Monday, 30 September 2013

Students pay respect to S.N. Goenka

This Indian Express article has an update on the services being held for S.N. Goenka. It also includes the following photo:

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Padma Bhushan Global Vipassana Acharya Dr. Satya Narayan Goenka's Demise

The following announcement came from the U Goenka organization:

Param Pujya Gurudev Shri Satya Narayan Goenka, Global Acharya of Vipassana Meditation, has passed away peacefully at the ripe age of 90 at his residence on Sunday, 29th September, 2013 at 10:40 PM, Indian Time.

His Funeral will be held on Tuesday, 1st October 2013 at 10:30 AM, Indian Time, at Electric Funeral Ground near Oshiwara Bridge, Relief Road, (Opposite Ghaswala Compound), Jogeshwari West, Mumbai, India.

May he be happy, peaceful & liberated.

''All conditioned things are transitory. When one understands this with wisdom, then he is disgusted with suffering. This is the path to purity.'' -Dhammapada-277.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Phyu Taw Ya

“I remember the incredibly inspiring experience of going on alms round with the monks and nuns, through the small village, and then eating with them in the hall; being in the presence of Bhikku Pannajoti, an intense, serious, and quiet man... and, of course, practicing my own meditation. Thé Phyu Taw Ya was remarkable in that it was only recently built at that time, and was undergoing construction; in fact, throughout my stay, a middle-aged Burmese woman was hauling water from a small pond, in a large clay bowl she carried with her two arms, to prepare mud or clay for construction.” Eric Eichler, 2007

The monastery at The Phyu Taw Ya, as seen from the Buddha statue on a nearby hill

Saya Thet Gyi Statue at Hansar Waddy Kammanthana Taik Monastery

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 "Yangon" chapter and describes a meditation center in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi:
Hansar Waddy Kammanthana Taik Monastery can be found in Sanchaung Township, near the Commonwealth War Cemetery and Kun Mun Cemetery on Pyay Road. Saya Thet Gyi had appointed U Nyo as one of his lay teachers, and he ran courses at a small center very near to the north side of Shwedagon, the same land upon which he would later be cremated. After his death Prime Minister U Nu requested that Saya Nyo hand over this land as its value was so great, and receive another place as compensation, and these are the origins of how the present Hansar Waddy came to be. Inside the entrance hall is a statue of Saya Thet Gyi and a photo of U Nyo, and in the Sayadaw's room is a painting of Shwedagon donated, as it says, by U Ohn and Company. Following Saya U Nyo’s passing, the monk Sayadaw U Ganadamar became the head teacher. Group sittings are still held nightly at 6 pm and are welcome to all.

This Saya Thet Gyi statue at Hansar Waddy in Yangon may be the first ever made of the renowned meditation master

Thursday, 26 September 2013


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 on the incidents of snakes in Myanmar:

Myanmar has one of the highest rates of deaths resulting from snakebites in the world. Poisonous snakes reportedly kill hundreds of people annually, most often in rural areas. Most of the country’s snakes are found in the Delta and Dry Zone areas. They particularly prefer thick grass, so yogis should not walk in such places only wearing sandals (which is actually most of the time one is in Myanmar); instead, wearing shoes and bringing a walking stick to serve as one’s advance guard in advised. Even if just stepping outside your residence for a quick jaunt to the toilet, make sure to carry a flashlight If you are bitten, immediately seek medical attention. Some people may choose to bring a snakebite extractor kit as well, but this is not so common.

The king cobra is known as the most poisonous snake in Myanmar. However, this large, black and white reptile is not particularly aggressive. Much more dangerous are Russell’s Vipers, which cause an estimated 1,000 deaths per year, approximately 70% of the snakebite deaths. However, these are only the “reported” figures, and actual incidents are probably higher.

Joseph Slowinski, a respected American herpetologist, died in 2001 in Northern Myanmar after suffering a bite from the Banded Krait (ngan taw kyar), a story told in Jamie James’ book The Snake Charmer.

