Friday, 13 May 2016

"They were building a bathroom!"

Parami Sasana Yeiktha

Overseen by Sayadaw U Waseta, this monastery was founded in 2010. The Sayadaw was trained in the Sayadaw U Pandita tradition, and taught meditation overseas for years before deciding to settle into this mountain refuge, located just outside of the city. U Waseta follows the rigorous practice as characterizes that of his late teacher U Pandita, and as he speaks English, is willing to teach foreign practitioners who come to the Golden Land for Dhamma practice. Yogis can expect an 11-hour practice day, replete with walking and sitting meditation. Visitors to the monastery can also expect a very quite and secluded site, with sometimes the Sayadaw residing here entirely alone, although it enjoys a quite supportive local lay community. 

One American, Zack, ordained here as a Buddhist monk in May 2016, and he tells his following story below:
"When I arrived in Myanmar, I had no specific plans to cultivate Dhamma. I didn’t even know what the word meant! Though Buddhism had long piqued my curiosity, I wasn’t yet even a beginner when I arrived. 
Nonetheless, soon after I learned about the unique possibility, I decided to dive into the deep end and get ordained as a monk, if only for one week. For some reason, the opportunity just called to me. 
Rural Burmese monastic life is a far cry different from California layperson city-life. Though I was completely willing to understand and learn this different way of life, it doesn’t just come to you overnight.
One of the puzzles for me was bathing. Though I had read about outdoor bathing practices, I still wasn’t sure, e.g. what I should wear or take off, where and how discreetly I should scrub, whether it was okay to do this all with other (especially lay-) people around, or whether I should wait for privacy. It didn’t help that I was the only monk at the monastery aside from the Sayadaw! So I didn’t get to look to anyone for an example. 
I did the best I could for the first few days, deciding to clean more private areas in the confines of the toilet room and less sensitive areas outdoors. If unideal, this worked for me, and I felt clean. 
But on day four, curious if I was missing something, I asked the Sayadaw if this was an OK way to do things. “Oh, I forgot!” he exclaimed, “that you’re a Westerner and you shower indoors!” I assured him that I was okay bathing outdoors, and that I simply wanted to make sure I didn’t offend, but he still seemed distressed.
The next morning, a truck full of concrete, bricks, and other building supplies pulled in the driveway. A team of volunteer construction worked filed in from the neighboring town and began excavating for a foundation. The Sayadaw himself directed the team with a tape measure and a level. 
They were building a bathroom.
Of all the hospitality I’ve experienced in my life, this gesture stands unrivaled. And as my friend, who’s spent several years in the country, put it laughingly: “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that happens in Burma.” 
How magical and impactful to be invited—and as an outsider and a beginner!—so warmly into this culture of support and generosity."

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Cremation and Relics of Sayadaw U Pandita

As a previous post noted, on the 22nd of April 2016, Sayadaw U Pandita was cremated. While no relics were found (which some believe would indicate full enlightenment and which were greatly anticipated by his supporters), there were golden-colored debris found in the cremation coffin, as shown below.

The following story is shared by U Sarana:

"U Maung Aye, a close helper of Sayadaw U Pandita, shared what he heard from Sayadaw U Pandita. Sayadaw U Pandita told to U Maung Aye, that he spoke with Mahasi Sayadaw about a month or so before Mahasi Sayadaw passed away. At that time Mahasi Sayadaw told to U Pandita that to his (Mahasi Sayadaw's) surprise, Mahasi Sayadaw had a dream. It is impossible for an Arahant to have a dream - and thus Sayadaw U Pandita knew, that Mahasi Sayadaw was not an Arahant at the time when this was said. However, Sayadaw U Pandita told U Maung Aye that it is not possible to tell for sure whether Mahasi Sayadaw became an Arahant shortly before he (Mahasi Sayadaw) passed away or not."

