Thursday, 16 January 2014

Burma Day 17: A Day in Mingun

One can read about the previous days in the Sagaing Hills here, and to see how the following yatra group enjoyed Mingun, see hereYou can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself. Kory Goldberg continues to record in his personal journal about the current pilgrimage now underway in Burma:

Pilgrims pause at the very well where the "floating knife" and the Vow of Truth took place in the life of Taung Phi Lar Sayadaw

"After a quick morning meal of congee and beans we were off to visit the sites in and around Mingun. We all piled into a pick-up truck-cum-mini-bus for the pleasant, yet bumpy country drive. On the way we stopped for our morning meditation session in a cave that once belonged to the 18th century monk Htut Khaung Sayadaw, the renegade monk who freed himself from monastic convention to pursue an unfettered and disciplined yogic life in the forest. The Sayadaw became famous not only for his dismissal of traditional obligation, but for his respect for nuns and willingness to teach them and provide a space for ascetic practice. This cave, where Venerable Htut Khaung resided for much of his life, still teems with energy as a handful of bhikkhus continue to practice here regularly. It’s incredible how fast an hour flies by at such locations.


One of the pilgrims pays respect to a monk at the original site of Htut Khaung Sayadaw's 18th century monastery
Our Sangha Dana today was at the monastery founded by the late Mingun Sayadaw, the first Tipitika-dhara in modern history. Mingun Sayadaw was made famous in the 1950s on a global scale for his ability to memorize the entire Buddhist canon, approximately 18,000 pages long. He was even admitted into the Guiness Book of World Records for this incredible feat. Today, nine of his students have achieved the same textual mastery, keeping the words of the Buddha close to their hearts and minds. At first glace, spending up to 10 hours a day for years on end to memorize each and every word that the Buddha taught may seem like a waste of one’s life. However, upon deeper reflection, we see that doing so leaves very little space in one’s mind for the mundane and the useless, and serves as a form of meditation practice that purifies the mind, making space for such unique activity to take place (although he did say that he does quiet the mind every morning upon rising and every evening before retiring). The Mingun monk we met today did seem a little robotic in his mannerism, yet he also seemed quite calm and other-worldly, not bothered by the day-to-day inane issues that plague the average person’s mind. Although he did admit that despite his super-human ability to commit the Buddha’s words to memory, he still does misplace his glasses from time to time!  


The group poses for a group photo at Mingun Monastery

After the visit we struck the Mingun Bell (the second largest in the world), visited a touristy pagoda, shopped and drank coconut water. To return to Sagaing we took a pleasant 90-minute boat along the Ayerwaddy River, seeing where Goekaji’s ashes were released and merged back to nature. The boat ride was very peaceful, affording everyone a moment to relax and recuperate from all the intense inner and outer journeying. Before retiring at the Sitagu Academy, we mediated at a nunnery overseen by a 50-something year-old saint named Daw Nu Kati who has been in robes since she was nine. She welcomed this strange group of travelers into her compound, smiling wide, yet unsurprised by this unlikely event. After meditating, she patiently and gladly answered some of our questions about the life of not only a nun, but of a renowned meditation master, a rarity for a woman in Buddhist Asia. She served us snacks, engaging all the tastes: salty crackers, sour amla, sweet bananas, bitter tea. Her presence was soothing and inspiring; totally present, yet not there at all. Once again, a rare and precious moment not to be forgotten! As one pilgrim put it, “it’s like Christmas every day!” Every day while on pilgrimage in such a holy land is certainly a gift. But alas, these daily miracles will soon come to an end, or rather, they will be replaced by other, less evident daily miracles. The challenge is to see these subtle blessings with appreciation and gratitude in whatever form they may take. Doing so will reveal how much we have really learned on this journey through the Golden Land. Let’s see…"


Pilgrims embark the boat in Mingun that will take them along the Ayeyarwaddy towards Sagaing, and over the place where Sayagyi U Goenka's ashes were scattered just months before
To read about the final days, go here.


After a long day, five smiling Burmese girls wait on the pilgrims at Sitagu Academy to offer an evening fruit plate