Thursday, 31 July 2014

"S.N. Goenka: His Life His Dhamma" Complete

This float carried the final remains of S.N. Goenka from the Yangon airport to Dhamma Joti

U Min Chit Thu spent the better part of a decade completing his oeuvre on the life of the great lay meditation teacher S.N. Goenka. Although it has not yet been released outside of Myanmar, he personally has given this blog permission to share his work with the greater world, for all to better appreciate the life of Goenkaji. U Min Chit Thu also decided to share as he has made the documentary not for personal fame or profit, but to inspire a generation of meditators. Currently a project is underway to provide English subtitles. Until then, according to U Min Chit Thu's generous permission, we share the complete four parts here:


A close up of the vessel containing the final remains of S.N. Goenka. It was later scattered among three places along the Ayeyarwaddy River

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Caretaker monk of Ledi #1 cave in Monywa




Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda features two caves. One is where Ledi Sayadaw spent much of the period from 1900-1902 in meditation at night, after studying and teaching throughout the day. It was to this more secluded pagoda that he retreated from the increasingly busy Maha Ledi Monastery. In those days, carnivorous animals and poisonous snakes were common, and if the villagers were to be believed, ghosts and other hideous creatures as well. Still, the venerable monk was not entirely separated from human contact, as he continued his teaching duties and went on to write and publish several more books that were composed while he dwelt in these caves. Biographer Erik Braun also writes, “It is during this time that he began to formulate through his texts a vision of meditation that would be appropriate on a mass scale…his presentation of meditation to lay people… [was] a practice that did not require any jhāna cultivation at all.” 

Past the main pagoda stupa, keep walking towards the field beyond, where you will soon see a red sign indicating the two Ledi caves, one to the right and one to the left. The more relevant cave is to the left, being the one where Ledi spent most of his time. An elder monk acts as the caretaker, and he has been here for twenty years. The cave is well ventilated and filled with natural light, and is a comfortable place for meditation. It can fit perhaps six to eight people comfortably. Several golden Buddha statues are inside, as well as an image of Ledi in sitting mediation to the left. Due to the high pilgrimage traffic, it’s not recommended to plan to sit here for longer than an hour or two, as there may be a fair amount of comings and goings and accompanying chatter.

Young Burmese nuns show their learning of the Buddha's teachings




"A few weeks later I arrived to Yangon, and next day I became a nun. The first few days I felt like I was in a movie or dreaming. Everything it was so amazing, so different and special. Just astonishing!

After 2,500 years, my life was now very similar to the life found at the time of the Buddha. I found incredible that they were able of keeping this purity here in Myanmar: the monks going for alms-round in a silent line at dawn, the offerings of people, the celebrations in full moon, the evening chantings, the sound of the gong..."

--Daw Uttara, Spanish nun

Sunday, 27 July 2014

"Suffering..."

Although the translations are not perfect, this beautiful Thai cartoon is on the subject of seeing-- and letting go of-- one's most heinous defilements. 

Brahma Vihara in Pyin Oo Lwin

A young novice and monk in rural Burma


This center is overseen by Sayalay Dipankara, who began her own meditation practice while at a very young age, before receiving any instructions from a teacher. She studied Abhidhamma and learned samatha and vipassana from Pa Auk Sayadaw, ordaining as a nun in 1990. She became a meditation teacher shortly thereafter, and according to her website, can teach “any of the 40 Kamatthana as mentioned in the Visuddhi Magga e.g. Anapanasati, Four Elements Meditation, Metta, Buddhanussati, Asubha, Marananussati and 8 Samapatti (1st Jhana to 8th Jhana), Kasina, etc and the Vipassana Meditation.” Some of her dhamma talks have also been recorded and are available online for download. She speaks very good English, and foreign yogis who have learned under her are especially inspired by her example. One German nun noted that the teacher herself would wake up at 4 am to help cook for the entire center!
 
Saylay Dipankara’s meditation center may be more well-known among foreign yogis from Asian countries than in the West. While many nuns and laypeople practice here, monks are not allowed due to vinaya rules (i.e., they are not permitted to study meditation under the instruction of a woman), despite many who have wanted to attend. She regularly travels as well, conducting meditation retreats throughout Asia and the West.

Today, there is an annual course open for foreigners that usually lasts between 4-8 weeks, and one can register online (although they usually fill up within just a few days of being announced). More courses for foreign students may be held in the future, so those interested are encouraged to periodically visit her updated website. The center has a beautiful Dhamma Hall, and private bungalows for yogis.

The grounds themselves are quite lush, with wildflowers stretching across vast green lawns interspersed with pine trees. All the buildings are quite modern, and constructed in a Western style, some looking as though they were brought over from Europe.


A young villager honors the Sangha

The Sushi Master and the Sayadaw

Novice monks have their head shaved at a Mandalay monastery

“In Japan, there are a lot of sushi restaurants. The style of preparing sushi varies from one sushi master to the next. Every sushi master thinks that his own way of preparation is correct and all the other ways are wrong. Therefore when a sushi master meets another sushi master, they fight. Since sushi master always carries a knife for fish, when they fight they stab each other. Because of that in the prison in Japan is full of sushi masters.

In Burma, there are a lot of meditation centers. The way of meditation varies from master to master. Some master thinks that his own approach is correct and all the other ways are wrong. Therefore when a meditation master meets another meditation master, they fight. Because of that in the prison in Myanmar… (just a joke)

At first, I went to Chan Myay Monastery. Here I was taught to observe the arising and passing away of breath. Thoughts also arise and pass away; body sensation arises and passes away; taste also arises and passes away; I was told to see all mind and body feelings as “impermanence.” Especially the pain of the feet, I was told to observe it carefully. I was told to again and again persistently. I was told that the pain of the feet was “Heaven’s Door”. But I did not understand why the pain of the feet is important. So I did not observe it at all.

