety. The people possess an unusual uprightness both physically and psychologically, and they have a remarkable brightness and warmth.” Miles Bukiet, American meditator

Since the Buddha's day, the Dhamma has always been dispensed freely, and without expecting anything in return. This tradition has continued into the 21st century throughout Myanmar, where one may at any time wander into a monastery and be given food, shelter, and other basic offerings; and where no compensation is ever requested or expected. Similarly, a donor may give a daily spoonful of rice or build a multi-million dollar monastery, all while never expecting preferential treatment from the monks or teachers here. As Steve Armstrong (U Buddharakkhita) wrote in A Living Tradition, “The gratitude one feels to those who preserve, practice and preach the Dhamma is expressed in the joyful, heartfelt humility of a daily, simple offering of support so that it may continue. This reciprocal offering in this way has been preserved and practiced since the time of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago.” Or as Jake Davis put in Strong Roots, “[T]he joy in life and generosity of heart that the Burmese people display - despite extreme physical hardships and a political climate of widespread fear - is testimony to the power that the Buddha’s teachings can exert on societies that support and preserve them.”

The importance of the act of dāna to Burmese Buddhists is also expressed in the Burmese proverb, Thila hnin dana ma pa they ka hma thi, or “Without sila or dāna, at death’s approach one repents.” And the Burmese attitude towards dāna—and perhaps life in general— is illustrated by the simple proverb Wun ye wa hma, sun ye hla, meaning that one is/should be happy with what they have so long as there is enough for dāna.

Despite this long, important history of freely dispensing the Buddha's teachings for all to benefit from spiritually, Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Hotel has made the questionable decision to offer guided meditation to its guests-- for a very, very hefty fee. As the flyer shows below, a one hour session goes for $70 and two hours for $120. As Myanmar continues to open up, the potential to make money off of the Golden Land's noble Buddhist tradition is certainly tempting for a country that is one of the poorest in the world, and yet doing so will also jeopardize the very instructions and guidelines as laid down by the Buddha so long ago. Change and modernization may come, and the Buddha's teachings may be shared in increasingly innovative and accessible ways, but to do so "with a fee attached" goes against the very core of the Enlightened One's fundamental message and purpose, and brings crass commercialism to the faith and practice.

These concerns were brought to the hotel management, and their responses were unsatisfactory. They first noted that the meditation takes place onsite, however as these rooms are not residences and not in other use, there is no additional cost required for them. It was then noted that the monk teacher needs to travel from his monastery, but even a top car and driver would be no more than a few dollars, and most monasteries have their own vehicles. It was then pointed out that the meditator needed proper clothing, however these usually only cost a few dollars as well and few monks would require Westerners to wear these prior to teaching the Dhamma. It was finally suggested that the "fee" was actually "dana", which is entirely untrue as a forced payment is in fact diametrically opposite from a volitional donation, and it is only the latter that helps one in detaching from the ego and one's possessions. Finally, the management promised to bring these concerns to the hotel's owners.

To meditators who are worried about this trend continuing as Myanmar opens up, consider writing the hotel directly to express this concern. It is quite laudable that this hotel, located in the very place where Theravada Buddhism became established in the Golden Land in the 11th century, is wishing to give tourists a taste of their spiritual treasures. And there are many, many ways they can achieve this noble intention without seeking their own financial profit in doing so. If they decide to offer meditation freely and not as a money-making scheme, we will be sure to update this post. 

The hotel's web page is and its email is and

In closing, one may consider Sayadaw U Sunanda's thoughts. He offered a real life example, of a Burmese man who lived a heedless life, and at one point stole a monastery carpet worth 76 kyat (less than one dollar). He later became quite wealthy, and also became a serious devotee of the Buddha’s teachings, and so went back to this monastery to donate 76 lakh (about $75,000). U Sunanda said that for lay donors, “One mustn’t give while also evaluating what one will get back in return, or judge the worth of what one is getting against what one is giving.” But a duty is also there for the Saṅgha, for monks must inspire by living highly virtuous lives. “Buddhism can’t be attacked from an outside source, but only when the inner circle is not behaving as they should be.”

