Friday, 28 February 2014

The Yogi Bear Diary #3: "The Flying Pink Nun"

The author renouncing the world as she takes ordination

Australian yogi Nobuko Nakano has spent an extended period living a dhammic life in Burma, and continues on her reflections on her experiences. Her first entry can be seen here, and previous entry here. This is the third and final entry (for now).

"Dear faithful yogi bear diary readers,

After a year and one month staying in Yangon, nine months at The Phyu Tawya as a yogi, I went to Dhamma Sindhu vipassana centre, Gujurat, west India in late November to sit a 45 days course. It was really really great to have finally been able to sit a 45 days course.

Certainly, you go much deeper than a 30 days, almost where it finishes on the 30 days mark, and the 30 days students leave, the rocket keeps going, into a deeper meditation of awareness. On completion of the 45 days course, I came back to Burma alone, with the intention of ordaining. I had been in a committed relationship for almost a year by then, based on the decision of wanting to ordain, it was decided it would be best for us to break up.

Athough I was very heartbroken having to do this, I also knew in my heart, if I were to take the choice of really ordaining seriously, I had to let the relationship go, I knew I could not do both.

Chan Mya Nunnery. The White Building is the author's residence.

Through a sequence of events, my original plan of either going back to The Phyu Tawya where I was before or Pa Auk monastery in Mon state (south Burma) were completed shifted into a different direction.

The dhamma winds led me to the second senior Sayadaw at Mingala Sukkha Pali University in Tamwe, Yangon (a brother monk attends the university and lives there on a whim I was able to meet this Sayadaw).

This Sayadaw was 82 years old, but very genki (energetic) and present in his mind, and he really enthusiastically suggested I go to Mandalay, where there is a very big monastery where they teach Abhidhamma, and the Sayadaw there can speak English, and teaches Abhidhamma classes in English.

So actually I received this guidance exactly the night before thinking of coming back to The Phyu Tawya. The next day, my plans went a totally different direction and I travelled to Mandalay, accompanied by the monk brother, who lived at Mingala Sukkha.

Although my plans had experienced anicca on what seemed like on a whim, this felt like the most clearest choice and right in my heart.

Having studied the intensive 3 and half month Pali course at Dhamma Giri (in 2010, I had enjoyed it very much, although I had found it very challenging. The pace and the amount of material to be studied was really full on.

I had somewhere in my mind, wished to continue the studies of Pali somehow, but not wishing to do the Pali course again.

This was my chance to reconnect with Pali studies, and on top of that, I could also have a chance to study the Abhidhamma (the profound teachings of the Buddha).

So, as soon as I arrived in Mandalay, through contacts, I was brought to Chan Mya Ran Thi, in Yankin Hill in Mandalay, which is a very big nunnery where it specializes in Abhidhamma teachings and classes.

Sunrise over nearby Mandalay Hill

On January 26th, I ordained here, and I really couldn't have asked for a better place to be ordained and surrounded by such heartfelt, metta filled, generous and caring sisters. and a wonderful, nurturing sayagyi (head nun).

Ordaining and becoming part of the sangha and living the life is something I’ve wished to do for a very long time, and it took me time to really feel like I was in the motion of it actually happening.

I think it was at the time, the sayagyi was cutting and collecting locks of my hair off my head, and they were being gathered on a cloth in front of me. I could feel my hair was becoming very short, and was starting to feel very exposed, and from seeing my chopped off hair laid in front of me, it was very tangible evidence it was happening! :)

The author has her hair cut before nun ordination

The next day, I came to the very big Abhidhamma monastery Oo Yin Garden Monastery, also known as the International Institute Of Abhidhhamma, which is about 12 minutes walk down the road from Chan Mya nunnery.

It is a campus of Yangon University, International Institute of Abhidhamma faculty.

There are about 400 monks studying here all under the guidance of Sayadaw U Jotika, (who is a different sayadaw than the famous author),

And wow, when you come here during the class times, you can hear the roars from different classrooms, of the recitations and chanting of the different Abhidhamma chants and Patthanas being learnt off by heart by the novices and monks. It is such very great vibration, and very deep, and also very inspiring to be in this environment.

I met the head Sayadaw U Jotika, and arranged to have daily Abhidhamma classes with him. So now my daily life has changed from practising the patipatti so much to more so the pariyatti, which really suits me fine. I feel I’m able to get the balance of the other side more now, after having lived in the dhamma bubble of Goenka vipassana centres and giving service for about 6 and a half years and sitting full time at The Phyu Tawya for more than nine months, and topping that off with a 45 days days course, studying the Abhidhamma is a change which is really wonderful.

