Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Third Set of Robes

Very advanced monks are known to develop exceptionally powerful minds capable of feats far beyond that of ordinary putthujana. This is the theme that underlies this story, which was shared by Bhikkhu Agga:

She then told the tale of a rich man who learned that an Arahat was coming to visit his neighbourhood. He decided that he would invite the holy man to a meal, and also that he would like to present him with three sets of robes. When the day came, he set out to meet the Arahat, and conduct him to his home. As he was walking back along a muddy track with the monk, they came to a large puddle, whereupon, instead of walking sedately round it, the monk tucked up his robes and jumped over it. The rich man was shocked by this, and thought to himself “This undignified fellow cannot be an Arahat. I think I will give him only two sets of robes.” After a while they came to another puddle, and again the monk jumped over it; and the rich man thought “No, he is certainly a common fellow – I will give him only one set of robes.” Then a third time they came to a puddle, and this time instead of leaping over it, the monk walked carefully round it. The rich man was puzzled, and said to the monk “Venerable Sir, can you explain to me please, why it is that you jumped over the first two puddles, and then walked round the third?” And the monk replied “Sir, I did not think it would be good for you to withdraw the third set of robes.”

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

"10 Reasons You Should go to Burma"

On his blog "The Broke Backpacker", Will Hatton describes the beauty and grace of Burma.

His #3 Reason to go includes this excerpt: "Burma is an absolutely massive country and there are many hidden gems in this astounding country which only the locals will know about. It is extremely easy to get off the beaten track and to have temples, ruins, mountains and caves all to yourself. When backpacking in Burma, I felt like I had stepped back 100 years in to the past, I felt like a proper explorer. The people who I met in remote communities in the Shan highlands had often not seen another westerner for months or even years, this is prime exploring territory. Whilst exploring the south of the country I came across a huge field of painted Buddha statues, some were cracked and covered by jungle, others looked freshly painted. Who built, painted and maintained them? I have no idea. This is why I love Burma."

The full blog post can be read here.

"What is the difference between novitation and full bhikkhu ordination?"

One yogi recently sent us a question asking about the different kinds of ordinations that are possible for men. Following is our answer. For more questions about Dhamma in Burma to be answered on this blog, shoot us an email at burmadhamma(at)gmail.

What is the difference between novitation and full bhikkhu ordination?

Full bhikkhu ordination may only happen when the aspirant reaches 20 years of age, thus anyone under this age may only be ordained as a novice. One of the main differences between the novice and full bhikkhu relates to the code of discipline: while the full bhikkhu has 227 precepts to follow, the novice has just ten. Some adults, while much older than twenty years old, may voluntarily choose to be ordained as a novice if they do not yet feel ready for the full discipline of a monk’s life. Finally, when a lay person wishes to ordain, one must first ordain as a lay person to a novice, and the next step is becoming a full bhikkhu. Although the aspirant may only be a novice for a matter of hours, it is impossible to ordain directly from being a layman to a full bhikkhu.

Monday, 29 December 2014

"Falser than the Roman's conception of Britain..."

"No doubt Burma was regarded as a place of banishment, a dismal rice-swamp (or, as was once said, a howling paddy-plain), where the sun never shone. I remember, while still in London, the commiseration expressed with one of our seniors whose deportation to this dreary land was announced. All this was fiction, falser than the Roman's conception of Britain. I found Burma a bright and pleasant land, green and forest-clad, with a climate healthier on the whole than the average climate of Indian plains; its people singularly human, cheerful, and sympathetic."

Sir Herbert Thirkell White, A Civil Servant in Burma1913

Sunday, 28 December 2014

"Coming back to Shwe Oo Min Yangon

The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the eighth entry, and the beginning post can be found here.

"After my time in Kalaw I went back to Shwe Oo Min Yangon to visit Sayadaw U Tejaniya. I was very exited to learn form him now that I was more clear about the method, how to apply it and having a lot of experience in Kalaw. I came at the end of November and I felt a radical change in the practice. Mindfulness was working and I was very interested in the experience I was having because for me it was the first time that mindfulness was working more continuously almost without effort. I asked many questions to U Tejaniya and little by little I could understand better his answers and the way he was teaching. So then the practice and the teachings were a lot clearer to me.

It was at this moment that the teachings were a lot more understandable and the test I did to the teacher was finally done successfully. I could see by myself the benefits of the practice and the benefits of this particular method. I could also notice the level of understanding of the teacher and that he was very skilful in watching his own mind. So then it was possible to help the yogis that were practicing as well. His instructions were very practical. So at the beginning it was very difficult to understand what he meant and how to apply the practice. When the yogis start the experience of meditation and apply them diligently for a long period of time, then the instructions start to make sense. U Tejaniya talks about things that are real, they exist, but at the beginning is not that easy to see them clearly.

I benefited a lot from this interaction with U Tejaniya because I could understand how he was teaching and how to apply these instructions to the practice. So at this point my test to the teacher was done. I could see his level of understanding. However, normally teachers are just teachers. They are still human beings that have good aspects and also many mistakes. It is easier to see the mistakes of the teacher because many eyes are watching them. So then I also understood what were the good aspects, the ones that I would like to learn from, and the others aspects that are not that beneficial. 

I believe that when this differentiation is made, between the qualities that are very well developed in the teacher and those qualities that are not that developed, the yogi or the student can benefit more from the teacher because he or she knows how to approach to the teacher and what to gain and expect from this interaction. Taking care of the good aspects and not paying much attention into the aspects that does not find that beneficial. This happens with all kind of teachers and in my experience is good to know so oneself can see to who to approach depending on the needs at the present moment."

Saturday, 27 December 2014

An Inspiring Memory

A European meditator who was on the 2014 Winter Pariyatti pilgrimage has recently shared how she remembers the more inspiring memories of this trip. She has made a collage of four important photos from this trip: starting from the upper left and going clockwise, one sees a Shinpyu (or novitiation) ceremony taking place at Shwedagon Pagoda, where a young boy takes on the monks' robes. Next is a photo from Ingyinbin showing Bhante Agga from the Netherlands along with the newly ordained Russell Quinn from New Zealand. Third shows the long line of brown-clad pilgrims making their way to Anauk Monastery in Pyaw Bwe Gyi, where Saya Thet Gyi taught during the last two years of his life. And finally is a wonderful, smiling photo of the Shwekyin Sayadaw and Dr. Khin Maung Aye, who delivered a Dhamma talk to the group.

