Monday, 6 January 2014

Burma Day 8: On the Way to Where it All Began

To see Day 7, click here. The following excerpt was written by Kory Goldberg about the pilgrimage in BurmaYou can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

"Checking out of from the lap of luxury we began our day at Kuthodaw, also known as "The World's Largest Book." Amongst 729 marble slabs engraved with the entire Tipitika, we meditated for an hour. Some local hawkers gave up their carpets and bamboo mats so that we wouldn't have to sit on the cold marble floor. A few of them even joined us, as did a mother and her two small children--a site one would probably never see in the West, but not necessarily uncommon in this part of the world. One man rang the large gong next to us as we finished the session, sharing the merits accrued from this beautiful moment with all beings.

Our last visit in Mandalay before hitting the road for Monywa was the Masoyein Monastery where Ledi Sayadaw usually resided while in this city. This site is also where the great saint wrote his famous Pali dictionary and engaged in correspondence with the Pali Text Society in England. We meant for our visit to be brief, offering a set of robes to the Sayadaw and then sit in meditation for 10 minutes. We could have sat longer but the Burmese rock music blaring out of a PA system and which seemed to shake the entire monastic complex prevented us from wanting to stay longer. We also realized that we needed to make sure that Ven. Bettina, the German nun who was hitching a ride with us up until Sagaing received her meal before noon. As we exited the monastery gate, the lay supporters blasting the music to announce that the best place in town to rejoice in the merits of generosity (and party!) was with them called us over. Just outside their makeshift shrine sheltering a large Buddha statue laden with offerings of fruit, including watermelons with intricate carvings of animals and flowers, they had set up tables for us and offered various snacks, as well as a meal for the nun. They even shut off the music while we there, sensing that many of us found the extremely loud music unpleasant. They were so happy to share their food with a group of foreign yogis and a nun who were probably the first outsiders to visit this place, at least as a large group. Once again Burmese hospitality baffled me.

After piling back on to the bus, Ven. Bettina stood at the front and fielded questions about the life of a nun. The questions ranged from meditation practice to ordination, from food to health. It was a learning experience for us all, especially those with the monastic itch. We then collected some dana to help support her on her quest. Support for nuns is often limited compared to what monks receive, so she was touched to know that we cared about and understood the challenges she faced.

Monywa is the town where Ledi Sayadaw spent much of his life and first began teaching Vipassana as we know it today. Upon arriving in this busy town, we had a quick bite to eat and checked in to our hotel--the last one we'd be in for the remainder of the yatra until we reached Yangon. We then took off for Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda, the cave where Ledi Sayadaw used as a retreat space from the busy Ledi Monastery and where he spent two years meditating, writing, and teaching. Since the cave can only accommodate about 8 people, we took turns sitting in the cave while the others meditated outside by the golden pagoda. While sitting in the cave, looking at the life sized statue of him and contemplating the magnitude of this great monk, waves of gratitude filled this mind-body phenomena. If it were not for his vision, charisma, knowledge and courage, all of us here on the tour, in fact millions of people around the globe, whether they know who Ledi Sayadaw is or not, would be very different people, for without his drive, non-monastics as well as non-Burmese would most likely have never encountered the Buddha's liberating practices. May Ledi Sayadaw's brilliance continue to shine!"

To see Day 9, click here.