Saturday, 7 April 2018

Learn Metta-Bhavana practice in Burma

From Chan Myay Myaing Monastery:

"Metta Retreats 2019

In 2019, two Metta Retreats (each retreat: 2 weeks) will be held at the Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Centre situated in Upper Burma near the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, Burma (Myanmar).

There are a limited number of places for meditators who would like to do both retreats for a full month of metta practice.

You can find all the necessary information on the flier.

Please note that the registration only opens on 1st May 2018. We will not take any applications before this date.

May you and all beings be well, happy and peaceful.

With metta

Ariya Baumann and Ayya Virañani"

Friday, 30 March 2018

"The influence of Bhramanic culture on gender aspects in Buddhism."

The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the 12th entry, with her story starting here.

"In order to understand more the social conventions, I decided to investigate the status of women in the Vedas. Bhramanism was one important religion at the time of the Buddha and the social beliefs of Bhramans were very strong So I believe is important to understand the Bhraman culture to related to Buddhism because they have many aspects in common.

According to Subhamoy Das (2010) “Women of the Vedic period (circa 1500-1200 BCE), were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainments. The Vedas have volumes to say about these women, who both complemented and supplemented their male partners. When it comes to talking about significant female figures of the Vedic period, four names - Ghosha, Lopamudra, Sulabha Maitreyi, and Gargi - come to mind.”

It is also mention that:

“During the Vedic age, more than 3,000 years ago, women were assigned a high place in society. They shared an equal standing with their men folk and enjoyed a kind of liberty that actually had societal sanctions. The ancient Hindu philosophical concept of 'shakti', the feminine principle of energy, was also a product of this age. This took the form of worship of the female idols or goddesses. […] The feminine forms of the Absolute and the popular Hindu goddesses are believed to have taken shape in the Vedic era. These female forms came to represent different feminine qualities and energies of the Brahman. Goddess Kaliportrays the destructive energy, Durga the protective,Lakshmi the nourishing, and Saraswati the creative.

Here it's notable that Hinduism recognizes both the masculine and feminine attributes of the Divine, and that without honoring the feminine aspects, one cannot claim to know God in his entirety. So we also have many male-female divine-duos like Radha-KrishnaSita-RamaUma-Mahesh, and Lakshmi-Narayan, where the female form is usually addressed first.” (Subhamoy Das p.1)

It is also mention that Indian people consider that the Vedas have the true regarding the sold, the universe and the ultimate reality. This ties are reveal form time to time to the heart of men and women who’s heart is pure by the practice of meditation. This sols or people are call rishis o seers of the true. The wisdom of the seers is not exclusively of men, women, a particular faith or time, country or sex. The seers are men and women, religious people and housewife and also people that did not belong to the brahnines cast. However, many of the vedas were lost.”

Then, 500 years BC The Law of Manu appear in the Hindu tradition with many conservative rules for women. It may be the case that those conservative rules have a lot of momentum when the Buddha arise and even the Buddha was a radical revolutionary in changing this behaviours. When he died old patters came again in the mind of monks. Two of the many Laws of Manu are significant for understanding the behaviour of women in religious affairs before Buddha.

“ 20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.[…]

33. “Na asti strinam………” – 9/18. While performing namkarm and jatkarm, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.” ( PATWARI, 2011 p. 3-4)

The rest of the Laws of Manu regarding women are as follow:

“ 1. “Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.

2. “Avidvam samlam………..” – 2/214. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.

3. “Matra swastra ………..” – 2/215. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.

4. “Naudwahay……………..” – 3/8. One should not marry women who has have reddish hair, redundant parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.

5. “Nraksh vraksh ………..” – 3/9. One should not marry women whose names are similar to constellations, trees, rivers, those from a low caste, mountains, birds, snakes, slaves or those whose names inspires terror.

6. “Yasto na bhavet ….. …..” – 3/10. Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.

7. “Uchayangh…………….” – 3/11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.

8. “Shudr-aiv bharya………” – 3/12.Brahman men can marry Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaish and even Shudra women but Shudra men can marry only Shudra women.

9. “Na Brahman kshatriya..” – 3/14. Although Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish men have been allowed inter-caste marriages, even in distress they should not marry Shudra women.

10. “Heenjati striyam……..” – 3/15. When twice born [dwij=Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish] men in their folly marry low caste Shudra women, they are responsible for the degradation of their whole family. Accordingly, their children adopt all the demerits of the Shudra caste.

11. “Shudram shaynam……” – 3/17. A Brahman who marries a Shudra woman, degrades himself and his whole family ,becomes morally degenerated , loses Brahman status and his children too attain status of shudra.

