Monday, 10 March 2014

"The Beauty of Burmese Life is Hard to Qualify."

Pilgrims listen to a dhamma talk by monks in Sain Pyin Gyi, the small village where Ledi Sayadaw was born.

The following essay was written by Branden Macie, an American pilgrim who attended the recent Pariyatti pilgrimage in Burma (and is at present moment sitting a Satipattana course at Dhamma Joti!). The original piece can be found on the Living Vipassana website. To read more about the pilgrimages, see here. To learn about current pilgrimage offerings, see here.

"From January 2012 to March 2012 a nickel of wisdom arose in me while serving long-term at Dhamma Patapa in Jesup, Georgia, U.S.A. I was there to strengthen my individual walk in Dhamma and to share my merits with others who came for meditation alongside other meditators who wanted to apply the technique in daily life-like scenarios. At the time of my stay, I jumped into study (pariyatti) to gain a view of the context of Vipassana being taught there at the Center. Zipping through books with the lightning evaluation capacity which comes with strong concentration episodes, the texts chronicling the lineage of the Vipassana tradition appealed to me most.

One particular book which wedged a great impression in me was the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal where details unrelated to the teaching of the typical 10-day courses tested and touched my faithful side, enlivening my understanding of this Path. Leaving the center and maintaining the practice for years following that service period, heavy dreams of pilgrimaging within Burma made their eruption into my conscious stream over and over. Then, Burmese folks I’d meet would lift up those dreams further by inviting me to Dhamma related outings, studies unrelated to the language and practice Goenkaji’s teaching.

For the a long while a needle of uncertainty was lodged into my mind about living Dhamma through different techniques and actions than were known to me through the 10-day retreat center’s presentation. I held on so closely, so personally. The conditioning I’d developed was strong and a barrier to outside Dhamma works, events, and representations of ‘Dhamma’ began to form — I felt a bit off the mark even knowing the Buddha’s Liberation Teachings were specific to each individual. The attachment had to be let go of.

Navigating those walls, the concepts, the emotions they arose became easier with continued acceptance that Buddha’s Dhamma can’t only fit one categorization of language and practice. More important the Real Time at each individual’s mental level, efforts, and energies is where Dhamma exists and that’s gladdening.

Therefore, seeing Burma and the way the society has structured itself while noticing my own inner pilgrimage along the way helped me realize the vastness of walking toward liberation — all the efforts one CAN make for others (regardless of tradition). When one’s mind is settled into the heart of Right Intention much can be shared.

The beauty of Burmese life is hard to qualify. Learning of enlightened Arahats, even ones so recently passed away who revealed their attainments through body relics, were Great teachers of the Dhamma in their own special ways for the Burmese locals. The amount of devotion and merit gaining on a daily level in Burma is astoundingly high. One can go from Alms round serving monks to Pagodas for paying respects to Sayadaws and end the evening with a Dhamma talk on the Abidhamma or any of the hundreds of Suttas contained in the Tipitaka.


Pilgrims arrive at Thanboddhay Monastery, established by Mohnyin Sayadaw, a disciple of Ledi Sayadaw. Thousands of Burmese were sheltered here during World War II and learned meditation during this time. When the pilgrims arrived, dozens of Burmese college students were there for meditation and devotion.
The fruit to seeing the wider context of Buddha’s Dhamma is so sweet, so virtuous, so needed and for anyone interested in investigating Burma Dhamma, I would willingly be a contact point once one enters the country.

Here’s a quote by Harold Fielding from Soul of a People to end on:

“To hear of the Buddha from living lips in this country [Burma], 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 hearing the yellow-robed monk tell of that life, and repeat His teaching of love, 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 that has application to your everyday existence.”


Two pilgrims relax at the base of a pagoda stupa