Monday, 16 March 2015

A "Trip" to Burma

Julie Dierstein is a French meditator in the tradition of Sayagyi U Goenka, and has spent the last many months in Burma. She has taken long courses, stayed at Burmese monasteries, offered Dhamma service at monastic schools, and sat her own self-course. Her wonderful blog, complete with photos and commentary about her stay, can be found here.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

“The Best Friend Library Free Education Center”

A great blog to check out is that of Ashin Kovida, a Burmese monk living in Mae Sot. Now in Northern Thailand, he oversees a four story building on Bua Khun Road called “The Best Friend Library Free Education Center”. Founded in 2007, this library has become a safe haven for migrants and refugees from Burma and a meeting place for interested people from all over the world.

As explained on an interview on his blog, "In Mae Sot the Library door is always wide open. When you enter you will be greeted by young, friendly people, some of who arrived in the library a few years ago and never left." 

The Best Friend Library Mae Sot holds 3000 books, literature, research reports, news magazines, films and other materials about Burma for English speakers as well as books in Burmese and Burmese-minority languages. All classes and Internet access are free of charge. The Thai, Burmese, English and computer courses are running for three months, four times a year. Each trimester approximately 120 students of all ages attend. The classes are taught by migrants or foreign volunteer teachers.  Apart from that, The Best Friend Library is also running a “mobile library” with changing assortment of books each month in a local clothes factory with more than 1000 workers from Burma, and is exchanging books with the Best Friend Library in Nupo refugee camp. Ashin Issariya also supports three migrant schools in the area.  The Best Friend Library Mae Sot is completely run by donations. With rent, electricity, water and food it has running costs of around 500 € a month. Although it is supported with donations from friends, Ashin Issariya says it is not easy sometimes. Every donation for The Best Friend Library by means of money or manpower is very welcome.

Monday, 2 March 2015

"Thus, They are Healthy."

“In the village the air is fresh and free from the noisy and blurry sound of the vehicles. The village people are seen with smiling faces even though they aren't rich. Early morning the Wakame Kye villagers take their breakfast and then start their work, either on the farm or water. They are kind and humble, and working with their own effort without the help of machines. Thus, they are healthy. The city dwellers have all the facilities like hospital and others but facing lots of physical and mental stress. The village people have no proper standard hospital facility and rely on traditional root medicines. Also, what they eat is mostly grown freely.” Venerable Ariyajoti, Bangladeshi monk

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Mantle of Romance in a Magic Land

A Burmese boy and the pilgrimage guide leader pose happily during the 2014 Burma pilgrimage

"It is easy enough to overlook this magic land. Nature has endowed this land with water-falls, rapids, whirlpools, hot-spring, and volcanoes. There are mountains, gigantic caves, and stately, irresistible rivers. Upon these has fallen the mantle of romance." Khin Myo Chit, Burmese Wonderland

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Wrong Medicine

"Because of the wrong medicine, you have already had life; and because of your past good kammas you are now enjoying a high standard of living. It is, however, to be borne in mind that whatever you may be, healthy, rich and first-rate; you will become old… decay and death are impartial to all."
-- Bhaddanta Saddhamma Kittisara, Buddha’s Way of Immortal Medicine

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

"Why do young Burmese girls become novice nuns?"

"Why do young Burmese girls become novice nuns?"

The truth is that many young girls join the Order out of economic necessity. Anecdotally, one Burmese lay supporter estimated that only one child out of ten chooses to wear robes from her own volition. Ma Thanegi agrees with this assessment. “They don't choose to be nuns,” she says. “Here I'm talking about female children, not late teen girls. They may be orphaned or abandoned by poor parents.”

Paradoxically, there are also many well-known stories of middle-class young girls who feel a great volition towards the Holy Life, but their family tries to veer them towards more traditional careers. As the above-mentioned lay supporter goes on to share, “even when the person is 30 or more years old, the family members have great difficulty allowing the ordination-- and even though they allow it, they weep during the ceremony.”

This was true for one Burmese nun who had been meditating at Pa Auk for some time as a lay woman. She had wanted to become a nun from a young age, but her parents persuaded her to first get her University degree. She did this, but immediately came to live at Pa Auk after this, for she sought spiritual development. Then, she wished to study Pali and Buddhist scriptures, so she decided to enter a nunnery, to which her family finally gave her permission.

Ma Thanegi agrees with the basic assessment that many who come to nunnery do so because of external circumstances. She notes, “unfortunately most women who enter nunhood are those who could not face the problems of secular life so they are by nature timid.” She feels that many women may temporarily wear the robes as a way of gaining merit. Additionally, it is an excellent way to learn about the Buddha’s teachings at a much deeper level. “A few of my schoolmates from wealthy families were put into nunneries every summer holidays as little nuns so that they would know more of Buddhism. They liked it apart from going back to school with shaved heads.” For those remaining in robes for life not out of economic or personal hardships, merit also plays a major role, according to U Sarana. “This is why their lifestyle revolves around religious activities, helping others, serving monks, etc.”

Asaygan Fort

By 1850, King Mindon began to build fortifications along the Ayeyarwaddy River to prepare for the expected skirmishes to come with British troops. In 1885, three forts were built in a triangle in attempt to trap oncoming British soldiers, and were considered the last line of defense before the royal capital of Mandalay. Asaygan was one of these three, designed in the shape of a semi-circle, with walls nine feet high with holes for rifle fire (except for the south-facing wall). In the end, however, the forts were never used because the King and Parliament ordered its troops not to resist when the British did eventually come; indeed, when the advancing Colonel White arrived to disarm the populace, he was given a dinner by the newly surrendered Burmese commander. Sir Herbert White writes in A Civil Servant in Burma, “The fall of Mandalay had been so sudden that it had not yet been realized in rural places, and the forces of opposition had not yet been organized. Very soon the turmoil began. It was then long before officers were able to travel without escort in Upper Burma.”

The inexorable march of tropical greenery has invaded even the innermost fortifications, but amidst this one can find some old cannons and the original walls. On the Sagaing side there are tombstones of British soldiers who died in some minor skirmishes in 1885 in spite of the overall peaceful surrender of Burmese forces.

Obviously, this fort is not really related to Buddhist practice in any way. So unless one is a history buff, it may not be worth the detour, and there are certainly no conducive sites for a sitting. But if one does go, the crows can be quite bad here during the cool season, so a laser is recommended. Admission to the fort is free.