12. “Daiv pitrya………………” – 3/18. The offerings made by such a person at the time of established rituals are neither accepted by God nor by the departed soul; guests also refuse to have meals with him and he is bound to go to hell after death.

13. “Chandalash ……………” – 3/240. Food offered and served to Brahman after Shradh ritual should not be seen by a chandal, a pig, a cock,a dog, and a menstruating women.

14. “Na ashniyat…………….” – 4/43. A Brahman, true defender of his class, should not have his meals in the company of his wife and even avoid looking at her. Furthermore, he should not look towards her when she is having her meals or when she sneezes/yawns.

15. “Na ajyanti……………….” – 4/44. A Brahman in order to preserve his energy and intellect, must not look at women who applies collyrium to her eyes, one who is massaging her nude body or one who is delivering a child.

16. “Mrshyanti…………….” – 4/217. One should not accept meals from a woman who has extra marital relations; nor from a family exclusively dominated/managed by women or a family whose 10 days of impurity because of death have not passed.

17. “Balya va………………….” – 5/150. A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.

18. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.

19. “Asheela kamvrto………” – 5/157. Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.

20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.

21. “Kamam to………………” – 5/160. At her pleasure [after the death of her husband], let her emaciate her body by living only on pure flowers, roots of vegetables and fruits. She must not even mention the name of any other men after her husband has died.

22. “Vyabhacharay…………” – 5/167. Any women violating duty and code of conduct towards her husband, is disgraced and becomes a patient of leprosy. After death, she enters womb of Jackal.

23. “Kanyam bhajanti……..” – 8/364. In case women enjoy sex with a man from a higher caste, the act is not punishable. But on the contrary, if women enjoy sex with lower caste men, she is to be punished and kept in isolation.

24. “Utmam sevmansto…….” – 8/365. In case a man from a lower caste enjoys sex with a woman from a higher caste, the person in question is to be awarded the death sentence. And if a person satisfies his carnal desire with women of his own caste, he should be asked to pay compensation to the women’s faith.

25. “Ya to kanya…………….” – 8/369. In case a woman tears the membrane [hymen] of her Vagina, she shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey.

26. “Bhartaram…………….” – 8/370. In case a women, proud of the greatness of her excellence or her relatives, violates her duty towards her husband, the King shall arrange to have her thrown before dogs at a public place.

27. “Pita rakhshati……….” – 9/3. Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.

28. “Imam hi sarw………..” – 9/6. It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.

29. “Pati bharyam ……….” – 9/8. The husband, after the conception of his wife, becomes the embryo and is born again of her. This explains why women are called Jaya.

30. “Panam durjan………” – 9/13. Consuming liquor, association with wicked persons, separation from her husband, rambling around, sleeping for unreasonable hours and dwelling -are six demerits of women.

31. “Naita rupam……………” – 9/14. Such women are not loyal and have extra marital relations with men without consideration for their age.

32. “Poonshchalya…………” – 9/15. Because of their passion for men, immutable temper and natural heartlessness, they are not loyal to their husbands.

33. “Na asti strinam………” – 9/18. While performing namkarm and jatkarm, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.

34. “Devra…sapinda………” – 9/58. On failure to produce offspring with her husband, she may obtain offspring by cohabitation with her brother-in-law [devar] or with some other relative [sapinda] on her in-law’s side.

35. “Vidwayam…………….” – 9/60. He who is appointed to cohabit with a widow shall approach her at night, be anointed with clarified butter and silently beget one son, but by no means a second one.

36. “Yatha vidy……………..” – 9/70. In accordance with established law, the sister-in-law [bhabhi] must be clad in white garments; with pure intent her brother-in-law [devar] will cohabitate with her until she conceives.

37. “Ati kramay……………” – 9/77. Any women who disobey orders of her lethargic, alcoholic and diseased husband shall be deserted for three months and be deprived of her ornaments.

38. “Vandyashtamay…….” – 9/80. A barren wife may be superseded in the 8th year; she whose children die may be superseded in the 10th year and she who bears only daughters may be superseded in the 11th year; but she who is quarrelsome may be superseded without delay.

