Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Dhamma Yatra in Burma

Foreign yogis sit in meditation at Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda as a monk chants through a loudspeaker, seated before them

Journal entry by Kory Goldberg after the second day of a Dhamma Yatra in Burma.... (to see how the next yatra turned out on this same day, see here!) You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

The view of Shwedagon from the pilgrims' hotel

"What a privileged life we live! Morning stretching with spectacular dawn views of Shwedagon followed by a traditional Burmese breakfast of stirfried veggies and a fruit platter. i was not alone in the joy that I felt as was clear on the faces of all my companion pilgrims in the Golden Land. our first stop was Dhamma Joti to join the local community for a group sitting in the centre's fabulously charged pagoda. Sharing a cell with three of my companions, I observed the piti arising from a sense of well-being, security and trans-national community that dominated this mind-matter structure. After the session, our group of 23 from seven different countries shared metta with the local yogis, and I was pleasantly surprised to briefly rekindle a connection I had made with a yogi from Pyaw Bwe Gyi eleven years back.

From the Light of Dhamma our group continued onwards to the country's largest and most beautiful reclining Buddha statue at Chotagyi. On the way Snow and Joah showed us how to wear the Burmese pilgrimage uniform composed of a Brown longyi, white shirt, and brown sash. Although I understood intellectually the value of everyone in the group wearing the same thing as a marker of breaking down distinction and creating a group bond, for some reason I didn't really feel comfortable with the standardized attire, especially the sash. nevertheless, I wore the sash at Chotagyi, as did everyone else, and thought to myself this is a great ego destroying practice. As soon as we got off the bus I noticed how everyone's eyes turned on us. While the handful of foreign tourists at the site looked at us as if we were more alien than the culture that they were visiting, the Burmese were all smiles, feeling proud that a group of foreign yogis came to their country to practice the Dhamma and wear specialized local attire to boot. Listening to the monks chant at the temple and feeling the metta coming our way while we meditated and toured the site was precious. Our next stop at Natagyi Pagoda with jewel laden Buddha image wearing royal regalia was equally interesting, providing us with food for thought about the nature of appearance and the ease of projecting erroneous conceptions onto a transient, disatisfying, and impersonal reality. Whatever opinions we form about the unknowable only cause further confusion and suffering.

Next we went to IMC where Goenkaji first learned vipassana. Although we were unable to enter the meditation hall or pagoda because a course was in progress, we were permitted to meditate on a small pavillion just ouside the pagoda. Despite the sounds of nearby construction work and honking cars in the distance, the tranquility in the atmosphere was tangible. Upon opening my eyes after the session and seeing the doors of the pagoda I visualized Sayagyi standing there (as In the photo that many of us have at home). i felt waves of gratitude for what has taken place at this powerfully charged space and felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to experience it first hand. We then continued the journey to the monastery of the recently deceased arahant Pakoku Sayadaw to meditate with and examine his corporeal relics, and also have all of our questions answered about this phenomena of relics (and their multiplication) by two of his disciples-one a radiant bhikkhu and the other a knowledgable and inspiring lay yogini who spoke perfect English. Another rare and fortunate moment in all of our lives.

The Pakkoku relics on display in Yangon

To top off this wonderful late morning, we feasted at a Chinese Buddhist Temple. Never have any of us had so much delicious vegetarian food presented to us. One dish after another kept arriving at the table, each looking and tasting more delectable than the last. Buddhist vegetarianism is a concept and practice that all of the yogis in our group embrace with open arms.

From the lofty spiritual realms we visited all morning, we then descended into the mundane, physical realm of Bogyoke Market. Most of us shopped for ourselves and for our loved ones back home. An exciting moment, but also a little draining as our attention was challenged. Fortunately, our next and final stop was Shwedagon Pagoda. Although we did not have time for a formal sitting practice, simply walking around the sacred monument containing eight of the Buddha's hair relics recharged our batteries. Snow guided us through various nooks and crannies, pointing out spots that are so evident but so easy to miss amongst the plethora of monuments, statues, paintings, ATM machines, money changers, monks, nuns, yogis, devotees, tourists, security guards and other beings whose presence contributes to the site's power and meaning. Finally, before heading back to the hotel, we stopped in for dinner at a restaurant that had already prepared us a wonderful Burmese vegetarian meal even though we weren't really hungry, allowing us to attune to Burmese sensitivity by practising the avoidance of anar. A great first day to a great first yatra."

To read about Day 2 at Saya Thet Gyi sites, click here!

Pilgrims begin their yatra with a group meditation sitting at Shwedagon Pagoda

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Becoming a Nun in Burma

Two young Burmese nuns with a plant
A foreign nun who has been in robes for six years in Burma has graciously agreed to answer questions for other Western women who wish to ordain. The full discussion will appear in Shwe Lan, and for now we include her responses to two questions:

When I explained to my family my intention of become a nun they didn't understand my decision. I felt tension and guilt and there were tears. It's really difficult. What can I do?