An original illustration drawn by one of Shwe Lan's volunteer meditator artists

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Burmese Laundry

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 "Monastic Life" chapter on how to do laundry by hand during a stay at a monastery:

Most monasteries (along with the majority of rural Burmese homes) do not have laundry machines. In earlier years in Europe and the US, laundry was one of the more important (and time-consuming) household chores, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the advent of automatic washers and dryers in the 1950s, many Westerners have forgotten what it takes to properly clean clothing by hands. The longer one stays at a monastery, the more interested one tends to become in the simpler tasks of life, some of which our modern age has made irrelevant (and thus for many, incapable of accomplishing without the aid of electrical assistance). When it comes to manual washing, foreign yogis employ differing strategies, though for many it involves little more than swishing the fabric in soapy water in imitation of what seems to happen in laundry machines, and then squeezing them out to dry. It is ironic that many Westerners copy the automatic washers, since the first crank-operated laundry machines in the West themselves copied the hand-washing methods at the time, as a built-in lever moved clothing between two ribbed surfaces. These earlier examples point to one key fact: agitation removes dirt (alas, the same cannot be said for meditation).

While gently swishing clothing in water for a few minutes may loosen some dirt, for real cleanliness it is necessary to beat or knead it. In the early days in the West this was done on special rocks called beetling-stones and with wooden mallets known as battling-blocks; in Myanmar today these same items are still used and referred to as a wut shaw kyauk pyar and a wut yite dote, respectively. Most monasteries and villages have a few smoothed rocks or wooded platforms that are used specifically for laundry washing, and keep several wooden mallets that can be used for pounding. It may also be helpful to request a thermos of hot water as this will work to better pry off the dirt.

As for soap, normal detergent can be purchased, or alternatively you can use the local method of mixing in the natural soapy sand (sut pyar) that comes from central Myanmar. Also used is sin chi tone sut pyar, or “elephant dung soap,” locally manufactured lumps of soap so called for their brownish black color and also used for dish-washing.

As for clothes-washing protocol, do not use the sink or bathing areas, as there are usually special buckets around the monastery designated for laundry use. For those not in robes, make sure not to take items intended for monks.

When finished, ask about where it is appropriate to hang your laundry before doing so. Undergarments are not usually hung outside at monasteries or in other public areas, and Burmese will often separate the upper and lower pieces of clothing, since the lower part of the body is considered more dirty. Happy washing!

Two women do laundry at a local water source in Upper Burma

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Honoring one who is worthy of honor

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 "Monastic Life" chapter on how to pay respect to monks:

"Finding and acknowledging one who is worthy of honor is considered a highly important quality, and many Burmese proverbs attest to this. One states thiq tiq pin kaun, hngeq tiq thoun ko ya, meaning “if a single tree is large enough, ten thousand crows can rest on it." The underlying meaning is that if an individual is developed enough, countless people can rely on him or her. Another proverb states thiq pin auoq gyo they nain, lu aouq gyo ma they nain, and can be translated literally as “one who goes under an old tree can be killed, but one who goes under a great person cannot,” or to say figuratively, “being humble before a wise person will not kill you.”

Having finished offering her food, Burmese woman pays respects as a monk passes on alms round

Friday, 20 September 2013


In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Shan State" chapter. Following is the introduction to our the section on Kyaukme:

Kyaukme is silently nestled in a natural bowl formed between the hovering Shan Hills, and is filled with lush green forests, meadows, and small farms. Although Kyaukme is translated to mean “black stone” and refers to less-than-honest merchants, the town today has some opportunities available for Buddhist practitioners. Dhamma students will immediately appreciate the many surrounding hillsides covered in monastery and pagoda spires, many of which have steep covered stairways that yogis may ascend. It is also a very quiet place where one can spend some time in peaceful practice, and locals may be keen to support your practice and share their own traditions. Unfortunately, it does have a higher rate of malaria compared with other Shan towns, and it can get hot here as well.

Kyaukme is deservedly famous for its green tea, which is grown at the small villages and farms that surround the town. The raw goods are then exported to the lowland markets and then distributed across the country. Staying at Kyaukme monasteries will afford you the opportunity to taste authentic green tea, dried tea leaves, and pickled tea salad. The traditional warehouses (known as "Pwe-Yone" in Burmese) house machines and green tea packages, and one can see how the tea is produced from its raw state. The food found in Kyaukme is a blend of Bamar, Shan, Palaung, and Chinese cooking. Most homes are simple, and those in the countryside are one-room wooden buildings with a center hearth used for food preparation, heat, and hot water.