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Burma Pilgrimage in Winter

Ultimate Reality Tours and Grahame White are offering a pilgrimage to Myanmar in February 2017. This 17-day trip will visit a number of key sites connected to the great monks and meditation teachers of the Golden Land. More information about this pilgrimage can be found here

In their own words, "Our 2017 pilgrimage will take us back to the golden land of Myanmar (Burma). On this pilgrimage we will be exploring a number of the most important sites connected with the development of meditation in Burma. We will be going to monasteries, meeting teachers and immersing ourselves in the culture of the Burmese people."

The dates will be from February 8-24, and pilgrims will visit a large number of important Dhamma sites and meet with Sayadaws and other monastics in Lower Burma, Upper Burma, and Shan State.

For more information, see the flyer here or register by sending an email to

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Ledi Sayadaw at Shwezigon Pagoda in Monywa

According to pagoda trustees, Shwezigon’s origination story goes back to the fourth century B.C., when King Widadapua attacked the Sakyan tribes (Siddhartha Gautama’s clan). Some Sakyans were said to flee all the 
way to Hpo Win Daung, on the west bank of the Chindwin River. From there, a great beam of light was seen arising from the east, which was taken as a good omen. 

Even given this august past, it is the events of about 150 years ago that give Shwezigon its current renown. It was on these grounds where the future Ledi Sayadaw first stayed after his Mandalay library burned in 1883, when he withdrew back to the solitude of rural Monywa. Here at this pagoda he continued his scholarly work and writing, residing at the invitation of Sayadaw U Nyanawuntha. About a dozen monks followed him, joining the other dozen or so monks who were already studying here. U Nyanadhaja, as he was known before heading out into Ledi Forest, resumed his teaching duties. According to U Candida, it was also here that U Nyanadhaja came to believe he could fulfill his two “latent wishes”; “to respect and pray to the Buddha regularly [and]] to fulfill Sangha needs.”

Ledi’s days here quickly fell into a routine. Sitagu Sayadaw describes what a day in the life may have looked like. “Sayadaw swept the shrine halls, terraces, open spaces, and stairways of Su Taung Paya and Shwezigone Pagodas. He swept the whole campus of the monastery, cleaned all the toilets (usually at night), filled all the water pots with fresh water, [and] attended and nursed sick monks.” In those days, sticks were used to clean oneself after a bowel movement, and U Nyanadhaja would take care even to clean these sticks after use. In addition, as the monastery complex had hollows up to ten feet deep, U Nyanadhaja personally carried earth from other areas to make the ground more level. Finally, he helped the Sayadaw complete the construction of a new Dhamma Hall.

His pupils became discomfited by the many menial tasks that their great teacher undertook, most on their behalf, and some felt unworthy to even drink the water he poured for them (yet another task U Nyanadhaja undertook, sometimes at three a.m., so as not to wake anyone). But he eased their concerns, declaring that in his past incarnations, his wives and children had benefited from the use of his body and limbs, and now finally as a monk he had the opportunity to fully serve the Buddha’s teachings. He added that one’s body is like a hired cart, and that one can make use of it while we are in possession of its functions, but eventually it, too, will be taken away.

An important event occurred while staying here that would affect U Nyanadhaja’s future plan, and which would have major implications in the worldwide spread of the Dhamma. One day, while engaged in his cleaning duties, he met the renowned Sayadaw U Thila, a forest monk whom many at the time believed to be fully enlightened. U Thila’s commitment and spiritual attainments, both of which were borne from his solitary practice, inspired U Nyanadhaja’s eventual decision to venture forth into Ledi Forest in the coming years.

