Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The wisdom of Maha Gandayone Sayadaw

In this time of religious strife in Myanmar, the following words from the great 20th century monk Maha Gandayone U Janaka are worth remembering:

"If you don’t have enough intelligence you will probably be exposed to religious fames even in such clean and clear religion as Buddhism."

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Passing of Sayadaw U Lakkhana

The view of the river from Kyaswa Monastery

The organization Hawaii Vipassana has shared the following post concerning the passing away of the Venerable Sayadaw U Lakkhana. They also share the future of their Metta Dana project in the Sagaing Hills, as well as information about the annual January retreat held at Kyaswa Monastery.

In their words, "The most venerable Sayadaw U Lakkhana was an important teacher, collaborator, and friend and we will miss him very dearly. He offered a uniquely powerful voice of Dhamma rooted in kindness and compassion. His impacts on the world were many. We are profoundly grateful to him for the consistent spirit of generosity and kindness that he brought to all of his teachings."

View of Kyaswa Monastery

The following is an excerpt of Kyaswa from the upcoming Shwe Lan guidebook:

Kyaswa is a 650-year-old monastery set by the river on the foothills of Sagaing, one of many precious sites to be found in the area. It is easily identifiable when one has ascended the Hills and is looking eastward, for its multi-colored cylindrical tin roofs almost resemble circus tent tops from a distance. The monastery compound takes advantage of the slight hilly terrain by tucking away many kutis and walking paths throughout its land, allowing yogis a sense of seclusion while never being very far away. There is also an old cave for meditation that is over one hundred years old, and it is said the previous Sayadaw took the vow of bodhisatta. And by cutting into the limestone hills that rise above the Ayeyarwaddy River, it has made even more room available that monks and yogis may make use of. As is customary, the Dhamma Hall is located at the highest spot on the compound, overlooking the river towards Mandalay and the Shan Plateau beyond. At its lower entrance, one walks down brick stairs past the guarding chinthes to watch the pleasant Ayeyarwaddy River flow along the service road.

Entrance to the cave

Inside the cave

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Full Scholarship for Golden Dhamma Pilgrimage

During the 2013 pilgrimage, pilgrims met Burmese college students reciting suttas at Thanboddhay Monastery near Monywa

Compassionate Travels Myanmar (CTM) is offering extended pilgrimages for students in the tradition of S.N Goenka, as well as those interested in the wider aspects of the Burmese Dhamma. The two pilgrimages that CTM offered last year provided many foreign meditators with a precious opportunity to visit and experience some of the most sacred sites to be found in the Golden Land, many from within the lineage of S.N. Goenka. 

Pilgrims were deeply moved by their experiences-- some spoke of how "the beauty of Burmese life is hard to qualify" while others declared firmly that "the benefits should not be overlooked." Still others were so profoundly touched that they themselves ordained and took on robes, such as one American at Shwe Kyin Monastery, and a New Zealander in Ingyinbin.

As one meditator read about these inspiring stories from a distance, he wished to give something so that others may continue to experience such transformative experiences and bring the tales of Burmese Dhamma to inspire their home meditative community. Although CTM has endeavored to keep the costs as low as possible to allow this opportunity to be open to all, the rising tourist costs in Myanmar as the country opens has meant that some may not be able to afford the price. With this in mind, while not being wealthy himself, the donor has expressed a wish to offer a full scholarship to the Golden Dhamma track, a scholarship amounting to $1,650. The pilgrimage runs two weeks, from December 10-23, 2014. Please note that the scholarship is for pilgrimage tuition only, and it is expected that the pilgrim has the means to take care of his/her own travel, visa, and other logistical needs on their own.

There are just two conditions the donor has requested to include, and applicants should carefully read to ensure they meet the qualifications. For all those who apply, please copy and paste and following passage, and write one's full name to stand as one's signature.

"I acknowledge that I have never been on a Buddhist pilgrimage before in any country. I also understand that these funds are intended for someone who does not otherwise have the funds to join the pilgrimage."

To those interested pilgrims who meet the qualifications, you are invited to submit your name to info@compassionatetravelsmyanmar.com before 11:59PM (23:59) Myanmar Standard Time (MST) on September 30th, 2014. The randomly chosen applicant will be contacted immediately once the deadline closes to all applicants who have entered into the drawing, and once the drawing is completed. 

Finally, if other meditators would similarly like to give dana for such a meritorious purpose, please send an email to info@compassionatetravelsmyanmar.com

Pilgrims had the opportunity to engage in a translated Dhamma discussion with this forest monk in Hmawbi

Friday, 1 August 2014

Winter 2014 Pilgrimage Scholarship!

Meditators from around the world join a morning group sitting in Mandalay

For the second year in a row, Compassionate Travels Myanmar (CTM) will offer an extended pilgrimage for students in the tradition of S.N Goenka, as well as those interested in the wider aspects of the Burmese Dhamma. The two pilgrimages offered last year provided over 40 meditators from around the world with a precious opportunity to visit and experience some of the most sacred sites to be found in the Golden Land. The pilgrimages are led by guides who have spent the last several years intensively researching the history and context of these places, providing rich commentary and historical background that is not available elsewhere.

Although CTM has endeavored to keep the costs as low as possible to allow this opportunity to be open to all, the rising tourist costs in Myanmar as the country opens has meant that some may not be able to afford the price. With this in mind, one anonymous meditator has expressed his desire to provide a scholarship to cover the tuition of one pilgrim, so that he or she may be able to enjoy this unique opportunity. The donor requests that applicants only apply for the scholarship if their financial means legitimately do not allow them to attend by themselves. The donor is not singularly wealthy, but is making this remarkably generous donation out of his volition that others with less may avail themselves of such a life-changing opportunity.

Later this week, the full details of the scholarship will be made public, and at this time CTM invites any interested pilgrims who meet the qualifications to submit their name. If other meditators would similarly like to give dana for such a wholesome purpose, please send an email here.

*** Update: complete information on the scholarship can now be found here***

Four pilgrims pose at Ingyinbin, birthplace of Webu Sayadaw, prior to making merit by presenting offerings to the local Sangha

Pilgrims sit on the Western steps at Shwedagon Pagoda as a guide shows a marble tile that the family of Saya Thet Gyi donated in the early 20th century

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