Monday, 21 April 2014

"Shi Par Thi Lar: Eight Precepts"

“ 'Why are you taking 8 precepts' ”? 

I was asked by one of the Assistant Teachers (ATs) while serving a 20 day course at Dhamma Manadala just outside of Mandalay. As Dhamma servers we were only asked to take 5 precepts; to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants. The 6th 7th and 8 precepts involve abstain from taking meals after noon, physical decoration/sensual entertainment and sleeping on luxurious beds.

'To help me to develop in Dhamma, to develop my Paramis and to observe craving' I answered her.

The supportive atmosphere of the meditation center aided me in my strong determination to take 8 precepts for those 20 days. As other servers around me took their dinners I noticed a strong desire for the fruit juice and jaggery candy that I ate because they were permitted to those observing eight precepts. This desire seemed to vary from day to day but steadily dwindled as the end of the course neared. At first when offered food by the generous kitchen staff and the other servers I felt embarrassment and tension as I refused their kindness. I quickly learned how to express to them in Burmese “Ship ba thila” (“8 precepts”) and they seemed to understand well. They had a lot of respect for this sort of practice and quickly the tension evaporated.

Following the course I seemed to have a strong desire to continue this practice. I discussed it with my husband and we agreed to enjoy dinner together that night and then to refrain from evening meals from then onwards.

As at the center when offered food in the evenings I would explain briefly and was relieved that from the average Burmese person I would receive the similar understanding and respect as during the 20 day course.

I was able to practice developing my Paramis throughout the remaining 2 months in Myanmar. I experienced many benefits and noticed my objective understanding improving. I seemed to gain a subtler experience of the eight fold noble path.

I now feel such gratitude for the inspiration and support from the Dhamma that is so strong in Myanmar."


-- Sonya Griffin, Canadian Yogi practicing in Myanmar for six months

Sagaing Hills from Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda





“Towering above all is the golden Ponnyashin Pagoda, where tourists and devout pilgrims alike go first.” Khin Myo Chit, A Wonderland of Pagoda Legends

It is not hard to see why this pagoda receives a steady flow of local pilgrims and tourists alike, with its sparkling mirrors and tiles and fantastic views of the rolling Sagaing Hills and the white stupas peeking out amongst the vast greenery. The vast panorama includes the Shan Plateau, Mandalay, and Amarapura, and is especially enchanting as dusk falls.

The pagoda rests on Nga-pha Hill, meaning “Five Frog Hill”, so called because its shape resembles the reptile. It has also gone by the name of Dhammika Taung, or “Hill of the Dhamma Practitioners.” It is 684 feet in height, and one of 37 hilltops in this part of the Sagaing Hills. The rise got its name from its frog-like shape, and indeed, there are giant frog statues standing as guards before the main Buddha image inside. Its central stupa dates back to 1312, just before Sagaing became the royal capital. A local belief centers on a Buddha relic that U Ponya, a minister in the kingdom, acquired via a supernatural flight from Sagaing to the Himalayas, and that successive kings have since revered.

The word “soon” in the pagoda’s name refers to the alms food given to monks, and particularly the first alms offered by celestial beings ahead of any humans. To this day, it is known as the first pagoda in Sagaing to offer alms to monks each morning, doing so before any of the other hilltop pagodas. And U Ponya himself is also remembered as the first person ready to offer alms at dawn, having prepared the food earlier than anyone else in all of Sagaing. While it is considered greatly meritorious to be the first person ready with alms foods to offer, there is a traditional belief that no matter how much one endeavors to be first, one will always find a ceremonial plate already prepared at the base of a Buddha image, prepared by an even more industrious well-wisher. To this day, pilgrims hope to find themselves first to rise in front of Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, and foreign meditators may wish to rise to the challenge! This pagoda is also said to grant 14 wishes to pilgrims, such as gaining insights into future events, getting promoted, and being free from dying by murder.

Interestingly, the history of this land goes back even further than the orginal construction of the pagoda. Local legend tells of a hermit named Varuna who, similarly, also traveled by flight from the Himalayas to the forests of Sagaing. Joining with other spiritual seekers, the oral history relates how the Buddha himself came to this spot to teach them, and they presented a number of offerings. At this time an orangutan approached with flowers and fruit, and the Buddha was said to point towards what would become the later royal capital of Ava and proclaim that a great city would one day rise here. He is said to have gone on to say that as a result of the primate’s wholesome deed of making an offering to the Buddha, he would be reborn as its king. Some Burmese believe this to be the 14th century King Mingyiswa. The story ends with the local dragons burrowing under the earth in fright upon hearing such a prophecy, and the southern stretch of hills still bear the name Nagashore Taung, meaning “Dragon’s Burrow.”

Friday, 18 April 2014

"S.N. Goenka: His Life His Dhamma, Part 4"





This documentary, chronicling the life of S.N. Goenka from a Burmese perspective, has been many years in the making by U Min Chit Thu and U Lu Min Khaung. While it is now available throughout Myanmar, this is the first chance for anyone outside the country to be able to get a view of it. The makers of the documentary have kindly given us exclusive permission to post this on the Internet, so that their work may reach more people throughout the world, and offer inspiration and appreciation. They would like to bring English subtitles but are currently running into technical difficulties; additional volunteers for this meritorious deed may contact us.

This is the fourth and final part. The first part can be found here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Ledi Sayadaw Biography





Ledi Sayadaw was one of the great monks of Burma and believed by many to be the father of the modern mass meditation movement. Two years ago Burmese documentarians created a 28-part series exploring the life of this great member of the Buddhist Sangha, all of which are available now on YouTube.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

"Bold Journeys": Rangoon's IMC in the 1950s



A popular show in the 1950s was called Bold Journeys, and appeared on the American TV station CBS. In this, television personalities visited lesser-known spots of the world and described their experiences there to the viewers back home. In 1957, Marion Picks spent one month in Burma. After she returned, she reported on the culture, the people, the food, and other curiosities. She also had the extremely good fortune of meditating 10 days under the instruction of Sayagyi U Ba Khin at International Meditation Centre (IMC). While here she was also able to meet Burma's first president, Sao Shwe Thaike, a supporter of the center. She discusses her experiences in learning this Buddhist meditation with the host of the program after having returned to the US. This is a short clip from the 30 minute show. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

S.N. Goenka: "His Life, His Dhamma," Part 3



This documentary, chronicling the life of S.N. Goenka from a Burmese perspective, has been many years in the making by U Min Chit Thu and U Lu Min Khaung. While it is now available throughout Myanmar, this is the first chance for anyone outside the country to be able to get a view of it. The makers of the documentary have kindly given us exclusive permission to post this on the Internet, so that their work may reach more people throughout the world, and offer inspiration and appreciation. They would like to bring English subtitles but are currently running into technical difficulties; additional volunteers for this meritorious deed may contact us.

The first part can be found here, and the second one here. The fourth, and final part, is here.

Excerpt from "Fearless Mountain"




A documentary named "Fearless Mountain" shows Western monks living in Northern California according to the Thai Forest Tradition, at Abhayagiri Monastery, in the Ajahn Chah lineage. It is a beautiful film that shows the sprouting of Buddhist life in the West, and particularly in the US. 

It was made by Ukiah residents, a father-and-son team, and a trailer can be found here. The film was so inspiring that a company was formed in its main feature's name, and a new film is now being made based on similar themes.