Tuesday, 2 September 2014

“There are indeed fully liberated ones living even in this age.”

Although the following story relating to how Webu Sayadaw acquired the Buddha relics has been thoroughly discussed with several people knowledgeable about the event, it must be stated that the circumstances surrounding the event are still not entirely confirmed. The video above shows the relics being wrapped by novices at Kan Oo Monastery in Ingyinbin.

The story begins in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where Italian monk U Lawkanatha was a personal associate of the Prime Minister, who was said to be a devout Buddhist. While several different people confirmed it was in fact the particular Ceylonese Prime Minister in question, the precise leader was not able to be confirmed by name. It is known that Webu Sayadaw visited Kandy in January 1958, and the acting Prime Minister at this time was S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, although one person did indicate they thought it was the previous Prime Minister, John Kotelawala.

As the story goes, the Sri Lankan leader was lamenting the fact to U Lawkanatha that there were no fully enlightened beings left in the world, to which the Italian monk responded, “there are indeed fully liberated ones living even in this age.” He went on to describe his experience in Ingyinbin and with the venerable Webu Sayadaw. The Prime Minister was so impressed that he voiced his wish to have the Burmese monk flown to Ceylon at his earliest convenience. Pictures of Webu Sayadaw’s visit to Kandy give some indication of his stay here, and it was during this trip that he was presented with original Buddha relics, which he brought back to store at his monastery in Ingyinbin.

The relics themselves rest in an ornamented lacquer stand in the shape of a white lotus flower. Mounted upon a dark wooden base, there is a small central cup in the middle, and the relics are spread out among the lacquer flower petals. This entire object is carefully sealed in a protective box (itself covered with gold leaf) and wrapped in many dozen of layers of fine silken cloths. Anpetu Yamut describes his experience, noting “they brought out what were said to be relics of the Buddha, which looked like very small crystal clear pearls in a ceramic lotus flower for me to place on the top of my head… After each presentation they would offer the container of the relics to me with both hands to place on the top of my head for blessing/inspiration.”

In his day, Webu Sayadaw would very carefully carry these relics with him wherever he went, and a more formal carrying apparatus is on display on the Paṭipatti side. These days, on special occasions, the relics will be carried in a procession around the monastery or village, and at select times may be taken out for devotees to pay their respects and meditate before. Some very fortunate yogis have even been able to meditate while the relics are positioned above their head. Because of the reverence towards these relics, please note that they are not taken out at every visit and should not be requested to be seen directly.

Paying Respects to Maha Gandayone Sayadaw

Two nuns from Sagaing pay respects to the statue of Maha Gandayone Sayadaw

Maha Gandayone Sayadaw was one of the great Burmese monks of the Golden Age of Burmese Buddhism of the post-war era, joining such other illuminaries as Webu Sayadaw, Sun Lun Sayadaw, Mahasi Sayadaw, Mogok Sayadaw, and others. He had great visions of transforming the faith, and was known for his outspokenness on issues of the day. He wished to see monastic education stripped to its core function of learning the suttas, without the emphasis on extreme examination preparation, and felt that many traditional Burmese Buddhist practices had little to do with the essence of the Buddha's teachings. While he died nearly 40 years ago, Maha Gandayone's voice still resounds powerfully today when concerning matters of the Dhamma in Burma. Several of his monasteries are still functioning today, including his main site in Amarapura, near U Bein's Bridge.

How Burmese Buddhists teach their children about the Buddha

While Japanese have their manga and Americans have their super heroes, many comics in Burma are used as mediums or tools for teaching the young about the Buddha. This comic is about Mahosadha, who is a Buddha-to-be from one of his previous lifetimes. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda: Ledi Sayadaw Cave #2

This is a video of Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda in Monywa. One begins by seeing the view of the Chindwin River beyond, and then the viewer is taken into Ledi Sayadaw Cave #2. However, the great monk spent most of his time meditating and teaching in the nearby Ledi Cave #1.

On one occasion, Ledi became quite ill while living in the cave, so much so that he frequently lost consciousness. He later reported a deva-like figure in a white dress looking after him and providing him some kind of medicine. Finally, some laymen came and brought him to U San Chain monastery in Monwya. There, Ledi had a very strange dream in which he was sitting on Yugandho Mountain, observing the entire universe, and seeing a large cave towards the southeast filled with animals. His dream switched to him leaning against Myintmoe Mountain, where he merged into the earth. When asked the meaning of the dream, he explained that it was a prediction he would later travel throughout the country giving Dhamma. After recovering his health, Ledi returned to the cave. He left around 1903, and reformulated his teaching in such a way that it was now able to be taught to lay people, many of whom had no other opportunity in the country to learn real meditation practice.

Bathing and Laundry at Kun Lay Monastery

Kun Lay village, also known as Ei Chantha (or "Cool and Peaceful") Village, is about one hour by bad roads away from Pyin Oo Lwin. Nestled on higher ground and a former summer retreat for British colonials, it still enjoys cool weather today during Myanmar's hottest months. Life has changed little in the intervening centuries from traditional Burmese ways. This is also the area where Bhikkhu Agga spends Waso, and it has an even older history of dhutanga monks seeking full seclusion here in past centuries.

This video shows the way that washing and laundry take place in the village. As few homes have their own private areas, communal sites are shared among the village. There is one for men, and another for women, and all must be clothed when showering. The well is about 20 feet deep, and require some technical skill to be able to allow the bucket to twist when dropped and fill with water, and to hoist up without dropping any. The water is from a natural spring, and is quite cool and refreshing. Men typically bathe around the large cement tank, and a washing area is demarcated by a smoothed wooden platform. The old water tank can be seen to the left of the current one. The tank is surrounded on one side by deep forest and winding paths, and on the other by vegetable fields.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kun Lay Monastery kitchen and beyond

Kun Lay Monastery sits about an hour outside Pyin Oo Lwin in northern Burma, and is a very traditional Buddhist monastery where the old ways may still be found. Currently Bhante Agga from Europe is staying here for Waso. This short clip shows the view of the monastery from the kitchen. It provides a nice overview of a traditional Burmese monastery for the foreign meditator who has never visited the Golden Land.

The Sacred Land of Theravada Buddhism

This Burmese produced documentary, narrated in English, takes a survey of the important Buddhist sites in the country.