Thursday, 3 May 2018

Spring Break... Forever?

Kory Goldberg describes his experience upon encountering Myanmar Spring Breakers during this Dhamma pilgrimage:

“We visited [Thanboddhay] pagoda and had a great spontaneous meeting with a group of 300 college students. Unlike the stereotypical partier college students in the West, this bunch of kids was gentle and child-like and infused with Dhamma—so much so that they wanted to take refuge in the Triple Gem and recite the Five Precepts together!” 

An Inyinbin Funeral

“When we arrived in the village center, we came across a large float built to hold a coffin. Venerable Yassa's aunt had recently died, and he was back in Ingynbin from Mandalay to participate in the funeral procession and practice the asubha contemplation. One of the pilgrims asked the monk of twenty-five rainy seasons how he felt. He admitted that he felt sad, but he did not cry since he had so much Buddhist practice under his belt. He said he felt happy also at this moment, for he had helped to teach Dhamma to his aunt, and he knew that she had lived a pure and virtuous life.

The procession itself was neither solemn nor sad, but rather festive with lots of joking and laughter... The float was then disassembled, the body removed from the coffin and placed on to the pyre. We then all moved to a nearby site where we were all given lychee juice while taking refuge in the Triple Gem and five precepts, followed by an asubha-based discourse.

Initially, I felt bad that we were given the seats of honor at a funeral of a person we did know and that the translations stretched out the event for our sake, but when realizing that all the locals were so pleased to have us there, all such thoughts vanished. As the chanting and discourse commenced, the smell of burning flesh wafted through the air. When the discourse was over, we met Yassa's cousin [the deceased’s son], also a monk, and uncle who we met earlier. This time, however, the elderly farmer was no longer grinning from ear to ear as the direct realization of what was happening began to sink in. His son, the monk, looked devastated, despite wearing the armor of a bhikkhu. We then walked over to watch the corpse burn and reflect on the vulnerability of life and inevitability of death.” Kory Goldberg, Canadian yogi

Monday, 30 April 2018

Playing in the Rain, in the (muddy) footsteps of Saya Thet Gyi

“I was in Yangon when Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008. It was terrible. As soon as I could, I headed to Pyaw Bwe Gyi to see how Saya Thet Gyi’s tazaung had fared. The dock on Yangon River had been torn away but was still—barely—standing. It will sound like I’m making this up but I swear I’m not: passengers literally had to crawl from the twisted wreckage of the dock onto the upper story of the ferry, because there were only a couple feet of empty space where the two came together. When I got to Pyaw Bwe Gyi the tazaung was in fairly good shape, although the village itself was not. The most curious thing was this Spanish yogi who had been there through it all. He hardly seemed to register what had taken place. He was continuing with his self-course undisturbed, and said that he had been taking his morning walk to breakfast when the worst of the cyclone struck. He found it rather amusing that my friend and I were making such a big to-do about the whole thing.” –American expat in Yangon, 2008

Below, village children play outside of Anauk Monastery, where Saya Thet Gyi taught until 1945.

Institute of Dhamma Education in the Sagaing Hills

Please note the following important announcement from Bhikkhu Rāhula, Caraṇapālī in the Sagaing Hills:

Dear Venerables and Dhamma friends,

Hope this message finds you well and happy in the Dhamma.

This is to inform you that due to the schedule of Sayadawgyi, the coming IDE Dhamma course on "Theragāthā and Therīgāthā" will be postponed to February 2019 tentatively.

(dates are to be confirmed)

There will be no course in the coming November, 2018. We will inform you as soon as we have updated information concerning the next course. Please contact us to reserve a place in this course.

