Friday, 12 June 2020

A new blog!

While this Burma Dhamma blogspot will remain active, we are moving over all upcoming posts to the Insight Myanmar platform. We are now more active than ever with original content, including essays, interviews, and videos. And be sure not to miss our new Insight Myanmar podcast, which brings inspirational stories from meditators and monastics all over Burma. Thank you for your loyal readership, and we hope to see you there!!!

Thursday, 12 March 2020

A Dhamma podcast in Burma!

The first ever Burma Dhamma podcast is in the books! Thanks to a surprise donation we are now provided this opportunity to bring the Dhamma from the Golden Land to you in new ways from 2020. The mission of sharing the practice and teachings from the Buddha as they manifest in Myanmar will continue in deeper forms. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Insight Myanmar Podcast #4: Alan Clements on Mahasi Sayadaw, Sayadaw U Pandita, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the future of Myanmar.

“There was nothing to go back to,” Alan Clements recalls in the Insight Myanmar Podcast Episode #4, referring to his decision to leave the West in 1977 and ordain as a monk in Burma. “I’d made a lot of money, I’d been in a long-term relationship...I was well-educated, I read, I painted, it was creative, I played music, I had all the things that people long for.”

You can listen on your favorite podcast app by searching “Insight Myanmar,” or right off the web, or YouTube here.

At a time when foreigners were only given seven-day visas to Burma, then one of the most closed countries in the world, Alan managed to stay nearly five years, training directly under Mahasi Sayadaw and then Sayadaw U Pandita, despite several forced disrobings and deportations and eventual blacklisting. Added to that were the difficult conditions of enduring an extreme climate with no meditation cushions, mosquito nets, sleeping mattresses, purified water, or vegetarian food, and so one cannot help but wonder how Alan was able to persevere as he did. The answer: the promise of receiving powerful Dhamma teachings from some of the greatest Burmese masters of the era. In spite of being so far from the familiar, Alan notes simply, “I felt like I’d come home.”

From there, our talk examines the growth of the mindfulness meditation movement from Burma into the rest of the world, focusing in particular on the Mahasi and U Pandita traditions that he was most associated with, and how the student-teacher relationship that characterized his time as a yogi had to be modified to accommodate greater numbers. Moreover, Alan adds a provocative note to this discussion for those who think they ‘know” what the Mahasi system is: he explicitly states that “there is [actually] no 'Mahasi system'” that can be spread to aspiring yogis in different parts of the world, due to the flexible, individual-student-centered nature of Mahasi’s and U Pandita’s teaching.

Later, we discuss the series of conversations Alan had with Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995, and how her own meditation practice and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings has impacted her political life. While acknowledging the turbulent recent history, Alan is hopeful that the promise of reconciliation is still alive for the country, and that the Dhamma teachings he has learned here can point a way towards this positive transformation.

We end by exploring Alan’s remarkable relationship with Sayadaw U Pandita. He notes how this monk came from the horrors of war-torn Burma following WWII, to become one of Mahasi’s most important disciples and eventually the Dhamma teacher of not only Aung San Suu Kyi but also those in the Burmese military. What is less known is how U Pandita was “trans-religious,” speaking a variety of languages, as well as being able to quote Tolstoy and other great Western authors, and endlessly curious about the lives and practice of his students.

Later, Zach joins to discuss the implications of Alan’s statement that there is no such thing as a “Mahasi technique” that can be boxed up and applied as a single structure to meditators at centers. Joah mentions how deeply moved he was to hear about Alan’s close relationship with his mentor Sayadaw U Pandita, and reminisces on the golden generation of Burmese meditation masters to which U Pandita belonged. They both reflect on U Pandita’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian, and how that was balanced with a real affection and generosity towards those students who gave their all. That the majority of Alan’s Dhamma practice was taking place within a military dictatorship cannot be lost on the story of the mindfulness meditation movement, which leads the two to consider Alan’s insight of how conditionality influences not only what the mind is, but also what it is capable of doing. All this, and a disruptive elephant!

If you find the Dhamma interviews we are sharing of value and would like to support our mission, we welcome your contribution. You may give monthly donations on Patreon, or one time donations on PayPal. If you are in Myanmar and would like to give a cash donation, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Alan Clements on Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, Sayadaw U Pandita, and Mahasi Sayadaw

At a time when foreigners were only given seven-day visas to Burma, then one of the most closed countries in the world, Alan Clements arrived in 1977 and managed to stay nearly five years, training directly under Mahasi Sayadaw and then Sayadaw U Pandita, despite enduring repeated forced disrobings, deportations and eventual blacklistings. Despite this, Alan has returned to the Golden Land whenever and however possible, including a 1995 trip in which he was permitted to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, then temporarily released from house arrest. In this discussion, he reflects on his personal experience comprising over four decades of Dhamma practice and activism in the country that he so loves.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Blind Date in Mandalay