"Usually it is easier for women coming from Buddhist countries, but still many times the family and friends are not ready for this. There are expectations about your life, and the close relationships make the separation difficult. Foreigners most of the times face more difficulties because the lack of knowledge about what is a Buddhist nun. Often some fear arises: they think that maybe you don't come anymore, they don't really trust the place or teacher that you are planning to join, they wonder how you can live without working. Sometimes they think that you are selfish, and that you have taken a decision that will bring suffering to them. Maybe they think that this is just an escape from your responsibilities. Many times one’s family can understand that you want to grow in meditation, but they then wonder, why to become a nun, why go to a distant country? Why you don't remain in your place doing meditation as a lay woman like other people? Sometimes they are afraid that you will be sick in short time if you don't take any food after noon. I feel fortunate because I met one family of a Western nun who came to visit her in Myanmar. I asked them for advice when explaining to my family. The main thing that they said it was: 'keep in mind always that to accept your decision is a process for them: they need time.' To follow this had been really helpful."

You said that you made decision to become a nun following your intuition inside more than your thinking process. Please, can you explain me a little more about this?

"When my teacher of Pali suggested me to become a nun, the first reaction was to say: 'No! I am not ready for this. I don't have enough purity for this kind of life!'. I was quite sure, because all my defilements were so clear in my mind. I felt dirty. But the fact is that when we talked a seed was planted. There were many reasons to continue on with the plans I had for life in Europe when I was to return. Intellectually it seemed that it was better to just forget about nun's life. But deep inside I had the feeling/intuition that this was the next step for me in Dhamma. Like other times in my life, as soon as I made decision of follow the intuition all doors were open. So much support, unexpected help came and in short time I was in Myanmar ordained as a nun."

Friday, 20 December 2013

Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Dhammic Buffet in Burma

“One of the most remarkable things I’ve found is how the people here seem to talk about monks, monasteries, meditation techniques, and Buddhist suttas— that is, about Dhamma— with a similar passion as you find people in other countries talking about sports or politics. Everyone has an opinion on the matter and many seem to feel there is nothing better to discuss than this. Now knowing a little Burmese, I can also join such conversations, and I have found myself in discussions with waiters, taxi drivers, and hotel clerks in which we discuss the nuances and benefits the Buddha’s teachings.

A common topic is to discuss the best way to follow these teachings. For example, some may feel that mettā should always come before any formal sitting, while others feel it is best for it to come after; still others think that there is no need to send mettā intentionally as it will come naturally as one develops, and for some, the whole of their practice is mettā. Some work with the mind focusing on the breath as it touches below the nostril and above the upper lip, others on the rise and fall of the abdomen, others on the mental contents, while others share that their practice is not so much on any particular object but rather to observe the awareness itself. There is such flexibility in how one is following the Noble Eightfold Path, and different Sayadaws and meditation teachers emphasize different aspects, with yogis able to select a path that seems suitable and effective for their own individual background and preference. And many yogis and monks gain benefit by learning from several different traditions, since really, they are all teaching with the same end goal in mind. And, everyone here seems to enjoy nothing more than sharing their own way of practicing the Buddha’s teachings, and learning what others are doing.

This point was driven home to me when myself and four other foreign friends were invited to the home of a Burmese family for lunch. The entire family had practiced Mogok all their life, and at present they were engaged in a project with Chan Myay Yeiktha. The five of us foreigners (two European, one American, one Asian, one Latin American) had all initially found Dhamma through U Goenka courses in our home countries. Now, three were in robes, two were Shwe Oo Min practitioners, one had just spent two years at Pa Auk and another three years in solitude in the forest. Also invited was a Burmese family who were disciples of The Phyu Sayadaw.

After lunch we went to visit a monastery overseen by the disciple of Maha Bodhi Sayadaw, who himself seemed to practice by integrating a Pa Auk approach. And all day long we talked of Dhamma. While the The Phyu meditators shared how valuable it was to sit for long hours without moving, the Shwe Oo Min yogis talked about applying awareness in every moment, and the Pa Auk monk discussed the developing of nimitta.

It was a general devotion to the Buddha and his teachings that bound our group that day, and on this point there was overwhelming coherence and agreement, all bowing to the same monk and statue whenever the opportunity presented itself. We discussed Abhidhamma theory and the joy of performing meritorious deeds.

While such dhammic communities may exist within a single tradition in other countries, what I have come to love about Burma is that one finds this throughout the very society, and across traditions. People here seem to understand that just as the Buddha taught in different ways to different people, so also we can apply the teachings according to our style and preferences. Walk the Path we must, but there are different ways to advance upon it. We are going to the same place and speaking the same language, but there are different ways to get there.”

--Western Yogi in Burma

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Five Years After Cyclone Nargis: A Reminiscence

The following is from an anonymous Burmese meditator:

"Meeting after 5 and a half years, To the Door of Light to be continued………..

Today at the middle of Inle Lake, at a restaurant I met with a girl whom I served at 2008 Cyclone Nargis was storming in Myanmar. We recalled our thoughts and memories. I have to say this will be one of my unforgettable moment of my life and also hers.

When she took her first ten days course at Dhamma Joti at 2008 April-May she was only a young girl in her late teenage years. Even though she was young her dedication to meditate was so strong. At this historic and unforgettable course, I was served as a course manager for 10 days Vipassana meditation course as taught by S.N Goenka and she was a one of 108 female meditators.

