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

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