39. “Trinsha……………….” – 9/93. In case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

40. “Yambrahmansto…….” – 9/177. In case a Brahman man marries Shudra woman, their son will be called ‘Parshav’ or ‘Shudra’ because his social existence is like a dead body.” (HIRDAY N. PATWARI , 2011)

But why did these rules came to India? Especially if the Vedas were so welcoming to men and women towards the religion? Wendy Doniguer mention that it may be because disputes and wars between systems of power. During this time the Maurya Emperor was disappearing and the Shunga Emperor were arising. The Maurya Emperor was known for fomented tolerance and religious freedom. When this Maurya Emperor started to decay, India had a lot of uncertainty and that helps to develop ultraconservatives power of systems.

This ultraconservative environment helps to develop the Laws of Manu. Stephen Knapp suggests that foreign invasions helped to change the status of women in the Vedas. These foreign invasions developed a new system of oppression towards women, the spiritual level or standard went down as well as important values like respect to them. This system created by this invasions, according to Knapp, develops a new social system of hierarchies and social division.

Knapp also mention that the spirit of renunciation and non-attachment under the materialism point of view gained more power in the new social system. In this new system, the view of women change from pure and divine to be seen as an object to posses, private property. The Laws of Manu are mainly laws that see women as an object of possession of men, giving them no freedom and no independence.

But the interesting question is: Why do these values affect so strongly Buddhism? If the Vedas had many years before the Laws of Manu a system of respect towards men and women, why it have so much power when the Buddha arises? My personal believe is that those believe of Manu were added into Indian culture by a lot of violence. There were introduced by force in a war. The main idea of a war is getting resources from another culture or group of people. It is taking others people property or belongings. To justify this action, the original people need to be seen as lower as the people that is making the invasion. Most of the time is a divine justification where they mention a source that it cannot be proof, like a God, that only refers to the people that invade and give them reason or justification for taking what it does not belong to them.

One way to lower the status of local or indigenous people is by making them less human and as objects. This happened with Africans when they were invaded by Europeans. The justification to treat them as slaves is that God did not give them a soul, therefore they were similar than animals and only humans, according to the Christian belief in the 18th century. It also happened when Spanish arrived in Mexico. They saw indigenous people as children, so that was the justification why missionaries to come to convert local people in Mexico to Christians so they could be treat as humans. Even though indigenous people in Mexico did not want to become Christian and did not like the Spanish. This is a pattern in history and unfortunately the people that suffer the most in wars are women because military people are trained to have anger and sometimes they allow lust to happen as well.

So this is the nature of war. It has happened many times in many other countries. Because wars are based on violence, the new ideas that are introduced because of the wars are very radical. The old fashion system needs to be seen as poor and insufficient. If women were seen as part of the Vedic culture before the invasions, the seen them as objects, which is what happen when a war happen, will change the system of organization and belief that allow the new system to operated. Perhaps these ideas had a lot of momentum and they stopped when the Buddha appeared and started again after he died. Even though they are against of the teaching of the Buddha.

It is written in the sutta of the first council:

“Kassapa again interrogated Ānanda: ‘Three times you begged the Buddha to allow the going forth for women in the saddhamma. This is a wrong-doing. You should see your fault and confess.’

Ānanda said: ‘Venerable sir; It was not out of disrespecting the Dhamma. But Mahāpajāpati Gotamī raised the Blessed One until he was grown up and could go forth and achieve the great path. Because of this merit should fruit, I asked three times. So I don’t see it as a fault. But out of faith in the Venerable I confess.’” (Sujato & Samacitta)

According to Sujato, there is no Sutta mentioned Bhikkhus complaining about womens been ordain when Buddha was a live. It happen after he died that this complains start to flourish again. Lets remember the rule number of the Laws of Manu:

20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.

We also can think, how could an arhat could perform such kind of speech? If they already have the understanding of reality. They already realize the importance of non-self. How come they still pay attention into mundane things like this one and not take joy in the liberation of thousand of women during the Buddhas times and after the Buddhas time. Perhaps this is possible because it was added later on, it never happened or/and the writer of the Sutta was not an enlighted person and was writing with dosa. As Buddhadasa Bhikkhu mention “So we fail completely to understand the doctrine of anatta (non-self) and sunnata (emptiness), the soctrine that there is no “I” or “mine”. Consequently we experience suffering” (Buddhadasa, 2005, p. 228).

Bhikkhu Analayo Mention:

“Would it be reasonable and coherent for an awakened teacher to make such derogatory remarks about women, a teacher who according to other discourses had numbers of nun disciples that had reached full awakening and thus total freedom from any defilement, who according to the same proclaimed various nuns and lay women as outstanding in qualities like deep concentration and profound wisdom, and who apparently placed such trust in women that in a twin regulation found in all she sanctioned acting on a trustworthy laywoman’s report about a monk’s breach of the rules?” (Analayo, 2009, p 3)

For understanding this aspect, I believe is important to remember that the sutras were written 300-400 years after the dead of the Buddha. This happened in Sri Lanka after a war with The Tamels. Those suttas were written by monks. Sri Lanka culture has a lot of influence from Hinduism. Still now a days in Sri Lanka is consider that a women should not be, by any means, independent. She should depend on her husband, father or son. I was told that by a contemporary Sri Lanka monk and I have experience it myself in the country. In the Laws of Manu we see this rule.