For those wishing to make such memories of their own, a pilgrimage will take place on January 23, 2015, and spaces are still left... see Muditā Works for more information.

Friday, 26 December 2014

"How is your food?" "Not bad. I’m a vegetarian.’”

In the Food chapter of the upcoming book Shwe Lan Ga Lay, we take a look at some of the great Burmese meditation teachers and monks who abstained from meat.

While Sayagyi U Ba Khin ate fish and fowl during this life, he did take a temporary vow to abstain entirely from meat from Sayadaw U Tejawontha at Shwe Mok Htaw Pagoda in Pathein in the 1930s for a time. In addition to ensuring that his International Meditation Centre kitchen served only vegetarian food, he also prohibited the use of all pesticides and insecticides on center land. Although Maha Gandayone Sayadaw U Janaka sometimes ate meat, he proclaimed to prefer a vegetarian diet. The venerable monk also provided this memorable commentary indicating such preferences: “On 14 December 1977 I had another medical check-up and they said: ‘All’s well.’ If one asks ‘How is your food’ I would say ‘Not bad. I’m a vegetarian.’”

There are other highly respected monks of the past who were known to subsist on only one portion of simple vegetarian food daily. And the tradition continues today, as two of the most venerated contemporary monks are vegetarian: Yaw Sayadaw, the eldest living Tipiṭakadhara whose Dhamma talks are attended by large numbers, and Pa Auk Sayadaw, one of the most popular and revered meditation teacher. Sayagyi U Goenka, who passed away in 2013, was also a lifelong vegetarian. In his case, however, this was not due to any Burmese or Buddhist reason, but rather his Hindu family background. In fact, U Goenka oversaw the “vegetarian line” during the 1954-56 Buddhist Synod held at Kaba Aye Pagoda.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

From the Other Side of the Mirror

The current Sayadaw at Aletawya Monastery in Yangon

In the fourth chapter of the Monastic Life section of the upcoming book Shwe Lan Ga Lay, we look at some of the adjustments needed when foreign meditators stay at Burmese monasteries for extended periods. The following is the introduction to this section:

"For many decades, the idea of retreating from the world and entering a Buddhist monastery has been gaining traction in the West. At present, it has come to take on a connotation that for those fed up by the ways of the world and the problems of human society, one can give up this modern world and opt instead for a more idyllic community, where the usual mundane problems will somehow be no longer present. Such a sentiment was expressed by journalist Megan Stack in Every Man in this Village is a Liar when she wrote that after years of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “I wanted to burn my notebooks and join a Buddhist monastery someplace.” The idea of simple monastic life being a cure-all can also be found in the words of the motivation guru Tony Robbins. Along with encouraging his followers to achieve financial riches and attract their dream partner, he also suggests that they set their sights on such esoteric pursuits as deep-sea diving, public speaking or... joining a Buddhist monastery.

However, once one understands the nature of kilesas, it becomes obvious that one cannot be truly happy in any environment so long as any defilements are present. To paraphrase a Ajahn Chah's response to a student who expressed dissatisfaction with the conditions at that monastery, "It’s like you have a piece of dog poop in a little bag you keep on a string around your neck. Everywhere you go, you say, ‘Yuck, this place stinks!’” And given that monastic communities (thankfully) open their doors to those who still have such defilements, it stands to reason that even these organizations are bound to have the same failings as can be common to the human condition. The important difference may be that at monastic settings, one at least tries to remain aware of the nature of these kilesas while striving towards liberation from them. However, as with most expectations, spend enough time at monasteries and even this basic premise may become challenged."

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Burma Dhamma Year in Photos 2014

Auto Awesome, a Google feature, has made this slideshow from the photos posted on the Burma Dhamma blog in the last year of 2014. May we take this time to wish all a peaceful and productive 2015.

Monday, 22 December 2014

"It has given me a sense of security and purpose in life which I never thought possible."

Venerable Khema, formerly Rachel, is a British Buddhist nun who spent much time at Dhamma Giri in India, then at The Phyu Taw Ya Monastery in Burma, and now lives in Sri Lanka. In 2007, she wrote this in her meditation journal:

 “Practising Vipassana helps me to experience the law of cause and effect. It shows me that if I am unhappy it is because I am reacting to feelings inside. Things do not happen randomly. Meditation has a powerful effect on my mind which affects the way I behave and this in turn affects what happens to me and the way people act towards me. Meditation has made me more confident and less worried. It has given me a sense of security and purpose in life which I never thought possible. For that I am very grateful.”

Eating Vegetarian at Burmese Monasteries

Ma Khaing's home-cooked vegetarian restaurant in Mandalay

1) Is it rude to inform a monastery that I am vegetarian?

It is true that there are some countries that one can simply not travel to and reasonably expect to maintain a vegetarian diet. Fortunately, Myanmar is not one of them! Most Burmese monasteries are places where a vegetarian diet can be maintained. It is not considered rude to inform a monastery that one fully abstains from meat and fish. This should be done at the outset when one is asking for permission to stay, so that the monastery can determine if they can meet that need. While it is not appropriate to make numerous “special requests” of the kind that may be common at Western meditation centers, it is fine to make a simple request for vegetarian food. If there are even two vegetarians in an entire monastery, a special table is often arranged for them where only vegetarian dishes are served.

2) To what extent can I expect to have a balanced vegetarian diet?

The short answer is that usually one can count on at least a few purely vegetarian dishes at any meal. There are usually fresh vegetables and herbs, and good protein options such as beans, tofu, eggs, and various other soy products.

If a vegetarian guest is not expected, however, there may not be a balanced vegetarian meal on its own, so advance warning arrangements can help to ensure that the meal is more nutritious. The example of U Agga, a Dutch monk, is illustrative. While usually dwelling in the forest, he once came to Yangon for a short period, during which time he went on the morning alms round. Well-wishers gave whatever they had on hand, and at the end of the round, he found there was not enough vegetarian fare to give him proper sustenance. However, donors soon requested U Agga to tell them a day in advance when he would take an alms walk, so they could prepare something especially nutritious. (U Agga was staying with an American meditator in Yangon, so there was sufficient food here to fulfill his needs. In fact, U Agga’s main intention on taking the alms round was more to allow the local residents to make merit than to ensure his own meals.)