The Cyclone Nargis hit Yangon on early 3rd May morning. We did our usual procedures even the strong winds is distracting and trying to fall down age old trees in our meditation center. Meditators are meditating in Dhamma Hall, I felt really worried how I have to overcome this situation. All of us have no idea of what is happening outside, how big and dangerous this storm will be and announcements from Myanmar Radio or T.V as we were totally cut off from outside news. After sitting for 2 hours at 6:30 a.m. it was the time for breakfast. I known well that the dining hall is situated at a lower level and there are no big trees around, so it can be safer than the Dhamma Hall (which itself is surrounded by big trees). Moreover, the kitchen team was ready with preparations for breakfast, I still remember they were preparing "Milk Noodles", a dish that I will never forget in my life. But trees fell down on the covered walkway. We could not use this walk way so I had a decision to make. That is to cross in open air with stormy winds of 100 miles per hour (I learned how fast they were moving only later), or to remain there. I tried to find a way out first. Before doing all these things, I dedicated my life and body for the benefit and safety of all meditators. As a Buddhist we offer our life to Buddha and I thought if I have to be die to help all these meditators, let my life be, because I know well with this strong wind, rain and falling tress and flying roofs came I can die at any moment. But I was not afraid.

I personally led the first group to run from Dhamma hall to dining hall with 5 of youngest meditators as a test run. She was the one in this group. She voluntarily came into our choice. We reached there safely. So all the meditators followed us group by group until all were safe. We took our meal and started helping the kitchen workers, standing on the floor with water came in, rain water pouring in from the windows, we just kept cutting veggies and helping meditators to feel safe and shining lasers to keep the crows away. Helped some to go to nearby toilet, water came into the entrance, creatures crawl in, crows still away. We have 8 Dhamma Servers and all of us are like sisters for many years even passed.

Cyclone stopped around 12 noon and many people would like to go back home. Some were allowed to go back because of the dire situation. Now we had to share our bed, our clothes and water. This one girl is so young, her parents are worried and asked her to come back home three times. Her decision is so strong and sharp. She told her mum “no”, I would like to finish my course at first time. But her father kept insisting her mum to bring her back. But even though she is in her 16 she says she will stay. Her mum was in difficult situation. At last we asked permission from teacher to write her father to inform him she really want to finish her course before she go outside from Myanmar to do further studies and scholarship. She is from a well-off family and well-educated young girl. She stayed at Dhamma Joti for the remaining part of the course, when there was no running water and we had to get it from well by hand and pull it with buckets, no electricity and not even any candles for some time, with one room being shared by 4 people- double the usual amount, and a center filled with fallen trees and rubbish. But main thing I will never forget is their acknowledgement. Those volunteer Dhamma servers are serving for us and are the very reason why we can meditate and try hard, and work more diligently. After the cyclone Nargis hit, we have to move to the downstairs of the dhamma hall because upper hall is impossible to use. But the momentum of the course changed. We can see and notice everybody tried hard and no one complained. Some of the Dhamma servers I met again, they told their experience with great memory. When I have a chance to meet with my old meditators of this course, they told me this is the course they will never forget. Today her mother recalled how persistant her daughter was at that time not to stop her course. I feel so happy and my heart is warmly touched to see her again, and see how she is developed and grow up. Now she become a second year student at Singapore studying Bio Chemistry Medicine, such a real scholar. But she still remember her time at Dhamma Joti and shared this website.

I didn’t expected Cyclone Nargis to change my life so strongly. But with my amazement, it also changed my life stream. Before this event, I did only donation with my own saving but after this Cyclone Nargis to help more efficiently and effectively, I founded a new service and charity organization and can helped thousands of people. Unbelievable moment."

Monday, 9 December 2013

A Forest Nun in Burma

The following words are from a foreign Buddhist nun who lived in seclusion for three years in northern Myanmar, ardently following the Buddha's teachings and practicing serious meditation in the total silence of the forest. The following excerpt is part of a longer description she has written about her experience for the upcoming guide of Shwe Lan.

"When entering the Forest, the first thing that impressed me it was the deafening noise. I have been in many forests and mountains but everywhere it was silent in comparison with this. It was the full moon of April and all animals seemed to be out to celebrate the summer with loud voices. For months I had wished to go here, but it was not easy do to so as a nun. Eventually one day, unexpectedly, everything it was arranged in just a few hours. 
Huge trees, high and straight. We arrived at the place when it was already night. One kuti was made of wood and bamboo, and there was one latrine and a wooden ground area. This was all. I was not discouraged but firmly decided to stay there as long as possible.
At first I was dwelling alone in an open wood tent at the top of the mountain, where it took twenty minutes to trek from the common areas. There was not latrine here for some time, and “showers” could be had when one very kind local woman brought a fresh towel along with the daily food she offered me. Even when it was rainy, or old in winter, or when illness came, the woman never failed to arrive. Her generosity was beyond words.
During my childhood, and also later, I was afraid of being alone in isolated places. Perhaps there was some infantile fear of ghosts. But during this time I felt happy, really happy… there was a big freedom. Later I came to learn that local Burmese believed that many unfriendly ghosts were in fact in this area, and intentionally avoided it for this reason.
Besides for a necessary visa trip, I spent the following three years living full time in this forest. Most of the time I was totally in silence, only doing meditation in solitude… fascinated by the wild life there… enjoying the incomparable brightness of the stars at night.
Later, during some months I was in a little open bamboo hut. When the rain started it was necessary to use the umbrella to protect me and my bag. It was at this time that I was offered a real bamboo kuti and a "luxurious" bathroom. Of course there was still no electricity or running water, but I now had a roof and walls! Still, some times in summer the water for shower was more similar to mud than to water.
The energy in the forest it was extremely pure and fresh. Gradually I came to learn about all the beings sharing this place with me, such as noisy monkeys, big snakes, all kinds of ants, squirrels, precious birds, owls, first year wild elephants, and even tigers.
The rainy season was long—nearly six months and so much rain came that the all the roads became inaccessible. The winter really cold, and often it was entirely without proper shelter, and sometimes the best one could hope for was a fire during the night.
During the first year, the food was mostly rice and red beans for breakfast, but the warmth of the local villagers who gave love in cooking and offering this every day made it delicious to to me.
The forest is in a malaria area, and twice I became sick, the last time becoming really weak. The care, warmth, and kindness that I received at this time was far away higher than the huge trees.
The last night in the forest, many of the Dhamma workers came to my kuti and one translated the following: "When one person who has engaged in deep meditation leaves a particular place, it is good to give thanks to all of the beings that have watched over and offered their protection.”
They then started lighting hundreds of little candles and incense upstairs (where I used to meditate), downstairs (where everyday they brought food and offerings for me), around the kuti (where I walked daily), near the flowers (that with deep love they had planted for me), and under all the many trees surrounding the area.
First in silence and later with soft Burmese chanting the area became full of lights, delicious smells and so much love.
Deeply touching.

