Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Tigers of Sagaing

The view just outside the fortified structure described below
Historically, Burmese ascetics have regarded the Sagaing Hills as an ideal spot to practice dhamma. This is because for many centuries it was a lush jungle-laden series of rolling hills, allowing the monks (for in past years nuns and lay people did not engage in such practices to the same extent) to concentrate fully on the practice and development of insight. To this day, there are as-yet uncounted caves, pagodas, monasteries, kutis, and other sites showing the living Buddhist practice community that Sagaing has been over the years.

In recent years, much of this tropical forest region has been peeled away by expanding roads and communities, pushing the ascetic's practice deeper into the hills. Areas that one could only reach by trekking are now accessible (some entirely) by vehicle.

The entrance to the fortified building that protected monks against tiger attacks
However, as recently as a generation ago, nature still held sway. In fact, monks were under constant threat by tiger attacks during their alms rounds.  These pictures show a structure that was built as a means of protecting the monks from such tiger incursions.  The building was situated between eight very small monasteries, allowing easy access to all. The walls were built to be considerably thick and the structure was further fortified by sealed rooms that are unlike what one would find at any other Burmese monastery. When tigers were known to be in the area, monks from all eight monasteries would retire at night to sleep in this bunker together, returning to their own grounds during the day for practice.

It is also worth noting that the monk featured below mentioned that his own teacher was once personally attacked by a tiger on his alms walk, and the claws ripped into his abdomen. Fortunately, he survived the attack, and left with scars to show it.

The ceiling of the upper story chamber today, so loose that it is no longer safe for anyone to enter

An entrance on the upper story of the fortified building