The online culture reigning supreme in Myanmar today, there is little material better than capturing a foreigner seeming to behave just below the standards they are deemed to be held to. This includes anything from hand-holding to less than modest dress to picture-taking at various Buddhist sites. Unfortunately, the mirror is rarely if ever held back to careless behavior in the local community. Take this example (, created by the company "Perfect Date For You", in which a Mandalay dating service is charging 5,000 kyat to pair college-aged Burmese singles with one another. The backdrop for this flirtatious fun? Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, whose 729 marble slabs were meticulously carved in the 19th century under King Mindon, and house the entire of the Tipitaka, the whole of the Pali Canon, thus protecting and enshrining the liberating words of the Buddha. Where the color of one's skin or the flag on one's passport gives or denies license to follow or degrade the Buddha's teachings, there is a fundamental problem. That this dating service is flaunted and promoted so freely online with no criticism to speak, and where a photograph or dress by a foreigner is enough to (literally) threaten their safety and demand their removal from the country, such a double standard is harmful for all followers of the Buddha.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Insight Myanmar Podcast #3: Sayalay Piyadassii

Joah connects with Sayalay Piyadassii, a foreign meditator who took up robes in Myanmar, about growing up under the shadow of the old Soviet Union in Lithuania. Her initial enthusiasm for Christianity fizzled away at a young age, and her spirituality was later rekindled after taking several silent vipassana meditation retreats in the tradition of S.N. Goenka. She eventually began spending time in vipassana centers across Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom. That ultimately led her to Burma, where she ordained as a Buddhist nun in 2013, and she has remained in robes ever since. Sayalay Piyadassii is now a full-time student at Shan State Buddhist University in Taunggyi, a new school which was just started by Oxford Sayadaw.

You can listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast player by searching “Insight Myanmar,” or right off the web by going here.

Sayalay speaks openly about the early difficulties of her time as a monastic, during which she felt her spiritual life became unbalanced, with too much time spent in formal, sitting meditation. This ultimately led her to leaving to Burma and residing in a cave in Spain where she practiced mettā full time. When she felt she had regained the physical and spiritual balance she was seeking, she returned to Burma with a clearer picture of how to best construct her time in robes.

In the course of the talk, Sayalay also discusses several themes that have animated her time as a nun. One these was finding a balance between a structured form of meditation instruction on one hand, and being open and flexible to the moment on the other. She also contrasts her experience as a nun in Burmese Buddhist society with the preferential treatment received by monks, and her attitude towards this gender discrimination. Concerning her prior overemphasis on formal practice, Sayalay remarks on the importance of devoting greater amounts of time to study (pariyatti), and the deeper insights that can be derived solely from familiarity with the scriptures. Additionally, having spent so much time now in Myanmar, Sayalay shares how the culture of the country has benefited her practice, and how appreciative she has been overall. This, and much more! She closes by discussing her first year of studies here and the quality of the education.

After the talk, Zach Hessler joins in to discuss the overall themes from the interview. Joah remarks how inspiring it was to hear Sayalay discuss the series of transformations her spiritual journey took, preventing her from ever being “stuck” at any one stage. They note how little even Western meditators know about monasticism in general and the monastic’s life in specific, and how much training is needed for a monk or nun to feel even somewhat independent. Zach notes that the fruits of Sayalay’s practice can be heard clearly throughout the interview, and her joyous exclamation of loving the simple life was one of the overall highlights. They close by reviewing the nun discrimination that Sayalay has faced in Burmese society, and her recent enrollment in the Shan State Buddhist University in Taunggyi.

If you find the Dhamma interviews we are sharing of value and would like to support our mission, we welcome your contribution. You may give monthly donations on Patreon at, or one time donations on PayPal at If you are in Myanmar and would like to give a cash donation, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

An incredible dhamma story out of the Sagaing Hills

The Sagaing Hills are full of wondrous and amazing stories to inspire any Dhamma practitioner, but few can hold a candle to the tales told about the 18th-century monastic Taung Pyi Lar Sayadaw.

Like many great Burmese monastics of the past 1,000 years, he choose the Sagaing Hills as a preferred place of practice to get away from the rigid orthodoxy (and laxness) of the central capital, instead enjoying the peace and quiet of living alone in nature.

The Burmese king wished to test his fortitude to ensure he was truly a monk worthy of respect. So he devised a plan in which a half-naked woman came running through the forest, and finding the monk, begged him to be permitted to stay at his monastery, fearfully claiming that a horde of rapists and murderers were hot on her tail. The monk refused, saying that it was against vinaya, but as the woman insisted, the monk relented, allowing her to stay in his kuti as he slept outside in the forest.

However, at night Taung Pyi Lar Sayadaw was so racked by lust, and having such a beautiful and nubile young woman close at hand after so many years of celibacy, that he was unable to concentrate on any of his meditation objects. So he took a nearby knife, and began to slice at his palms, with the gross pain finally allowing him to feel bodily sensations. The lust not subsiding, he sliced the other palm, and then both soles of his feet, and finally his thigh.

The next day, the king showed up with his royal entourage, and he found himself accused of impropriety. The monk argued he had done nothing wrong, but the king exclaimed, "How can you be believed with a half-naked woman walking out of your kuti?"

The monk responded by taking a Vow of Truth, and dropping the knife in a nearby pond. "Let the knife tell the truth then! If I am lying, it will sink. If I tell the truth, let it float across the water to the other side."

The knife did not sink in the end, and the monk became one of the most revered in the kingdom after this.