Sunday, 5 January 2014

Burma Day 6: A Day in Mandalay

As foreign yogis meditate at Maha Muni Pagoda, a monk silently records them with his video camera

For Day 5, see here! Kory Goldberg continues his Burma pilgrimage journal for the full day experience in Mandalay, writing about the Pariyatti yatraYou can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

"Group yoga on a rooftop as the sun rises is a wonderful way to begin a day. Our morning meditation at the sacred Maha Myat Muni Pagoda was a real blessing. The living Buddha, or the Buddha surrounded by life, inspires millions of pilgrims to lead a life dedicated and devoted to Dhamma. As always, the local Burmese were delighted to see our group engaging with their culture in a meaningful way. Our time at the pagoda was an engagement both sacred and profane as we practiced mindfulness while sitting, standing, listening to the Venerable Snowadaw explain the site and answer our questions, and shopping for gongs. We came across a pre-ordination ceremony with young children dressed as royal princes. The ages of the children varied, some around twelve or thirteen, others around three or four, forcing some of us to question the intelligence and motivation for ordaining a child still not weened from mother's milk. The land of infinite wisdom doesn't exist in isolation from ignorance and greed.

So happy were the Burmese to see the yatra group that they politely requested a photo with this Swedish pilgrim and German nun
A German dasa sila (Buddhist nun) joined our group for the day, inspiring many, especially those in our group who flirt with the idea of living a monastic life. For those seriously donning the noble robe, practice is continuous and holistic. once again energies shifted as our next stops, although brief, were visits to factories and emporiums. while interesting to see the country's finest handicrafts, the visits were a bit of an energy drain and a distraction from the meditative attitude that we are/were in the process of cultivating.

At a handicrafts store of traditional Burmese wares

Ma Khaing, a long-time friend to many Western Vipassana yogis the last dozen years or so, displayed typical Burmese hospitality by cooking us a sumptuous homecooked pure vegetarian meal. the food was infused with love and the group unanimously agreed that it was the best meal so far, although we seem to hear these superlatives on a daily basis. at the end of the meal a few of us expressed our gratitude and appreciation for Ma Khaing's generosity, and one of us offered her a maple leaf shaped bottle of Canadian maple syrup. She was delighted, less so for receiving a nice gift and a series of compliments and more so from the joy that arises from giving yourself over to others. A common Burmese spirit unsurpassed by any other culture in the world.

Four foreign pilgrims take time out for a photo outside of Dhamma Mandapa

Bamaw Monastery, which allowed the U Goenka organization to establish a center on its monastic compound, the first in the Mandalay region. The architecture of this old monastery is only found in Upper Burma, and one of the few teakwood buildings to survive the bombings and fires of World War II

After lunch we briefly walked off our lunch at the Bamaw Monastery, whose rustic building is constructed from teak and carved with elaborate floral patterns and Buddhist imagery. The generous Bamaw Sayadaw allowed Goenkaji's Mandalay students to construct a centre on his land. Even though the Sayadaw's tradition has no connection to Goenkaji's lineage, the selfless monk shared his property simply out of appreciation for Goenkaji's ability to teach people from all walks of life. meditating at Dhamma Mandapa and again next door at the Mahabodhi Vipassana Yogi Meditation Centre founded by Saya Theingyi (a student of Saya Thetgyi) wad restful and nourishing, allowing many to reorient themselves in Burma's extensive and complicated Buddhist matrix. ven. Karunika Bivantha, the Sayadaw now in charge of the Mahabodhi centre, is not only a master meditator but a great scholar who has authored several books on the Abhidhamma. Like many of the Sayadaws we have met so far, this wiry and radiant scholar-monk emphasized the importance of paying attention to the four elements as an object of meditation. However, unlike the the others, he connected this contemplation to the awareness of the arising and passing away of vedana, demonstrating a profound and intimate personal experience of the meditative life, as well his relationship to Ledi Sayadaw and Saya Thetgyi. (For a short excerpt of the Sayadaw's talk on the Four Elements, see here)

The Sayadaw at Maha Bodhi Monastery smiles during a Question and Answer with foreign yogis
A Russian pilgrim stands in reverence before the Maha Bodhi temple at the center established by Saya Thet Gyi's student, Saya Thein

While the day was certainly filled with great moments, I also felt that the wounds from the inner battles were also revealing themselves for a number of people in the group. Most of us were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. However there was one last stop of the day (actually many but it was getting dark and we needed to cancel a few stops on the itinerary). The Shwegyin Monastery is renowned for its monks who strictly adhere to the vinaya. As the monks chanted their evening prayers in their magnificent teak temple, we sat outside on the large veranda. After some time, One of the elder monks approached Snow, wondering who this curious bunch of foreigners were. Finding out that we were students of Goenkaji, he ushered us into another building where there sat one of the most illuminated old monks any of us had ever seen before. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that this old bhikkhu exuding love and light was a senior teacher under Goenkaji. Dr. Khin Maung Aye, the 82-year old bhikkhu, was a living example of what we all strove to be in one way or another. Not necessarily a monk in robes (although he did suggest that we all give it a try sometime, even for just a few days, since the spiritual benefits of doing so are immeasurable), but a stress-less, caring, bundle of joy. the constant giggles of this Dalai Lama/yoda-like figure was concrete proof of what this path can do and provided us all a brief moment that will be cherished for the rest of our lives."

For Day 7, go here!

Dr. Khin Maung Aye, a senior AT in the Goenka tradition, spoke to the pilgrims during a visit to Shwe Kyin Monastery 

U Thuttivara, seated to the left and the presiding Sayadaw at Shwe Kyin Monastery, provided an inspiring end to an already full dhammic day

Pilgrims are all smiles when listening to the deep wisdom of these two great monks at Shwe Kyin Monastery

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