The author at Oo Yin Monastery with novices

Everyday i keep up the practise of sitting at least two hours of Goenka vipassana meditation, which is also a feast of reharmonizing and peace inside.

Studying the Abhidhamma, many say it can be dry and boring, or it goes over the head, but I feel if it is taught to you in such a way that is tailored to your pace of understanding and with a teacher who wants you to really understand, then it is really amazing to take on.

What I’m discovering about the Abhidhamma is that it is a philosophical understanding of how our consciousness operates. Actually I studied biological science at university (biology based science) and somehow, when we study into our layers of consciousness, the way in which the philosophy is explained in very fine detail is like a dissection, very similar to the dissections which I used to do in plant science or animal science labs.

You learn on fine detail the layers and factors which constitute a wholesome mind, unwholesome mind, the magnificent mind existing in the various 31 realms of existence, and so much more...

I really enjoy these daily classes I get to have with the Sayadaw one on one. He is very knowledged in his field and his teacher was the well regarded Dr Nandamalabhivamsa in Burma, who now gives dhamma and Abhdhamma talks around Myanmar and on Buddhanet, the cable TV.

And here at the monastery, i also have an opportunity to give back somewhat, by teaching the head Pali and Abhidhamma monk teachers English classes, which is really fun.

Actually, Sayadaw U Jotika is really forward thinking. in construction now is a large 7-story accommodation building, due to be finished in a year.

the Sayadaw foresees this to be a global Abhidhamma centre, to invite and encourage yogis and Sangha all over the world to come and study the Abhidhamma and Pali here.

During the week I get two days off to study and relax, which I requested, and as the Sayadaw is very flexible and open, he was really more than willing to offer this.

During the evenings, I go back to Chan Mya nunnery, to sleep and relax where I keep up the homework studies, and also have a chance to reconnect with feminine sisterly energy, and connecting.

As most of the nuns do not speak English, one can speak some slight English, I am turning to learning Burmese... at last! :)

Learning at The Phyu Tawya where I lived for nine months, learning Burmese was only short words here and there, mainly because most Sangha and yogis were in noble silence, but now, communicating inwardly and also with others is what its all about.

The author formally takes the precepts

Here at the monastery, I can also get to watch Skynet, Cable TV, so I can watch BBC news or CNN or NHK and keep connected to what is going on in the world out there. Dukkha and more Dukkha it seems like :p

I try not to watch it as soon as I come here after breakfast from Chan Mya nunnery.

If I’m eating snacks, and also watching the news, it'll feel like I’m digesting the dukkha also...

I read from Sayadaw U Jotika, the author, that its actually best not to watch the news or read the newspaper first thing in the morning, you should surround yourself with good news, or happy news or news that inspires you especially first thing in the morning.

So now officially, the diary of the yogi bear has come to completion… it is much later than what I intended, but actually, “kalam agamiye,” let the time ripen... and it has.

Over and out… may you all attain the magga (the eightfold noble path), the phala (the fruits developed from following the path), and nibbana.

With much metta, Sayalay Mananda Mala"

The author, right, and her roommate

Burma Pilgrimage #2, Day 19: "Quite a Lovely Experience"

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. The first pilgrimage has ended, and the second one has just begun! To read about two days prior as they explored Mingun, go here. To read about the first yatra from Day 1, and read the journal entry in order, start here.

You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma.

"The last (full) day started with a group sit at Kaba Aye monastery. This houses relics of the Buddha, Sariputta, and Moggallana.

Kaba Aye Pagoda Trustees hold the sacred relics above the heads of pilgrims, giving each a chance to meditate underneath
These are usually under lock and key, so Snow had pre-arranged for an appointment for them to be unlocked for a group viewing.

As we started to trickle into the small chamber, a few ochre robed bhikkus and many white-clad Cambodian pilgrims swarmed up to the front, and started chantings and paying their respects. (A co-pilgrim wryly noted later that it's a chanting country - if it's not chanting via loudspeaker, then it's background chanting; if not that, then it's someone right next to you...)

After some initial confusion, in gentle Burmese fashion, the pagoda trustees and Snow patiently waited for the Cambodian group to finish before our group started. There was some jostling from our Cambodian brothers and sisters at the beginning - was great to be able to use this as part of the practice. After all, it's not much different than been jostled on a bumpy 'bus' ride... it's all just matter bumping back and forth, and it settled down with time.

An unexpected benefit from waiting was that the pagoda trustees allowed us to sit for a while with the unlocked relics - quite a lovely experience..."

To read about the final day of the second pilgrimage, go here!

