Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Taste of Metta

"I have a natural affinity for metta meditation, and I enjoy it very much. When I practise metta meditation, my mind becomes happier and more peaceful with anodisa metta (non-specific metta) than with odisa metta (specific metta). However with anodisa metta, concentration does not become very powerful and strong. I always encourage the monks and volunteers at the monastery to practise metta meditation, and I also tell the yogis who come to practise meditation at Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Centre to develop metta. When I tell them to practise metta meditation, I ask them to do metta at the beginning of their vipassana meditation as part of the preliminary preparations. Or else, I advise them to develop metta during vipassana meditation when the mind becomes filled with anger or when the mind is very restless. Occasionally, I also tell them to practise Buddhanussati. Sometimes, I instruct yogis who are experienced in the practice of vipassana meditation to develop metta continuously for about one to one and a half months. Some yogis who have practised in this way have had a direct personal experience of the ‘taste’ of metta."

--Chan Myay Myaing Sayadaw U Indaka

"Should I Become a Buddhist Nun?"

Should I become a nun?

Sayadaw U Tejaniya responds to this question:

“A nun is very different from monk... a nun is not monk. Much of the decision depends on the mind of the female yogi, and if she truly wants to be ordained and spend her life as a monastic, wishing no longer to do any kind of lay activities. Actually, being a nun is not very different from being a yogi. It is true that being a yogi means you are still in the lay world and the main distinction is that a nun is not lay, for they no longer wish to do layman things. Because in Burma, women can’t become bhikkhuni. So for a female here to shave their head, it is like a kind of sign showing their intention and dedication. It shows that the only thing they want to do is Dhamma, they want to do only Dhamma all the time. As a nun, if you stay in nunnery that has good supporters it’s ok, but if you stay at a nunnery that does not have such supporters, this will not be so good. In order to really understand the Dhamma, ordaining as a nun can be helpful.”

Friday, 30 January 2015

Bhikkhunis, Nuns, and Thilashins

Because the Burmese consider the bhikkhuni order to have died out, there can be no bhikkhuni ordination today. So the nuns in Burma are not known as bhikkhunis, but often called "thilashin", or "master of precepts." Unlike the bhikkhunis of the old order who took 311 precepts, or the monks who took (and still take) 227, Burmese nuns may only take a maximum of 10 precepts.

Burmese legal code confirms that thilashin are seen as belonging to the worldly sphere, for they retain secular rights that monks are required to renounce, However in practice, many devout nuns will voluntarily give up their worldly items as they come to see these and incompatible with the Holy Life. 

In English, thilashin are often referred to simply as “nuns”, which is why foreign yogis are often confused why there are “nuns” yet no “bhikkhunis.” Hiroko Kawanami instead uses the term “religious women,” explaining that “the pseudo-ordination ceremony that initiates laywomen into the Order is considered a ritual that provides them with a religious status no more than that of pious lay women who abide by additional sabbatical vows.” U Sarana agrees with this assessment, noting that even for male novices ordained on ten precepts, they must pronounce these in Pali “very carefully and precisely. If he makes any kind of mistake, he is not formally a novice and the ordination in totally invalid. Nuns, on the other hand, are not required to do so at all.”

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Don't Have a Cow, Dude

There is a clever Burmese proverb denoting how easily a natural want can turn into gluttonous gratification: nwa ngaq ye cha the’lo, meaning, “A cow is sent to a spring, only to be overcome with greedy passion.”

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A Proper Attitude

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book
Shwe Lan Ga Lay. This is the introduction to a chapter called "Settling In," which describes how foreign meditators can adjust the dhammic life of living at a Burmese monastery.

"When looking for a hotel room, it is quite reasonable—smart, even—to ask about the room, the shower, the bed, etc, and one is not being rude even to ask to inspect the room before choosing to stay; indeed, one would be remiss if they did not! But monasteries are not guesthouses. They are a place for yogis to develop their nekkamma parami, or the perfection of renunciation. By definition, monasteries are places of simple living, where only the most basic necessities are met. Various Burmese proverbs attest to the value of nekkamma, which is considered the wellspring from which true contentedness may arise. One is Yaung ye tin tain, or “one is satisfied with one has.” Another goes shi ta lay ne ya aung nay. Shita lay ne wa aung sar, or “one tries to live with what one has, and to eat what is available.”