“17. “Balya va………………….” – 5/150. A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.

18. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.

27. “Pita rakhshati……….” – 9/3. Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.” (PATWARI, 2011, p. 2).

So Buddhist has a lot of influence by the old tradition in India. I think we should be careful with statements that are not consistent with the teachings. Is important to rescue what is valuable for liberation and understanding, and to be very careful with the values of the culture that may increase aversion, greed or delusion. The cultures that preserve the Buddha’s teachings are very important and advance in some aspects and they are not in some others. Is possible to do that by using critical thinking, logic and consistency in the arguments.

Bhikkhu Analayo (2009) say that:

“By way of foreword, allow me to propose that in approaching the scriptures of the Pāli canon for guidance and orientation, we need to be aware of the fact that this material is the final product of a prolonged period of oral transmission and thus may not always fully reflect the original.1 The possibility cannot a priori be excluded that views, which were not part of the original delivery of a discourse or a rule, could have influenced the canonical material as we have it now. This does not mean that the Pāli canon can no longer provide guidance and orientation. But it does mean that during the centuries of oral transmission, material that at first perhaps arouse in the form of a commentary (where the reciters would have felt free to express personal opinions) could have become part of what now is considered canonical. […]Practically speaking, this means that instead of taking isolated passages on their own as invariably true, what is required is an awareness of the overall thrust of the canonical scriptures on a particular theme. Here an important criterion is consistency. Given that according to the discourses the Buddha himself presented consistency as a criterion of truth, it would be reasonable to expect that the Buddha was coherent in his views. Furthermore, in order to evaluate single passages a comparative study of the same material transmitted by other early Buddhist schools can provide important perspectives, i.e. in particular the Vinayas and Āgamas preserved in Chinese and other languages.” I would hold that a discriminating attitude towards women in principle is incompatible with the freedom from defilement incumbent on reaching full awakening, where any prejudice based on caste, social standing, race or gender has been left behind. Individual passages reflecting a misogynist attitude among the canonical sources need to be approached with circumspection, comparing them with the general thrust of the Dhamma and Vinaya, and ideally studying them in the light of extant parallels.

Regulations that express gender discrimination probably reflect the ancient Indian situation and would thus in principle be open to revision in a different setting, when Buddhism begins to flourish in a different environment and culture. Such revision is not against Dhamma and Vinaya, so it seems to me, but would rather express the pragmatic principle of adjusting to circumstances that is such a recurrent feature in the formation of rules as documented throughout the Vinaya. In the end, tradition – which I personally highly value – only stands a chance to survive if it is able to adjust to changing circumstances without loss of what is essential. This can come about if our appraisal of the situation is based on a clear awareness of what causes dukkha– for ourselves or others – and what leads to freedom from dukkha [Italics added by me]. (Analayo, 2009, p.1)"

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The power of Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta.... not even worth empires!

The Irrawaddy's obituary of Ne Win, the dictator who plunged Burma into military rule in 1962, notes the following detail:

"U Ne Win was alone in his residence and U Chit Hlaing and U Tin Aung Hein wanted to bring up the current state of political affairs in the country but were unable to do so since U Ne Win did not want to discuss anything related to politics. They politely listened to the former dictator as he spoke about religion and Buddhism.

They were surprised when U Ne Win confessed that he would not have staged the coup in 1962 if he had studied Buddhism and meditation earlier in life. Ne Win elaborated further if he had known Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta—the three Dharma aspects of life—at the time, he would not have seized power."

To many Westerners, it may seem something of a contradiction to go from the highest echelons of power to a life of voluntary simplicity and poverty. However, for over a thousand years of Burmese history as our reference, it is not uncommon. Not only did past kings go in and out of monkhood before or after their rule, but even within the last century, some Burmese heads of state have as well.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Pāḷi Grammar & Diṭṭhikathā Course in Myanmar

The following message is from the Institute for Dhamma Education in Myanmar:

"Dear Venerables and Dhamma friends,

The Pāḷi Grammar & Diṭṭhikathā Course in November taught by Venerable Sayadagyi Dr. Nandamālābhivaṃsa has already started and the course is filmed and posted live on Facebook everyday in the following page:ပါေမာကၡခ်ဳပ္ဆရာေတာ္ဓမၼသဘင္-LIVE-1183243185031861/?pnref=story

Considering that it may not be easy for all who are interested to follow the course live due to time difference etc. We are saving the videos on Google drive daily for easy access.