In terms of the pagoda’s physical layout, the entryway is approached off of one of Monywa’s busiest streets. The pilgrim leaves the hectic worldly activity in turn for a quiet, colonnaded concrete hall, whose most prominent feature is the central stupa. Fashioned in the “diamond bud” style in pure gold, the top reaches upwards of 135 feet, a pair of ogres perching near the top. No less than 35 smaller stupas are scattered across the expansive compound, including many Buddha images, some of which go back to the 18th century. Several statues depict Ledi Sayadaw, honoring the historic role that the pagoda played in his development. The earliest Buddha image is listed from 785, and the donor list includes many of the great Bamar kings.

Also on the grounds is a Bodhi tree, a large Dhamma Hall, and an artificial cave structure, inside which are various statues of well-known nats and hermits. Perhaps most suitable for meditation is the smaller room to the right of the shrine area, featuring two pristine Buddha images… and also where there are explicit signs requesting visitors not to make any noise that may disturb a yogi’s meditation. And unusual to the Burmese pagoda landscape are a diverse host of tropical trees and professionally manicured bushes and hedges. A dusty monastery is connected via a blue gate, although it is uncertain if these are the original monastic grounds dating back to Ledi’s time. Today its courtyard doubles as the Royal Shwe Myint Badminton Club.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Why did Saya Thet Gyi Give White Scarves to Meditators?

Marie Byles, Australian author of Journey Into Burmese Silence, visited Maha Bodhi Meditation Center in 1957, and was taught for several months by Saya U Thein, one of the main disciples of Saya Thet Gyi. 

Byles recalls that on at “1 p.m. on Christmas Eve… U Thein placed a white scarf over my shoulders, saying that I was now a Yogi and should always wear the scarf when meditating.” Byles’ description almost seems to imply that the white scarf encouraged a formal spiritual transformation, not dissimilar to a monk’s ordination. 

Interestingly, Saya U Than wrote about how Ledi Sayadaw had instructed Saya Thet Gyi to wear a white scarf once he became a meditation teacher. Then, later on, many yogis at the International Meditation Center took up the practice of wearing a white shawl when studying under Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Although it is not clear where the garment originates from or its underlying meaning, it may relate to the brown shawl, or yawbut tin thi, that Burmese pilgrims and meditators wear today and that indicates their spiritual intent. However, U Sarana is doubtful about this, for he notes that “the brown scarf for ladies was an attempt to ‘label’ them with a ‘recluse mark,’ thus to differentiate them from the monastery workers and non-yogis.”

Buddhist history may also shed some light on this wearing of white. Dating back at least to the 3rd century B.C.E., the Sri Lankan laity would dress entirely in white to indicate their adherence to following eight or ten precepts. Some monastic traditions request that samaneras dress entirely in white before their ordination, and still in Sri Lanka today, lay yogis routinely dress entirely in white when visiting monasteries for uposatha, during meditation retreats, or on pilgrimages. It is uncertain if Ledi’s preference of a white scarf was contextual to his time, historical, or a unique innovation that he encouraged himself.

Note that the photograph above depicts a statue of Saya Thet Gyi at his meditation center in Pyaw Bwe Gyi, and the painting below shows him wearing the white scarf in a painting at the same site.  In the latter painting he is shown holding beads, suggesting that he may have used this in his meditation practice, as his teacher Ledi Sayadaw was also photographed with beads. 


Sunday, 31 July 2016

What Caused the Post-World War II Patipatti Explosion in Burma?

Following is an excerpt from an unpublished draft of Shwe Lan Ga Lay, the meditator's guide to Burma/Myanmar:

