Thursday, 16 January 2014

Burma Day 10: Prophecy Fulfilled

If you missed Day 9, go here. The following excerpt was written by Kory Goldberg about the pilgrimage in BurmaYou can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

"Impermanent are all compounded things, and every moment on this trip is a living testament to this wise teaching of the Buddha. From cycles of health and illness, joy and misery, luxurious beds to hard wooden floors we have experienced anicca in all its forms. After two nights in a comfortable hotel, we now find ourselves sleeping on a dusty floor in a decrepit building with a freaked out barn owl wondering where all these strange humans come from. It doesn't really matter though because the despite the extremely rustic conditions that no one in our group is accustomed to we are at a very powerful sacred site that is hardly known today, either by foreigners or Burmese.

Ingyinbin Monastery, translated as Sal Tree Monastery (also known as the "Patipatti side"), is the second founded by the first (and most influential) Webu Sayadaw. Not only is this the site where he was born into this world and passed away from it, but it is also where the legendary monk fully awakened to the truth of ultimate reality. For students of Goenkaji and Mother Sayama, it is also an important, yet barely known, site as it is here where Sayagyi U Ba Khin ordained as a bhikkhu for 10 days in 1965 in order to engage deeply in meditation and as some rumours have it to teach subtle analytical points of practice to a group of celestial beings (apparently the only humans who could take on this unimaginable task are monks).

On our way to this special place we stopped in Sain Pyin Gyi, the small village where the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw was born in 1846 and ordained as an adolescent. As with Ingyinbin, we were the first group of foreigners to ever visit. The villagers were so excited for our arrival that they had even send a convoy to come meet us on the road to make sure that we didn't lose our way. Our visit began with a meeting with nine local Sayadaws (two of whom were smoking cigarettes when we arrived, a shock to some, amusing to others) and which was overseen by hundreds of villagers. The Sayadaws led us in a chant of homage to the Triple Gem and of undertaking the precepts. Once again our pilgrimage group fumbled the Burmese pronunciation and many of us had a good laugh, either outwardly or inwardly. Following our meal offering and partaking (we were served equally as well, if not better, than the monks) we were given a tour of the site by one of the monks learning English and an English teacher (and were followed around by everyone else--monks, farmers, mothers, children and everything in between). 

Legend has it that when the Sayadaw-to-be was born a rainbow formed between the birth spot and a nearby Tamarind tree, symbolizing that the baby would grow up to be a great master of knowledge. We were taken to both these spots, as well as to the place where he was ordained and the monastery he lived in. The old teak monastic building had a functioning refrigerator that was powered by kerosene, apparently one of five left in the whole world and which was donated to Ledi Sayadaw almost a hundred years ago by the Pali scholar C.F. Rhys Davids. After the tour, we were served even more food and told about their project to produce 220 marble slabs inscribed with Ledi Sayadaw's books that were absent from the Maha Ledi Monastery in Monywa. The people were so proud of their village, and having us global travellers visit their home was a highlight not only in their day but in their life. Even the party-crashing police and immigration officers suspicious of these foreigners (this village also happens to be the place where the military government attempted to assassinate Aung Sang Su Chi many years ago) fell into the good vibes and could not hold on to their negativity. The atmosphere was festive and joyous with smiles, laughter and games all around.

We left the pleasant vibe and hit the bumpy (and literally, rocky) road so that we would reach Ingyinbin before dark. Driving slowly through the country side, passing rice paddies and intricate irrigation canals, fields of sunflowers and cabbages, villages and markets, all dotted with teak, neem and palm trees was relaxing and pleasant. Farmers and road workers were all smiles as we passed them shouting "Mingalaba" out the window. The Burmese are not only happily surprised to see foreigners ( especially in these remote parts), even more so when we wear their clothing and attempt their language.

The foreign pilgrims have some fun in acting out the painting of Webu Sayadaw's prophecy (shown above them)
Shortly before Webu Sayadaw passed away he predicted that one day people from around the globe would visit this monastery in Ingyinbin. There is even a painting on the wall of a shrine room depicting Europeans, Indians, Asians among others, all dressed in their cultural attire marching through the monastery. However, once the great monk left this world, the monastery which once attracted several hundred monks, nuns and yogis gradually fell into disrepair. When we arrived, we intentionally wore our clothes from home to fulfill the prophecy and bring smiles to the faces of the local population still supporting the Sangha here. To be honest, I expected a large crowd of locals to come greet us as we had at Sain Pyin Gyi and other places along our tour. Needless to say, but I was completely wrong--in fact, no one had come to greet us all, and by the dirty state we had found our accommodations, it kind of seemed that we weren't expected, or perhaps, wanted at all. However, our brief meeting with the Inginbyin Webu Sayadaw dispelled any such thoughts by the way he later greeted us and offered English reading material as a gift. I guess there are diverse ways in which Burmese show their hospitality. In any event, the prophecy, whether made into a showy event or not, is fulfilled and the legacy of the legendary monk continues."

To keep reading on, Day 11 can be found here.

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