Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Kiwi Monk at Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin

During the recently completed Burma pilgrimage, New Zealander Russell Quinn made the decision to ordain for 10 days at Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin, ordaining in the very Sima Hall as Webu himself once did, and becoming only the second foreigner to ever ordain there. An initial seed for this decision was planted after watching the documentary, "Webu Sayadaw: Anthology of a Noble One" and seeing the welcoming presence of U Mandala. After Russell was given the Pali name U Sassana, his shaven hair was then put under the very same Bodhi tree where Webu Sayadaw placed Sayagyi U Ba Khin's hairs when he ordained in 1965. Now back in New Zealand, Russell has shared his experiences with the yatra group, and gave permission to post his words to provide inspiration with the wider world. A series of journal entries from this yatra are also available, most having been written by Kory Goldberg, and excerpts from the second yatra (currently in progress) begin here. Kory also wrote about the experience of Russell's own ordination and his own impressions at the time that it happened in January 2014.

For current pilgrimage offerings, see here.


Just arrived back in New Zealand from the Dhamma Land: here is a short summary of my time as U Sassana and the remainder of the trip.

Once your bus had left, I felt very fortunate and joyful with the realization that I now had this wonderful opportunity to meditate in such an environment as a monk for 10 days. Amazing! How did this happen?

Once I locked into the 10 Day course routine it really didn't feel that different living as a monk than it does when one renounces for a course. Had I ordained for a longer period or even for life this no doubt would have been different. Although being in noble silence, with eyes downcast and with the attention focused inside, I did observe to some degree the community of monks at Ingynbin, to see just how they acted and lived. It seems as though they had individual practices and routines. I am very grateful for the introduction that U Agga gave me but felt a little frustrated by my lack of knowledge. In hindsight some prior inquiry would have been wise.

I sat with Sayadaw U Ku Tah La each morning for breakfast at Patipatti and he was obviously very keen to talk, but with our lack of a common language, conversation didn't go past learning the Burmese names for the different dishes. I would have liked to have talked to him about the vinaya and what the monks practice, if the discourses that often played where by Webu Saydaw and what it was that some monks were chanting etc. 

The one outstanding difference I felt was that of increased mindfulness and that more worldly thoughts subsided. After disrobing I felt less protected from the influences of mara. While being whisked out of Mandalay in the air conditioned shuttle to the airport, with thoughts surfacing about heading back to New Zealand, I saw a monk on alms round and that seemed to be clearly the more wise choice. The seed has been planted now: who knows if it will be given water in the future.

On day 7 I got sick. Uh-oh! This is what I didn't want to happen. I was resting, observing the sensation of nausea, when two novices who had been serving me very attentively at lunch time at Pariyatti, appeared to check on me - as I hadn't gone to lunch. They came back that evening with some "Buddha medicine" (two types of honey, one very dark strong one and a light clear one), energy drink and bottled water. The next day there was an improvement so I went for lunch and they had prepared some more "Buddha medicine". This time it was a soup - chicken I think - and some bread and other more plain food. That evening they arrived again at the kuti with more of the honey and drinks. I was very touched by their concern and care. Truly heeding the Buddha's teaching about caring for the sanga. 

One of the novice's, Nimon who is 17, is going to be sponsored by one of the Thai women next year to attend a special university for Buddhist studies in Chaing Mai. As Alex said "I think he will be quite an exceptional monk".

Ingynbin is certainly a strong place to meditate and I felt very much at home there, however, thanks to the advent of the megaphone, at times it was a case of meditating on the arising and passing of sounds. At one time there were three at once from three sides and not always carrying Dhamma messages. We tend to get used to our usually quiet meditation centres........ annica. The Dhamma hall was looking pretty good with it's new paint and there were a few well to do visitors, so perhaps the support for the monastery is on the rise. I have just heard that two NZ friends were there last year too.

The mud building at Pariyatti was finished up to roof level with lovely 3D sculptural images of flowers and Burmese lettering on the walls. It will be a great little guest room when finished. U Mandala escorted myself and the Thai group to Mandalay where he spent the day showing them some sites with U Vassa, while I went to Sagiang, thanks to the help from Ma Khaing and for the recommendation from U Agga, to a very beautiful and tranquil monastery for 3 1/2 days. The Sayadaw is a very kind and gentle person and although I was once again frustrated with the lack of a common language, he kindly showed me some of the special sites nearby, including the monastery where the yatra group stayed and the one where you did your one day sitting. I occasionally have the pang of regret at not staying with the group but do think that my solo experience was what was required for my journey.

Back in Mandalay I meditated for some time again at Maha Muni, which being a Sunday was thriving with people and there was even a group of students enthusiastically cleaning floors, walls and everything. On one side of me there was a monk reciting and on the other side someone else chanting and there were of course pigeons and other noises galore but in spite all of these potential distractions, the Dhamma vibration was strongest, which in a way sums up my overall impression of Burma. Two feelings that were almost constantly there throughout this journey and are there now are gratitude and compassion.

Deep gratitude to all those past and present who have continued the teaching and spread of Buddha Dhamma.

May all those who helped to make this and future pilgrimages to Dhamma lands possible gain plentiful merits.

With much metta,


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