Following is a preview on the "Relics" section from the upcoming Shwe Lan Ga Lay:

Similar to the English expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so also can one say that the value and purpose of a relic rests upon the perspective of who happens to be before it. For rulers of any kind, from kings to elected officials, the acquisition of sacred relics is seen as an implicit acknowledgement that the leader has developed sufficient paramis to justify his rule (Specifically, if a king was said to be a righteous ruler, it would follow that his reign would see good weather and plentiful harvests, and that white elephants and Buddha relics would find him.) For pagoda-donors, enshrinement of relics amplify the merit they are already due to receive with the meritorious construction. For tourists, they are yet another curiosity to marvel over, photograph, and later revel to friends back home. For treasure-hunters and occult worshipers, relics represent another object to seek out, collect, and make use of. For supporters of a particular monk, they are seen as real evidence of his attainment and may forever be honored throughout the lineage. For many lay Buddhists as well as monastics, they are a profound symbol representing the Triple Gem in all its depth, and which guard against the decline of the Sasana. For historians and scholars, they are an object of study when analyzing politics, religion, and war. For religious scholars or defenders of the faith, relics can pose a challenge to the heterodoxy in that there is not explicit reference to them in the scriptures. And for some meditators and yogis, they offer a profound inspiration and vibrational support to the Path. 
Relics are not only confined to Burmese Buddhism or even Buddhism in general, but worship and reverence of sacred objects can be found across eras and cultures. As Schopen writes, “these bodies and bits of bone and otherwise seemingly dead matter have played a lively role in religious practices, economies, and institutions.”

The English relic is derived from the Latin relinquere, meaning “to leave behind,” and this certainly fits the Burmese Buddhist understanding of material “left behind” from the bodies of the country’s great monastics and meditators. Relics thus transcend the worldly and the divine, the material and spiritual, becoming a living embodiment “left over” from the great meditative masters in whose paths we are endeavoring to follow. As Mircea Eliade writes, they are the “manifestation of the sacred in profane contexts.”

Following is a photograph of the relics left by Sayadaw U Pandita: 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Ingyinbin Journal: "The Moon Cares Little for my Despondency."

John, a meditator from New Zealand, spends extended periods in Ingyinbin each year, the home of the revered Webu Sayadaw and with his friend Ashin Mandala. This winter, he has decided to keep a journal, which he has kindly offered to share with us. His journal alternates between observation and poetry, between meditation practice and commentary about Burmese Buddhist society, from his learnings and his questions. The full collection of his musings can be found here.

24 January Uposata 

"Under the ramshackle wooden tiers of the old hall,the young Bhante paces delivering Uposata
to the children, themselves loosely tiered before him."

25 January 

The weather is warmer but I am on day 3 of a head cold. Surprising, with that and the poor night’s sleep, how cluttered and disconsolate the mind quickly becomes: dreaming of failure at work and with others, constantly tripping over and failing myself. A Lemsip before and a coffee after the morning group sit seems to help. I think of Bhante-ji, enduring a similar cold over a number of days.

Bante-ji, 83 and 40% total hearing,
burnt himself testing barium
for Indira Ghandi and the atomic programme.


Starting again, the breath gradually
distils to something finer, then the body,
until neither’s perplexed.

The moon and birds care little for my despondency. During breakfast the glowing spoon-hollow moon slips from above the trees to nestle among the uppermost branches, joining the ibises, which occasionally honk and shift position, before taking flight to other places and the day’s purposes. Looking like the concord, the bird lifts or dips slightly towards its long, curved beak, and is elegant in flight despite the initial dragging of the body and the straggling legs and the repeated short pump of its wings. The egrets are the engineers of flight, economical and precise. There are other birds, one a dark and narrow bird, maybe some kind of shag. At the lakeside a small frog, half the size of my thumb, hops away on hearing Karen’s footsteps and heads to the water’s edge, where it pauses.