Diṭṭhikathā Course

Pāḷi Grammar Course"

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Day in A Myint, northern Burma

Zaw Win Htet describes a day discovering ancient Buddhist sites around his hometown:

"Last Friday morning when I was having Monti (Burmese rice noodles) as my breakfast with all my family members, a car arrived and parked in front of my house. Ven. Pinnyasara, a chief monk of Bodhi Tahtaung Monastery's meditation centre, and his guests from Yangon came in and then asked my dad if anyone of us would mind to take them to A Myint as a volunteer guide. My dad and brother looked at me at the same time, then they pointed to me. I said happily, "yes." Thus, my wife and I became "Saw Ke Kings" as in a proverb of our township, "Saw Ke became a King (of Innwa) without any intention." This proverb is not strange to us as natives of Chaung U township because King Saw Ke from that proverb and from the history was not from other far sites and he was from A Myint in our township.

The monk and two guests let my wife and little niece come along with me that a space was available for two of them as well. On the way to Amyint, we went in a village beside the road where there is the sole palmprint of Buddha, the only one in the country and the world. We were taken to the pagodas by 76-year old Chief Monk of that monastery. In that monastery, though there were many old pagodas, many of them have been rebuilt. We feel missing of them and local people should be started to be educated how to preserve the ancient works. We saw a brick Buddha statue of a square face under a heap of bricks. Historian scholars inferred that this statue has an artistic sculptural style of Bagan Era. At about 10.30, we left there and went on.

Just a few minutes drive later, the recently preserved moat with no water was welcoming us, so was a high heap of old reddish bricks that local people call "Mingalar Myo Oo Pagoda", by showing or telling us a phenomenon or a philosophy of Constant Flux. I feel it is like telling us, "We were very new and beautiful one time but now all the people who built us, had gone and we ourselves are sadly old. See us!" Yes, it is true. In this way, I usually think about the past A Myint City of Innwa Era whenever I cross that moat and pass that pagoda. I see the Change of Everything by Time in A Myint. It was one time a big city where the Princes, Princesses and Dukes governed and lived. It was a big city where ancient kings relied on for their army when there was a war, but now it is just a big village where the township's administration offices are not stationed. King Swar Saw Ke had already disappeared, so had Duke Min Latwar. Although they and their people disappeared, today A Myint is still standing as a milestone of Myanmar's history and majestic days of ancient A Myint city. It is showing us the proofs of ancient Burmese people's outstanding architectural constructions, designs, arts of paintings and golden generosity. Today A Myint is still telling us some important points of history of our country. It is like telling us the Tides of History and Human Beings over River Chindwin's basin areas around Sanlahvati Kingdom, the original another name of Ot-jay-ni Kingdom. (Ot-jay-ni Kingdom and Sanlahvati Kingdom are the same capital citiy of a kingdom early before Bagan dynasties and at the same time as early Bagan dynasties; these names refer to A Myint.)

First of all in A Myint, we went in Pya-that monastery where Bagan Era's resin Buddha statue is. The Buddha statue is believed to be the one that King Alaung Sithu worshiped at the palace in Bagan. Although it was found in its own big pagoda in the south of the village, people brought it here to this Pya-that monastery so to be safe from the thieves of ancient statues. Some proofs have also been found to show that this resin Buddha statue was worshiped by King Alaung Sithu. The Chief Monk of that monastery gave all of us small booklets about the history of the Resin Buddha Statue (မံဘုရား, in Burmese). After paying worships to this Buddha, we went to Min Ye monastery and Min Ye Su Pagodas (meaning a cluster of pagodas in Min Ye monastery). We parked the car in the monastery next to the area of pagodas. U Thein Naing and U Thet Naing, the guests, took photographs of the old leaning wooden monastics. We walked up stairs of a few wide deep steps in the area of pagodas through a narrow gate. We walked on the walkways between the pagodas and the guests took a lot of time to take photos of different styles of old temples and an old lying Buddha statue with a slightly big flat smiling face as showing the style of Bagan Era's statues and as that can be seen in mural paintings. To show my guests the mural paintings of Thu-yaung trees and Jatakas pictures, I led the group to a temple numbered by the Ancient Research Department under the Ministry of Culture. This temple is one of the most famous temples in A Myint because it has mural paintings of the afore-mentioned Thu-yaung trees. It's famous for them. After about half an hour, we left Min Ye Su pagodas and led to the market for lunch of the monk, so it cannot be late. After lunch in a restaurant of Burmese cuisine, we left A Myint for another part of Second Bagan, Thone-pan-hla village (previously called A Naint village) where U Wisara, the national hero for Burmese in the days of colonial British Burma, was born. In this area around A Myint, a lot of famous people and monks were born. U Nyo Mya, who wrote the article "Hell Hounds at Large" to criticize at the British Headmaster of Yangon University, and wrote a lot of books, was born in A Myint. Duke Min Lat War was very famous for his governance that thieves or robbers were killed by a strike of his very wide palm, in King Mindom's times. (He was known as Min Lat War, meaning Duke Palm, for the above reason.) Ledi Pandita U Maung Gyi, a great writer and disciple of Ledi Sayadaw, was born in Nyaung Phyu Pin village where formerly was in the township of Chaung Oo, in the north of A Myint.