And one should not interpret nekkamma as having to “put up with” or “bear” one’s circumstances, rather, these situations where one can really practice renunciation are genuine opportunities rarely found among daily society where the craving for “more” and “better” is ever-present. Naing Naing Tun speaks to this when he tells of a simple forest monastery he stayed in for some time, during his temporary monkhood. There were no amenities, and not even electricity, but he relates that “as soon as I arrived there, I didn’t need to worry about anything. I just pulled up a mat on the floor and that was my bed.” As the days passed, he found that the monks had happily adapted to the situation and become more attuned to their environment. For example, every evening they would open the western windows and watch as all the mosquitoes flew out, then close them before lighting one of the few candles they had. Despite not having mosquito coils or insect repellent, they found this trick somehow worked to remove them. When there were no candles, or when it wasn’t safe to use them with may dry leaves around, he remembers: “We just sat under the natural light, the moonlight, and discussed Dhamma. For food, we just ate from what we got on alms rounds. And I didn’t feel any of thoughts of ‘I need this or I need that.’ I was free of wanting this or that because I accepted that here, there is nothing. I already accepted things. If you have less things, you have less worry, less anxiety. This is the benefit of having nothing! Today, whenever I rewind this experience, I can’t compare it with any other time in my life. Now, when I have one more thing, I have one more worry—and sometimes a lot more!”

Yogis who have a medical condition or an important special request may inquire whether their need can be accommodated at the monastery. An example of a “special request” is having a bad back and needing a certain amount of padding when sleeping, or feeling under the weather and needing a quiet place to rest or some medicine. But yogis should realize that most monasteries have limited capacity to meet even these kinds of legitimate needs. And mere personal preferences for this or that are worth letting go of, such as wanting almond-flavor soymilk instead of 2%, or asking the kitchen to prepare separate dishes with fewer chilies. While many Western meditation centers may try to meet such requests, they are not appropriate at Burmese monasteries. Also, one should make sure to reimburse the office or kitchen for any additional expenditure that has been undertaken for oneself personally.

It is also important to keep in mind that many monks and Sayadaws, especially in more remote or smaller monasteries, may have had little to no previous contact with foreigners. For this reason, one’s behavior will impact not only one’s own relations with the monastery, but will likely have consequences for many more yogis who may wish to practice there in the future—if your stay causes any difficulties or complexities, then they may hesitate to offer such an opportunity to the next yogi. If this proves too great a challenge, then one may consider staying in a nearby hotel and visit the monastery during the day."

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mohnyin Vipassana Monastery

Mohynin Sayadaw was one of the most prominent students of Ledi Sayadaw, and his more famous monastery can be visited near Monywa. This branch extension can be visited on the southern end of Golden Valley Road. Inside the compound are a large cluster of buildings, with newer and renovated multi-storied structures mixing with others made of wood that date back much further. This site was built for the monk in the 1940s, and Monhynin Sayadaw himself came here regularly to teach Vipassana practice over the course of the last 40 years of his life. (As a younger monk, following his venerable teacher Ledi Sayadaw's advice, he spent ten years without speaking while practicing intensive Vipassana meditation) 

Although the area is now considered an older part of town, when the monastery was first built there was only jungle here, with tigers roaming not far away. Foreigners are not allowed to stay here overnight, but the relics of the original Sayadaw may be viewed, and this makes a wonderful site for one to practice meditation amongst such purity and strong vibrations. Another shrine building has a large standing statue of the original Monyhin Sayadaw, next to one of a Buddha that is customarily placed in the center. The pagoda is also quite beautiful, and is a very suitable place for meditation. A new Mohnyin center is now being constructed in Nay Pyi Daw, and here foreign yogis will be welcome to stay and practice. For more information, contact Sayadaw U Indaka, the current abbot overseeing the center. As this is off the normal meditator-circuit, it is truly a special place to spend a day-- or many more-- silently pursuing one's meditative practice.

