Friday, 29 August 2014

Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda: Ledi Sayadaw Cave #2

This is a video of Shwe Taung Oo Pagoda in Monywa. One begins by seeing the view of the Chindwin River beyond, and then the viewer is taken into Ledi Sayadaw Cave #2. However, the great monk spent most of his time meditating and teaching in the nearby Ledi Cave #1.

On one occasion, Ledi became quite ill while living in the cave, so much so that he frequently lost consciousness. He later reported a deva-like figure in a white dress looking after him and providing him some kind of medicine. Finally, some laymen came and brought him to U San Chain monastery in Monwya. There, Ledi had a very strange dream in which he was sitting on Yugandho Mountain, observing the entire universe, and seeing a large cave towards the southeast filled with animals. His dream switched to him leaning against Myintmoe Mountain, where he merged into the earth. When asked the meaning of the dream, he explained that it was a prediction he would later travel throughout the country giving Dhamma. After recovering his health, Ledi returned to the cave. He left around 1903, and reformulated his teaching in such a way that it was now able to be taught to lay people, many of whom had no other opportunity in the country to learn real meditation practice.

Bathing and Laundry at Kun Lay Monastery

Kun Lay village, also known as Ei Chantha (or "Cool and Peaceful") Village, is about one hour by bad roads away from Pyin Oo Lwin. Nestled on higher ground and a former summer retreat for British colonials, it still enjoys cool weather today during Myanmar's hottest months. Life has changed little in the intervening centuries from traditional Burmese ways. This is also the area where Bhikkhu Agga spends Waso, and it has an even older history of dhutanga monks seeking full seclusion here in past centuries.

This video shows the way that washing and laundry take place in the village. As few homes have their own private areas, communal sites are shared among the village. There is one for men, and another for women, and all must be clothed when showering. The well is about 20 feet deep, and require some technical skill to be able to allow the bucket to twist when dropped and fill with water, and to hoist up without dropping any. The water is from a natural spring, and is quite cool and refreshing. Men typically bathe around the large cement tank, and a washing area is demarcated by a smoothed wooden platform. The old water tank can be seen to the left of the current one. The tank is surrounded on one side by deep forest and winding paths, and on the other by vegetable fields.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kun Lay Monastery kitchen and beyond

Kun Lay Monastery sits about an hour outside Pyin Oo Lwin in northern Burma, and is a very traditional Buddhist monastery where the old ways may still be found. Currently Bhante Agga from Europe is staying here for Waso. This short clip shows the view of the monastery from the kitchen. It provides a nice overview of a traditional Burmese monastery for the foreign meditator who has never visited the Golden Land.

The Sacred Land of Theravada Buddhism

This Burmese produced documentary, narrated in English, takes a survey of the important Buddhist sites in the country.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

An ox by the Webu Sayadaw Dhamma Hall

In Winter 2014, an ox is seen lumbering past the historic Dhamma Hall used by Webu Sayadaw, and scratching itself on the palm tree. Little does this poor animal know the great events that too place here not so long ago...

If it could but know, this is what it might learn:

In Ingyinbin, one finds a very large open-air Dhamma hall with full-length photos of a standing Webu Sayadaw towards the front, and a Buddha statue at the center. Towards the front are stairs leading downwards to a collection of meditation cells underneath. However, these are now flooded and it is no longer possible to enter the structure. The original Dhamma hall during Webu’s life was a simple bamboo structure that was much smaller in size. After he began to attract a following, this was constructed in the 1950s for the larger audiences that began making their way to Ingyinbin. Webu Sayadaw himself would preach to over 300 meditators staying on these grounds throughout much of the 1950s through 1970s. Sayagyi U Goenka ten-day courses are now held here most years in March, often scheduled with concurrent children’s courses. The Dhamma Hall was one of the first beneficiaries of a new renovation project beginning to happen on the Patipatti side, as a team of workers spent several weeks giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Driving Lane for the Little Tykes

Some special side streets in Yangon allow for children aged at least four and a half years old to their practice driving skills, often from 1 to 5 pm on weekday afternoons only. Cars may not be driven faster than 15 mph, and driving on major intersections are strictly prohibited. Also, an adult chaperone must be within sight on the street where the child is driving. This also allows the children to easily see friends and smaller neighborhood pagodas.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A Burmese Nun in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi

Daw Nu Ka Ti holds up her end of a banner showing the teachers of her lineage, Ledi Sayadaw and Saya Thet Gyi

Daw Nu Kay Ti is a head nun in the Sagaing Hills who oversees meditation instruction at the Dhamma Hall built within her own nunnery compound. She learned at the foot of Sayagyi U Than, who was a student of Saya Thet Gyi and teaches as he learned himself under this great lay master. U Than now has nearly 100 centers across Myanmar.