Historically the town has long been a trading center for various peoples living throughout the Shan Hills, especially the Palaung. Their women are easily identifiable by the large hoops worn around their waist, said to protect the from wild animals. Like most other Shan towns it wasn’t spared conflict during World War II, with the British and Chinese forces driving out the Japanese in 1945. Today its growing Chinese influence can be especially seen in its market, where the Chinese quarter takes up about half the space. If you go here, make sure to see the stalls selling bamboo paper and eat some authentic Chinese fare or try some of the famous Kyaukme spicy vegetable dishes, or alternatively check out Thiri Pyit Saya for Shan noodles.

These days the town is starting to develop a reputation as an alternative trekking site to those around Kalaw and Hsipaw, with many routes going through Palaung villages and featuring overnights at monasteries as well as monastic school visits (Ko Moe Set is one tour guide who has come recommended). Some treks may lead you past a spot known locally as “Lonely Tree,” a landmark of sorts in which the tree branches seem to hark over the rest of the landscape. It was here that local monk requested that his remains be enshrined following his death, making the spot a sacred place and a good place for some meditation. Trekking will also give you an opportunity to walk through the many tea plantations that villagers in Northern Shan State depend on for their livelihood.

Kyaukme may be reached by bus fairly easily, and you may also consider private motorcycles or taxis, and even train. Once you reach Kyaukme, it’s convenient to get around town by motorboke or Tuk-Tuk, and these can also be used for exploring nearby towns as well.

The Shan Hills

Burmese Buddhist Holidays and Festivals

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Burmese Days" chapter. Following are three quotations that serve to introduce the section on Burmese Buddhist holidays and festivals:

Holidays & Festivals
“I doubt if even the bombing of World War II managed to stop the people of Myanmar from holding their annual festivals.” Ma Thenegi, Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy

“The Burmese have a remarkable capacity for extracting the maximum amount of fun from the opportunities offered to them during our traditional festivals.” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma

"‘What a difference there is between our dancing and the native performance,’ she remarked. ‘Our tangos and turkey-trotting are just an amusement, ending in a feast, whilst their diversion is mostly prayers, intoning, gongs, and bells, burning candles and telling beads. The Burmese seem to be always thinking of their souls.’" B.M. Croker, The Road to Mandalay (1917)

Revelers in downtown Yangon celebrate Water Festival (Thigyan) in front of Sule Pagoda

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Slower Modes of Burmese Transport

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "You've Arrived" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on slower modes of transport:

Bicycle Rickshaws: These can be found in quiet corners of cities and in every village. They won’t be able to take you very far (especially in Yangon), because they can’t traverse some of the busier thoroughfares. But they are immensely enjoyable, and sometimes know peaceful shortcuts and side-streets that the bigger cars can’t or don’t follow. Most are also equipped with a front and back seat, so you can sit back to back with your travel companion.

Ox or Horse Carts: This how many farmers get around. If one is out in a village, it’s possible to get a ride on these. They are not usually used to ferry people, except in Pyin Oo Lwin and Bagan, where they are done up for tourists. Patricia Elliott, in her biography of the Yawnghwe Mahadevi Sao Hearn Hkam, recounts in The White Umbrella that, “to survive the jolts of a bullock car ride you had to sit just so in the center, swaying lightly to the cart’s movements, outstretched hands resting on the cart’s high sides.” Yogis can try this technique and compare the results as they travel across rural Shan country roads leading to their monastery of practice. Sao Sanda adds to this description in Moon Princess, writing that in older times such transport were only for those that could afford it, and most just walked from village to village, avoiding the tigers and panthers that roamed just off-trail.

Tractors: noisier than a rock concert, bouncier than a trampoline, dirtier than a smoggy day, and slower than a light jog. But, for the adventuresome…why not? Like ox-carts they do not generally travel further than the next village, although many may be willing to provide a short lift.

Bicycles: Bikes can be rented in several towns by the day, including Mandalay, Bagan, and around the outskirts of Inle. Information about extended bike tours can be found in standard Myanmar guidebooks, or by looking online.

On Foot: There are many places in Myanmar where the best way to get around is by foot, from hillside trails carved into the Sagaing Hills, to backstreet paths that cut across Yangon congestions and noise, to the joy of following on an alms round. If one is planning for extended walking tours, plan to bring comfortable footwear with you. You’ll also want to make sure to have protection against the harsher climates you may encounter, particularly the rains and sun.

