Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mandalay Dhamma Practice: Fantasy Meets Reality

“I did a solo pilgrimage to Myanmar, and it had a profound effect on my practice, particularly how I saw the Dhamma integrated in everyday life there. One story that brings that to light happened at Shwegyin Monastery. Having been told about the site, I visualized myself sitting serenely on an ancient teakwood veranda as dedicated novices intoned Buddhist suttas, plunging me deeper into concentration and insight. Instead, I found myself meditating uncomfortably on an uneven surface, getting devoured by mosquitoes, awkwardly trying not to get in anyone’s way, hot and sweaty, and amidst the flashing bulbs of cameras aimed by tourists. I was unhappy and couldn’t focus…that is, until I reflected on the fact that I was only unhappy because of the peaceful image I’d already built up in my mind. But the reality was before me! Once I realized that, I let go, and embraced and observed that reality, and Burma taught me yet another lesson.” 


American meditator

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Shwebo: A Place of Resistance and Dhamma

Some of the royal forces’ best fighting men hailed from the Mu Valley, particularly the old districts of Hladau, Tabayin, Tazfe, and Ye-O. Soldiers from this region were distinguished by a special vermillion tattoo on the small of their back. Given this history, it was not surprising that some of the last skirmishes between colonial troops and the Burmese resistance took place in the Shwebo area after the Burmese king was deposed in 1885.

One Shwebo-born rebel was the infamous long-haired U Yit, who had served the king and then fought the British after annexation. Seeing that further resistance was futile, he fled to Tadahgalay Village with his Shan wife. The area was at that time a dense jungle that they had to clear in order to farm (and which by now has morphed into Insein, an urbanized suburb of Yangon). So many Shwebo rebels settled here that for a time the area was called Shwebosu. U Yit lived to be over 100 years old, ultimately becoming better known the beloved grandfather and role model of the future Sayadaw U Pandita, the famous Mahasi disciple, than for his resistance exploits.

In the years that followed the king’s removal, dacoit gangs roamed the land, prompting the colonial government to engage in extensive “pacification” campaigns here. While the old British Gymkhana Club in Shwebo is no more, there is a small British War Cemetery honoring soldiers killed in these battles.

Spiritual striving and worldly gain often appear on opposite sides of the spectrum, but this is certainly not the case at Aung Myay Monastery. Its name translated means “Ground of Victory,” and refers to an episode connected to King Alaungpaya. (This is aung myay. Bate Mann refers to a religious building or holy place. Throughout history, other kings have proclaimed their own “Ground of Victory,” but this one associated with King Alaungpaya is one of the more famous in the country. In contemporary Myanmar, Burmese may declare their own “Ground of Victory” to motivate themselves in accomplishing a difficult task.) 

Long before ascending the throne, he passed this spot as a simple village hunter, afterwards claiming that he saw a frog eating a snake and deer chasing away a tiger there. Modern monastery artwork depicts this scene. U Sarana suspects that whatever King Alaungpaya actually saw was repackaged to evoke Jātaka Tale 77, in which King Kosala saw this identical scene as one of 16 symbolic dreams. The Buddha interpreted this as illustrating the perverse character of distant future times, when the less skillful would rule. In later years during the colonial period, some Burmese would interpret British rule and the country’s attendant social breakdown as fulfilling that prophesy. The Burmese typically learn about King Kosala’s dreams as children, so this land, the pre-colonial Burmese past, and this particular Jātaka Tale are culurally linked together in a powerful, symbolic resonance. Many years later when he was preparing for war against a stronger foe, he chose this auspicious spot as his “Victory Spot” because he had twice witnessed a weaker animal conquering a stronger one.

When the British annexed the country, they recognized the symbolism of this patch of ground, and that it represented past Bamar military might and nationalism. So they tried to deliberately render the grounds inauspicious, first by hanging prisoners there and then by converting the entire area into a British cemetery.

This British posturing evidently did little to dissuade Webu Sayadaw, however, as he decided to establish his third monastery here in 1940, eventually spending his Rains Retreats here after the invitation from a female doctor from Rakhine State who was concerned about his poor health. The compound spans thirty-two acres, with an inner, perimeter track that is a nice way to get a feel for the grounds. These dirt paths run parallel to an ancient wall and pass by some neighboring communities living just outside the monastery.

The photo shows the Victory Spot of Webu Sayadaw today.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Syriam: from Orwell to Ledi Sayadaw, where the Great Game met the great Dhamma practitioners...

Than Lyin-- across the river from Yangon, and known historically as Syriam-- is a place combining such dynamic figures as Philip de Brito, Mahasi Sayadaw, George Orwell, Ledi Sayadaw, the Burmah Oil Company, Mohnyin Sayadaw, etc. Following tells how these all happen to come together in this unlikely place...