Some tears arose to my eyes and immense gratitude in the heart.”

Monday, 2 December 2013

Preparing for U Goenka's ashes upon Yangon River

This video shows scenes from Dhamma Joti in Yangon, on the night before U Goenka's ashes were scattered by special barge upon Yangon River, November 8th. One can see the care and respect given by many local meditators in honoring the great meditation teacher. One can also view the video here.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Arrival of U Goenka's final remains to Myanmar

The following procession formally brought the final remains of S.N. Goenka from the Mingaladon Airport to Dhamma Joti.

A close up of the urn in which the final remains were placed

The vehicle which transported the final remains

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Scattering of Ashes of S.N. Goenka in the Ayeyarwaddy River

The final remains of S.N. Goenka were brought back to his birthland of Burma in October, to be scattered in three places along the Ayeyarwaddy: Yangon, Mandalay, and Myitkyina. Photos of the Yangon and Mandalay ceremonies are shown below.

October 8: the boat that scattered the ashes of S.N. Goenka in the Ayeyarwaddy River just outside of Yangon

Yogis meditate on the Mandalay barge along the Ayeyarwaddy before the final remains of U Goenka, prior to their scattering

A close-up of the final remains

Friday, 22 November 2013

Arrival of S.N. Goenka's Remains in Mandalay

On October 10, U Goenka's remains were ceremoniously brought to Mandalay. They were then driven in a procession to Dhamma Mandapa, located in the downtown area. Following are photographs that show this event.

 The vehicle that carried the ashes is gilded to look like a golden duck, shown arriving at the center
A photograph of the women's side of the Dhamma Hall. Burmese nuns meditate in the front row, while lay yogis (wearing the brown and white thawbet) meditate behind them.

Men sit meditating in the front of the Dhamma Hall

A senior assistant teacher from the center speaks to local news crews

S.N. Goenka's good friend Sitagu Sayadaw was charged with the scattering of the ashes.

Monks gather before a a large photo of S.N. Goenka covered in garlands. The photo was taken by Snow Aye in Mumbai.

The ashes of S.N. Goenka comes to Dhamma Joti

On October 7, 2013, the ashes of S.N. Goenka were ceremoniously brought from Mumbai to Yangon, and a portion were brought to Dhamma Joti for awaiting pilgrims. Below are photos of the event.

Yogis before the ashes, enshrined in a glass case

The Dhamma Hall at Dhamma Joti

Female pilgrims work on the garlands for the event.

Flowers are prepared for the arrival of Goenkaji's ashes

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Curious plaque at Chan Myay Myaing Monastery in Yangon

Sima Hall at Chan Myay Myaing Monastery in Yangon

Chan Mya Myaing Monastery in Mingaladon, Yangon, has a curious lead sponsor engraved in stone outside of their Sima Hall. A story waiting to be told, perhaps...

Every Opportunity, a Moment for Awareness!

From Shwe Oo Min Monastery

Meditators at Shwe Oo Min Monastery are taught to be mindful throughout the days, in all activities. To help remind them in their task, this poster is hung outside the men's toilets.

Sitagu Academy in Sagaing

Department of Meditation at Sitagu Academy

“In other countries, I saw many academies, for example, navy academy, air-force academy, military academy, defense academy, etc. In the world today, in the Buddhist world also, we must establish Buddhist academy. In this Buddhist academy we are teaching Theravada Buddhist Scriptures…. In our academy we founded the department of Vinaya, codes of Discipline, department of Suttanta, discourses, department of Abhidhamma, Buddhist Philosophy, department of Missionary and Religion, comparative study of religions, most important department is the department of Meditation… Our Sitagu International Buddhist Academy is teaching, learning, training, practicing to realize ‘what I am, where I am, what I have to do.’ These three main points are very important to understand. This is called right understanding, to convert from evil to noble. Therefore, Dhamma is the mighty technique to solve the problems of mankind…. What we are now doing is establishing of the academy, Buddhist Academy, we invite all of the Buddhist students from various countries, and different faiths to come gather and together to learn, to practice, and to train our wicked mind to be noble and to turn a new leaf of our life from evil to noble…. May all of you be peaceful! May all of you be happy! May all of you be successful in any attempts for all of the nations!” 

Excerpt of a speech given by Sayadaw U Nyanissara on May 9th 2013 for the occasion of an inauguration of a new Yangon campus.

Sitagu Academy in Sagaing, at sunset

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

"Was Goenka a Guru?"