A local villager direct his ox-cart in Upper Burma

Burmese Time

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Burmese Days" chapter. Following is a short excerpt:

Burmese also have a special way of marking time in rural areas, which was common to use before the introduction of time-keeping pieces:

· Lin Kyet Tun Chain: “the rooster crows at dawn time” (daybreak)

· Nay Htan Ta Phyar: “the sun reaches the top of the toddy palm time” (about 9 am)

· Soon Khan Pyan Chain: “the monks come back from alms round time” (about 10:30 am)

· Yay Khat Sin Chain: “the girls collect water time” (around three pm)

· Nwar Yine Thwin Chain:
“the cattle return from the pasture time” (around five pm)

· Nyi Ako Ma Thi Ta Thi A Chain:
“it-is-difficult-to-know-if-one-is-friend-or-foe time” (dusk)

· Thu nge eight sate: “children are put to bed time” (around seven pm)

· Thet Kyee gaung Cha:
“when the elder puts his head to bed time” (around eight pm)

· Lubyo(or Kalathar) pyan chain:
“when the bachelors return home” (around midnight)

Time durations are similar marked, with htamin oh ta kha khet meaning the time needed to boil rice (30 minutes) and kun a yar nyet, meaning the time needed to chew a quid of betel.

Two Burmese pilgrims outside Botataung Pagoda on Yangon River

Monday, 16 September 2013

Footwear Diplomacy

Original artwork sketched by one of Shwe Lan's artist contributors shows a typical pair of monk's sandals 

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Monastic Life" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on proper pagoda protocol:

The tense relationship between England and Burma in the 19th century and their contrasting cultural perspectives was perhaps nowhere better displayed than through their opposing attitudes towards footwear. While the Burmese demanded bare feet on all religious sites, the British insisted that the public removal of one’s shoes was a degrading, humiliating, and servile practice. It was further exacerbated by the intricate boots that British officers wore at the time, which were time-consuming to unfasten, as well as by the fact that no similar custom was anywhere near present in Victorian society at the time. Long diplomatic meetings attempted to clearly designate appropriate shoe-wearing and non-shoe-wearing zones, which eventually proved to be so ineffective that “meeting houses” were actually built in a kind of no-man’s land. On these sites, the British could comfortably keep their shoes on while the Burmese could still feel were within their premises. When Yangon fell in one of their Anglo-Burmese wars and the British gained control of the city, the victorious British troops paraded around Shwedagon. At this time, one soldier recorded in his diary his immense joy and pride at finally being able to approach the religious monument while clad in boots. This sensitivity to footwear goes back some time, as there is a story of King Narathiapate executing an entire Mongol diplomatic mission when they didn't remove their shoes for a royal audience. And it was taken up by the Young Men’s Buddhist Association in 1916, when they protested British authorities who continued to wear boots on the upper platforms of Shwedagon.

Today, of course, bare feet are the requirement for all nationalities, and one that the current world power has no difficulty in following— as evidenced by the photos from the 2011 and 2012 visits to Shwedagon Pagoda by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama, respectively. Unfortunately Jackie Chan did not follow suit, and a recent photo of him at Shwedagon in sneakers gathered immediate criticism from Burmese voices across the web.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Burmese Days" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on "thanaka":

Original artwork sketched by one of Shwe Lan's artist contributors shows a typical thanaka design on a young Burmese girl
“May May Gyi first put three blots of thanaka on my face, one on the forehead, and the others on each cheek and spread them all over the face. It was a sweet cooling sensation and May May Gyi told me the importance of putting thanaka on my face every morning if I wanted to be a beauty when I grew up.” Khin Myo Chit, Colorful Myanamr

After just a few hours in the country, the first question many visitors want to ask is “what is that yellow paste that people wear on their faces?” The answer is thanaka, a bark that has a similar smell to sandalwood and comes from the thanaka tree (murraya thanaka). It is used both as a skin moisturizer, sun block, whitening cream, and anti-acne cream, and many praise its virtues for keeping the face cool throughout the day. It is also said to tighten the pores and above all else, it smells good. To prepare it for wearing, thanaka is ground on a stone slab (in Burmese, kyauk pyin) and then mixed with pure water, resulting in a creamy paste that comes out a narrow channel surrounding the rim. Some kyauk pyin become treasured family heirlooms, and even become historical items, as in the case of the slab that Queen Raza Datu Kalaya of Taungoo used in the 17th century, which is today on display at Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda Museum in Bago.