After our lunch, we went to Min O Chan Thar Pagoda that was built by King Alaung Sithu. Althogh this is a famous ancient pagoda, just a few ancient works are remained because today people renewed it again and again. It's a kind of stupa with four main sets of stairs, so we can go up the stairs to look over around but it is not too high.

Just in the south of A Myint, we saw Man Pagoda where the Resin Buddha Statue was previously put. In Tazaung village on the way to Thone Pan Hla, Monastic Donors Nga Yauk Thin Couple's stone inscription is famous and the village is situated just beside the dirt road to Thone Pan Hla. It was dated ME-658 (AD-1296) and the scholars recommend that it is a stone isncription of "mula-htoe (in Burmese, မူလထိုး)" meaning "original inscription". In that village, there is another mula-htoe stone inscription called "Monastic Donors Nga Pyae Nyi Couple's stone inscription", dated ME-677 (AD-1315), too. Since we did not have much time, we did not go in the village to see them. For the historians, Sanae Nan Gone in Tazaung village is a good site to study and make a History research from the above stone inscriptions.
(For more information about the historic stone inscriptions around A Myint Old City and A Neint Old City to make a study in history, please see in my own blog page:

Old trees are beside the dirt road along the way we went. It must have been an old avenue that connects A Myint City and A Neint City since the past times. After we crossed some villages and a 30-minute drive, we started to see a cluster of very old dun temples and pagodas cloaked by shrubs here and there. The temples are spreading over the areas and between clusters of palm trees or in the fields. In a place beside the road, we saw a sign and a side road to a cluster of some temples named "Thone Pan Hla Pagodas Compound". We took a right turn to the side road to visit and see them. Near a brickwork lion in front of the archway of the compound, we took photos together. At the eastern gate, only one lion statue was left as original and the rest can be only seen as a heap of bricks. We took a careful look at the remained one which was built by bricks. Its legs are wonderfully firming without any help of reinforced concrete-work and its brickwork is amazing. We can see amazing brickwork in its legs in deep strength though they are not thick enough. (Please, see the photo.)