The night traversing the sky, in the morning
the radiant full moon slips alongside
the ibises among the tamarind’s upper branches.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Cremation for Sayadaw U Pandita

As shared recently here, one of the world's greatest Vipassana teachers has died. This was also reported on Buddhist Channel, and cremation services are planned for Friday April 22 in Bago. An open question concerns what type of funeral it will be. In the past, monk cremations were large and glorious affairs, but some revered Sayadaws began speaking out against this as a waste of funds and not serving the ultimate purpose of Dhamma, and requiring that their own eventual funerals be humble affairs. Of course, U Pandita was no ordinary monk or even meditation teacher by any marker, and so many may justifiably wish to honor his life. Devotees are also waiting to see what relics may appear, as many believe he attained the state of being fully liberated.

Sayadaw Gyi's body is now available for paying respects in Yangon's Panditarama (Shwe Daung Gone Yeikthar) until tomorrow's midday. The body then will be transported to Bago with a retinue of buses, leaving the Yangon Panditarama at 1 PM. According to the Burmese program, Sitagu Sayadaw will give a discourse at 8:30 pm on April 21. The cremation ceremony will start the following day at around noon. 

Yangon Panditarama: No.80(က)။ သံလြင္လမ္း၊ ဗဟန္းၿမိဳ႔နယ္၊ ရန္ကုန္ၿမိဳ႔။ Phone no.: 01-705525.

Bago Panditarama: ပဲခူးတိုင္း၊ သံျဖဴေက်ာင္းေက်းရြာ၊ အင္းတေဂၚ၊ ၁၀ မိုင္ကုန္း မွတ္တိုင္။ Phone no.: 09-49450787.

Below, a recent photograph depicting the carrying of U Pandita's corpse to the eventual cremation pyre:

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Summit of her Ambition: The Spirited Life of Marie Byles

The Australian Marie Byles claimed to be the first Westerner to set foot in, and learn the Dhamma at, both Maha Bodhi Monastery in Mandalay and Thanboddhay Monastery in Monywa. She learned under Saya U Thein, the student of Saya Thet Gyi at the first site; then from Mohnyin Sayadaw, the greatest monastic disciple of Ledi Sayadaw at the second. She wrote meticulously about her experiences traveling and meditating throughout Burma in 1957 in Journey Into Burmese Silence, a book that is freely available here.

Now, Anne McLeod has written a biography about his pioneering woman, looking at what drove her to take trips few others were making at this time. 

Here is an excerpt about her life story:
In 1924 Marie Byles became the first woman allowed to practise law in New South Wales. Told she could only work as a law clerk, she triumphed over the patriarchal legal profession and a society that viewed women as second-class by establishing a successful practice. As legal advisor for women’s organisations in the 1930s she helped change legislation that discriminated against women’s rights in marriage and divorce – most cruelly, in the guardianship of their own children. Instead of the fame and fortune she could have earned through law Marie devoted herself to the conservation of the Australian environment. 
An early member of the elite Sydney Bush Walkers club, Marie and her friends (including Paddy Pallin who made their camping equipment) spent every weekend exploring unmapped terrain within reach of Sydney. As they grew to know and respect the landscape, the bushwalkers developed a commitment to protect the most beautiful and ecologically sensitive areas and became leaders of the conservation movement.
A zealous advocate for wilderness Marie worked as legal advisor on behalf of the Federation of Bushwalking Clubs to petition the government to reserve vast areas of land for future generations. Before the National Parks and Wildlife Service was constituted in 1967, bushwalkers took responsibility for managing the reserved areas by serving on Trusts and attending regular working bees to make paths that are still walked today.
It was mountains though that held the greatest fascination for Marie. After reaching the summit of Mt Cook in 1928, she twice returned to New Zealand’s South Island to climb virgin peaks and map unexplored areas before leading an international expedition to south China in 1938. The failure of this dream became the catalyst of a journey into places not found on a map as she began a quest to find the meaning of life beyond success and failure.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Funeral Services for Sayadaw U Pandita

Word has come that the great Sayadaw U Pandita has passed away during Water Festival in a Bangkok hospital. Also known as the Shwe Taung Gon Sasana Yeiktha Sayadaw, he was born on July 29, 1921, and so was 94 when he passed away. As his hometown was Bago (Pegu), his body will be moved there for cremation after a large ceremony at Panditarama on April 20th. The cremation ceremony will take place in Bago on one pm on April 22nd. Foreign yogis who wish to pay their respects and attend the ceremony may request permission from the monastery to do so.