Way back in 1897, George Bird was already recording (in Wanderings in Burma) that “beyond the ruins…nothing now remains of the once flourishing European settlements [of Syriam].” Now, over a century later, there are very few European footprints left in the sand here anymore, either. These include a ruined Portuguese church from 1750, some Armenian tombs, and parts of the old wall of the city. And at nearby Henzada village, a small pagoda bears the inscription of the apparent descendants of the Portuguese (and anti-Buddhist) warlord Philip de Brito, (a somewhat ironic twist of Dhamma that one of the few remaining testaments to the existence of that foreign pagoda-destroyer in Burma would be…a pagoda, and built by his own descendants to boot).

Syriam was certainly not known for its beauty during the Colonial period, during which time the Burmah Oil Company set up a refinery here, although it was later destroyed in World War II. George Orwell was posted here from 1924, where he worked as an Assistant District Superindentent. It was a toss-up as to whether the rough town was better known for its frequent murders or acrid air at that point. It seems that Orwell spent much of his days reading what British literature he could acquire from nearby Rangoon bookstores. According to Keith Ferrell in George Orwell: The Political Pen, Orwell “lived in a house that lacked all the amenities to which Europeans were accustomed: there was no running water, toilets, or electricity.” Today, Than Lyin’s port—Thilawa—is the largest port in the country, building on its status as the port of choice for European ships during the Colonial era.

But on more of a Dhamma note, the area does have some significant Buddhist past. Small Gonnyinsu Village is where the deeply revered Mohnyin Sayadaw was born in 1873, and who went go on to become one of Ledi Sayadaw’s most important disciples. And yogis today can attend a course at the Saya U Than Kammathan Center, which offers teachings in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi. Mahasi Sayadaw arrived here just one year after Orwell, in 1925, after leaving his hometown of Seikkhun and prior to his intensive study in Mandalay and Moulmein. Finally, Ledi Sayadaw practiced the jhanas here in 1895 following his Indian pilgrimage. 

The photos seen with this text are from a monastic education monastery in Than Lyin today.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Liberation through the Kanni Method of Vipassana and Samatha

The following was written by Dr. Khin Maung Win, describing his experience at Bodhi Aye Nyein Yeiktha. They teach within the tradition of Kanni Sayadaw, who taught Sayadaw U Wayama, the famed presumed Arahant of Prekhemma Monastery in the Sagaing Hills. Kanni Sayadaw 
was also a younger contemporary of Ledi Sayadaw, and a meeting between the two great monks is memorialized in a statue exhibit in Kanni village.

“I practiced the Insight meditation by means of the mindfulness of breathing. At the first stage, I had to practice to comprehend the nature of materiality. The observing mind penetrated the body. The brain, the skull, the heart and the spinal cord and ribs where burnt [sic] and destroyed, the skull became a fine gauze, the skeleton was broken down. When the observing mind pin-pointed at the toughness of the body, the feeling of pains disappeared and the mind knew that the materiality was subject to decay.

Then I practiced to comprehend the immateriality. The observing mind highlighted on the severe pain. It was composed of many small pains. Each small pain showed their own nature of pricking, hotness, numbness, coldness, hardness, and each of which were in flux. The whole body became minute particles and then disintegrated. Only the observing mind was left in the sense of knowing.

When I pracied to comprehend the condition factors of mind and matter, the whole physical body changed to the particles, some of which were in tremendous motion and some in slow motion. At that stage, the last eleven past extensces were seen in my mind’s eye. The first four existences were a tiger, a horse, a goat, and a cow. The fifth was a woman. That woman reverended [sic] a high priest and did a lot of wholesome deeds with the intention of becoming a monk in the future life.

As a result of good deeds the next life was a monk. That monk trained himself and followed the disciplines and rules for monks. The seventh life was a god. The successive life was an acestic who took delight with sensual pleasure. The next was a pig. That pig wanted to be free and wished to run like a rat. So, the tenth life was a rat. It was afraid of cats and wanted to be a cat. The eleventh was a cat. That cat lived in a monastery. It was familiar with the Triple Gem and never chased the rats. The wholesome deeds done in the monk’s life reinforced to be reborn in the human wold.

One day, when that cat suffered from the disease of ageing, a lay woman came to the monastery and made donation. Soon after the woman went back hom then the cat died and followed the woman. That woman became my mother in the present life.

During the practice of Insight meditation, I saw the blood flowing thorugh every nook and corner of the body, and everything in the body were in flux. More than that I saw the dissolution of all parts of the body. The whole body was seemed to be [sic] a fearful disaster or a great enemy. I felt weariness of living with that socalled body. I wanted to liberate [sic] from that pyscho-phyiscal aggregates.

I kept on practicing with steadfast mindfulness to observe the phenomena of mind-matter processes in all four postures. I encountered the intense light beams, more brilliant than the light image, appeared in me and I felt the great rapture.