This article in the Huffington Post by Jay Michaelson looks at U Goenka's place the context of teaching meditation to lay people.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Shwe Oo Min Monastery Pindapat Alms Round

The monks at Shwe Oo Min start their morning alms walk within the monastery compound, where they are served by lay supporters and nuns. They walk for a further one hour throughout the local village before returning.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Long Ago Sayadaws of the Sagaing Hills

One of Shwe Lan's volunteer artists made this illustration of a stone walkway deep in the forested Sagaing Hills 
The Taung Lai Lon Sayadaw was one of many deeply revered monks who came to live in the Sagaing Hills. Born in 1726, his monk name refers “four mountains,” and he was also known as the Satu Giri Sayadaw, which has an identical meaning in Pali. He was highly venerated by King Bodawpaya, and he wrote books specifically at the request of the king as well as his younger brother. He was also a prolific writer, and as Ledi Sayadaw would do many years later with the term dipani, the Taung Lai Lon Sayadaw applied the words “Shu Bwe” at the end of many of his titles. This can be translated as meaning “to read” or “to look”, and they were unique in that they were written in Burmese rather than Pali, allowing for a broader lay audience. He was also said to have written a meditation guide for his father and a book on the ethics of rulers that could be used for the king and other leaders. The great monk was known for never retaining any of the dana or items offered to him for long before passing them to other monks, and he was revered as well for his stainless sila. In his old age, he requested his supporters to make two coffins for him. As they arrived, he got in one to see how it would fit, and promptly passed away once inside. Soon after this event, another monk came and surveyed the scene, noticed the empty coffin, and laid inside, whereupon he too passed away. It was later determined that this was the brother of the Sayadaw, also the brother he had written a book for, and both were later cremated in the coffins.
In his earlier days, the Ngettwin Sayadaw was frequently called on to consult with King Mindon and acted as a tutor to his Chief Queen, and he lived at a large monastery that the queen had constructed for him. However, he became dissatisfied with his life and chose to join the small migration of monks to the Sagaing Hills. Here, he found a place so inaccessible and overgrown with forest that it was known as ngettwin, which can be translated as “cave of birds” or “cave of malaria.” His teachings soon began to gravely challenge the accepted conventions of his day. He felt that meditation was essential to the Buddhist life, and that dana and sila alone were not enough without sati and correct volition. He even criticized the traditional practice of presenting offerings before shrines, as he said this attracted vermin and dirtied a site that should be used primarily for meditation. His emphasis on patipatti practice was especially unique for his day, as he suggested that lay people meditate on Sabbath days and that it should even be a prerequisite prior to any potential ordination. Once one was a full monk, he went on to caution that it was important to spend a large part of the day in meditation practice, and not devote too much time to study alone. As was befitting his own recluse life in the Hills, he also insisted that monks should not reside in any one place longer than a year or two.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mogok Monastery in Taunggyi

Although this Mogok branch is just north of downtown Taunggyi, its compound is slightly set back from the main road, allowing for a secluded atmosphere. Thus, its quiet and spaciousness make it feel further away from the downtown setting than it actually is, and it has many towering trees to its northern side. The center can be reached on foot through pleasant backstreets around the foothills of the mountain. A new dhamma hall was recently built that fits over 500 yogis, which is filled to capacity at Water Festival. It is quite spacious, light, airy. 

There are elaborate paintings and statues towards the front of the hall that one sees after paying respects to Buddha, the Mogok Sayadaw, and current monastery Sayadaw. The monastery has many new sitting cushions, each one inscribed with the name of its donor (they have different colors and patterns to better set them apart).
At present, foreigners are invited to register for Mogok courses but generally aren’t allowed to stay at the center other than when at a course. However, foreign meditators can use the facilities at any time for dhamma practice. With its convenient location and new hall being very conducive to practice, it’s a great place for one-day or half-day self-courses when you find yourself in this "City of Cherry Blossoms." 

Novices in Shan State use a local tractor to get around

Burmese Dogs: A Bark Worse Than Its Bite

A typical wild dog as found in Burma (Myanmar)

Haun lun thay kwe, lu ma lay: “A dog barking all the time will not bite.”

It is helpful to be attuned to canine behavior in Myanmar, especially as dogs usually know when someone unfamiliar enters their territory. If you happen upon a dog sniffing the ground, cowering its head or wagging its tail, these are all good signs that the animal does not pose any threat. However, a stiffened tail, frozen body posture, and alert eyes and head are all signs of possible aggression, though these are often nothing more than a prelude to a threatening bark. Most dogs in Myanmar don’t want to fight, but feel a need to defend their territory. 

If a dog looks like it might be trouble, you have some options of how to respond. Some yogis will menacingly raise their hand as if they are about to throw something—whether you have an object or not doesn’t matter, as many dogs know from experience what this gesture means. Others will walk on in a steady pace ignoring the dog entirely, making a loud clicking noise with the tongue that many Burmese dogs have been conditioned to understand that this is warning them to back off. Others may simply try for mettā. Whatever you do, it is unwise to show fear or uncertainty. If you are staying somewhere for a while, most often the nearby residents will eventually call the dog back, and after several days the dog will realize you are not an unwelcome intruder, and let you be.