A close up of the relics

Monywa Crows

A Monywa business uses two green lasers to keep the crows away

In Monywa, some businesses must maintain high-powered lasers as the one seen in this photo, to keep away the crows that are known to swarm in great numbers. This business photographed above shows two such green lasers that keep the crows at bay, and apparently must be shone even at nighttime. In older days, the method of choice were slingshots, and indeed, these are still commonly found throughout the Burmese countryside. Unfortunately, it has been—and still is—considered a boyhood rite of passage in Burma to shoot crows with a slingshot. Those not so skillful are taunted by being called “maymisa,” or “effeminate.”

However, the modern innovation of lasers provide a humanitarian alternative that is highly effective in moving the crows along while at the same time having the advantage of being entirely harmless and without injury. Such a method has been increasingly advocated by various progressive groups in Burma, such as European monks, expat authors, and even visiting doctors to the country residing in Japan. Surprisingly, one group that has not yet supported the initiative have been local tour guides.

The problem of cows is apparently not a new problem in Burma, as Julius Smith wrote about his experiences in 1890 in Ten Years In Burma: “We were wakened early… by the harsh cawing of a myriad of crows, which roost in the shade-trees of the public streets and private yards. We came afterwards to know these annoying pests that swarm over Rangoon all day long, as a tribe of thieves full of all cunning and audacity. The first exhibition of their pilfering given us, was that first morning when the early tea and toast… was passed into our room and placed in reach of the children. The crows had been perched on the window-sill before this, restlessly watching us within the room. But on our turning for a moment from the tray on which the toast was placed, the crows swooped upon it, and carried it off out of the window. This is but a sample of the audacious annoyance suffered from their beaks and claws continually. They are in country places also, but not so plentifully as here in the cities, where they literally swarm. Were it to our purpose we could write pages of these petty and cunning robberies of which they are guilty.”

Indeed, there is even an ancient Burmese proverb touching upon this nuisance that goes Tin daw paya, sad aw shwe gyi and refers to an offering “given to a Buddha, snatched by a crow.” And, it was an issue even in the Buddha's day, when he stipulated that one was allowed to be ordained as a novice so long as the boy was old enough "to keep crows away from his alms bowl."

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Burma Pilgrimage #2, Day 17: "Here, change is in your face."

The model plan for the new ambitious Sitagu Vipassana Center. The group sat here in the morning

The upper most paogoda at the Sitagu Vipassana Center. Last month's yatra was the first group to ever meditate there, and this group was the second 

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. The first pilgrimage has ended, and the second one has just begun! To read about the previous day sitting the self course in the Sagaing Hills, go here. To read about the first pilgrimage group's experience as they explored Mingun, see here.

You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma.

A view of the Mingun Jetty before boarding the boat back to Sagaing

"The highlight today was an Ayeyarwaddy river boat trip.

On boarding the boat consisted of walking down a sandy bank, onto a 'bridge/plank' brought into being by the alignment of a slab of wood to walk on, and a single bamboo 'railing' held by two men. Arising and passing away is never far away in this land...

The craft was remarkably low set in the water with open windows covered only with adjustable tarp. Rain started during our time on the vessel, with a drop in temperature that few of us were prepared for.

Going down the Ayeyarwaddy was the last leg of Goenkaji's ashes. As we traced his path, we passed tugboats hauling wood cargo, small wooden boats with old motors attached, some puffing out black smoke in their journeys.

All share passage in the muddy waters, in a place where change is a reality of life. The sandy banks actively evolve, with large chunks falling to join the river. Men testing water depths stand guard at the bow, guiding vessels away from swirling eddys and sand bars. The landscape is foggy, with rolling hills framing flat lands interspersed with an occasional thatched hut and flame tree.

One of the things in the West, is that we've created such comfortable (and artificial) environments that we forget that all things change. Here, change is in your face, whether it is in the dimming of the bathroom light because the electric shower head just turned on, or floating down the Ayeyarwaddy in an exposed wooden boat.

Anicca, anatta, dukkha...

A gold statue of Mingun Sayadaw


This Mingun Pagoda is built on seven layers to resemble the seven layers of waves when approaching Mt. Meru

The mood is somber, as we pass near where Goenkaji's ashes were scattered.

The rain picked up, and by the time we got on the bus, we were a wet bunch. And in the moment, huddled together on the exposed bus for warmth, Goenkaji's doha chantings arise, led by a couple of CCTs... a sweet ending to a memorable Ayeyarwaddy trip..."

To read about the pilgrims' final day in Yangon, see here.