With much mettā,

Bhikkhu Rāhula, Caraṇapālī

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Webu and U Ba Khin: An Extraordinary Friendship

Much has been written about the special Dhamma relationship between Sayagyi U Ba Khin and Webu Sayadaw. Here is Gustaaf Houtman's take on it:

"Nonetheless, good meditation teachers establish credibility with their pupils by demonstrating their knowledge of the scriptures. 
But U Ba Khin, whose Buddhist knowledge was primarily based on self-taught experience, needed to have his competence in scriptural learning confirmed by third parties, mainly by monks. U Ba Khin's knowledge of scriptural learning was established indirectly from famous learned monks such as the Webu Sayadaw and others, who appear every once in a while in the hagiography to sanction U Ba Khin's teachings as correct. His work `Scriptural learning is the basis of practice' recorded Webu Sayadaw's teachings, and visiting famous monks (in particular Webu Sayadaw himself) sanctioned it; this helped confirm U Ba Khin's teachings as scripturally correct. Above all, however, U Ba Khin's quality of scriptural learning was borrowed from his teacher lineage, the practice side of a lineage combining scriptural learning and practice earlier on. So though U Ba Khin advocated meditation as a layman for laymen, the monk was crucial to the U Ba Khin life as described in the hagiography; he sought permission to teach from monks, for his funeral monk's advice was sought, and so on."

Stay tuned for the upcoming Shwe Lan Ga Lay Part 2, the meditator's guide to Burma, in which we discuss the relationship and influences of these two great men in extraordinary detail, and how this affected the worldwide transmission of the Dhamma. 

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Cetana Village

In 2012 Sayadaw U Uttamasāra established Cetana Village ( Saytanar, the Burmese pronunciation of this Pāli word, is more commonly used at Thabarwa Center.

In Pāli, cetanā means “intention” or “mental volition,” but in Burmese the term largely carries a wholly positive meaning, and when referring to the neutral or negative implications of cetanā, other terms are used instead. Therefore Saytanar village is commonly translated to English as Goodwill or Mercy Village.) on about sixty acres of land, about fifteen minutes’ walk from the monastery. The story behind it is a bittersweet tale that eventually comes full circle through the power of the Dhamma. The indigent village residents petitioned the sayadaw to purchase their village land; with that money, they planned to make a go of it elsewhere. But many of them found that the cost of land and rent was prohibitive wherever they looked, and so, unable to move, they ended up requesting to stay on in the village that they had only recently sold. In response, the sayadaw created 225-square-foot (15 x 15) parcels, which he gave out free to those families, and continues to offer to others in need. To qualify, no proof of indigency is required. Applicants must simply pledge to fulfil one, unmonitored condition: to meditate for seven continuous days at the monastery. About 15,000 people from 3,000 families now live in Cetana Village, and there’s now a meditation hall, schools serving 800 children with a volunteer staff, a market, public toilets and several hand-pump water wells.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Cholera and Dhamma

Cholera has long been one of the world’s most feared diseases. Especially in close unsanitary conditions, it spreads very rapidly, and can kill a healthy person in as little as three hours if left untreated (though more commonly it takes one or two days). Even today, around the globe, about 100,000 people die annually by this disease, according to the World Health Organization; before the advent of modern medicine, it was even more of a scourge.

Emanating from the Ganges Delta, cholera was endemic in Burma from at least the early 19th century. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, about 6,000 Burmese died from cholera annually, in particular along the country’s various watercourses. (From "Disease and Demography in Colonial Burma" by J. Richell) In those days, there was little in the way of infrastructure separating drinking water from sewage, especially in the countryside, and consequently cholera took its heaviest toll during the monsoon months when rain and flooding worsened the already unsanitary conditions.

Jumping forward to today, and to an enterprising foreign yogi, Jochen Meissner, (Meissner is the owner of Uncharted Horizens Myanmar, an organization that arranges bike trips in the area ( who carries out various volunteer projects in the more impoverished parts of Dalla. One of these as been the donation of three Life Straw purification systems that filter twenty-four liters of water per hour. His wholesome deed of providing clean drinking water evokes the area’s suffering of over a century ago. Of course, cholera was what led to the tragedy of Saya Thet Gyi losing his daughter and ultimately dedicating himself to the Dhamma…which eventually led to his student Sayagyi U Ba Khin learning the practice and setting up International Meditation Centre…which led eventually to Meissner himself becoming an IMC student in Austria…and now this student in the U Ba Khin tradition completes the circle by giving the gift of that clean water back to that community.