Standing statue of Mohnyin Sayadaw

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Plans for U Mandala in Australia

As noted earlier, U Mandala of Ingyinbin is confirming his plans to travel to Australia. On invitation from a Mexican yogi, he will first stay at Earth Home Thailand in Maejo village near Chiang Mai, where natural building techniques are practiced. The founder of Earth Home Thailand felt a strong desire to visit the ancestral home of the venerable Webu Sayadaw in December 2013, and spent three weeks there volunteering to build a natural home that is now used by monks as a meditation chamber. Pariyatti pilgrims donated further dana so that the program could continue, in the hopes that Burmese farmers and lay supporters in the area can learn and promote this practice in the remote village. The links between Earth Home Thailand and Buddhist Burma are indeed only growing stronger, as the Dutch monk Bhante Agga spent much of last year living in a forest near Maejo and being supported by the Earth Home Thailand family. 

U Mandala will then go to Australia on his own, and he hopes to meet with Australian meditators and Buddhists who have visited his home village of Ingyinbin, or who venerate the great Webu Sayadaw.

In his own words he has shared: "I will long stay in Australia because I want meditation. I am interested in attending Sayagyi U Goenka meditation centers because I want to practice meditation there. As for me, all life was spent on pariyatti. Now it is time for me to start to practice patipatta with more digiligence so I will go to away my birth place to do this. I want libration from samsara."

U Mandala first learned anapana meditation as a 17-year old novice in Ingyinbin from Webu Sayadaw, and has gone on to be the most senior monk at the monastery, only after the head Sayadaw. He is in charge of the monastic education for all novices as well as village children, instructing them not only in basic educational skills but also in Buddhist scripture, as well as continuing the anapana meditation promoted by Webu Sayadaw. He has also been the single Ingyinbin resident with the foresight for many years to greet and welcome foreign meditators who wished to come to pay respects to Webu Sayadaw, and has lovingly cared for them during their stay. Last year, he even helped to ordain one such visitor. Thus, after such heavy responsibilities for these many years, he views his visit to Australia as a chance to focus entirely upon the patipatti (meditation) practice.

Plans are still being made for his schedule in Australia. It may include a Dhamma talk and Question and Answer about Webu Sayadaw. Meditators who wish to make merit by offering lunch to U Mandala or who wish to invite him to their homes may do so, and dana to support his stay may be collected in Australia. Please contact burmadhamma@gmail and we will relay your request to U Mandala.

Friday, 23 January 2015

National Geographic Photograph of the Day

Today's "Photograph of the Day" from National Geographic shows a Burmese Buddhist woman in Myanmar lighting candles at a Buddha image.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A Monastic Kitchen in Ingyinbin...

In January 2014, a Pariyatti pilgrimage descended upon Webu Monastery in Ingyinbin, where meditators from around the world paid respects to the great monk Webu Sayadaw. They stayed on the Patipatti side of the monastery, and their food was lovingly prepared by the lay staff of the monastery. This short clip gives an inside view of the kitchen, where the great food magic took place. Shot with an HD lens, it transports the viewer to rural Burma within seconds...

U Mandala of Webu Sayadaw Monastery to visit Australia

As was detailed in the wonderful Webu Sayadaw biopic Anthology of a Noble One, U Mandala is a senior monk charged with overseeing much of Webu's former Ingyinbin monastery. Single-handedly he has made sure that the sacred site remain open to foreign devotees in the years since his master's passing, and he has cared for them throughout their stay. Having learned the meditation method of Webu Sayadaw as a 17 year old novice, he now teaches it to the many novices currently at his Ingyinbin monastery.

U Mandala has been invited to visit Australia this year. Any Australian-based meditator (or perhaps those in New Zealand) who would like to welcome him during his visit, please contact us (burmadhamma@gmail) and we can forward your request to U Mandala. There may also be opportunities to offer lunch to the venerable monk during his stay down under.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Venerable Master Ledi’s Lectures

The Venerable Master Ledi’s Lectures

"There are five senses (see, hear, touch, smell, taste)
We develop pleasure or dismay-- like or dislike-- from these senses
Our thoughts are forever changing from these derivations

If you waste the whole day with these five senses,
One should live in the four stages of underworld 

Lesser than that of human nature

Your views, your path, you will always dwell
Buried under these stages yourself

Don’t follow your old ways
Throw away this greed
Control your mind with good intention.
Cleanse practice is like saving a life

In this now, this opportunity period
Not following these given teachings is a foolish act
Can there be anyone more foolish than you?

In this now, this easy period
Not listening these given teachings is a troublesome act
Can there be anyone more troublesome than you?