3) I want to sponsor a Saṅgha-Dāna for all the monks at a monastery. Can I request that only vegetarian food be served?

This depends largely on the culture of the meditation center or monastery. Some sites may already be pure vegetarian, or vegetarian-friendly, and such a request will be understood. In other places, however, the monks and yogis have come to expect meat and fish as part of their diet, and it may not be appropriate to demand which food can be served them, and which cannot. In these cases, practicing renunciation when giving the dāna may be the best policy. Another option is to offer a Saṅgha-Dāna at a neutral site and invite monks and nuns to attend. If it is announced that one is serving vegetarian fare, monastics can decide in advance whether they wish to attend.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

"Craig's Retreat"

On CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Craig Desson, host of The Sunday Edition, shares his experience of sitting his first ten-day Vipassana course at Dhamma Torana, a meditation center in the tradition of Sayagyi U Goenka. The interview gives an interesting perspective to how a Westerner has learned to practice the Buddha's teachings, without having any background whatsoever in the tradition or context. Although sitting a ten-day course (and even a sixty-day course) as a lay person is in truth very, very far from actually being a monk, Mr. Desson notes that he felt his experience on the course helped him to feel as though he was living "the monk's life."

The seven-minute interview can be listened to here

Patipatti Side of Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin

In interviews with people who were around Ingyinbin at the time of Webu Sayadaw, Shwe Lan Ga Lay has worked to reconstruct a typical day at the monastery: Webu would start his day early and take his breakfast, and offer a plate of food to the Buddha statue in his residence at the San Kyaung building; his attendant recorded that he offered rice three times per day, at dawn before breakfast, after receiving alms, and before lunch. He would then tour his compound and provide instructions to the monks, nuns, and lay yogis and supporters. He would then 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 depending on the quantity of food that was donated. After eating lunch, he would give a discourse, and then find some time to do some sweeping. From noon until around 4 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 oversee any other activities that needed his attention, such as the nuns’ retaking of sīla, a practice that happened periodically. 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. 

From watching this 90 second video, filmed during the Pariyatti pilgrimages of 2014, one is struck by the deep serenity and silence found still on these grounds today. This was certainly true of Russell Quinn, who decided to forgo the rest of the pilgrimage in order to ordain as a monk and stay here for ten days.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Dhamma Video

This site was recently shared by a European monk who has been in Myanmar since 2011. It features inspiring videos and biographies from some of the country's great Burmese Sayadaws and meditation masters.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Jenny Phillips discusses the Dhamma Brothers on Oprah Winfrey Part 2

On Oprah Winfrey's Soul Series, she interviews Jenny Phillips in a two-part episode. Ms. Phillips made a critically acclaimed documentary called the Dhamma Brothers about a prison in the Deep South that embraces vipassana meditation through the Sayagyi U Goenka organization. She also published a book describing the project. In this interview, Ms. Phillips discusses the making of the film as well as how the meditative prisoners are doing today. The first part of the interview can be found here.

Ms. Phillips can also be heard on Secular Buddhism and written interviews were published in New England Film and Spirituality & Practice.

"Being the Only Meditator in the Monastery"

The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the seventh entry, and the beginning post can be found here.

"I had a lot of misunderstandings with Burmese people because of culture differences. One example is how affection is expressed. In Mexico it is seen as wholesome to show our affection to people that we love by hugging and kissing. But in Burmese culture this is very strange behaviour. In Kalaw I had a Burmese language teacher that came to the monastery to support the yogis with food. Every time I was sick she would come and see me, and so I felt a lot of appreciation towards her. My way to express gratitude was to hug and kiss her. However, later on I was told that she felt very strange when I did that, and she did not know what was happening because she had never hugged anyone before. So it was a new experience for her and for me as well. Something that is so common for me, for her is an uncomfortable moment.

Eventually, the rest of the yogis left and I was the only yogi at the monastery in Kalaw. The lay people around were mainly workers and there was just one monk in the monastery. I continued to have interviews every day with him. However, I had some difficulties with one new worker who came to the monastery. He was a boy around 16 that was very curious about foreigners. Nothing extraordinary happened but I needed to ask the main monk to move this kid away from the dorm where I was staying. It was mainly childish games but they did make me feel very uncomfortable because I was the only yogi and single women living in the dorm.

After the monk moved the child from the dorm I needed to establish my practice again cause I was experiencing a lot of Dosa. For other women who come to Myanmar to meditate, I think it is important that they know that generally speaking, Burmese women are never alone. This was also new for me to have to learn, because most of the time I am used to be by myself. I want to share that there is not much to fear because the general population is very kind and mellow, but is important to keep in mind the customs of the country.

Also Myanmar people are in general very curious to meet foreigners because they see them so seldom. Most of the time this is done in a very gentle and naive way, however, is important to have some distance with men because they are not use to see women by themselves. Generally speaking, Myanmar is a very safe place compared to India or Latin America. But is important not to be alone with a Myanmar men because they are not use this interaction.

In my case, they actually put this Burmese boy in the dorm with me because they thought I will be more comfortable with someone in the dorm. This was not true: I was so happy to have free space at that time. I just needed to lock the doors before going to bed and I was fine. Most Burmese women believe that they cannot be by themselves because they are told that they should not so from a young age, so they never experience total solitude. Also, I find that many are afraid of ghosts and darkness. The situation I faced is not so uncommon, that is, where a Burmese man volunteers to stay close to the lady so she can feel protected. If the foreigner lady does not know very well this person, it is better not accept the offer.

After they took the boy out of the dorm the Western monk came again and he helped me to re-establish awareness and Samadhi because I was a little bit agitated. Then I could see that it was mainly a childish game because the boy did not bother me anymore. Thanks to this monk little by little I could understood the Shwe Oo Min method better.

Some others yogis came to the monastery and we were now three yogis with the Western monk there as well. The main Sayadaw of the monastery needed to leave so the the Western monk came to be appointed the head during this time. This monastery and especially this particular time with the other yogis was very significant for the practice for me. I felt comfortable and with good company and guidance. So I could experience how the practice was progressing little by little.