Sayadaw U Pandita lived through times that scarcely another being can imagine. He saw his country during Colonial British times, Japanese occupation, independence, military dictatorship, and fledging democracy. Perhaps more importantly, his life intersected with the great patipatti movement of the 20th century; perhaps more than "intersecting;" his energy, wisdom, and enthusiasm in so small part pushed this movement along to become what it was.

U Pandita was the student of Mahasi Sayadaw, and hand-chosen by him as one of three monks to respond to the Sri Lankan government's requests in the 1950s for trained Burmese monks to go to the island and teach Dhamma to the people. From there he began traveling internationally and to the West often, where his English ability allowed him to deliver these essential teachings of liberation to yogis around the world (and took a number of trips to International Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, to lead courses there). By the time of his passing, Panditarama had become one of the great centers and traditions of Myanmar, with a loyal and dedicated following around the world, including branches in six foreign countries. The great monk's life of Dhamma and service to Dhamma literally touched millions of beings. May he be happy and liberated!

As The Lion's Roar reported, Joseph Goldstein issues this statement following his passing:

So many of us here are saddened to hear of Sayadaw U Pandita’s passing. He was such a powerful influence in all of our lives, urging us on to realize our highest aspirations. His great service to the Dhamma is inestimable. It feels like the passing of an era.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ingyinbin Journal: "Tiny Irregular Crumbly Chunks"

John, a meditator from New Zealand, spends extended periods in Ingyinbin each year, the home of the revered Webu Sayadaw and with his friend Ashin Mandala. This winter, he has decided to keep a journal, which he has kindly offered to share with us. His journal alternates between observation and poetry, between meditation practice and commentary about Burmese Buddhist society, from his learnings and his questions. The full collection of his musings can be found here.

17 January

Sitting alone in the early morning, shutters closed due to the chill, I no longer hear the solitary pink-robed nun whose early chanting near the Mahamuni statue usually reverberates in the hut.

I sit with the breath flattening, as if it has lost its volume, only a thin intermittence half free of the body. More attention is given to the area of contact between the breath and the upper lip, something which until now I have given less attention because I have been intent on distinguishing (distracted by) the visual nimitta - usually for me a bright if rather broad light - and anyway the sensations that are felt on the upper lip and those that well unbidden within and through the entire body are quite distinct. In turn, the awareness of the breath becomes sharpened and clearer, until it reaches a stage where it breaks up almost into tiny irregular crumbly chunks.

Now too with the more deliberate focus at that place, the sensation fines to a needlepoint or roughens to one or two grains of dust. Outside someone is sweeping, short brusque strokes, pausing intermittently, resuming:
Endless brush strokes
sweeping through the mind,
settled on namarupa.
Sitting further, I become aware that the body is composed of innumerable, so many, individual flecks that appear insubstantial, unfixed; and while I remain aware of the body as a whole neither are these flickerings simply the same ones recurring.
1000 points
sweeping mind and body,
settled in namarupa.
On our evening walk through Ingyinbin village, again we are greeted with unguarded warmth by the local people, again the girls are just leaving the weaving factory. Looking back after them, I notice the dust clouds stirred up by the returning oxcarts and motorcycles: sunlight and fine dust particles hopelessly enmesh and the lightness of one and the heaviness of the other holds them together in suspension.
Rust-coloured, the late sun
bound in the dust of returning carts; gathered at their gates,
children dash towards us, smiling.
The following morning rain falls. Dust that last night wouldn’t settle will do so now for at least a day or two. Aum Pyee worries that the remaining unharvested rice will be ruined should the rain continue into a second day. Looking at the ground, I see particles of dust coagulate as they become absorbed into large misshapen droplets.
Cheerless hours, old Bhante-ji departed,
three young puppies with their motherscattered. Nearby the hut, a notched bamboo pole
extended, the elderly woman snares
thin uppermost branches, stripping
the tree of its small, plum-like fruits.