It was the postwar period where lay meditation practice really began to take off, a phenomenon that jumpstarted in Burma before spreading and becoming established in neighboring Buddhist countries. 
And in Burma, nowhere was this happening more than at Rangoon’s Sasana Yeiktha Center, where U Nu and other prominent lay leaders brought in Mahasi Sayadaw to establish the new grounds.
Ingrid Jordt, a scholar who spent many years as a nun at Mahasi, captures the excitement and enthusiasm that characterized the early days of this site. She notes that “the laity flocked to the center to practice for enlightenment. The thrill of participating in the mass lay project of enlightenment had never before been so conceived in institutional terms. The center grew around Mahasi in the way that the texts describe laity coming around the Buddha. People vied with one another to have their offerings accepted by him, and new forms of participation emerged: schoolchildren on vacation, night yogis who returned to their offices during the day, retirees, and nuns all immersed themselves in a rigorous schedule of sitting and walking meditation, punctuated by monkly meal offerings at which the laity thronged around the eating tables to observe the project of sasana revitalization happening before their very eyes.”  
And Masoeyin Sayadaw U Theiktha expresses just how it felt at that moment in time to have a genuine practice that one could undertake to follow diligently, after so many years of war and colonization: “It had been a long time that we had become almost unbearable or choking, as it were, for not knowing the real concept or meaning of it. Our happiness knew no bounds when we came to discover the right method relating to the latent ambiguity in the higher aspects of Maha Satipatthana meditation practice.”

And although the non-monastic International Meditation Center led by Sayagyi U Ba Khin may have not seen the same high numbers (and was not state-supported to the same extent), its role and influence were profound. Many of the elites of society attended courses and became deeply affected by their experience, which sometimes manifested even in their work in matters of state. And it was not only the heads of Burma who were attending, but also top politicians other countries, scientists, Supreme Court judges, university professors, and actors. 
As the monastic teacher Maha Gandayon Sayadaw U Janaka put it, “If I were asked what you pray for, my answer is simple. One has to work for himself to get what he wants.” This ethos took over the Burmese people in these years, and can be seen manifested in Sayagyi U Goenka's mission in the following decade (he himself benefited from his patipatti boom as a student during this time). 
Why was it at this very time that the patipatti movement began to flow now as a raging river? There are many theories attempting to answer this, and it may have been the case of several important factors occurring at once, making the conditions ripe for such an undertaking. In the following section, we present no less than twenty possible arguments that have been put forth on this topic.

The Reclining Buddha at U Khanti Monastery.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Release of "The Golden Path Part 2"

Shwe Lan Ga Lay, or "The Golden Path," the meditator's guide to Burma/Myanmar, launched in April 2013. "Part 1: Planning & Logistics" was released in May 2015, and the five chapters comprising Part 2 are nearly complete. In addition to the Introduction, other chapters due to be released are the regional guides to the following places: Around Yangon, Mandalay, Around Mandalay, and Shan State. This will include detailed information about sites where Ledi Sayadaw, Webu Sayadaw, and Saya Thet Gyi lived and practiced (along with countless other monasteries and pagodas), allowing meditators to more easily access these important sites and to appreciate their significance and history while doing so.

After having worked on these pages for so many years now, we are very happy that they are so close to being shared with the meditator community! However, we have one final, critical need before their release... that is of someone with a copy-editing background who can make a final review of these drafts. If you have such experience and are willing to join our project, please let us know, and help us to hasten the release of Part 2!

While not as critical, there are other volunteer roles we're happy to have help with as well. First on the list would be someone with map-making ability, including artists able to copy from maps, so that meditators can more easily find the sites we describe. Also high on our list is anyone with design/layout experience, and has an aesthetic background, to help in preparing our text for the designer.

As usual, we also welcome any artists who would like to draw/sketch, and photographers or anyone who is willing to donate photos from their time in the Golden Land. If you've been to Burma/Myanmar and have a story to tell, please do share with us, or if you are planning to go and have some time, let us know as there is always on-the-ground assistance and needs. Next, someone with writing or editing experience, who can act as in a dual style editor/author capacity. The person in this role helps shape new raw material gathered from different sources into a coherent mix with existing Shwe Lan text, and oversees the overall flow of the book. Volunteer translators have been working at the text of Part 1, and contact us if you wish to help in the translation. And if you have any other skill, or just time on your hands, let us know as well!

Finally, keep in mind that the project is entirely funded by dana, with almost everyone involved a volunteer, and the completed PDFs are freely available to one and all. We are always in need of financial dana to cover our basic costs, as well as to help print and distribute completed copies of the book. You can keep the project afloat by donating here.

To get in touch, please email us at burmadhamma (att) gmail. You can also follow our project on Facebook at