The Sitagu Academy Rector gave generously of his time, as pilgrims took advantage of his English fluency to ask him a number of question pertaining to the Dhamma

Burma Yatra #2, Day 16: "Webu Sayadaw was right, as always..."

Happy Pilgrims arrive in Sagaing

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. To read about the previous day with Burmese nuns in Sagaing, go here. To read about the first pilgrimage group's experience as they explored Sagaing, see here. You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma.

In a scene harkening back to the Buddha's time, pilgrims gather under the pleasant shade of a tree to take in a translated Dhamma discourse of a local Sayadaw

"Last night, a few pilgrims, sheparded by the kind European monk and accompanied by U Silananda, completed an evening of the sitter's practice at a local monastery in the Sagaing Hills.

The cave, carved into a cliffside, is where a reputed arahant is said to have spent many years. It has a sweet supportiveness to it, a refreshing change from the jangling at Ingyinbin.

The monastery next door had Patthana chanting on loudspeaker 24-7. According to the Sayadaw, this is only the second time this has happened in twenty years. Fortunately we had some good practice at Ingyinbin, where at times three separate loudspeakers from the eight villages would be going off at the same time.

As one Sayadaw said, "to come to Sagaing, you always needed two things: water and sila." Before the last generation, small Sagaing monasteries only survived by storing rain water during the Rainy Season, and having to have a big enough tank for it last throughout the year. For this reason, all of the Sagaing Hills monasteries today still have these old water tanks on their grounds.
The sit was quite sweet. The evening started with a 7pm group sit and a discourse by Goenkaji, and was punctuated by a midnight and 5am group sit. At around 1am, the weather outside was so lovely (warm with a gentle breeze and full moon) that a few of us sat outside for a bit.

Although there were some good tussles with drowsiness during the extended sit, most of us felt surprisingly fresh in the morning.

Webu Sayadaw was right, as usual..."

To read about the following day in Mingun, see here.

Following are more pictures of the pilgrims' experience in the Sagaing Hills. Click any to enlarge them.

A Sayadaw received visitors, including and American monk (far left), who have come to pay respects and offer dana.
Pilgrims are treated to a special Question and Answer section with a Sayadaw from the Sagaing Hills
The beautiful sites among the Sagaing Hills, around which the one day meditation course took place

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

"S.N. Goenka: His Life, His Dhamma"

In 2013, a Burmese documentarian produced a new film titled "S.N. Goenka: His Life, His Dhamma." The film traces Goenka's Myanmar origins, his upbringing and family, and how he came to learn and spread the Buddha's teachings throughout the world.

This is a short clip from the film, showing the Mandalay of the early 20th Century when Goenka was born, and his close relationship with his grandfather while he was growing up. The film also interviews childhood friends and discusses how Goenka was able to effectively spread Burmese Buddhist teachings to the wider world. The film uses dramatic re-enactments to portray a young Goenka and give the viewer an idea of his early years.


The DVD in its original case, available at Dhamma Joti and throughout Myanmar

Burma Pilgrimage #14, Day 14: The Bull and the Cow

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. The first pilgrimage has ended, and the second one has just begun! To read about the previous day, go here. To see an outline of the day's events, see here.

You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma.

The entrance to Sitagu Academy in Sagaing

"Sitagu Academy grounds are quite grand. It's large and clean and organized. Coconut trees are laden with fruit, and trees are blooming. The dogs here are not as skinny (and much more interactive than elsewhere). Even the mosquitoes are twice as big!

The activities today included a visit to two nunneries in the Sagaing Hills. The first of these is a patipatti nunnery - it's a small place, but it seems like the nuns do get at least several hours of meditating a day [the head nun being a disciple of Saya U Than, who studied under Saya Thet Gyi]. Alms rounds are twice a week. We are told that one can practice whatever tradition while staying at the nunnery, and that it is possible to leave for meditation courses. As a co-pilgrim noted, the energy of the place was quite different than that of a monastery - much more gentle and 'motherly' of a place.

Sayalay Daw Nu Ka Ti takes questions about the nuns' life from pilgrims. Click to enlarge the photo, and behind the nun you can see a variety of posters that include Ledi Sayadaw, Saya Thet Gyi, Saya U Than, The Phyu Sayadaw, and herself at a young age. The white Buddha statue to her right was given by a German yogi who is now a nun at Pa Auk.

The second nunnery is a thriving place with over 150 nuns. It's run by three nuns and generously supported by a Japanese donor (who also made a documentary of the nun's life here), including a mother/daughter couple (their entire family ordained together!) As a pariyatti nunnery, there is minimal time set aside for patipatti, but they apparently are well known for the quality of their education and discipline.