Because the monastery was very free, we could also play with the practice and figure out which was the most skillful way to develop the practice. This freedom was significant for the practice. It gave me confidence that it was working. Confidence in that the practice by itself will give results. The practice does work and is important to gave a good guidance but ultimately the one that is making the job is the yogi. So it is confidence in that the yogi have already all the necessary prerequisites to progress. The practice by itself will allow the yogi to grow. 

The others yogis did not spend the Waso (Rains Retreat) in the monastery. They needed to go for different reasons. So I was the only yogi one more time. Because this time was more than one month been the only yogi, sometimes I struggled a little. At some point I needed some other yogi company. However, this did not stop me from meditating. I tried as much as I could but sometimes the progress was a little bit slow because of the conditions at that moment. I believe I was not fully prepared for the experience. The interviews with the Western monk were useful to balance the practice. And the freedom that the monastery gave to the yogis help me also to don't push to hard when the mind was not completely stable.

After a couple of months one of the yogis that left came back and I could have some company. By that time it was Kathina time. So the main monk of the monastery came back with a lot of yogis from Vietnam. At that point the monastery was full of people. Before Kathina started, the monastery needed to get ready but the workers were doing very little work. Close to the date of Kathina everyone in the monastery was running to finish all the work. It was my first time to be in a Kathina ceremony and I was invited to visit others Kathina events in town. I found it very interesting. The Kathina in our monastery was very small comparing to the Kathina in the big monasteries.

By that time Kalaw was very cold in the mornings and at night. At noontime it was ok, but generally speaking was much cooler than Yangon. Because of that reason I got a cold and I needed to stay there to recover."

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Sayadaw U Tejaniya in Kalaw 5

In this fifth of eight parts, Sayadaw U Tejaniya continues his Dhamma discussion in Kalaw. He is answering questions at the Shwe Oo Min Monastery in Kalaw, from a group of foreign meditators and monks. This is precious footage that can now be shared with those all over the world who endeavor to follow the Buddha's teachings of peace.

To begin at the first part, go here.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Tracing Accusations of Burmese Buddhist "Fatalism"

A recent post questioned why the New York Times' lead reporter in Myanmar would use a derogatory and uninformed term when describing the attitude of a Burmese Buddhist man whom he seems to be praising in the overall article; as well as why the author is inserting what is clearly a subjective view into an objective news story. Again, the original article can be found here, and the quote in question is here: 

"The third of five children from a rice-farming family in a remote village three miles from the Bay of Bengal, [Khin Myint Maung] shows no resentment toward the wealth that flashes past, only Buddhist fatalism.

'Everyone has their own destiny,' he said during a break from directing traffic at the corner of Dhammazedi and Link Roads, his usual spot not far from Shwedagon Pagoda. 'The rich are rich because they did many good things in their past life. Everyone has their own place.'"


Of course, the term in question is Mr. Fuller's assumption that Khin Myint Maung shows an example of "only Buddhist fatalism." There is a history of 19th century Western authors using this term to incorrectly paint a bleak picture of the Buddha's teachings (often those that did it were Christian missionaries or British colonialists). The other incorrect term used at the time was to refer to the Buddha as "nihilist." Both of these terms were employed because writers grossly misunderstood the teachings and how they were followed-- accusations of Buddhist "fatalism" arose from a misunderstanding of the concept of kamma (karma), and accusations of Buddhist "nihilism" came from misunderstanding the concept of nibbana (nirvana). Today, it is considered offensive to use these terms when describing Theravada Buddhists, for it represents an antiquated perspective when the Buddha was depicted as a pessimistic figure (and this was often done so in order to promote either British colonial governance or the Christian religion). Additionally, as pointed out in the previous post, there is not a trace of truth to either of these terms ("nihilist" or "fatalist") that can be found when combing through the pantheon of the Buddha's teachings. If anything, his teachings are radically opposed to these concepts, and speak against them in almost every sutta.

Mr. Fuller has not yet explained why he chose to use this offensive word in an objective news story on the cover of the Sunday New York Times. Those that are also interested in his reasoning are encouraged to write him here. One also has to add that it is extremely concerning that an author holding these discriminatory views would be assigned to cover Myanmar for the Times, and one can only wonder how holding these views affects his reporting on the many other "news" stories he files on Myanmar for the paper.

The post has also been receiving its share of comments. Wtin Tut noted:

Thank you for your reply to the usual simplistic or should I say simple-minded comment about Buddhism. It seems to be the norm for Myanmar or anything related to the country. Many views are still no deeper than a bottle cap.

Ma Thanegi, a noted author and former political prisoner, also quipped that Thomas Fuller "did not know that greed and anger are the 2 first defilements and the last, ignorance is what he has. I don't think people like him could ever understand that we don't go arounding hating and being angry with rich people.  You know the Burmese proverb 'one can bear the sufferings of poverty but not of wealth.  ဆင္းရဲ တဲ့ ဒါဏ္ ကိုခံနိုင္တယ္ ခ်မ္းသာ တဲ့ ဒါဏ္ ကို မခံနိုင္ဘူး"

In reading Ma Thanegi's words, one recalls another local author described something of Burmese country life in his Collected Works: “These simple people, they do not want to go ride in a motorcar like the town folks. They do not want to have Bachelor of Arts or Master of Arts degrees like their counterparts in towns. They do not desire to become teachers or barristers. No inclination to spend time at cinemas or adorn themselves in gold and jewels. To become a wife of a government official? No, that would not even cross their minds. They are content to ride a bumpy ox-cart along a dusty trail. That, for them, is a highway in heaven! The screeches from the wheels constantly grinding against the axles are the sounds of angels’ harps to them.” Of course, reporters like Mr. Fuller may accuse this writer as yet another example of "Burmese Buddhist fatalism" for their lack of worldly desires.