Many children like to make swirling and elaborate patterns when applying it on their cheeks in the morning, and many of these designs are actually given names and date back hundreds of years. Burmese sellers in the marketplace will be more than happy to apply a dosage if you’d like to try, and if you do, you’ll be guaranteed a day full of smiles from the Burmese that you meet!

Historically, the earliest reference comes from a 14th century Mon poem, although it is believed that women have used it for over 2000 years. Different kinds of trees are used, and locals have their own preference as to which kind of tree and location they like best, with some buying huge quantities when they are in a place famous for a quality wood. Of note include Sagaing town, Shwebo, and parts of Shan state and Magwe division. There has also been a long-running rivalry between those produced in Shwebo and those in Shinmadaung, with both sides claiming the better quality. When Burmese find themselves in these places, they “then bring back enough logs to build a cabin,” as one Burmese writer quipped. Some fake logs of thanaka do exist, and the way to ensure its authenticity is to take a small taste of it on your tongue: real thanaka should be bitter. Or, for those who just don’t have the time to bother, there are also small containers of the paste pre-prepared.

“[Thanaka is] used by both queen and commoner. It is a thousand year old tradition. The stone implement used to grind thanaka is cut from smooth stone into a circular slab, with a trough along the rim for the paste to flow into. This stone slab rests on four short legs, which in the old days were decorated with classical motifs and scenes carved into the stone in high relief. A short length of the thanaka log is ground, bark side, in a circular motion, with drops of water poured on the stone from time to time.” Ma Thanegi, The Native Tourist

Friday, 13 September 2013

SN Goenka story in Burmese newspaper

The following story in the Burmese journal Popular Magazine is about S.N. Goenka's December 2012 visit to Yangon. It describes a problem with the MAI (Myanmar Airways International) flight that the great meditation teacher took from India.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Eating Burmese Food With Your Hands

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Monastery Food" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on eating with one's hands:
"The American monk refers to the Burmese habit of eating with one’s hands, and more elaboration may be helpful here. The deeper one gets in the rural countryside and the more comfortable one is with one’s friends, the more common it is to find this practice. One Burmese-American notes that 'food tastes different when it is eaten with no utensils. I think to experience life as a Burman, you should try at least once to eat as the locals do. At least in my family, there is a certain affection and almost ‘intimate’ satisfaction when eating with your hands.' Daw Sanda Wadi, an American nun, notes that some monks even believe that eating with your hands can be a form of medicine. She quoted another Burmese nun who felt that the fingers were so busy during the day counting rosary and reciting scripture that this wholesome energy could be brought directly to eating as well. The American nun also noted during the rains retreat that one of the senior monks ceremoniously shared the food from his alms bowl by thoroughly mixing it with his hand whilst chanting and then distributing it as a way to share the benefit of his meritorious alms round. Some have even suggested it aids the digestive process, with nerves on the fingertips preparing the stomach for the intake of food. Some Westerners who have gotten into this habit have described a deeper sense of intimacy with one’s hosts as well as the food, as utensils bring a foreign element into the eating process, and some feel use of one’s fingers requires greater mindfulness. Even Amitav Ghosh, an Indian whose family emigrated from Burma and who wrote the Burmese historical novel The Glass Palace, commented that he declines to go to Indian restaurants in London or New York where one is not allowed to eat with one’s hands. If you do partake in this local custom, two important cultural reminders to keep in mind are to never under any circumstances use your left hand, and that it is also inappropriate to lick your fingers. In fact, in many eating venues a small bowl of water will be placed in which one can dip one’s fingers to clean them."

Local lay supporters prepare food at a Danu monastery in Shan state during a festival


In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Food" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on Vegetarianism in Burma:
Vegetarian yogis may be delighted to take part in the Waso festival at Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya Pagoda, located in Pwintphyu in Magway Division. Local legend suggests that the pagoda existed even during the Buddha’s day, when it was entirely built of sandalwood, and in modern times the nearby Mon Chaung tributary flows with rainwater from the eastern slopes of the Rakhine Yomas range and the southern Chin Hills. Each year, on the full moon day of Waso (July/August), the Sayadaw goes with all the monks in tow to where the Mon and Ayeyarwaddy rivers meet, followed by many local pilgrims in boats. Chanting Buddhist suttas the entire way, they arrive prior to the influx of catfish that will soon be passing through. It is believed that the giant fish come at this time to pay their respects to the pagoda, and all the local fishermen dismantle their nets and traps for the following three months. The catfish remain for all of Lent and usually depart after the fullmoon day of Thadingyut in October, with many pilgrims coming to place gold leaves on the heads of the fish. Although some are as large as 3-4 feet, they stay calm as pilgrims approach them and are also fed rice husks or popcorn.