Once the physical body transformed into particles and disappeared while the observing mind rapidly moved to a far distance… I observed the rise-fall phenomena for half an hour, then I was in void, and enjoyed a peaceful feeling. When the observing mind reappeared, I observed the nature of impermanence.”

Thursday, 23 February 2017

45-Day Course in the Tradition of Saya Thet Gyi

The "tazaung", referred to by modern yogis as "meditation center", is where Saya Thet Gyi began teaching Dhamma in small Pyaw Bwe Gyi village across from Rangoon River. One of his students was the future Accountant General U Ba Khin, who became Goenkaji's teacher. 

Every year, a 45-day course is offered at this tazaung by Anauk Sayadaw, in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi. The Anauk monastery in Pyaw Bwe Gyi has a long history with Saya Thet's teachings. Foreign practitioners may be able to attend the annual 45-day course offered here, a unique opportunity to receive meditation instructions in the Saya Thet Gyi lineage, and in the very place where he lived and taught. 

The course consists of ten days of samathā practice in which the yogi observes the in and out breath (the first three days of which bathing is prohibited), and vipassana therafter. During this period, the meditator alternates between postures, with long practice periods taking place in the sitting, standing, and lying down postures. Yogis first focus on body feelings, and later instructions direct the practice to the Four Elements and the mind base, with encouragement to remain in one’s posture for longer and longer periods. Instructions initially lead yogis in scanning the body, and later, concentrating more deeply on specific areas, such as feeling the different parts of the skin, bones, blood, etc. As the practitioner is asked to observe the body, he is instructed to keep in mind the Three Characteristics. Monastics who successfully complete the course are eligible to lead seven-day retreats in this technique for other yogis.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Passing of Shwegyin Sayadaw

The most Venerable Maharathaguru Waso Sayadaw Bhaddanta Aggiya, Abhidhaja (head monk) of the Shwegyin Nikāya (myanmar's second largest monastic order), has passed away last week while undergoing medical treatment in Mandalay General Hospital. He has thus left the burden of the aggregates at the ripe age of 100, just a few weeks before his 101st birthday. Bhaddanta Aggiya had 81 vassa.

Following his demise, this Tuesday a large meeting was organised in his Monastery, with many chief monks of the Shwegyin Order such as the Venerables Dr. Nandamalabhivamsa, Yaw Sayadaw and Sitagu Sayadaw, to discuss the preparations for his cremation ceremony with his devotees and the regional chief minister.

The remains of the Sayadaw are being displayed in a coffin for public obeisance in Aungmyaythazi Monastery in the compound of Vithudayon Taikthit Kyaung on 86th street. In the last days many devotees came to pay their respects to his remains, as well as many monk communities from Shwegyin monasteries came to pay their respects and practice marananusati (contemplating death) near his body. Today evening Yaw Sayadaw will be giving a Dhamma Talk there.

The cremation will be held on Sunday afternoon on the sport fields of Shwe Mann Taung Golf Course at the western foot of Mandalay Hill.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Impromptu Anapana Instructions

A European meditator has ordained temporarily as a Buddhist monk in Myanmar, and shares this inspiring story about an impromptu meditation lesson:

"Today out of the blue I was asked to come to the chanting hall (the teak wooden) and my Sayadaw presented me to a group of about 15 Americans as a very strong meditator, student of the great meditation master from India, and said to me they are here to learn meditation from me now. =D

So far I hadn't prepared anything for teaching the novices, so I had to completely improvise. And Dhamma came to help me, as I took several seconds of silence for myself to capture the situation and went into a quiet mind which allowed me to give an anapana course with which I'm quite satisfied in the end. =)

I started by raising the question why to meditate, explained the problem of suffering and what the Buddha found out as the cause for it; the solution to the problem by the eradication of the cause (or defilements) and then the threefold way to liberation. Emphasising and explaining the importance of sīla, then how samadhī is necessary and helpful for that and how experiential wisdom gained by direct insight in the phenomena will solve the deep-rooted cause. 

Then I explained how and why the Buddha gave the breath as a tool for self realization and how we are to observe it (yatha bhuta, etc.) and how we are to deal with the tendencies of the mind...

During the meditation (maybe about 10min) at times I felt a need to remind them to relax and keep the awareness naturally, not to control the breath, and to keep the body relaxed and that they could change their posture as it was not a physical exercise.

After the session I asked them for their experiences and explained the tendencies of the mind and how this will help them in daily life situations to keep their minds in a balance and how it will help them to understand the close relationship between mind and body.. then their guide pressed that they needed to go.. so something I'd have liked to say more would have been an encouragement to try for a week morning and evening 10-15 minutes And some few details and more opportunity for questions..

Just felt like sharing this."