When walked on the pavement in the compound, we were seen and directed by an old man named Bagyi Gyan (bagyi means old grandpa), a trustee member, to the temples in which the mural paintings are there. Inside the temples in the southernmost of the compound, we could have a great chance to see priceless mural paintings. In the paintings, we saw some ancient writing styles that are quite different from today's. For example, we once read and learned that the Pali term "Thera (meaning elder bhikkhu or elder monk)" is written as either "မေထရ္(ma-te)" or "ေထရ္(te)" today. But, in the ancient writing that is found in mural paintings of Bagan Era, it was written "မထည္(ma-hti)" or sometimes "မထည္း(ma-htee)". Myanmar linguists said in the books that later people and today people read and write it "မထီး" and they think this is another term and a term for those monks who are not Theravada Buddhist monks. We also found the writing "အရည္း" in the mural paintings on the walls and concave roofs of the cave inside the pagodas. The terminologists and Myanmar linguists said that this word was derived from a Pali word "အရည (Aranna)" and adopted as a Burmese word "အရည္း" by putting ( - ္) and ( - း). The words "အရည္း" that we found in the mural paintings, used to mean Theravada Buddhist monks who used to live at a monastery in the rural areas. However, we do not write and call those as "အရည္း" today. If someone sees a word "အရည္း" or sometimes "အရည္းၾကီး" today, he misinterprets that this means the ones who told themselves as monks, practiced non-Buddhist practices without perceiving any Buddhist percepts and principles, and who founded a religion-alike in early Bagan Era before King Anawratha's times when Buddhism started to flourish in upper and other parts of Myanmar, except around Mon State, the initial start point of Theravada Buddhism in the entire Myanmar in history. Therefore, what I get a message from the mural paintings that we saw, from the scope of Myanmar linguistic and history, is that we can elicit these pagodas were built in the Era of Bagan. Another supportive strong reason to elicit this point or statement is that some scholars say the pictures of people, Buddha, monks or Arhats, look those of mural paintings in Bagan temples. To clarify, this means that faces in the paintings are pear-shaped. Anyway, it was very good and knowledgable to see or observe the paintings and learn the way that scholars made historical elicitations by observing the writings and pictures in the paintings.
Lovely, the name of one of the pagodas where there mural paintings are well reseved, is "Ma-shi-ka-na (မရွိခဏ)" Temple that means the temple of "No Lack". (PS: There are many other so-called "Ma-shi-ka-na" pagodas in Sagaing and in some other parts of the country.) In our group, the two guests from Yangon, also have the same interest in interior mural paintings and exterior decorative arabseques in the pagodas as me. According to U Panna, they are makers of the documentary of Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung Sayadawgyi and they seemed to make a documentary about A Myint and Thone Pan Hla, the areas of Second Bagan. They were taking a lot of photographs outside the temples and then we all were brought by Bagyi Gyan to another important site of the compount which is Aung Myay of Queen Sambula. In Myanmar Theravada Buddhist's beliefs, people like to visit Aung Myay where a famous person or a famous monk once succeeded in his resolution and wish in the past. We went up the stairs of the throne or platform of Aung Myay and stood on the slab to wish and make a resolution. The story about this Aung Myay is that Sambula once made a resolution here to renovate old stupas and temples in Thone Pan Hla before she became a queen. When she became the Queen of King Kyan Sit and her wishes were fulfilled, she built Thone Pan Hla Stupa surrounded by seven smaller stupas. At the other side of these red stupas and near western gate, the Aung Myay is there and there is another famous temple outside the brick walls of the compound. That temple is called Pitakat Wahso Teik and the mural paintings of Arhat monks who are paying homage to Buddha, on the concave ceiling of the temple. We walked on the walls to that temple and almost the whole of its exterior was recently renovated, so it seemed to lose some parts of ancient exterior decorations and even some lower parts of mural paintings inside the temple were already lost because of the later paintings of lime. Not only in that temple but also in the other temples, the lower parts were limed by the later people. U Thein Tan, one of my guests, said that they might have been lost perhaps because the later people who came here and stayed in the temples while perceiving eight percepts on Sabbath Days, might probably be leaning against the walls and thus they were faded. He continued to elicit that the paintings were probably made of watery fruits or vegetables and it might be a certain reason why their colour were easily faded years after years. Anyway, it just took a short time to fade them because the later people were less-educated in preserving ancient temples and antiques. Aother reason is that Buddhist people do renovating and rebuilding old stupas or temples as great merits. Thus, they were careless to preserve or renovate them without losing any ancient works that can become a national proof of the ancient times' standards in architecture and of the history.

We were shown the enshrined stuff which were found in renovating, such as broken ornamented smoking pipes in a big tent of trustees. In that tent, the picture of King Kyan Sit and Queen Sambula, a big map of spreading stupas and temples around Thone Pan Hla village and some pictures are hung on. Buddha statues and a red statue of U Wi Sara, the sign of this village and national hero who made a hunger strike over 160 days against British Colonial Government in British Rule and then passed away, were put on a table in the tent. After taking some photos and listening to Bagyi Gyan who was explaining to us about the temples without feeling tired, we walked back to our car. Bagyi Gyan walked along with us and waved his hands to us until our car had already left.

We passed through Tone Pan Hla village and saw other ancient stupas in different sizes and shapes. We passed a pond under big trees and people playing caneball nearby. In the center of the village, we passed a library named after U Wisara. Since we hadn't got much time and were going on to Pareinma Village, the native village of King Kyan Sit, in Myaung Township, we didn't go to any other temples. About at 1.00 pm in the afternoon, we said goodbye to Second Bagan where is rich of spreading historic temples and stupas covered by bushes. We learned that there are 132 stupas and temples, so I made a decision to visit Thone Pan Hla again very soon to look at more stupas and temples and study more about history of Second Bagan, our township's pride.