U Than took his first seven-day course with Saya Thet Gyi’s assistant teacher Sayagyi U Aung Myat in 1936 at Anauk Monastery in Pyaw Bwe Gyi. Later, U Than studied intensively under Sayadaw U Kovida at this monastery, who later authorized him to teach within the Saya Thet Gyi tradition. U Than reports taking his first meditation course when he was 15 years old. Much later, when he was 42 and sponsoring his son’s novitiation, his interest in Dhamma practice was rekindled and he dedicated his life to the his spiritual development. Along with S.N. Goenka, U Than is credited today with reviving interest for Saya Thet Gyi’s meditation method within Myanmar. Sayagyi U Than was also unique among other Burmese teachers for emphasizing the scientific qualities of mind when providing meditation instructions, and focusing more on meditation practice than the Buddhist religion itself. Today, the U Than lineage meets regularly with the Ledi Mu organization and Saya Thet Gyi trust to sometimes coordinate activities.

Foreign meditators can learn under Daw Nu Kay Ti, and are also welcome to attend a Saya U Than course in Myanmar.

Daw Sutacari holds the other end of the banner at Mogaung Nunnery in Sagaing 

Dana for a Sagaing Hills Monastery

Prekhemma Monastery kappiya Ko Bo Win prepares to take the Dhamma cycle out to pick up the curries with Koyingyi for the upcoming day.

During the 2013-14 pilgrimages in Burma, pilgrims stopped at Prekhemma Monastery high up in the Sagaing Hills. While here, the foreign meditators generously gave dana to Prekhemma Sayadaw. They also enjoyed a Question and Answer session with the Sayadaw, viewing relics, and meditating in the cave on site. 

Prekhemma Sayadaw now wishes to inform these yogis that the dana they have given went into buying, for the first time, a Dhamma cycle for the monastery. In all the past centuries at Prekhemma (for it is one of the oldest monasteries in the Sagaing Hills, with some records suggesting it may have been founded in the 11th century), it was always necessary for monks and novices to walk entirely down the hill and into town to collect the curries that would be offered for lunch from village home, a trip which took several hours. Now, with this recent donation, a kappiya drives the monk with his tiffin to the appropriate homes on the Dhamma cycle. This also means that the monks have more time to study, meditate, and recite suttas; time that in the past was spent in walking.

For all those pilgrims who gave generously on these pilgrimages, may you rejoice in knowing where your dana went. For all those who wish to rejoice at such good deeds upon hearing of them, may you also share in the merits.

For more information on how one can join a pilgrimage this coming winter, please see here.

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Haircut in the Sagaing Hills

“A Burman's ideas of this world are dominated by his religion. His religion says to him, 'Consider your own soul, that is the main thing.' His religion says to him, 'The aim of every man should be happiness.' These are the fundamental parts of his belief; these he learns from his childhood: they are born in him. He looks at all the world by their light. Later on, when he grows older, his religion says to him, 'And happiness is only to be found by renouncing the whole world.' This is a hard teaching. This comes to him slowly, or all Buddhists would be monks.” Harold Fielding, Soul of a People

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The wisdom of Maha Gandayone Sayadaw

In this time of religious strife in Myanmar, the following words from the great 20th century monk Maha Gandayone U Janaka are worth remembering:

"If you don’t have enough intelligence you will probably be exposed to religious fames even in such clean and clear religion as Buddhism."

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Passing of Sayadaw U Lakkhana

The view of the river from Kyaswa Monastery

The organization Hawaii Vipassana has shared the following post concerning the passing away of the Venerable Sayadaw U Lakkhana. They also share the future of their Metta Dana project in the Sagaing Hills, as well as information about the annual January retreat held at Kyaswa Monastery.

In their words, "The most venerable Sayadaw U Lakkhana was an important teacher, collaborator, and friend and we will miss him very dearly. He offered a uniquely powerful voice of Dhamma rooted in kindness and compassion. His impacts on the world were many. We are profoundly grateful to him for the consistent spirit of generosity and kindness that he brought to all of his teachings."