Now let us take a moment to examine this accusation of "Burmese Buddhist fatalism" in more detail and in some historical context. We can first turn to a work by William Charles Bertrand in 1911, called "Christian Missions in Burma". He writes:

"They gather in groups to recite the law or listen to a hpongyi [Buddhist monk] reading it, they build little sand pagodas in front of their houses or offer candles and flowers to the image of the Buddha; occasionally the whole city, at a given time at night, has been lit up with bonfires in every compound, and has broken out into a great din made by the beating of gongs and tin pots and similar kinds of music. Crowds from the Chinese or Hindu quarters have passed along in weird torchlight processions, in order by these means to scare away the plague devil. At the same time—so does careless fatalism alternate with panic—they fail to take the simplest sanitary precautions; and I had an instance the other day of a man finding a dead rat in his house, and bringing it out in his hands, though expressly warned of the folly of so doing. Within two days he and his wife were dead of plague."

Here, Bertrand applies a loose definition of Burmese Buddhist fatalism-- to him, it is in some strange and undefined mixture of poor hygiene, listening to a Dhamma Discourse by a monk, honoring shrines of the Buddha, and some (non-Burmese, non-Buddhist) "Chinese or Hindu" rituals happening in the same quarter. Hardly a scholarly examination of the Abhidhamma treatises governing kamma! Then, in 1901 John Nisbet wrote this in "Burma under British Rule and Before":

When attacked by cholera, the Burman resigns himself to fate, whereas the native of India vows to dedicate some offering to his gods if they aid him in recovering. Shortly after my first arrival in Burma one of my Indian servants was attacked with cholera. Throughout the whole time I was dosing him with brandy and chloro-dyne he kept vowing that if his life were spared he would offer up a kid as a sacrifice to one of his gods. A day or two after he had recovered he duly came and asked for an advance of pay, in order to buy a kid for the purpose of fulfilling the vow he had made whilst stricken with the black disease. He got the money ; he bought the kid ; and he faithfully performed his vow. But as he afterwards prepared a savoury stew with the sacrifice, and ate it with the assistance of a few friends, the transaction was after all no dead loss or pure waste of money. With the Burman it is different, because he is a fatalist in such matters.

Here, Nisbet seems to actually praise the Indian Hindu for his propitiation of his many gods, and ridicule the Burmese Buddhist for doing nothing (however, we don't know the entire circumstance of the story, and the "doing nothing" that Nisbet observed may be a similar subjective misunderstanding that Thomas Fuller exhibited just a couple weeks ago in regards to Khin Myint Maung). Also, while Hindus may attribute the happenings on earth to the whims and desires of the gods, Burmese remember the Buddha's discourses that we alone are responsible for our life, and we are constantly planting the seeds of greater happiness or suffering. The Burmese Buddhist would not run around trying to appease a dozens gods, but rather accept the given reality without greed, anger, nor delusion, striving for non-attachment, and attempting to see things clearly and use any event as a lesson for further spiritual growth. Here is another excerpt from Nisbet:

Being fatalists to a very great extent, the Burmese duly recognize the destructive currents of life, which bear away human creatures. These fatal influences (Awga), fourfold in number, are caused by the currents of libidinous desire, of life's vicissitudes, of personal contact, and of ignorance and folly. In addition to the many other dangers with which the Burman's pilgrimage through the present state of existence is beset, he is exposed to the malignant influences of the three great evil periods {Kat), in which famine, pestilence, and slaughter are rife. Five kinds of enemies {Yan) have also to be contended against, viz., rulers of all sorts (including the sun and the moon, ruling the day and the night), water, fire, thieves, and ill-wishers. If a cultivator's rice fields have been parched by drought or destroyed by inundation, he will usually describe his misfortunes as caused by " the five enemies." There are four different kinds of fire {Tezaw) in the body, only one of which is beneficent, the fire [Dat) that prevents corruption even as salt prevents flesh from becoming tainted. The remaining three are malignant, including the fire (Than-dabbana) arising from sorrow and causing the body to waste as if it were burned, the fire (Daka) producing infirmity and decay, and the stomachic fire [Pdsaga), that consumes the food partaken of. Finally, human beings have five great masters or tyrants [Man) in their animal constitution (Kaitda Man), in their subjection to the operations of the four causes (actions, mind, season, and food : Abithingdya Man), in passion [Kilethd Man), in death [Missic Man), and in the chief of the evil spirits {Dewaputta, the Man Nat).

In this excerpt, we cannot even attempt to show the misunderstandings of Nisbet, so convoluted is his attempt to bend Buddhist scriptures towards his intention of proving a Buddhist fatalism. We can only shrug our heads and hope that current Western writers show more sense.

Finally, we have "The Story of Burma" by E.G. Harmer, who wrote:

For the first year or two after the annexation, as this brief sketch of the era of dacoity has already shown, the settlement of the country was hindered by the circumstance that gang-robbery enjoyed a recognized status. Again and again, when the deputy commissioners were touring their districts, they discovered that the villagers continued to pay blackmail as listlessly as ever. It was a weary task to put a backbone into these fatalists. But the English officers were stubborn men. They appointed the best of the local men as Burmese magistrates, and gave them the power to order a whipping, or to sentence up to six months' imprisonment. And year by year they pegged away, until at length the peace-loving Burman came to understand that the English raj* meant justice for the strong, protection for the weak, and one law for all.

In other words, the Burmese owe a great debt to the white man for annexing their country and bringing civilization and the rule of law to a land that, due to its Buddhist fatalist attitude, obviously knew none before (tongue firmly in cheek here).

Thankfully, not all Westerners fell into this trap. Notably, British chemist Allan Bennett, who spent many years in Ceylon and Burma, responded to this characterization in "Religion of Burma". He wrote:

Teaching as it does that the character and destiny of any being are, with one exception, absolutely determined for any given moment, and are the necessary resultants of the long line of mental doings which constitute his whole past, Buddhism appears at first sight to teach fatalism, determinism, pure and simple. But it is an equally prominent part of Buddhist doctrine that, however determinate, for the present moment, is the Kamma, the character and destiny of a given being, yet that being may, if he has but wisdom and knows how to utilise it, alter his whole future in whatever direction pleases him. In other words an intelligent being, such as man, is, for the immediate moment, ruled by his destiny; he is bound by all the forces of his past to react in a definite fashion to any given set of circumstances that may arise. But over the future he is himself ruler—within very wide limits indeed; he can, if he have knowledge, so profoundly alter, by dint of culture, his own character, as to produce results obviously manifest even in the short span of this life. This circumstance is, of course, at the root of all education; and the life of a George Stephenson is a living example of the profound effect on character and destiny which a man can bring about by dint of mental culture. Thus we may put the Buddhist position as to the free will or predestination discussion by saying that a man is determined for the immediate present, but that he has choice as to his way in life as regards the future.
Can we mould the life we have so as to make tomorrow's vision nobler, greater, and truer than the life we lead to-day? It is in the answer to this question that the complement to the half-truth of which I have spoken appears—the understanding so lacking in this Buddhist land, which changes this fatality of Kamma into a power whereby each man may change, not his own destiny alone, but even, in less degree, that of all the world, For that answer is in the affirmative. We may, the Dhamma tells us, so far modify the cause of this our life, the power of Kamma itself, that even in this existence our destiny, our environment may all be changed. "It is," The Master tells us in the Pitaka, "it is through not-knowing and not-understanding that we have lived so long in this great ocean of existence, both you and I." And if "not knowing and not understanding" be indeed the source of all this suffering life, then, by Right Knowledge and Eight Understanding we may in all things change the life we live. The change is, not only substituting a brighter, nobler, grander life for the petty path we tread, but even passing beyond the veil which hides from us the Light Eternal, and entering into the Truth which reigns beyond all life. Only by knowing and by understanding! In all our life we see how true it is, this Teaching of The Master; by knowing and by understanding, if but rightly we apply our knowledge, we may command whatever power we in ignorance obeyed; we may turn every force of Nature to our service; and we may find in each universal law the means to escape from its domination.

And with these beautiful words, we say, "enough said."

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Role of Burmese Food in the Dhamma

In the Food chapter in the upcoming Shwe Lan Ga Lay book, we take a look at the role of food and drink within Burmese Buddhist society. Cuisine in other cultures can take on a variety of roles: it may be prepared with the aesthetic touch of the artist, commented on by the refined critique of the gourmand, used as a means of rich socializing—and in modern industrialized countries, sometimes abused with excessive craving which leads to its own health risks—yet in Myanmar, food tends to play a somewhat different function. In this devout country, some of the most important duties of lay supporters revolve around food preparation, for much of the monks’ code of discipline is related to when they may eat and how they may accept nourishment. And even for the yogi intent on secluded meditation in some forest hut, the daily meal becomes the height of sensual pleasure in a day—for this reason, much has been written by Myanmar’s great monks and meditation teachers on how to find the Middle Way when it comes to food. Additionally, there are regularly stories of meditators having to leave the Golden Land earlier than expected primarily due to problems with diet. For this reason, we take the time to explore the issue of food in Myanmar, and prepare the foreign yogi for a productive stay that will allow them sufficient health to delve into the Dhamma up until their heart’s content.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

"They do not sleep or eat or walk as do other men.”

“The reverence in which a monk—ay, even the monk to-day who was but an ordinary man yesterday—is held by the people is very great. All those who address him do so kneeling. Even the king himself was lower than a monk, took a lower seat than a monk in the palace. He is addressed as 'Lord,' and those who address him are his disciples. Poor as he is, living on daily charity, without any power or authority of any kind, the greatest in the land would dismount and yield the road that he should pass. Such is the people's reverence for a holy life. Never was such voluntary homage yielded to any as to these monks. There is a special language for them, the ordinary language of life being too common to be applied to their actions. They do not sleep or eat or walk as do other men.” Harold Fielding, Soul of a People

Monday, 1 December 2014

Jenny Phillips discusses the Dhamma Brothers on Oprah Winfrey Part 1

On Oprah Winfrey's Soul Series, she interviews Jenny Phillips in a two-part episode. Ms. Phillips made a critically acclaimed documentary called the Dhamma Brothers about a prison in the Deep South that embraces vipassana meditation through the Sayagyi U Goenka organization. She also published a book describing the project. In this interview, Ms. Phillips discusses the making of the film as well as how the meditative prisoners are doing today. The second part of the interview can be found here.

Ms. Phillips can also be heard on Secular Buddhism and written interviews were published in New England Film and Spirituality & Practice.

Taung Phi Lar Meditation Center Monastery in the Sagaing Hills

In the same proximity as Padamyar Zedi Pagoda, Taung Phi Lar Monastery monastery is a site not to missed on any trip to the Golden Land, and may be worth extending a visa to arrange for a longer stay! The monastery is buried within the trees and offers a secluded and quiet atmosphere for practice. Taung Phi Lar Sayadaw was also known to reside here in the 18th century. The current Sayadaw is said to follow the weizka path.

The compound is larger than most found in the Sagaing Hills. It has a kind of mountain atmosphere to it, and its builders took advantage of the uneven ground to construct a number of residences and sites for practice that allow the meditator greater solitude. As there are rarely many yogis here, so noise is rarely a factor. The food served is strictly vegetarian.

A long set of impressive brick and stone stairs leads to the top of the compound, laid between rock walls. On the way up, one passes several caves built into the hillside. The stairway ends at a circular, open-air style meditation hall, with a small pavilion in the middle. Such a design for a meditation hall is extremely rare in Myanmar. There is a central Bodhi tree, around which yogis may meditate. Paintings are found on all the interior upper walls, including a series of life-sized scenes from the Buddha’s life. Breathtaking views of the expanding forest can be glimpsed from every side. Of particular note is a makeshift gong: on closer examination, one sees that it is a large American bomb from World War II, and a small inscription can still be made out that reads: USA Air Forces 11-43 (Burmese lettering seems to have renamed it as “Mettā Bell”). The sole windmill that exists in the Sagaing Hills is also found at this site. Finally, one can climb a meandering stairway up the slope, where two rather menacing looking cave entrances beckon off to the right, although permission should be requested prior to entering, as they may not be safe.

The Sayadaw speaks excellent English, and one can request permission from him to stay a while and practice. He can also teach and guide yogis’ practice, including the high jhanas. Aside from a Canadian monk who once spent a few months here, few foreign yogis have visited this site before. 

