Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Burma Pilgrimage: "The Benefits should not be Overlooked"

Mårten Berg standing outside Sayagyi U Ba Khin's IMC
Mårten Berg, a Swedish meditator, participated on the February 2014 pilgrimage in Burma. Following he writes some reflections on his trip, now that he has returned to his home country. He hopes to return to the Golden Land next year for continued practice. To read about current pilgrimage offerings, see here.


"To those training in morality and with devotion making efforts towards development in the Dhamma, going to Burma for a pilgrimage is very auspicious. Burma, the golden land, is a unique place, strong in purity. The benefits of going there as a part of ones practice should not be underestimated nor overlooked. The merits gained on such a journey will last throughout ones life and future lives. It will give a strong push of urgency to keep developing in Dhamma and dismay towards worldly things. It will bring out whatever purity one has and multiply it. Whatever negativities there may be will subside, if they arise they will not be so strong and the good atmosphere all around will settle the mind quite effortlessly. It is important that the pilgrim receives support to overcome cultural, language and religious barriers. It is easy with a western mind, to discard the many ways in which Dhamma expresses itself. Being a country of about 60 million people, Burma has its good and bad qualities as any other country. But as one decides to go on a pilgrimage and ones mind attunes towards Dhamma, it gets connected to all the good vibrations of the golden land. There is a wide spectrum of practitioners all the way from just practicing devotion to being fully liberated. If one really makes efforts to understand and go beyond preconceived views one can fully connect to the gift which Burma is to the people of the world. The actual barriers are nothing but the five enemies, namely; craving, aversion, physical sloth/ mental torpor, agitation/ worry and doubt.

Mårten with Snow, her mother, and Branden (now U Ariyavamsa), preparing for monks' alms rounds

I am so full of gratitude as the pilgrimage hosted by Pariyatti, Joah, Snow, Bhante Agga and many others generated a wonderful environment for Dhamma to flourish. Much like a course there were requirements, rules, guidelines and expectations. We had daily meditation sessions, times for eating and resting, scheduled activities and endless opportunities for doing good deeds. We visited places related to revered Goenkaji and the lineage of teachers, and also other sites related to Dhamma in general. The pilgrims were allowed to submerge in the inner experience of the pilgrimage as the management was discretely taken care of behind the scenes. We also received support from our guides' deep intuitive understanding of the golden land and how Dhamma is expressed there. So much so that we also gained intuition and were inspired to visit monasteries on our own. It has been like from swimming in a fish bowl back home to be let out in the ocean of Dhamma to swim on your own. Burma has enriched my life so deeply. To visit the centers of our Dhamma grandfather and great grandfather and so on, to learn about their struggles and attainments, is so satisfying. To know that there is a serious Sangha, that monks and nuns are practicing very diligently, gives so much faith to the heart. To just be near such noble ones, to benefit from their radiating purity is enough to dispel so much of the negativities. And to meet a people so dedicated to following the Buddhas teaching of generosity and morality certainly inspires one to become a better person. I experienced a clarity of mind greater than ever before. Each day kept building on the previous one. We kept saying to each other, 'how can it get any better than this?', and those who knew better would say 'just wait until tomorrow' or 'just wait until we get to such and such a place' or 'until we meet so and so'. Indeed, the good atmosphere kept building throughout the journey. It is difficult to put into words, it is something to be experienced. The Dhamma-sprout planted several years ago in the depths of Vipassana under the protection of Goenkaji, that then needed so much tending, now had grown and was in bloom. With all the sunshine, water and good nutrition, this tree of Dhamma, tree of happiness, gave fruit. Something marvelous culminated in Burma. The negativities became so feeble, an exhilarating sense of freedom emerged. 

Pilgrims explore Saya Thet Gyi's center in Pyaw Bwe Gyi

I read that the Buddha compered his feelings of relief and happiness to those of a man who has just discharged a debt, or recovered from a painful illness, or been freed from prison, or released from slavery, or who has safely crossed a dangerous wilderness. Such was the experience. I am so happy to let you know, this experience wasn't mundane, not another high to come down from. It was transformative. It is something I have brought with me home, the fruits keep on coming every day. It seems this is a new chapter. Dhamma has taken root within. Not that there are no more negativities. But it certainly has helped me get past so many obstacles that would have taken so much longer otherwise. So much misery has been dispelled. My wish of deep sympathetic joy (mudita) and 'come and see for yourself' (ehipassiko) is that all serious practitioners of Dhamma will make a pilgrimage to the golden land, to benefit from its good vibrations and spread this happiness of Dhamma throughout the world.

A Burmese Monastery in the early morning hours

As the great emperor Ashoka inscribed on pillar edicts over two thousand years ago: 'Happiness in this world and the next is difficult to obtain without much love for the Dhamma, much self-examination, much respect, much fear (of evil), and much enthusiasm.'"

Mårten with a monk met during the pilgrimage