However, many of the dogs in Myanmar are happy enough with their monastery leftovers and not looking for any trouble. Harold Fielding noted this more than one hundred years ago in Soul of a People, when he wrote: “Coming from half-starved, over-driven India, it is a revelation to see the animals in Burma. The village ponies and cattle and dogs in India are enough to make the heart bleed for their sordid misery, but in Burma they are a delight to the eye. They are all fat, every one of them— fat and comfortable and impertinent; even the ownerless dogs are well fed.”

While one may have little fear against actual dog bites, avoiding their bark is a much harder task, as one Burmese proverb illustrates. One says Sin paw ga lu kwe haun, meaning “the dog barks at the man on the elephant,” and refers to exerting effort towards something which is not going to be all that effective.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Introducing Burmese Buddhist Opportunities in Thailand

The following article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Look East magazine in Thailand. It is on the subject of Buddhist meditation in Myanmar, and includes references to U Goenka, Shwe Oo Min Monastery, and Chan Myay Myaing Monastery, as well as the Burmese Buddhist travel agency Muditā Works

The article also provides a brief background on Buddhist practice in the country. You can download the entire issue here or here.

Thanboddhay Monastery, located between Mandalay and Monywa in Upper Burma

Friday, 1 November 2013

Burmese Monasteries

One of the pieces of original artworks that was completed by a meditator and will appear in Shwe Lan

“They are most beautiful, many of these monasteries—great buildings of dark-brown teak, weather-stained, with two or three roofs one above the other, and at one end a spire tapering up until it ends in a gilded 'tee.' Many of the monasteries are covered with carving along the façades and up the spires, scroll upon scroll of daintiest design, quaint groups of figures here and there, and on the gateways moulded dragons.” Harold Fielding, Soul of a People 

Monasteries come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes, from giant concrete complexes with hundreds of monks in attendance to teak kutis built deep in the forests that house only a single occupant. Those monasteries that receive more dana or regularly welcome foreigners are often known to have slightly improved amenities.

Monasteries are not guesthouses. When looking at hotels, it is reasonable to ask about the room, the shower, the bed, and other such living conditions, and to even ask to inspect them before choosing to stay. Monasteries are a place for yogis to develop their nekhemma parami, meaning renunciation and acceptance. By definition, monasteries are places of simple living but where most basic necessities are met, and above this one need not request.

If you have a medical condition or special request, it is appropriate to communicate this to the Sayadaw and politely inquire if the monastery can meet this need. An example would be having a bad back and needing a certain amount of padding when sleeping, or feeling under the weather and needing a quiet place to rest. However, be careful not to stretch the meaning of “special needs.” Needing almond-flavor soymilk instead of 2% or asking the kitchen to prepare separate dishes with fewer chilies may pass at Western meditation centers, but you’ll have to make due here, and anything that does come from a request should be reimbursed to either the office or kitchen staff. In fact, one of the main reasons many Sayadaws hesitate to accept Westerners is they know ahead of time about their propensity to have such “special needs”, and they worry that their basic monastery will not be able to meet their standard of living. For this reason, it is important that the foreign yogi adapt to local conditions as much as possible (while not compromising health), and to show monks that you are satisfied with what has been given and do not require more. Your behavior will impact not only the relations you have with the monastery, but will have consequences for many more yogis who may wish to practice there in the future—if your stay causes any difficulties or complexities then they may hesitate to offer such an opportunity the next time someone comes to request.

On this point, it may be relevant to hear the words of one Dutch monk who has been living in Myanmar for several years: “What I think cannot be stressed enough is that all facilities, food, teachings etc are all gifts, they are coming from the generosity of others. You're a guest in somebody else’s place, [so] you can't demand things as you wouldn't if you are visiting friends. Here at [my monastery], too many times I've seen foreigners forgetting that everything is a gift. They make demands, complain about the food, require things, don't follow rules or don't show gratitude… I find it painful to see this ignorance, and feel bad for donors who see them.”

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Shwe Lan Preview: HEALTH

The Meditator Guidebook to Burma is in its final stages! 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 "Health" chapter as it begins to get laid out:

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Mandalay and Orientalism

A vision of wind-swept Mandalay

The Meditator Guidebook to Myanmar is in its final stages. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis and meditators may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the section on Mandalay, and discusses the popular lore surrounding the city:

In Western travel mythology, Mandalay has become associated with other such “exotic” locales as Timbuktu and Zanzibar, leaving many armchair backpackers to place a visit to this Upper Burma city on their Bucket List. In truth, the city’s mystique can be traced back to the 1890 poem by the colonial cheerleader, Rudyard Kipling. Of course, Kipling never actually made it to Mandalay himself, and so the expressed exoticism of Mandalay—as well as its very geography—is more a product of Kipling’s imagination than any reality. 

Kipling’s “Mandalay” painted such an exciting and exotic picture of the colonialist’s view of the Orient that it has stuck to this day. Triggered by the repeated refrain, “The Road to Mandalay,” his fevered imagination has gone on to inspire everything from a World War II memoir to a modern luxury cruise ship, and from two films (one a 1926 Lon Chaney silent picture and another a later aborted Bing Crosby/Bob Hope production) to two songs (the first by Frank Sinatra and the more recent from Robbie Williams). It certainly can’t get stranger than the multi-million dollar Las Vegas casino christening itself “Mandalay Bay” after the landlocked city, with a sprawing hotel theme encompassing various Southeast Asian locales through the Pacific islands and atolls!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Various views on the practice of "Pindabat", or the alms rounds of monks

The Meditator Guidebook to Myanmar is in its final stages. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis and meditators may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the section on Monastic Life, and discusses the monks' alms rounds. We have included three quotations that were placed towards the end of this section:

