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