Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Diary of Pilgrimages

Three young Burmese boys join a group siting at a pagoda with the pilgrims

42 days of pilgrimages have now been completed, and two groups of devoted yogis have now seen the best that Burma has to offer, with many lives transformed in the process. Some pilgrims ordained and are still in robes, with others coming in the next few weeks, months, or even years with a similar intention in mind. Others have grasped the dhamma in more profound ways than was possible in one's home country, and have returned to their local community to share their wealth of experience, understanding, and inspiration.

The following guide shows the diary entries recorded for the two yatras. The majority of the first diary entries were made by Kory Goldberg, a Canadian yogi and author of Along the Path. The majority of the second yartra entries were made by an anonymous American pilgrim.

While no yatras have as yet been confirmed for the following winter of 2015, there are upcoming opportunities for those interested to join part on such excursions in the near future. U Kumara at Sitagu Academy has indicated an interest in hosting Abhidhamma workshops in English for any interested foreigners in the Sagaing Hills in June, and brief ten-day dhamma trips will be organized both before and after these courses for those wishing to attend. Finally, one may also contact Muditā Works  (the agency which arranged for the entire following two pilgrimages) at any time to arrange such a dhamma trip according to the wishes of one's group.


The ruins of Htut Kaung Monastery in the Sagaing Hills. This was one of the world's first meditation-oriented monastery 

Pilgrimage #1
Day 1: Yangon
Day 2: Pyaw Bwe Gyi
Day 3: Yangon and Hmawbi
Day 4: Hmawbi
Day 5: The Road to Mandalay
Day 6: Mandalay
Day 7: Kyaukse and Mandalay
Day 8: Mandalay and Monywa
Day 9: Monywa
Day 10: Monywa, Sain Pyin Gyi, and Ingyinbin
Day 11: Ingyinbin
Day 12: Ingyinbin
Day 13: Ingyinbin
Day 14: Ingyinbin, Shwebo, and Sagaing Hills
Day 15 and 16: Sagaing Hills
Day 17: Mingun
Day 18: Sagaing Hills and Yangon
Day 19: Yangon
Day 20: Yangon

A typical rural Burmese scene

Pilgrimage #2
Day 1: Yangon
Day 2: Pyaw Bwe Gyi
Day 3: Yangon and Hmawbi
Day 4: Hmawbi
Day 5: The Road to Mandalay
Day 6: Mandalay
Day 7: Kyaukse and Mandalay
Day 8: Mandalay and Monywa
Day 9: Monywa
Day 10: Monywa, Sain Pyin Gyi, and Ingyinbin
Day 11: Ingyinbin
Day 12: Ingyinbin
Day 13: Ingyinbin, Shwebo, and Sagaing Hills
Day 14: Sagaing Hills Nunneries
Day 15: Within the Sagaing Hills
Day 16: Sagaing Hills One Day Sitting
Day 17: Mingun
Day 18: Sagaing Hills and Yangon
Day 19: Yangon
Day 20: Yangon

Pilgrims travel back from Mingun to Sagaing

...one may ask, what is so special to have to come across the world to Burma anyway, when the practice is basically inside already? Harold Fielding, a British administrator, provided an answer to this question in 1898 in "Soul of a People":

"To hear of the Buddha from living lips in this country, which is full of his influence, where the spire of his monastery marks every village, and where every man has at one time or another been his monk, is quite a different thing to reading of him in far countries, under other skies and swayed by other thoughts. To sit in the monastery garden in the dusk, in just such a tropic dusk as he taught in so many years ago, and hear the yellow-robed monk tell of that life, and repeat his teaching of love, and charity, and compassion—eternal love, perfect charity, endless compassion—until the stars come out in the purple sky, and the silver-voiced gongs ring for evening prayers, is a thing never to be forgotten. As you watch the starlight die and the far-off hills fade into the night, as the sounds about you still, and the calm silence of the summer night falls over the whole earth, you know and understand the teacher of the Great Peace as no words can tell you. A sympathy comes to you from the circle of believers, and you believe, too. An influence and an understanding breathes from the nature about you—the same nature that the teacher saw—from the whispering fig-trees and the scented champaks, and the dimly seen statues in the shadows of the shrines, that you can never gain elsewhere. And as the monks tell you the story of that great life, they bring it home to you with reflection and comment, with application to your everyday existence."


School children gather before a backdrop of rural stupas