In this now, this ready period
Not practicing these given teachings is an undisciplined act
Can there by anyone more undisciplined than you?"

The translator has added the following note: Some of the references here are to the Burmese thinkings of the underworld where there are 34 stages of underworld and there was a reference to 4 of them in the poetic lecture. Essentially it is a stage of being comparable to living in a garbage facility with rabid diseases when you can instead live in a sanitary palace with good practice. Living in an underground world lesser than human.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ordination of Zach Hessler

Zach Hessler has become Bhikkhu Obhasa at Shwe Oo Min Monastery, under the Preceptor Sayadaw U Tejaniya. He had ordained for three months last year and so liked the experienced that he is now making an open-ended commitment to living the life of a bhikkhu in robes. Ma Thiri attended the ordination and kindly shares these inspiring photos. May Bhikkhu Obhasa attain the highest stages of insight! We say Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Shwe Lan Editor to give presentation at Naropa University

The editor and creator of the upcoming meditator guidebook to Burma (Shwe Lan Ga Lay) will be giving a free presentation at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. It will take place in the Learning Commons at 5:30 pm, Tuesday January 20th. Anyone who is interested to learn more about this book, upcoming pilgrimages, modern Myanmar, or traditional Burmese Buddhism is welcome to attend. Following the presentation, there will be a Question & Answer period and a showing of Webu Sayadaw: Anthology of a Noble One.

Wild Burma

With Myanmar now opening up, its breathtaking diversity of nature may finally be experienced by people from around the world. This was certainly the case for the BBC's stunning new three-part series called Wild Burma, which looks at the flora, fauna, animals, insects, and endangered species of the country. It also includes fascinating interviews with monks at remote monasteries and villagers, who are caught in the greed from Chinese buyers of various animal parts.

Before, most studies of the country relied on centuries-old British surveys, with the two notable exceptions being Jamie James' Snake Charmer about the tragic death of the herpetologist Dr. Joe Slowinski in Kachin State by a many-banded krait; and Alan Rabinowitz's Life in the Valley of Death and Beyond the Last Village. However, much of Rabinowitz's work has since been discredited as his personal quest for fame seemed to come into the writings.

Add to this growing collection the stunning new article that appears in this month's National Geographic, "On Myanmar's Mystery Peak, Drama and a Challenge Like No Other." In its own words, it tells the story of "a grueling trek through a jungle, followed by a treacherous climb: How one team took on one of mountaineering's biggest tests." It tells of searching for Southeast Asia's highest peak, which is the towering Hkakabo Razi in northern Myanmar, and the efforts to scale this.

We certainly hope that the greater opening of Myanmar leads to greater exploration and appreciation of its vast nature reserves!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Burmese dolphins

Jonah Fisher posted a story on the BBC about dolphins that help Burmese fishermen. 

It is also similar to an excerpt that was written for the upcoming Shwe Lan Ga Lay meditator's guidebook:

"Keep a sharp eye out towards the Ayeyarwaddy River, where dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are known to swim. While most dolphins are salt water species, the ones here live in fresh water, and have actually been referenced by Chinese travelers as far back as in the first century (known then as “river pigs”). From time to time they can be spotted outside of Mingun (and as far away from here as the towns of Khetthin and Sintgu) just after the monsoon season when the water levels go down and baby dolphins are seen with their mother. This may also be one of the few places in the world where the sea-faring mammals interact and even work together with local human inhabitants. When the fishers head out in their wooden canoes, they make a small tap with their wooden mallets, whereupon the dolphins go out in pairs to encircle a school of fish. After signaling with their tails which way the fish are swimming, nets are cast down to get the fish. The technique is handed down in fisher communities for generations, and apparently within the dolphin community as well. The fishers have also freed ensnared dolphins from nets and protected them from hunters."

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Guidebook for Dhamma Pilgrims...

The Shwe Lan Ga Lay (The Golden Path) project – a Burma guidebook for Dhamma pilgrims – was launched in April 2013. The intention behind this book is to make the Golden Land more accessible to seekers & meditators who have the noble intention to develop in Dhamma. In the past year-and-a-half a team of volunteers has visited hundreds of monasteries and pagodas throughout Burma and interviewed dozens of monks and scholars. They have gleaned information that was previously not available in English, and some of which has never been written down in any language.

Of the book's 14 chapters, four are nearing completion and will be released as a free eBook from Pariyatti press once they are ready.

