Tuesday, 25 February 2014

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.