“The gifts are never acknowledged. The cover of the bowl is removed, and when the offering has been put in, it is replaced, and the monk moves on. And when they have made their accustomed round, they return, as they went, slowly to the monastery, their bowls full of food… It is a good thing to give alms—good for yourself, I mean. So that this daily procession does good in two ways: it is good for the monk because he learns humility; it is good for the people because they have thereby offered them a chance of giving a little alms. Even the poorest may be able to give his spoonful of rice. All is accepted. Think not a great gift is more acceptable than a little one. You must judge by the giver's heart.” Harold Fielding, Soul of a People

“Offering alms to monk on their daily rounds is considered of even greater merit than sending an elaborate meal to the monastery or inviting monks to one’s home to partake of food: it is spontaneous and lacking in show or ostentation and there is also a spirit of impersonal and impartial good will.” Khin Myo Chit, Colorful Myanmar

“The first alms round was a magical experience with devout donors and plenty of gratitude both from them and from us. The life of an alms mendicant is interesting, the householders are respectful and grateful to have someone representing Buddha to them, when they give us food they feel joyful and thus earn merits. We monks are equally grateful, with their donation we can live this wonderful life another day without difficulty. It is a mutual symbiotic relationship of joy with neither side accumulating a sense of debt to the other.” Canadian monk

A foreign monk accepts rice from a young villager outside of Shwe Oo Min Monastery in Northern Yangon

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Myin Ma Hti Caves near Kalaw

A very interesting site are the Myin Ma Hti Caves just to the east of Kalaw, on the Kalaw-Loikaw Highway about four miles as the crow flies from Kalaw as you approach Loikaw. It is a beautiful trip, and once over the pass, there are hillocks stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. The caves are just over one thousand feet in length, lined by stalactites and natural formations on the walls that are known for their uncanny resemblance to life-like objects. Each formation has been named, with titles such as “headless human body structure,” “rock Brahmany duck,” “elephant tying pole”, and “Angel’s grinding stone.” There is another part of the cave known as “rock drums,” and where multiple protrusions of rock make different musical pitches, and “Angel’s Pond,” an always-full inner pond that collects water seeping from the wall is supposed to bring outer beauty and inner cleansing. The cave connects to another subterranean passage that exits out of a nearby hill, unlike other Burmese limestone caves that extend indefinitely underground. It is a quiet place, and with so much reverence and history, makes a fine place to trek out for some meditation practice.

Local legend suggests that the original pagoda at Myin Ma Hti was one of the 84,000 pagodas built by King Asoka 2,300 years ago. It was later repaired by the Burmese kings Anawrahta and Alaungsithu. The three htis of the pagoda may be a reference to these three great kings, although they may also have been placed by later donors. The earliest stupa is also believed to have been placed there by King Asoka, and many of the other Buddhas are from the Bagan Era. King Anawrahta himself donated the collection of twenty-eight statues you will find here, with fourteen on the lower level and fourteen on an upper terrace. The name of the large stupa is Ohn Na Lone Myway Shin Stupa.

A monk living in the rural Burmese countryside feeds his dog, named "Myogyi" after a famous local rock star

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Burmese Kadaw

“I cannot think of an English equivalent for the Myanmar word kadaw: it is more than paying respects, or doing obeisance. One raises clasped hands to the forehand and crouches humbly at the feet of the parents, elders and teachers, in the same way one does to worship the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. This is to kadaw—to be humble and reverent, remembering with gratitude all that one owes to parents and teachers, and what is more, desiring to be purged of all the trespasses that might have been committed by word, though or deed. The reverent posture of crouching with clasped hands raised to the forehead should not be mistaken for servility, for it is not something that is forced or compelled. It is a voluntary act of honour to whom honor is due… The custom of kudow is rooted in the Buddhist acceptance of samsara, the round of being born and reborn; all beings, human and all, go round meeting one another in amicable relationships or otherwise; there would be love and kindness, but there could be hate and enmity as well. There are surely wrongful actions committed consciously or unconsciously to one in this present life. When Buddhists do the ceremony of kadaw… they not only pay respect with the gesture of gratitude, but also ask for forgiveness for any wrongful action they might have done in this life and many many lives before.” Khin Myo Chit, Colorful Myanmar

Burmese villagers pay respects to approaching monks on alms rounds

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Scattering of Goenkaji Ashes takes place

This Myanmar Times article describes U Goenka's final homecoming back to the country of his origin. After arriving on October 7th with a formal procession, his ashes were floated at Yangon River after an offering at Park Royal Hotel in downtown Yangon. Students at Dhamma Mandala in Mandalay scattered more on the center ground on October 9th, and U Nyanissara scattered ashes in the Ayeyarwaddy near the Goenka ancestral home.

On October 13th at 8.15 am Myanmar time, a group sitting will take place at Dhamma Joti. This also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the center's founding.

Walking Paths Amid the Sagaing Hills

The Meditator Guidebook to Myanmar is in its final stages. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis and meditators may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the section on the Sagaing Hills, known as the place where monks and lay people who are serious about meditation come to work in silence and seclusion:

As the British colonial government took over control of the country, life in the forest monasteries of Sagaing Hills was little affected. Writing in 1907, V.C. Scott O’Conner describes his own visit here in Mandalay and Other Cities of the Past In Burma: “By far the most interesting part of Sagaing lies in the hilly country above it, where austere monks live; and every peak bears testimony to the piety of bygone kings and people…. The effect of the spectacle is enhanced, and lifted up to something strangely majestic, by the atmosphere, dry, prismatic, mystical— glorious with all the effulgence of Sagaing… One does not come upon sights like this out of Burma. There is some unconscious undercurrent of great qualities in the Burman personality that alone makes them possible.” 