Further help is needed in the following areas:

  1. Artists to make illustrations that will accompany the text.
  2. Layout Editor Assistant to help the lead layout editor with design tasks.
  3. Map-making
  4. Photographs from Burma. We are especially interested in photo collections from visits of over 20 years ago, and from anyone who has professional experience in photography.
  5. Photo sorting: We need help going through our current photo collection to highlight the best pictures for our designer to use, and to match specific text to photos.
  6. Stories and Anecdotes from visits to Burma (sharing without attribution is fine).
  7. Translation from Burmese
  8. Scholars to review drafts
  9. Web Designers to help bring the book's content to the web
  10. General Volunteers: If none of the above tasks fit your skill level or interest, but you'd like to be involved in some way, please get in touch with us and we'll find a role for you.
  11. Dāna: One may give a donation to cover the basic expenses being incurred on the project using the form below.
For more information on how you can help, please email us here or see more information on this page from Pariyatti.

Daily Food Offerings at That Kya Nunnery

A Chinese nun at Sektha Dittha Nunnery in the Sagaing Hills reflects on her experience:

"The reality is that nuns have lunch at 10:30 a.m.

For some days (e.g. when Donors come, important monks or nuns come, or festivals....), the nunnery arranged two or three Sayalays or lay p
eople distribute the cooked rice in a big pot to every Sayalay at the gate of the dining hall. Usually I saw lay people help with the distribution. And I am not sure if the cooked rice in the collective pot was offered directly from the lay people as the monks do. If the cooked rice in the collective pot was from the lay people directly, it may be Ok to say that Sayalays there experience the common practice as the monks do. But still there was cooked rice in a small iron pot on every table as usual. Actually the cooked rice distributed by the lay people was definitely not enough. Most Sayalays needed to eat the additional cooked rice that was made in the kitchen. If the cooked rice was from the nunnery's kitchen, it seems the meaning is different and it is not accurate to say that it is the same practice with monks. It is more like that lay people did the distribution work for merits. 

The point is that it does not happen like that every day. Except for the cooked rice in the collective pot (not sure from where), all the curry and cooked rice are made at the nunnery's kitchen. The lay people offer the Sayalays some raw rice or other snacks, etc. for alms food.

This picture shows that the big iron stuff is used to cook ice every day."

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Role of Kusala

Pilgrims perform the kusala action of giving robes to monks at Shwekyin Monastery

“Kusala” is usually translated into English as “merit,” a word that can create confusion for many foreign yogis. Different renderings may be helpful in expressing the depth of this term. For instance, the Access To Insight website translates a kusala deed as being one that is “wholesome” or “skillful.”

When one understands the law of cause and effect, one sees that all wholesome acts bring a degree of calm and joy is brought to the mind. In other words, no good deed goes unrewarded, and the opportunity for skilful actions, both large and small, can be found in plentitude during the course of one’s day. For many Burmese Buddhists, the most meritorious of all deeds will involve monasteries and monks to some degree.

However, the idea of “accumulating merit” can be misunderstood by foreign yogis whose primary form of practice is mediation. The common misperception is that performing meritorious deeds has a materialistic tinge, in which the devotee tries to to amass points that will go on a score card or tally, with more points leading to better future births. The usual criticism is that it would be a better to give time towards meditation on the cushion than trying to accumulate yet more points.

But here it may valuable to try to understand the perspective of the Burmese Buddhist. Rather than as a score card trying to add more points, the continual performing of kusala actions can also be seen as a muscle being strengthened through repeated use. As with any physical skill or mental habit that one is trying to develop, establishing a routine for consistent practice makes it easier to keep on doing that particular activity—or as a neural scientist might say, by strengthening the neural pathways, the tendency towards repeating those actions becomes more automated, which may help establish the desired behavior. Thus performing kusala actions such as devotion, service and generosity both trains the mind to do these virtuous duties and make it less likely for the mind to perpetuate unskillful actions that will bring bad results. Naing Naing Tun gives the Burmese perspective for this, noting that one who gets in the habit of doing kusala deeds eventually comes to possess a “kusala mind,” which is then primed to view the world from this wholesome state. “We need to cultivate the quality of a kusala mind, which is pure and clean, and has happiness and peace,” he said. “And this is not like the kind of mundane happiness that comes in daily life. If you can keep in mind the good deed you’re doing, then the happiness will be refreshed over and over again, with the kusala mind arising again and again.”