View of Kyaswa Monastery

The following is an excerpt of Kyaswa from the upcoming Shwe Lan guidebook:

Kyaswa is a 650-year-old monastery set by the river on the foothills of Sagaing, one of many precious sites to be found in the area. It is easily identifiable when one has ascended the Hills and is looking eastward, for its multi-colored cylindrical tin roofs almost resemble circus tent tops from a distance. The monastery compound takes advantage of the slight hilly terrain by tucking away many kutis and walking paths throughout its land, allowing yogis a sense of seclusion while never being very far away. There is also an old cave for meditation that is over one hundred years old, and it is said the previous Sayadaw took the vow of bodhisatta. And by cutting into the limestone hills that rise above the Ayeyarwaddy River, it has made even more room available that monks and yogis may make use of. As is customary, the Dhamma Hall is located at the highest spot on the compound, overlooking the river towards Mandalay and the Shan Plateau beyond. At its lower entrance, one walks down brick stairs past the guarding chinthes to watch the pleasant Ayeyarwaddy River flow along the service road.

Entrance to the cave

Inside the cave

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Full Scholarship for Golden Dhamma Pilgrimage

During the 2013 pilgrimage, pilgrims met Burmese college students reciting suttas at Thanboddhay Monastery near Monywa

There are now extended pilgrimages for students in the tradition of S.N Goenka, as well as those interested in the wider aspects of the Burmese Dhamma. The two pilgrimages offered last year provided many foreign meditators with a precious opportunity to visit and experience some of the most sacred sites to be found in the Golden Land, many from within the lineage of S.N. Goenka. For more information, see Muditā Works.
Pilgrims were deeply moved by their experiences-- some spoke of how "the beauty of Burmese life is hard to qualify" while others declared firmly that "the benefits should not be overlooked." Still others were so profoundly touched that they themselves ordained and took on robes, such as one American at Shwe Kyin Monastery, and a New Zealander in Ingyinbin.

As one meditator read about these inspiring stories from a distance, he wished to give something so that others may continue to experience such transformative experiences and bring the tales of Burmese Dhamma to inspire their home meditative community. Although the costs are as low as possible to allow this opportunity to be open to all, the rising tourist costs in Myanmar as the country opens has meant that some may not be able to afford the price. With this in mind, while not being wealthy himself, the donor has expressed a wish to offer a full scholarship, a scholarship amounting to $1,650. The pilgrimage runs two weeks, from December 10-23, 2014. Please note that the scholarship is for pilgrimage tuition only, and it is expected that the pilgrim has the means to take care of his/her own travel, visa, and other logistical needs on their own.

There are just two conditions the donor has requested to include, and applicants should carefully read to ensure they meet the qualifications. For all those who apply, please copy and paste and following passage, and write one's full name to stand as one's signature.

"I acknowledge that I have never been on a Buddhist pilgrimage before in any country. I also understand that these funds are intended for someone who does not otherwise have the funds to join the pilgrimage."

To those interested pilgrims who meet the qualifications, you are invited to submit your name before 11:59PM (23:59) Myanmar Standard Time (MST) on September 30th, 2014. The randomly chosen applicant will be contacted immediately once the deadline closes to all applicants who have entered into the drawing, and once the drawing is completed. 

Pilgrims had the opportunity to engage in a translated Dhamma discussion with this forest monk in Hmawbi

Friday, 1 August 2014

Winter 2014 Pilgrimage Scholarship!

Meditators from around the world join a morning group sitting in Mandalay

 The two pilgrimages offered last year provided over 40 meditators from around the world with a precious opportunity to visit and experience some of the most sacred sites to be found in the Golden Land. The pilgrimages are led by guides who have spent the last several years intensively researching the history and context of these places, providing rich commentary and historical background that is not available elsewhere.

Although they have endeavored to keep the costs as low as possible to allow this opportunity to be open to all, the rising tourist costs in Myanmar as the country opens has meant that some may not be able to afford the price. With this in mind, one anonymous meditator has expressed his desire to provide a scholarship to cover the tuition of one pilgrim, so that he or she may be able to enjoy this unique opportunity. The donor requests that applicants only apply for the scholarship if their financial means legitimately do not allow them to attend by themselves. The donor is not singularly wealthy, but is making this remarkably generous donation out of his volition that others with less may avail themselves of such a life-changing opportunity.

Later this week, the full details of the scholarship will be made public, and at this time the agency invites any interested pilgrims who meet the qualifications to submit their name. If other meditators would similarly like to give dana for such a wholesome purpose, please send an email here.

*** Update: new information can be found on Muditā Works***

Four pilgrims pose at Ingyinbin, birthplace of Webu Sayadaw, prior to making merit by presenting offerings to the local Sangha

Pilgrims sit on the Western steps at Shwedagon Pagoda as a guide shows a marble tile that the family of Saya Thet Gyi donated in the early 20th century