The daughter, who self initiated the family ordination at the age of eight (now in her early forties), answers questions with surprising grace and adeptness. As to why they've chosen to focus on pariyatti, she notes that teaching women the words of the Buddha is something important that needs to be done. And while working for liberation can help oneself, keeping patipatti alive can give benefit beyond one's lifetime, and so they've chosen to dedicate this life to this for the benefit of all. 

Excellent facilities and generous donations have given the young nuns an ideal place for study
The discipline found at the second nunnery visited can be seen even in the way the sandals are carefully arranged before entering a building

Another example they used was that patipatti is like a bull, whereas pariyatti is like the cow, and if no more cows were present, there would be no more calves.

It was a touching way to think about pariyatti, and struck a chord amongst some of the women.

We ended with a tour of the grounds. The young women were reciting, and while a few peeked the odd looking foreigners, most continued to be quite focused. Both nunneries were cleaner than many of the monasteries we had been to, but this one was especially so. Their large Buddha statue was behind floor to ceiling glass, and one of the men remarked on how spotless the glass was..."

To read about the following day in the magical Sagaing Hills, see here!

The pilgrims pay respects to the large Buddha statue at the second nunnery

These three buildings on the compound are aptly named Sila, Samadhi, and Panna

While waiting for their transportation back to Sitagu, pilgrims talk about their event-filled day

Burma Pilgrimage #2, Day 13: "Vibrant Days"

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. The first pilgrimage has ended, and the second one has just begun! To read about the previous day, go here. To read about the first pilgrimage group's experience as they traveled from Ingyinbin to Sagaing, see here.

You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

"We had a travel day to Sagaing hills.

The main stop was Webu Sayadaw's third monastery, where he spent more than thirty rains retreats. While still a working monastery, it sounds like it's become more of a patipatti place. The walking meditation area looked as if it had seen more vibrant days. 

The original bed where Webu Sayadaw took rest

A shrine room in the three story Shwebo building where Webu Sayadaw taught and practiced walking meditation

Snow describes the history of the former King's residence to pilgrims, where the later Webu Sayadaw Monastery was constructed

We arrived at Sitagu Academy in the evening. Mattresses and hot showers were highlights of the evening. Compared to Ingyinbin's raw strength, Sagaing has a much gentler feel.

Just in time, as some pilgrims are starting to fall ill..."

For the first full day's description of life in Sagaing, Day 14, when the group visits the famous nunneries of Sagaing, see here

Click on any of the following images to enlarge them.

A view of the pilgrims at Sitagu soon after arriving

Another view of the pilgrims at Sitagu soon after arriving
U Agga reads about the life of a nun in Burma, to the request of many pilgrims who were curious about the life of a female renunciate. 
The group takes a rest at Kaunghmudaw Pagoda just outside of Sagaing.

Diary of a Yogi Bear #2

The Phyu Tawya monks line up for alms round

Australian yogi Nobuko Nakano has spent an extended period living a dhammic life in Burma, and continues on her reflections on her experiences. Her previous entry can be seen here.

"To complete the Diary of a Yogi Bear, Part 2, which I’m actually writing now after the entry of Flying Pink Nun was completed,

I thought I will write some things to really wrap things up about The Phyu Tawya. Firstly, one may ask what I had learnt about staying for more than nine months at The Phyu Tawya.

First and foremost, except for the ten days courses held once a month (starting every second Friday of the month and all the Sangha come and on average about 10 yogis come) all the meditation is almost self course-like.

There are no instruction tapes played, except for an audio dhamma discourse played in Burmese at 7.30 pm in the hall every evening every evening whether during course or not.

So actually if one decided to come to The Phyu Tawya, particularly in mind for long term, its such a great opportunity for a very deep seed of self motivation meditation to really be ignited.

I think you really need to understand the process of meditation and how to deal with it, when things come up. There are also monks you can talk to for advice, and even if they do not speak English, a translator may be available one time or another.

From personal experience of being in constant emailing contact with the outside world, I felt this really affected my meditation and hindered my aim of really being able to meditate as deeply as what I could have. I would really recommend, if you choose to be meditating there or anywhere long term, I would really refrain from keeping email/skype contact with the outside world to an absolute minimum.

The monastery bodhi tree

There is a very big pagoda which has the enshrines the Buddha relics shared from the Webu Sayadaw Monastery up north in Ingyibyin.

Yogis can also meditate in the pagoda. It has many cells, particularly underground, there are a few levels, but if you choose to go and sit on the upper level right underneath the spire of where the relics are, it is really really peaceful.

