Saturday, 5 July 2014

Thein Daung Monastery in Kalaw

The inner majesty of the main Dhamma Hall at Thein Daung Monastery

Sayadaw U Paramar Nanda, who has been in robes since 1976, is the current Sayadaw here and the fourth since its founding. A kind man and dedicated monk, he is interested to meet serious Dhamma practitioners, although speaks little English. He has also said that he may allow foreign yogis to stay for practice, but that they first need to check in with Kalaw immigration to ensure their papers are entirely in order. There is a long covered wooden walkway (zaungtan) leading from the lower-lying town up to Thein Daung, and a wonderful view of the green valley that stretches out below. Similarly you can also take a lovely walk to approach the monastery, finding the long stone staircase just north of the marketplace.

The front of the shrine room

The site was established around the turn of the 20th century by U Kethera. However, he passed away after only two years, leaving it to be overseen by U Adesa, who became renowned throughout the country for his metta practice and rosary beads. When the great Mingun Sayadaw visited Shan State, he was highly revered by Shan people. When he met U Adesa he gave him his robe, he also paid respects to him as his senior. U Adesa said this was the greatest day of his life, as Mingun Sayadaw is one of the most famous Burmese monks in all history.

U Adesa learned directly from Ledi Sayadaw in Meiktila, and went on to teach in Ledi’s tradition when he took over the monastery, primarily emphasizing the observing of in-breath out-breath, or anapana. It is said that even Mogok Sayadaw came to learn under him when he was still a young monk. There are several photographs and paintings of U Adesa, hung throughout the monastery, showing him as a young man through to old age. 

Paintings of U Adesa

Inside the compound is a beautiful Dhamma Hall (that also has a sign proclaiming in English, “Museum of the Buddha”) with a long golden-mirrored shrine area featuring five Buddha images, an inner courtyard area allowing in light, and an inner ring of paintings that depict episodes from Buddha’s life. To the left of main shrine is an even larger collection of Buddha images in Shan style, and to the right are important artifacts from the monastery’s history and that had belonged to past Sayadaws. Also here are several paintings and statues of the highly revered U Adesa. It is a colorful room with nary a spot of unpainted ceiling or wall— while the upper paintings focus on tales from the Buddha’s life, the lower ones show scenes from rural Burma. Judging by the cracks in some of the artwork, they look to be quite old. This monastery is also closely connected with the beautiful hilltop Ma Naw Hla Monastery (which is visible from here and only reachable by motorcycle). Thein Daung serves only vegetarian food. Just a handful of monks are residing here most of the time, although the monastery also hosts ten-day meditation retreats in the tradition of Sayagyi U Goenka every May.

The treasure room of the monastery has many artifacts, statues, and artwork related to the revered U Adesa