A common sign seen in Burmese vegetarian restaurants

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Surviving a Cold Shower

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Monastic Life" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on bathing:
Surviving a Cold Shower

Historically in ancient Rome and Victorian England, cold showers were seen as an essential part of an upright life, as warm water bathing was viewed as a sign of decadence and needless luxury. Indeed, even in modern times many Southeast Asians don’t really understand the Western preoccupation with a hot shower. Still, it is a creature comfort that many Western yogis do miss when without, although after some time here this too becomes less important. If you are staying at a monastery with a closed shower area, likely there will be either a giant clay pot or concrete pool from which you can use the plastic scoop to bathe yourself. Make sure to keep this water storage clean and to only lather outside of it. To keep in a traditional spirit, you can also consider using the old-style shampoo that mixes the bark of the tayaw vine with kin pun (acacia) pods, making a gooey substance that keeps the hair smooth and head cool. In any case, if you are not up for being the Spartan, here are some hints that may help:

· You can politely request a little boiling water from the kitchen and mix that into the bucket before you shower, and this may be wise to do if you happen to be sick. Alternatively, if you purchase a plastic bucket and leave it out in the sun, it often will heat up by afternoon.

· If you are in the winter period, make sure to get your shower in before it gets too late in the afternoon, and the temperature begins to dip. Because the water is room temperature, it’s also more likely to be warmer during the day than in the mornings or evenings.

· You can also purchase a scrub or loofah. With these, you can get very clean quite fast with only a minimum of water. If you are traveling, a quick-dry fabric towel is also helpful.

· An American monk recommends that you “wet your head first, and then using your hands, rub the water along your legs, arms, and finally your heart area. Afterwards, you can immerse yourself in the cold water more comfortably.”

· Eventually, learn to appreciate the cold water! As one yogi commented who came to Myanmar from a frigid Colorado winter, “the outdoors temperature is generally so hot for me here (it was 14 degrees Fahrenheit when I left my home) that I have learned to accept and at times actually enjoy cold bucket showers, pouring water from a bucket over my body.”

Local men use the town bathing facilities in the small village of Ingyinbin, in Upper Burma

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

"Uncovering Monastic Life"

The opening lines from the subsection Uncovering Monastic Life...

“A person from the modern Western world can only marvel that a life of such beauty, grace and peace can even exist in this day and age. To live a life of such exquisite simplicity, refinement, and devotion is an extraordinary example of what is possible and indeed required of us in order to fulfill our perfections. With purity, concentration and wisdom as our foundation, we are able to follow the Buddha’s teachings in an exact way.” Daw Sanda Wadi, From One To Nun

Compared to other Theravada Buddhist countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, few Westerners have integrated into Burmese monastic life for a sustained period. In some ways it seems there has been more commentary on Burmese Buddhist life by 19th century Britons than by modern day foreign yogis and monastics. As the country continues to open, hopefully this will change as Buddhist practitioners are able to visit and appreciate the opportunity that Burmese monastic life provides.

A Burmese woman pays respects as monks pass on an alms round

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Yinn: Still Proud In Their Culture

Following is a book recently released and now available in Myanmar by local author U Hpone Thant. He has been generously volunteering his time and expertise to help us in ensuring historical and cultural accuracy in the upcoming edition of Shwe Lan Ga Lay

The Yinn, by local author U Hpone Thant

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Interactions with a Burmese Monastery

This from the chapter on "Roles and Relationships" in the Monastic Life chapter:

“People would have a fine time meeting friends at the monastery. ‘Apart from being a happy outing, a day at the monastery is satisfying in many ways, social, cultural and spiritual.’ I heard my grandmother used to say, never failed for all time. I concluded my diary the day at the monastery by the end of a perfect day.” Junior Win

“[My grandfather] usually had an interesting time discussing Buddhist scriptures with other retired gentlemen, who, like him, had found a useful vacation in the study of the scriptures in their retirements. Sometimes the discussions were spirited and they would often take their arguments to the head monk for decision. [My grandmother] would have a fine time meeting friends and she had an opportunity to do deeds of merit like sweeping the grounds. Children happily helped with chores and were taught the sacred duty of keeping the monastery grounds clean… Late in the afternoon we would come home, the end of a perfect day.” Khin Myo Chit (grandmother of Junior Win), Colorful Myanmar