A common saying in Burmese describes how the quickest cows go into the pen first, and the slowest and laziest last. Then when the pen is opened, the laziest go out first. This is a metaphor for how kamma works: whatever is most base in the mind tends to come out first. Therefore, doing good deeds is important to develop wholesome inclinations of the mind, so these are first “out of the pen.” Or as is expressed simply through the Burmese proverb, kaung hmu ta khu nei zin pyu, or “perform a good deed every day.”

Maha Gandayone Sayadaw U Janaka also spoke about what he characterized as an urgency to do good. He wrote that “merit cannot be obtained without really trying. You must do good work to earn it. The confidence (in the good) that in with you now must be used so that new confidence will be developed. The diligence that you are using at present will intensify the diligence you will have in the future.” Elsewhere, he said simply, “don’t wait for good luck; make good luck by doing good deeds.”

Prekhemma Sayadaw makes the practical observation that only those who have attained may find no further urgency to make kusala actions, since they may not fear rebirth in lower worlds where Vipassana practice is no longer possible. “But for the meditator who hasn’t become a sotapanna,” he says, “the cycle of rebirths will continue. And without having a strong store of kusala merits, one will really have a struggle ahead.

Doing such acts regularly will bring a measure of peace to the mind. What is more, this then creates a stronger base for future or present meditative pursuits. As more and more good acts—and the accompanying wholesome states of mind that bring these very acts into fruition, followed by feelings of joy and calm that accompany the completion of the skillful deed—are taken, the mind may also gain greater faith and confidence in the overall teachings, thus providing increased energy with which to practice. Such meritorious deeds, and the pure volition pushing them forward, are thus a powerful aid for developing increasingly higher qualities of mind.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

"Wellspring of Gratitude: Remembering S.N. Goenka"

The website Dhamma Inspiration has made a tribute to S.N. Goenka on the occasion of his one year passing. This clip follows the life of the great meditation teacher and how his organization grew to be able to freely offer courses in over 130 countries worldwide.

The video can be seen here.

Intersection of Dhamma Travel and Tourist Travel in Myanmar

 As Myanmar continues to open up, more and more Dhamma pilgrims can come to experience the richness of its Buddhist sites. Unfortunately, more and more tourists can also come to tramp around these very same Buddhist sites. Such a fact comes out in an article written by Douglas Long in My Magical Myanmar. He describes his visit to Monywa. This was the place recognized as the home of the great Ledi Sayadaw, which meditator David Lambert celebrated in his essay Chindwin by writing that “beyond the conventional radar, this is the heart of yogi tourism, where foreign meditators... come to explore the heartland of their spiritual souls. For some, this is the area ‘where it all began.’”

Now, however, as Long's essay shows, it is no longer "beyond the conventional radar," as for him, it is a place to be "sheltered in our air-conditioned room and [wait] until late afternoon for a walk around town."

Long goes on to write that "we... enjoyed the long, casual amble that took us past a statue of national hero Aung San on horseback, the town’s central clock tower, a buzzing street market and the Shwezigon Pagoda. At the riverside, we enjoyed fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice as we watched the sun descend toward the horizon." Shwezigon, of course, is the pagoda where Ledi Sayadaw lived, mediated, wrote, and taught after a great fire in Mandalay destroyed nearly all of his books and he retreated the then-capital city.

The next stop is Bodhi Ta Htaung, where Long writes: "Myanmar’s tourism boosters are fond of declaring that this statue is one of the tallest such images in the world, but given the Buddha’s teachings on humility and impermanence, these trifling boasts seem somewhat contrary to the spirit of the religion." Not known or mentioned by the casual tourist, however, is that the great Bodhi Ta Htaung Sayadaw, originally known as U Narada, practiced meditation across Upper Burma, although his work was hindered by bouts of tuberculosis. Even after becoming Sayadaw, he regularly planned extended self-courses to pursue his own meditation practice, going to such sites at West Prekhemma Monastery in Sagaing, Kyuakse Hill, Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, among others. Between 1988 and 2004, he also travelled extensively throughout Asia and the West. His last known words, said while in the hospital were: “He who always cultivates mindfulness, attains Nibbana. He who does not cultivate mindfulness, is born and dies endlessly. Lord Buddha delivered a discourse time and again, mindfulness should be cultivated at all times.”