After a while, another Japanese yogi came. This person followed the instruction of the master and observed the pain of the feet. Then he became one with the pain and entered jhāna. And he said he has seen the energy of the origin of all things. Three months later, he had an even more awesome experience, he attained insight knowledge, and the master told him that there is nothing more that he can teach him. So he “graduated” from the monastery. Seeing that, I understood very well the reason to observe the pain of the feet. From then on I seriously observed the pain of the feet continuously. Years after years I continued. Nevertheless, I could not enter jhāna, and I didn’t want to observe the pain of the feet anymore.

Next, I went to Mahasi Monastery. In the beginning I reported to the master what I had been doing continuously at Chan Myay, and he seemed to be offended. He said, “However much you observe the arising and passing away, if you don’t have a concentration strong enough to perceive lights, it’s not good enough.” Meaning that what I had been doing in Chan Myay was all a waste. Then the master instructed me a method called “Aditana.” Aditana means first to make a wish to enter a state where “nama” and “rupa” disappeared before meditation. I thought it didn't sound logical to enter jhānajust by making a wish so I didn’t really practice seriously.

After a while, another Japanese yogi came. This person followed the instruction of the master, since he seriously practiced aditana soon he entered the state where nama and rupa disappeared, in other words jhāna. In the beginning he stayed in jhāna for ten minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, slowly he could stay in jhāna for longer and longer periods, after two months he could stay in jhāna for two hours and after three months he had an even more awesome experience, in this way he “graduated” from the meditation center. Seeing that again I practiced aditana seriously, but I could not enter jhāna. However much I practiced, I could not enter jhāna, and I didn’t want to aim for jhāna anymore.

That’s why this time I went to Shwe Oo Min Monastery, where mindfulness meditation is practiced. Here jhāna is not an end—just be aware of what one is doing throughout the day. For me, when I meet people I become nervous, so I observed that. When I am nervous the body becomes stiff. When I am relaxed, the body becomes soft. When I am nervous the movements become cumbersome and when I am relaxed the movements become sharp. When I am greedy the movements become fast, and when I am angry the movements become rough and violent. It became interesting to observe all these throughout the day.

I started to understand well things that I didn’t understand about myself. While being mindful of different kinds of things steadily, the meditation is progressing. Although I could not enter jhāna I think I can master the method of mindfulness meditation. Although result cannot be attained in three months, I thought this method suits me best.

Just as different people prefer different sushi, there are meditation methods that suit different people. Therefore, I believe that it is important to choose a practice that suits oneself. Let’s leave the fight to sushi masters and eat the best sushi that one likes.”

--Japanese cartoonist, aged 50


Two monks and a friend tour a pagoda

Friday, 25 July 2014

Nuns in Burma



Progress on the Meditator Guidebook to Burma continues. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the the section describing nuns in Burma:

In the 20th century, several attempts by well-respected Burmese monks were made to formally reinstate the bhikkhuni order in Myanmar, but none were successful. U Adicca first tried in the 1930s. The monk used a creative strategy to make his case. When the first 500 bhikkhunis were ordained by the Buddha, they were asked the essential questions demanded by protocol by senior monks. But when increasing numbers of women came to ordain later on, there was a concern that some of these questions were of a private nature, and it was more appropriate for bhikkhunis to question them. The Buddha thus made a new ruling that these questions were to be administered by bhikkhunis, rather than the senior monks. In most cases, when the Buddha gave a new ruling, he explicitly voided the previous ruling. But in this case, he did not do so. A primary reason for not being able to establish a bhikkhuni order in modern times is related to this second ruling: if only bhikkhunis can ordain women, and there are no bhikkhunis remaining, then it follows that no new ones may be recognized. The line is broken. However, U Addica argued that because the Buddha never explicitly canceled the initial rule in which monks played the role of questioner, then contemporary Burmese monks may be able to play this role today still today. However, his attempt was not accepted by others in the Order.

Later, the Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw U Narada (the teacher of Mahasi Sayadaw) attempted again in the 1950s, with the consequence being censured and the banning of some of his works. The Burmese government itself advocated a “Bhikkhuni Sasana” in the 1970s, but this also did not turn out. Theravadin efforts to re-establish the bhikkhuni order can be found outside of Burma as well. In 2007, a pan-Buddhist meeting called the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha convened to find a way to encourage world-wide legitimacy of the bhikkhuni order in all Buddhist traditions, a move favored by the current Dalai Lama. Then, in 2009, Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso, an English monk in the Thai tradition who resides in Australia, ordained four women in Perth, for which he was removed from the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha lineage tradition. 

There was one well-known case from the 1980s in which a famous Burmese nun went to Sri Lanka to ordain as a full bhikkhuni. (Sri Lanka has a recognized bhikkhuni order that comes from the Theravadin sect Dharmaguptika, whereas in Burma it is traced to Vibhajjavada. Towards the end of the 20th century, an international bhikkhuni ordination took place in India, conducted by various monks from around the world, and ordaining Dharmaguptika bhikkhunis into the Vibhajjavada order, based on an argument put forward by Bhikkhu Bodhi.)  Before doing so, she sent a letter stating her intentions to the Burmese State Sangha, who responded that this was, in their opinion, not in accordance with Burmese Buddhism. When she returned to Myanmar on a visit, she was forced to disrobe, which she did. 

One may also read inspiring testimonials by a German nun at Pa Auk, a Japanese-Australian nun in Mandalay, and a Spanish nun deep in the forest.