A statue of the original Taung Phi Lar Sayadaw

Sunday, 30 November 2014

"The Fires of Lust are the Fiercest of Fires"

The following is a quotation by the great Italian monk U Lawkanatha, who spent many years as a monk in Burma. After meeting Webu Sayadaw, he took a vow never again to lie down, which he upheld for the remaining decades of his life. He was also close to such 20th century luminaries as Ajahn Pannavadho, Sun Lun Sayadaw, B.R. Ambedkar, among others. His dreams of returning to Italy prior to World War II and converting Benito Mussolini to Buddhism did not pan out, and instead he found himself in a British POW camp. Undeterred, he argued that wearing the saffron robes negated any implied political involvement, and used his time at the prison to teach Dhamma to other political inmates. Following the war, he made the Buddha's teachings especially relevant in an age when there was a constant fear of nuclear annihilation. The following excerpt is from a speech given at Rangoon University:

"The only reliable Guide is the Greatest Physician in the Universe who removed his own cause of unhappiness who destroyed his Craving and attained the highest happiness through the destruction of the cause of unhappiness. Economic ways will never give happiness because economics never destroy Greed, Hatred and Ignorance. Each one must attain his own happiness within himself; each man must be a physician to himself. Only by conquering the passions, which burn within can one attain the cool state where there is no longer any burning. There is no fire like lust, our Lord Buddha said. It is the fiercest of all fires. And those who think that burning is a pleasure, well, they can go on burning. They can go on burning because our Lord Buddha said that the fires of lust are the fiercest fires. And we have been burning from the infinite past and we will go on burning to the infinite future until and unless we extinguish the flame by means of the water of Truth and by withholding the fuel. Adding water of Truth and withholding the fuel. Withhold what fuel? It is the fuel for the fires of passions. We must see without attachment. We must listen philosophically — seeing and knowing things as they really are without attachment. And once we see, we smell, we taste, we hear, we touch and we think without attachment, then, we are using the senses as our Lord Buddha used the senses — as the Master and not as a slave. He used the senses without clinging. This divine detachment withholds the fuel from the senses and by withholding the fuel the fires die."

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Rice and Dhamma

One of the most important and sacred events in the Buddhist faith happens in every village and city throughout the country on every single day, when even the poorest of the poor find time and resources to be able to give just a single spoonful of rice to monks on their morning almsrounds. This ritual, taking place since the Buddha’s time, links the small rice grain to the great religion in the minds of many. 

And there are several proverbs linking one’s home store of rice with his or her ambitions for the world. One goes maouq lun they hsan, peiq they. This means that “the overfilled rice tends to spill,” figuratively suggesting that an overproud person brings himself down. Another states San me shi, a sa gyi, meaning “no rice at a home, but a big eater,” and is said for people who squander their possessions. Finally, there is the good practical advice of Thu oh hnin thu san tan yone. This means that “The pot and amount of rice should be of equal size,” or simply “live within your means.”

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

"The Making of the Mass Meditation Movement"

The podcasts Buddhist Geeks interviewed Professor Erik Braun on his new book The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw.

In the first episode, the site describes: "Erik joins host Vincent Horn to discuss his book and the legacy of Burmese monk Ledi Sayadaw. By connecting the dots between changes in Burmese Buddhism with the political disruption caused by the British takeover of Burma in the late 19th Century, Erik describes Ledi’s role in bringing insight meditation practice to the modern world."

In the second part, "Erik and host Vincent Horn continue a discussion on Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw and his role in bringing insight meditation to the world. The conversation digs deeper into the connections between Burmese political disruption and changes to Buddhist practice in Burma, how meditation became more accepted in Burmese Buddhism, and how this all led to the export of insight meditation to the rest of the world."

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Editing "Shwe Lan"

Many readers may be aware that much of the content featured on this blog are excerpts from an upcoming book, Shwe Lan Ga Lay, or "The Golden Path." What is this book, one may ask.... the answer:

The Shwe Lan Ga Lay (The Golden Path) project – a Burma guidebook for Dhamma pilgrims – was launched in April 2013. The intention behind this book is to make the Golden Land more accessible to seekers & meditators who have the noble intention to develop in Dhamma. In the past year-and-a-half a team of volunteers has visited hundreds of monasteries and pagodas throughout Burma and interviewed dozens of monks and scholars. They have gleaned information that was previously not available in English, and some of which has never been written down in any language. More can be read here.

The project is run by volunteers from around the world who are offering their skills freely from within their own areas of professional expertise. Shwe Lan Ga Lay has a number of different components, from photography to art, translation to research, and layout to web design. In this blog post, we peel back the curtain on just one of these fields: text creation and editing.

For example, the following single page is the result of months and months of hard work. Even this single page was only able to be written after sufficient research was been completed and dozens of various monks, nuns, meditation teachers, and scholars were been interviewed. In rough draft form, it looks like this:

Because the content of this section is so important-- discussing the role of women in Buddhism-- we want to make certain that every word on the page is subject to exceptional scrutiny. To bring in another layer of critial feedback, a European monk in Burma has volunteered to read this draft. In addition to speaking Burmese and Sinhalese fluently, he has also graduated top in his class from some of the world's top Buddhist universities. However, these days he is spending almost every available moment memorizing the Vinaya Pitaka, and so has decided not to be online. For this reason, we are only able to avail ourselves of his help through the following way:

First, we must send the above document (along with other documents, ultimately totaling many hundreds of pages) to a Shwe Lan volunteer in Japan. He then formats the document so that it may be printed. On this excerpt, that means making sure that the comment box may appear "in line". After doing so, for the second step, he then emails the now-printer-friendly document to Yangon, where an attendant of the monk uses dana to print the entire document at a local cybercafe (third step). The fourth step involves the lay supporter taking a taxi to the monastery, thus depositing the printed document for his inspection. The European monk reads the entire document, making comments as you see below:

The numbers correspond to longer comments that he wishes to make, which he records in a separate journal (fifth step). As he has an extensive Buddhist library, he regularly spends weeks checking and referencing his sources where additions and changes are needed to the text. Many of his comments are from Sinhalese, Burmese, and Pali sources, and some are from oral interviews he conducts with senior Burmese monks. When making his extended comments, here is an excerpt referencing the above page:

For the sixth and final step in this process alone, he photographs all of his notes with his camera-phone, and these reach the writer where his changes can be considered.