Most of the time, the Sangha and yogis sit together in the main meditation hall, however if you wish to sit more in the pagoda, this would be fine I’m sure, simply by letting the head nun/monk know. I used to go everyday at about 5pm- 6pm, during the evening breaktime, and used to see two monks sitting there all the time.

Later I learned they were sitting there for 12 hours everyday, on guidance from the Sayadaw.

The land is on 75 acres, as I was told, and there is a myriad of well built walking paths, mainly created roads for vehicles to get around the monastery.

There are about 30 in house monks, and 7-8 in house residing nuns, and throughout the year, I met several other Sangha who were travelling and came to The Phyu Tawya to experience the practise of meditation of vipassana.

Actually the number of in house resident Sangha is very intimate and I found the benefits of living in a small group was the intimacy, and connection relationships you can create with the Sangha.

The Sangha there really look out for you and whatever you needed, they were so happy to help out. The maintenance monk installed a shower in my bathroom, so I wouldn’t have to take bucket bathes and it would be more convenient for me to live there. The maintenance monk fixed a very leaky roof and ceiling during the monsoon season also.

One of the residences where the author lived, which she called the "Addams Family House."

Also I was very fortunate to create friendships with some of the financial donors of the monasteries who provided me with support both financially, logistically and emotionally with many things outside of The Phyu Tawya, for example, visa extensions, taking me to visit many other monasteries in Yangon, and having the opportunity to meet many Sayadaws, and also opening me to experience different things also such as having an opportunity to meet with foreign business investors. Also having lunches with them, and being able to stay at their houses in Yangon.

I found the communication of English wasn’t a problem at the monastery. There would be a monk or nun or yogi who would be bound to be able to speak some English and translate. There was a yogi who was 80- years old who lives there and could speak English, however after some months of staying at The Phyu Tawya, I stopped turning to him for assistance, as I realized he didn’t fully translate everything I was saying, also his hearing was quite deaf, so I felt he wasn’t a very reliable source. Instead I turned to asking a nun, who I found out could understand and speak English much more than she revealed.

The Phyu Taw Ya Pagoda in Hmawbi on the full moon in May 2013
The Sayadaw of The Phyu Tawya is a looming mystery... only kidding :)

But his physical presence was like that of an apparition. Sayadaw U Panna Sota does not reside at The Phyu Tawya most of the time, as he was putting his efforts and time to get a giant pagoda built up north in Mahamyaing, the great forest in Sagaing Division.

When he did come down to The Phyu Tawya, which was approximately every four months or so, it was on very short announcement that he was coming.

And you knew he would be coming.

The Sangha would be on full alert cleaning and tidying up the monastery sweeping leaves, cutting back and trimming trees and vegetation, and you knew you were in for a really good experience with the Sayadaw coming.

So it is said for those who come to visit The Phyu Tawya, as the Sayadaw's absence is quite often, that should you come to The Phyu Tawya, it is only for your kamma that you would have the great opportunity to be there when the Sayadaw is also there.

I can say now, that the nine months of living at The Phyu Tawya has been so rewarding and defineless in being able to put it into words, for words will only create a box around which is not able to be defined. 

The author in front of a pink bush on the monastery grounds
I am grateful for being able to have spent every moment there, and now, after having returned from India post sitting a 45 days course at Dhamma Sindhu in late November 2013 to January 2014, I can say sitting for nine months, has really helped me put what is in the unconscious into the conscious.

Meditation wise and understanding the technique of meditation and how you as an individual works with it, I mean. And also perhaps clarifying what living a truly dhammic life means, and how to live one as closely to what the Buddha encouraged as possible.

The conclusion to yogi bear diaries is up next... Stay tuned."

See the conclusion here.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Burma Pilgrimage #2, Day 12: "But perhaps, there's more than that..."

A view of the fields and trees around Ingyinbin

The following excerpt was written by an American yogi about the pilgrimage in Burma. The first pilgrimage has ended, and the second one has just begun! To read about the previous day, go here. To read about the first pilgrimage group's experience on their own time in Ingyinbin, see here.

You can also consider joining a later pilgrimage in Burma yourself.

"Today a one day course was held at Ingyinbin, in the hall where Webu Sayadaw passed into parinibbana.

As the group organizers and remaining manager looked quite tired, they had the day off to sit or do as they pleased.

It seemed like a good course for all. Some of us had the chance to sit in Webu Sayadaw's kuti - quite an incredible place.

A view of the male sleeping quarters, upstairs in the Bago building towards the southeast of the Patipatti compound.
A male yogi's bed

There's something remarkable about Ingyinbin.