Anyway, I felt I was told a message by Thone Pan Hla that everything is Anicca (meaning 'impermanent' or 'not stable') according to Buddha's Dhamma. Thone Pan Hla was telling me that we have faced a lot of changes by time and reminding me not to forget this phenomenon. It had been a big city which its people commercially communicated with the people of the great Bagan Kingdom. It had been a city where dukes governed. Today, it becomes just a village but it still owns a great dignity in history.

We continued to Parein Ma, the native village of King Kyan Sit, where there also had a communication with Thone Pan Hla."

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Sagaing Hills: A Perfect Antidote to Civilization and Privilege

The Meditator's Guide to Burma, Part 2, is due out soon! Nearly four times as big as Part 1 and the result of nearly five years of intensive work by a team of volunteers, it will function as a kind of Lonely Planet's guide to the Golden Land... but specifically for those spiritual practitioners who wish to develop in Dhamma. Following is a draft from the Sagaing Hills chapter, which would be included in a potential Part 3-- but unfortunately, no work is happening currently as there is not sufficient financial support to sustain the project. This section introduces the Sagaing Hills before describing some specific site history. 

"The monks of 150-200 years ago were especially attracted to the ravines and hilltops of this remote region of the Sagging Hills, in sharp contrast to the congested, flat lowlands around Mandalay Hill they were leaving behind. Some took to criticizing some Mandalay monastics for their laziness or laxness in adherence to Vinaya, and saw in the promise of a simple life in the Hills the perfect antidote to the adverse pull of modern civilization, and privilege.

Given the wild nature of Sagaing in those days, forest monks were left to their own devices in finding a place to reside and practice. Caves were the shelter of choice for many. However, because there are few natural cave systems in the Sagaing Hills, forest monks had to hew many hundreds of make-shift enclosures out of hillsides or cliffs. Enough fresh water to sustain them was available either from collecting rainwater or a walk to the river, depending on how far away the monastic decided to set up camp.

Ironically, civilization followed these seekers of solitude. Over time, small settlements of lay communities slowly grew around these pioneering monks, which themselves turned into villages. Monks intent on complete solitude could, of course, venture deeper into the hills, where the dense forest and hilly terrain made it possible to live in near-total seclusion even in fairly close proximity to lay supporters. Indeed, the many winding, narrow hill paths throughout the Sagaing Hills have likely been used by countless monks on alms round."

Saturday, 26 August 2017

A walk back to the history of Vipassana in Burma

The following post is taken from the blog section of Myanmar Pilgrimage. It describes a special new pilgrimage being offered in Myanmar this winter that will tour 14 distinct regions connected to the lineage of S.N. Goenka, and in which all overnights will be at monasteries. 

"Experiencing the Dhamma riches of Burma can forever change one's life and one's practice, and can bring a unique sense of inspiration and appreciation that is never forgotten. And then later, sharing one's experiences with one's home meditator community, after returning, can further motivate even those who have never been to the Golden Land! For this reason, one of the goals of Myanmar Pilgrimage is to make these special sites accessible to as many people as possible.

However, this is made challenging by the fact that Myanmar has become the most expensive tourist destination of Southeast Asia, with prices over 20% higher than neighboring Thailand. For meditators who wish to see the special Dhammic sites of the Golden Land, this cost increase makes travel more challenging. And as many meditators have consciously chosen less materialistic lives, and to choose a simple life over a busier one that may yield a higher income, it can be difficult for many meditators to afford these soaring Myanmar prices.

For this reason, Myanmar Pilgrimage has developed a Dhamma tour that stays entirely at Buddhist monasteries. In addition to making it more affordable for a greater number of people, it has the added, and perhaps more important advantage, of allowing the pilgrim to stay wholly in a Dhamma environment for the entire duration of the trip. From the early morning gongs waking up the monks, to lining into the Dhamma Hall after the monastics have eaten, to evening meditation sittings conducted with Pali chanting in the background and followed by translated Dhamma talks and Q&A with senior monks, this holistic experience allows the foreign meditator to get a glimpse of the Burma-Dhamma as very few newcomers to the country can penetrate.

Exploring the Lineage: Monastic Stay is a pilgrimage that will take place from November 24-December 10, 2017. Only limited space is available, and it is first-come, first-serve. The pilgrimage will visit 14 distinct sites connected to the four main figures in the S.N. Goenka lineage. Informative talks will discuss the history and background of each place, and we will meditate together at the special sites we visit. The pilgrimage is the result of nearly five years of research, and many of the sites included have only very rarely been visited by the foreign meditator before.

Go here to learn more about this pilgrimage."