A Burmese nun reads Buddhist scriptures at her nunnery

Shwe Lan Excerpt: The Monkhood

“The more you study the monkhood, the more you see that this community is the outcome of the very heart of the people. It is a part of the people, not cut off from them, but of them; it is recruited in great numbers from all sorts and conditions of men. In every village and town—nearly every man has been a monk at one time or another—it is honoured alike by all; it is kept in the straight way, not only from the inherent righteousness of its teaching, but from the determination of the people to allow no stain to rest upon what they consider as their 'great glory.' This whole monkhood is founded on freedom. It is held together not by a strong organization, but by general consent. There is no mystery about it, there are no dark places here where the sunlight of inquiry may not come. The whole business is so simple that the very children can and do understand it. I shall have expressed myself very badly if I have not made it understood how absolutely voluntary this monkhood is, held together by no everlasting vows, restrained by no rigid discipline. It is simply the free outcome of the free beliefs of the people, as much a part of them as the fruit is of the tree. You could no more imagine grapes without a vine than a Buddhist monkhood that did not spring directly from, and depend entirely on, the people. It is the higher expression of their life.” Harold Fielding, Soul of a People

A student pays respects to monks after finishing her alms donation

Friday, 6 September 2013

Shwe Lan Excerpt: Webu Sayadaw

From the Webu Sayadaw chapter...

"In interviews with people who were around Ingyinbin at the time of Webu Sayadaw, we have worked to reconstruct what a typical day may have looked like. It was said that Webu would wake up quite early and take his breakfast, and offer a symbolic plate of food to the Buddha statue. He would then tour his compound and provide instructions to the monks, nuns, and lay yogis and supporters that were staying there. He would start his alms round at either seven or eight in the morning (earlier for summer to avoid the scorching heat), which would usually last three to four hours given the quantity of food that was donated. After having lunch, he would give a discourse, and then find some time to do some sweeping. From noon until around four pm he would spend time alone in the San Kyaung building, often resting, meditating, and bathing. It was also during this time where he would receive visitors who had made the trek to Ingyinbin to pay respects to him. Between 4:30 and 5 pm he accepted offerings of medicine, jaggery, candy, and juice, and would also oversee the nuns’ retaking of sila. He would give another dhamma talk in the evening, this one to many more people who would gather in the main dhamma hall. He would again retreat in solitude, where it was widely believed he would continue his teachings to invisible beings."

Webu Sayadaw chapter in "Shwe Lan Ga Lay"

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Shwe Lan Excerpt: Purity On Display

In this excerpt from the book, we pick up an entry from our "Health" chapter. Following is a short excerpt from the section on water:
Purity on display

Foreign travelers are rare enough in Myanmar that the locals will be very aware of your presence, especially when visiting monasteries and temples off the beaten track. Burmese are in general very proud of their religious culture and many will show a great deal of interest in how you perceive the treasures of their homeland. They can also be very hospitable, and you will undoubtedly be offered cups of tea or coffee at the places you visit.

If you are concerned about water purity in general or at a particular location, it is essential that you protect your health in the way you feel is appropriate. However, conflict or tension can arise when the desire for self-preservation butts up against the desire to show gratitude for a host’s hospitality. This can crop up in a variety of situations, so no one approach will work every time. The most important thing to remember is that when foreigners show concerns that something commonly used is unsafe or unclean, it can be immediately felt and make others feel uncomfortable.

If you feel the need to refuse something offered to you, do so gracefully and with a sincere smile. Another option is to accept but not partake. Face is important in Asia, so outward shows of gratitude will be appreciated, even if the cup of tea is not actually consumed. Travelers who choose to purify their water are urged not to do so in public. Going through your purification routine in your hotel or in the relative privacy of a bus seat is much preferred to carrying out a chemistry experiment in a monastery dining hall or someone’s living room. If you have no other choice but to treat your water in a public place, do so discreetly and without any fanfare. This may also be a good time to point out the Burmese take on the proverb “When in Rome…” Here, one says amya mo kha ye thout, thout tan, meaning “if others are taking rain water, drink up!”

The three-tank Reverse Osmosis purification system at Sun Lun Monastery in Taunggyi