An arahant's birthplace, where his meditation kuti, parinibbana site, and cremation grounds are with walking distance to each other. Add to this mix both Buddha and arahant relics... the strength in this small strip of land is palpable.

But perhaps, there's more than that. After all, it was the place an anagami came for final liberation. And a place where a reputed Bodhisattva's hair clippings rest, at the foot of an arahant planted bodhi tree.

What strength lay here before Webu Sayadaw? What role will Ingyinbin play in the future? Only time will tell..."

For the Vibrant Days on Day 13 towards Shwebo and Sagaing, see here!

Villagers in Ingyinbin

One of the modern caretakers at the Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin

Diary of a Yogi Bear #1

The The Phyu Taw Ya Pagoda at night
Australian yogi Nobuko Nakano has spent an extended period living a dhammic life in Burma, and now takes a moment to reflect on her experiences and share the inspiration with a larger audience:

“Dearest brothers and sisters,

I write the following journal diary/blog style, completely from my personal perspective, from my own experience, describing the stay I have had here at The Phyu Tawya Monastery in the Hmawbi during December 2012- November 2013

The idea came up after a dhamma brother requested to me in December 2012 who came to The Phyu, to write him an email to describe my experiences during my stay, after I announced to him, my intention was to stay here for at least one year. So I share with you all, the experiences I have had and some things which you may be made aware of should you choose to come here to do vipassana meditation.

Please excuse any grammatical, spelling, typos errors etc, and as I’m writing from an Android phone, which has been lent to me from a dhamma brother for the duration of my stay here in Burma.

If these entries appear choppy, thats because they are :)

I wrote entries at different times, and cut and paste them back into these emails, so the energy with which I have written them in is not really flowing, but anyhow, my main objective was to write to describe to you my experience and to inform you and also to get the yogi diaries completed.

The main reason why I chose to come to The Phyu Tawya is because I knew after sitting a 30 days course at Dhamma Nidhi finishing November 27th 2012, that I didn’t have anything planned, and after living in [Goenka] Vipassana Centres as a full time dhamma server for about 6 years, I knew I wanted to have a break from serving, but still meditate in a dhamma environment, preferably practising Goenkaji technique.

Sayalay Daw Pinyasara watering flowers in front of the nuns' residence

A few years prior, whilst I was living at Dhamma Aloka, Melbourne, Australia, a fellow dhamma brother brought a copy of the vipassana meditators guide to Burma, and told me about The Phyu Tawya, and that the Sayadaw here is an ex-Goenka AT, and still teaches a similar vipassana technique as SN Goenka.

I had a strong feeling as the 30 days course finished at Dhamma Nidhi, this would be the path ahead of me.

So several days later after the 30 days course finished, after spending some time a few days stay at Dhamma Joti, and a few days at a friends apartment in central downtown, I trekked to The Phyu Tawya.

Something I’ve noticed time and time again travelling in Burma, is that I’ve found people will help you so openly, that the flow of the journey to where ever you wish to go happens effortlessly. True viriya- effort… as one AT said whom i served with at Dhamma Sikhara, Dharamsala India said, “true viriya is one that consists of very little effort and yields great results."

Somehow, the almost two hour journey from downtown Yangon, via local bus then a 20 minute ride via motorcycle did seem rather easy even though I had very little idea how to get here, through the help of the warm Burmese people, and this true viriya came into effect.

When I got to The Phyu Tawya, first I met the head nun Daw Ponya, whom in the beginning, I thought was very stern, very strictly living adhering the rules and regulations, and I thought she perhaps had thought of me as a very wild horse (I’m born the Year of the Horse:)… with my long black hair streaming, wearing colourful hippy/foreigners clothes, loud as a banchee monkey, and energy like wildfire.

Well actually, as I live in my third different accommodation,.. it’s a two storey older house, it looks like the addams family mansion, I now share living this house with the head nun, Daw Ponya. She lives downstairs, and I live on the second floor.

The size is the biggest of all residences I’ve stayed at here, with polished wooden floorboards, and open space, it reminds me of the ware houses, turned into apartments in Melbourne city.

There is a kool large Buddhist alter with a bronze Buddha in my room… I think it’s meant to be Ananda, as the Buddha in the main meditation hall is Gautama Buddha. I get to look after the alter, and change the water cups every few days, give it goodies, cookies, fruit etc. whatever I receive at breakfast time, every morning, and take it off before midday. Yes, even statues of Buddhas observe the Eight silas, no eating after 12 noon :)

…and go hunting for flowers and leaves to put in its three vases every several days.

