Thursday, 23 July 2015

Shan Buddhism

The Mahasi nunnery in Kalaw

While Burmese Buddhism seems to be lesser known throughout the world vis-à-vis other form of Buddhist practices, within the country, similarly, ethnic forms of Buddhist practice are lesser known than the Bamar kind. As Shan Buddhist scholar Khur-Yearn maintains, Shan Buddhist practice has “remained a mystery to scholars even of Theravada.” It is perhaps paradoxical that such a devout Buddhist people would stay off the radar even as many Western yogis of the past generation have turned an eye Eastward. The devoutness of the Shans are well known and acknowledged by the Bamar, where there is an old saying that goes: “If a Shan has got an anna, he will donate a penny.” As a penny is worth more than an anna, it reflects the deep wellspring of dāna famous amongst Shan Buddhists.
Shan Buddhism has unique cultural, linguistic and architectural components that distinguish it in some ways from Buddhism found in other parts of Myanmar. Shwe Lan Ga Lay's upcoming Shan State chapter describes these features in more detail, so that the foreign yogi can better appreciate the unique Buddhist practice to be found in the region.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Don't Come to Burma for Surfing

"So what makes a sane person take four months out of their life to go and live with [Buddhist] monks in a country that most South Africans have never heard of? Well if you’re into surfing, it would be natural to go on an extended trip to Indonesia with your board in a bag. If you’re into skiing, the Swiss Alps might be your destination of choice. If Ayahuasca is your thang, you’re going to be buying a plane ticket to Peru soon enough. And if you’re into exploring what the Buddha taught, in a place where the teachings and practice are relatively uncorrupted and have intact lineages going back to the time of the old boy himself, Myanmar might be your choice of destination for a meditation retreat.” 

-- Fletcher Beacon, South African yogi

Monday, 20 July 2015

Discussion with U Mandala at Dhamma Bhumi

In May 2015, Ashin Mandala of Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin, known formally as Kan Nan Oo Monastery, was invited to visit Australia for two months. While here, he took two ten-day Vipassana courses in the tradition of Sayagyi U Goenka, and also spoke to assembled students and teachers of the tradition. For over one hour at Dhamma Bhumi meditation centre in Sydney, meditators were able to ask the venerable monk any question about his teacher, Webu Sayadaw, as well as his life as a monk back in Burma.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Road to Ingyinbin

Webu Sayadaw once predicted that one day, many foreign meditators would come to Ingyinbin to pay their respects to the village that produced a fully enlightened being. 

Webu Sayadaw was surprisingly specific about his prophecy: he spoke about it frequently, sometimes to large audiences at Rangoon University, and predicted that the pilgrims would arrive in double decker buses and a hotel would need to be built one day in the village of Ingyinbin to accommodate them all! 

This video takes meditators on a virtual tour of this special site, acquainting them with the history and sites of the two monasteries and village.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Dāna in Burmese Society

This short feature looks at the quality of dāna, or donation/generosity. It examines how a country such as Burma could be one of the most generous countries in the world despite extreme poverty and political oppression, discusses the role of dāna with the Buddha's teachings, and shares the advantages of a life lived with dāna as a consistent practice in one's spiritual development.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Living Memory of Saya Thet Gyi

This short video depicts U Myo Myint, the former Burmese Ambassador to Russia. Made in 2015, he is believe to be the last person alive at the time who had direct experience meditating under Saya Thet Gyi.

Saya Thet Gyi (who passed away in 1945) went on to teach Sayagyi U Ba Khin (who passed away in 1971), who is the teacher of Sayagyi U Goenka (who passed away in 2013). Given this remarkable history, hearing the reminisces of U Myo Myint in the present day is quite special indeed.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A Letter to an Aspiring Nun

The following is written by a Chinese meditator who had been a temporary nun in Burma; to a European meditator who is considering to become one. It is a very inspiring and authentic look at considerations for women looking to take robes in Burma.

"First, I can joyfully feel your strong aspiration to enhance your spiritual development from your inquiries. And it also reminded me of the time when I took the courage to become a nun. I suggest you have already had a clear clue of the reason why you want to become a nun? Specifically, what will be the main "theme" when you are in robes? I assume that you have known the three different aspects of exploring Buddhisim: Pariyatti(Learning the theory of Buddhadhamma), Paripatti (Dhamma practice) as well as Petivedha (Penetrate it). Which aspect do you want to focus on? I noticed that you mentioned meditation and a far-off monastery. So does it mean you want to find some quiet place for a long-termed secluded meditation course? Have you ever thought of studying the theories of Buddhism, such as Abhidhamma as well as other noble scriptures? So the first thing is to have a clear idea of your general intention. It may determine which monastery or nunnery is suitable for you in a large sense.