Even as recently as a generation ago, a lay person coming to pay homage to a particular revered monk would have to bushwhack a path up the mountains and be on the watch for snakes, and monks had to keep an eye for tigers and leopards while on their alms rounds, including one monastery that was even built as a kind of tiger safe-house. Despite the signs reading “Cut One Tree, Three Years In Jail,” modernity is slowly finding a way to seep in, with some paved tracks laid allowing easier transport to the start of the Sagaing Hills and pushing the remote ascetic’s life deeper into the forest. But make no mistake, still today the best way to explore the hills is on foot, as many small monasteries are totally inaccessible by cars or even motorbike or bicycle. Burmese author Khin Myo Chit notes that while some of these sites “can be reached by motor road, the pilgrim whose sweet and wholesome hours are reckoned with the tinkling of temple bells is not pressed for time; this pilgrim prefers to ascend one of the brick stairways zig-zagging up the hill.” Some of these walking paths were laid down several hundred years ago, and the tread of royal processions and monks that walked upon the can still be seen in the grooves of the stones. Others have become so narrow that they are just one meter wide, while others have become completely reclaimed by jungle.

Original artwork in Shwe Lan Ga Lay shows a typical stone staircase that one finds when wandering through the Sagaing Hills

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Scattering of Ashes of U Goenka in Mandalay

More than five hundred monks will converge in Mandalay as the Sitagu Sayadaw from Sagaing will disperse U Goenka's ashes. Large boats will carry the monks and tens of thousands of lay followers are expected. The progression will be headed by seven large floating barges that will spell out the words, with one letter each: S  N  G  O  E  N  K  A. The barges of fire will flow together with his ashes. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Original Artwork in Shwe Lan Ga Lay: "A Mindful Walk"

As Shwe Lan Ga Lay is entirely a volunteer project, all contributors are donating their time and skill areas. This includes not only professional writers, editors, photographers, designers, and researchers, but also artists. Below is a recent piece of artwork that one of our meditator-artists has recently completed, based off of an actual photo taken in a small village in Upper Myanmar.

Webu Sayadaw Monastery at Ingyinbin, Upper Myanmar

The Meditator Guidebook to Myanmar is in its final stages. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis and meditators may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the section on Ingyinbin Monastery in Upper Myanmar, the birthplace of the venerable Webu Sayadaw and where U Ko Lay and Sayagyi U Ba Khin ordained in 1965:

Los Angeles Times reports on U Goenka's passing from Yangon

This L.A. Times article discusses the life and teachings of S.N. Goenka, as well as the arrangements being made for his ashes this week in Yangon. The article also quotes Shwe Lan Ga Lay's contributor Ma Phyu Wint Yee, who has been involved in Dhamma Joti preparations this week. Ma Phyu Wint Yee has taken a major role in assisting with the meditator book project for the last six months.

Remembering Webu Sayadaw

Burmese monk U Rewata was a young man when the great monk Webu Sayadaw visited Rangoon in 1977, leaving his small village in Upper Burma. U Rewata remembers his experiences leaving University classes to see Webu Sayadaw's motorcade and listening to his dhamma discourse the following day.

Monday, 7 October 2013

"How S.N. Goenka Changed My Life—And the Lives of Millions More"

"S.N. Goenka, who died on Saturday, embodied the teachings of the Buddha, yet insisted on a completely inclusive approach. We could use a man like him right now, writes Sharon Salzberg."

See the full article here on The Daily Beast.

A message from Goenkaji

A message from Goenkaji:

Dear Travellers on the path of Dhamma;

Be happy
Keep the torch of Dhamma alight.
Let it shine brightly in your daily life.

Always remember, Dhamma is not an escape.
It is an art of living: living in peace and harmony with oneself
And also with all others.
Hence, try to live a Dhamma life.
Don’t miss your daily sitting each morning and evening.
Whenever possible, attend weekly joint sittings with other Vipassana meditators.
Do a ten day course as an annual retreat.
This is essential to keep you going strong.
With all confidence, face the spikes around you bravely and smilingly.
Renounce hatred and aversion, ill will and animosity.
Generate love and compassion, especially for those who do not
understand Dhamma and are living an unhappy life.
May your Dhamma behavior show them the path of peace and harmony.
May the glow of Dhamma on your faces attract more and more suffering
people to this path of real happiness.
May all beings be happy, peaceful , liberated.
With all my metta,
S.N. Goenka

Carrying the final remains of S.N. Goenka to his birth country of Burma

The Beginning of the "Last Journey"

In what they are calling "The Last Journey" in Yangon, this morning many pilgrims came to Dhamma Joti to pay respects. They will sit again together from 6 to 7 pm Myanmar time and invite all meditators around the world to join in this meritorious deed by sitting at the same time at your own location.

The ashes being ceremoniously brought to the center by the Goenka family

Members of U Goenka's family, led by his son U Shwe, carry the ashes to the center

U Goenka's ashes on display

Pilgrims gather to pay their respects

The remains of Padmabhushan Global Vipassanacharya Sri S.N. Goenka

A local TV news crew at the event