From this point, the next journey the text will undertake is to reach a professional editor for comprehensive review. There are two such editors currently volunteering for Shwe Lan Ga Lay, one in Massachusetts and the other in Australia. They look at flow, organization, grammar, readability, style, and many other issues associated with the text. They then send their comments back to the main writer who further incorporates their changes. The above page on "Women in Burmese Buddhism" has not yet been passed to the editors, so their comments are not yet available. However, here is an example of how one editor has marked up a page discussing arrival in Myanmar, and particularly Internet:

Note that this is only the very first draft, and the writer and editor may correspond for many months and dozens of more drafts, further refining the document so that when it is ultimately given to the foreign meditator, they have a practical and useful guide for how to better develop in Dhamma while in the Golden Land.

In truth, there are many more people and steps involved in this process of text creation alone, but hopefully this provides a basic idea of how we are spending our days in making Shwe Lan Ga Lay. This also does not mention the many dozens of other volunteers making original artwork, laying out the design, organizing photographs, and many more tasks. (As an example, you may have noticed that in Point #3 the European monk suggested that we ask an artist to draw a nun's alms bowl, so that request will be forwarded to the relevant volunteers)

For those who would like to join our effort, please see here for more details. You may also write us at burmadhamma(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thoughts on Gratitude in Burma

"I was living in Myanmar for several years, and had in this time developed a number of good friends. One Burmese woman in particular went out of her way—far above and beyond the call of duty—on several occasions to help me in quite profound ways. I wanted to recognize how grateful I was for her friendship and assistance, and how much I valued her kindness. But whenever I tried to thank her, she would be quite upset and insist that in true friendship one does not help another for any ‘thanks’, and I need not say this. I tried to follow her wishes, but it was quite difficult for me to be the recipient of such good will and sit back quietly without expressing the warmth and appreciation—it actually started making me feel like a miser. When I realized this, we had a talk on culture. I said that expressing gratitude was not just for her, but for me too, and something that she didn’t have the right to take away from me. I said that it was a natural human response to share this notion, rather than the kind of automatic ‘thank yous’ said when getting out of a taxi, and it didn’t feel right for me to leave this unsaid. Eventually we came to a kind of negotiation on this—I wasn’t effusive and overbearing, and she recognized that this was something I needed to say for myself and allowed space for me to say it." -- American meditator

"I had a lot of misunderstandings with Burmese people because of cultural differences. One example is how affection is expressed. In Mexico it is seen as wholesome to show our affection to people that we love by hugging and kissing. But in Burmese culture this is very strange behaviour. In Kalaw there was a Burmese language teacher who came to the monastery to support the yogis with food. Every time I was sick she would come and see me, and so I felt a lot of appreciation towards her. My way to express gratitude was to hug and kiss her. However, later on I was told that she felt very strange when I did that, and she did not know what was happening because she had never hugged anyone before. So it was a new experience for her and for me as well. Something that is so common for me, for her is an uncomfortable moment." -- Mexican meditator

"I remember after I came to Burma and saw the first alms-round, it was so beautiful I got tears in my eyes. In India there was no alms-round. In Burma I saw the people (mostly women) waking up so early before 6 am to cook the food for the monks. All the families come outside, children sitting on their knees, palms folded and there is this silence in this ritual of giving which I found magic. It felt like a feeling of goodness, caring, harmony, oneness and community. It melted my heart. The giving culture in Burma, especially if you are a monk was overwhelming. I can’t imagine this happening in any other country of the world. Sometimes when I walked on the street people even ran after me to offer drinks or cookies. The giving was everywhere, it grows into everything. People are just very happy to take care of you without expecting anything in return. In Burma after I received help, the person helping me suddenly disappeared. Not even wanting any contact details, nothing in return at all. The effect that it had on me was that it gave me the urge to do the same. Do something back. I didn’t have much money but I started with buying small things here and there and cleaning something for somebody. I realized it felt so good! It was actually the helping itself which was the reward. I think we in the West, often on a deeper level, feel somewhat bad about ourselves. And the ability to mean something for someone, the power to make someone’s heart open and happy is a profound and joyful experience for all. It might even help healing these deeper 'Western' wounds. At least it makes one less self-centered and you orient yourself more in what is needed around. This becomes a habit from which I think only good results can come, for oneself and the community at large. What an amazing culture! It made me reorient how I looked at the phenomena of sharing and helping each other. We have this ‘something in return’ culture. I did give and share in the West also, from time to time at least, but it was less of a priority or a habit in my life and there was less insight into the value and the joy of giving. I think by just being in this culture it made me a better person." -- Dutch monk

Monday, 24 November 2014

Exclusive Pilgrimage Opportunity to Myanmar in Early 2015 for Vipassana Meditators in the tradition of S.N. Goenka

Pilgrims at Bogyoke Market

Pilgrims meditate before Nga That Gyi Pagoda in Yangon as monks chat suttas

For all pilgrimage and meditator travel in Myanmar, please refer to Muditā Works

From Compassionate Travels Myanmar:

"Dear Vipassana Meditation Friends,

Compassionate Travels Myanmar (CTM) 
is pleased to announce an opportunity to participate in a 14-day pilgrimage throughout Myanmar to sites related to Vipassana Meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka. The pilgrimage will commence on January 23, 2015 and end on Febraury 5, 2015. Extended travel options are available after the 14 days tour.

The pilgrimage includes stops at the International Meditation Center (IMC) in Yangon, a visit to Saya Thet Gyi's farming village and meditation center, travel to Monywa where Ledi Sayadaw learned and taught meditation, and more.

Options for additional travel after the pilgrimage include places connected with Venerable Webu Sayadaw - the celebrated monk who inspired Sayagyi U Ba Khin to teach Vipassana Meditation - or other unique Myanmar sites such as Bagan, Mt. Popa, Inle Lake, Golden Rock, Sagaing Hills, and Shan State. Exact prices for those options are discussed on a per case basis.

The founders of CTM have independently been taking pilgrims to these sites and researching them for many years, and CTM as a company itself was founded in 2013. This is our second year of offering group pilgrimages and as Myanmar opens its doors to the world, it is much easier for meditators to experience the heart of this practice in ways that have never been possible before. We can also offer customized meditative travel and stays for any type of group at any time.

Pilgrims eating lunch

Pilgrims talking at Ma Khaing's restaurant in Mandalay

Pilgrims meditate in a shrine area at a restaurant before eating lunch in Upper Burma