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.”