Second, if the nuns there can not speak adequate English while you can not speak good Burmese, the life as a nun may turn to be a hard one. Nevertheless, I do not think it is that awful even though you and other nuns can not communicate much, especially if you just want to keep a noble silence for meditation. But you need to figure out the way to communicate with meditation teacher. I think you know that very well since you have been in Burma before. Do you have the volition to study scriptures and meditation or just to obtain an unique experience as a nun? For example, if you want to study scriptures, then an international Buddhism university may be a good place for you. If you want to meditate, the monasteries or meditation center corresponding with your practicing meditation tradition will fit you better. If you want to experience the "standard" nun's life, then a Sagaing nunnery is excellent and it is an excellent place to learn how to be a nun!

Third, I ordained at an well-known nunnery in Myanmar, especially famous for the students' exam results as well as its efficient and rigid orderly management system. You will be so impressed by the nuns volition to make the nunnery a disciplined and well-respected one. The nunnery is very beautiful and people say the hardware there is among the top ones in Myanmar's nunneries. At times, there are (not many though) foreigners ordained there. Some head nun's assitants or teachers can speak English but not good enough to teach the Buddhism scriptures in English. So it means you have to study Burmese as soon as you arrive there. And there is no meditation schedule because the main task of the students there is to pass the exams held by some national department and get a degree after graduation. So they are so tied up with their study and daily duties. There is not enough time for meditation, although some nuns may sit for a while daily personally. For foreigners, they do not have the same requirement as for local nuns. You can have a flexible schedule except that you have to follow the morning chant, cleaning the compound as well as attending other important events. I found a teacher to teach Burmese three or four times a week. Also I borrowed some Buddhism books in English, such as Ahbidhamma, Buddhapada, etc and read some pages everyday and tried to look for the appropriate place for meditation everyday. Well this is not a meditation center so that it was hard to sit without "disturbance". At first, I thought others disturbed me. Then I realized that it was just ego! This is magic of meditation. After that, there was no disturbance from others when I was sitting. Besides, the nunnery is very famous so that many lay people, even the ordained came to Dana. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. And I attended several Dana ceremonies, which inspired me in many ways. Oh Alms round! I was crazy about it. I mean I enjoyed it very much. Usually the nuns goes on alms round for two whole days a week. Foreign nuns can make their mind whether they want to go or not. But I tried to follow as much as I can. For many times, feelings arose which was beyond words. Wow, I am feeling to become a nun again:)

Fourth, the following is about my own experience and reflection in. I feel much gratitude that I could have the chance to get ordained there. Much thanks goes to the other good-wishing people who helped me all the way there. Yes. I love it there. Without any doubt, I was "spoiled" by their love. We loved each other so much that once I even thought I would like to be there for my whole life. Sometimes, I just got feelings which could not be expressed by words. It was above and beyond the words. It was something only to be experienced. Everytime I need some help, they showed up. For many times, they gave me offerings anonymous. Finally, I became several nuns' "daughter" because they really felt like taking care of me. Actually some of them are much younger than me. In short, we were happy together. Even so, it does not necessarily mean that my life there was easy. Not at all. Actually before I went to Myanmar, I got health problem but I did not take it serious. So I quickly experienced a break-down after I came to Myanmar and I found myself struggling with desease almost everyday there. And even sometimes I was lamenting that why the noise was so loud that I could not meditate, why I got so fragile that even a breeze could make me get a cold, why I was so spoiled in China before that my body could not diagest the food.... My mind was trapped. I just could not accept that I was in such a low state! As the mind reacted more and more, the body got worse and worse. Finally, I felt like starting to grow strong with the living pattern. Well, it is a pity that I had to leave much earlier than I have planned before. As you may know, foreigners need to be aware of one's health in Myanmar. You may refer to Shwe Lan Ga Lay for detailed information regarding that. I think there are many reasons leading to my health problem in Myanmar. Besides the food and cold water shower that I could not get used to, the reacting mind played a main role. Actually I did learn a lot from the suffering there.

I have much to share with you and thanks for your patience to read this message. I hope it helps. And Shwe Lan Ga Lay is very powerful for the yogis who seek a Dhamma practice in Myanmar. If you have any further question, please feel free to ask me. We can discuss together:)"