The great Buddha statue at The Phyu Taw Ya

The moment I started sitting here at The Phyu Tawya, I knew I was in the right place my body, where the dhamma wanted me to be. It felt like an unbelievable opportunity, after serving for what felt like so long, to finally be sitting, sitting, quietly, for as long as I wanted, and to be looked after, all my meals prepared, accommodation offered, and such strong metta everywhere.

I truly felt blessed to be here, and wanted to be nowhere else. To me, it was better than having the best chocolate gateau with freshly whipped cream and strawberries sitting there on my lap, ready to be eaten. This was sweeter than any honey in the world, and richer than any gem could offer.

I first came during the 'winter months' (December through February) and in the mornings it is quite crisp, and you need to wear a shawl or a long sleeve top, probably both, at 4 am in the mornings. The timetable is almost exactly the same as at Goenkaji centres, except meditation begins at 4 am, breakfast at 6 am, and lunch is at 10.30 am. The evening after last meditation finishes at 9 pm also.

I remember during those mornings where the air was crisp, fresh, kool and foggy,
as I sat down on my cushion, in the dimly lit meditation hall, I watched the monks, in their deep red, maroon robes slowly enter the main meditation hall in the mornings at 4 am, one by one, in their own time, with part of their robes, wearing as hoods, to provide warmth for their bare heads, the ambience was so dhammified and felt so mysterious.

I thought to myself, "I am in another realm, galaxy, far, far away... very similar to that foggy mysterious swampy place Luke Skywalker in Star Wars lands after he crashes his plane thing, and this is where he meets the Yoda for the first time.

I watched the monks sitting, and thought, “these guys, wow!! They're dhamma warriors.”

For me, it was the first time to be residing and meditating along the Sangha. I had stayed in a monastery in Thailand, Wat Boonyawad before in 2011, though you meditate in your own kuti, and interaction of monks with lay is very strict, well, the monks with females, is not allowed, so I only saw monks from a distance, watching them eat their one meal a day in their dining hall.

To be here, and really be amongst living with the sangha, and meditating with them for me has been an experience like non other.

Back to the monks being like dhamma warriors, actually I have heard that George Lucas, who created Star Wars based the Jedi Knight's persona and beliefs on Buddhist Sangha, after he was influenced reading "the hero with a thousand faces" by Joseph Campbell. It is a book which explores the notion of gods, or archetype figures, that present as heroes in different mythologies and cultural traditions, and also explores the Buddha.

During the first three months December 2012- February 2013, which was winter, I saw quite a few snakes, a towards a water area, near the manmade lakes in the monastery grounds. Most were fairy small, though one evening I did see a large, fat boa constrictor, black and silver striped, it was at least 1.5 meters long, coiled in the grass, slinking away into deeper vegetation, between two kutis one evening, very fat indeed! I had only seen a similar boa constrictor behind glass windows in the reptile area of the Melbourne zoo, where I grew up.

The writer and friends at The Phyu Taw Ya

If you ever get into the situation you wish to stay and apply for a yogi visa extension, through this or any other monastery, please ensure you do have a the correct papers from the local village immigration, and that also you process with the ministry of religious affairs, (in Kaba Aye, Yangon) to get approval, and then the Burmese immigration downtown, and make certain the actual visa extension sticker is stuck into your passport, which you can see, with the valid until to date.

My first experience of a visa extension, through The Phyu Tawya ended up in paying a hefty overstay fee, as I realized it had not been processed correctly, almost three months after I had started the visa application process.

A monk who could speak English came with me to Hmwabi local immigration, the main big town closest to The Phyu Tawya to begin the process, and there I received an official form stamped and signed by the immigration. It was known as (The Registration of Foreigners Rules 1948) Report of Arrival- Form C. After this was completed, the old monk who came with me, said oh yes, this is it, indicating this was my visa, completed and finished.

Of course I was delighted, to think a visa extension was so easy, and having no idea, this was not the finished visa extension. Two months afterwards, I went to Dhamma Joti and sat a 10 days course, after this 10 days course, and I went to the Japanese embassy to ask and show this letter from Hmwabi immigration, they informed me this wasn’t a complete yogi visa. It is simply a form which foreigners receive after going to the local immigration, to say they are residents in that district.

A complete visa ends as a sticker in your passport. This is something I learned in a big way. It was my first time to have a visa extension of any sort, and taking the monk's word that this was enough, I had thought I was carrying a valid visa extension.

Yogi Bear has decided to waddle back into the forest to reconnect with nature...tune in for the next episode, diary entry for Yogi Bear..."

To see the next entry, read here.