The road to Bodhi Ta Htaung Monastery

Long's next stop is Thanboddhay Monastery, which he notes as a "beautifully painted in a riot of bright colours and decorated with thousands of small Buddha images." Much more importantly, however is the former Mohynin Sayadaw who oversaw this site. He was one of Ledi Sayadaw's most renowned students, and followed Ledi's advice by coming here to meditate ten years in seclusion without talking to another soul. When World War II struck Burma, this became a refuge for thousands of lay Buddhists, with many learning meditation for the first time. It was a thriving meditation center after the war, with unique meditation cells constructed along the walls of the inner compound that still exist today. 

Thanboddhay Monastery

Long also mentions passing by Letpadaung mine, and he notes that "Myanmar riot police had used unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics while confronting monks and villagers protesting against the environmental and communal impact of the mine." However, he seems to miss that it was not just environmental concerns that people had. Even more importantly, this was where Ledi Sayadaw resided for over one year, living remotely in a cave while practicing meditation, and the local Buddhist community did not want his cave damaged or access to the site prevented to future pilgrims.

Finally, Long visits Hpo Win Daung caves, about which he says this: "We wandered around the main hill, saw a few Buddhist monks looking into the alcoves, and ran into a group of local kids who asked for packets of shampoo." Much more important to the Dhamma pilgrim, however, is that this is the site where Saya Thet Gyi was instructed by Ledi Sayadaw to practice his own teachings, and where he made his earliest advancements in meditation practice.

One wonders if these sites will become open further and further to conventional tourists who do not know-- and are not interested-- about the rich and important dhammic past of these sites, or if they may also be visited by those who recognize the sacred importance of these sites within the great tradition of Burmese Buddhist practice.

Maha Ledi Monastery in Monywa, where Ledi Sayadaw resided

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Photographing Novices: A Contrast of Values

The Huffington Post recently published a collection of photos of novices in Myanmar by Stephen Wallace, and which can be found here. Just as a previous post discussed the dynamic between Western and Burmese attitudes in regards to the imprisonment of Mr. Philip Blackwell, this photo collection raises similar concerns. To most Western travelers, the site of young, playful monks is something that brings a smile to one's eye and the camera immediately to one's face, as these young novices seem to represent an irresistible mix of the noble and the playful, the mature and the innocent, the wise and the young. However, many photographers ultimately end up taking pictures that would be considered highly inappropriate to Burmese, and what is more, then sharing and even selling these prints to other like-minded Westerners. This is certainly true of those photos in Mr. Wallace's collection, where novices are seen half-clothed and playing in some of the country's sacred temples. 

Again we see cultural attitudes come to play. The Western attitude here may be, "I am just taking photographs of what's really happening before me. What am I supposed to do, not take the photos? If novices are not supposed to be behaving this way, then their teachers should teach them how to behave, not blame me for taking the photos."

The Burmese attitude, however, may be one of anar, an essentially untranslatable word that means to not behave in a way that would disturb or disrupt other people. One may feel anar...

· when being offered the last piece of mango slice.
· when one has been helped by a friend who had to exert some effort on one’s behalf.
· by having one’s meal suddenly paid for by a friend.
· by being invited somewhere and not being able to come.

Similar to ignoring the demands of “face” in other cultures, it is said in Myanmar that one who behaves without this fear of anar is not acting in the “proper” way, since it shows a disregard for others in favor of one’s own wants or needs. As one local man explains, “When you ask us if we would like to join you for lunch or dinner, make sure you ask us twice or more because we will say no the first time, even though we’d love to because of our culture.”

In this way, simply because these scenes may be happening do not automatically give the foreigner license to photograph anything he wishes, let alone to then share or make a profit from his photographs. A similar observation was made by Australian journalist Peter Olszewski in Land of a Thousand Eyes, when he notes that the Burmese concept of modesty means that when a woman must breast-feed in public because she has no other place to do it, people automatically avert their eyes; and when neighbors talk about personal matters through thin walls, one simply decides not to listen. In this case, following the principles of anar, the culturally appropriate thing for people such as Mr. Wallace to do is simply to choose not to take photographs of such scenes. However, as one can see, Western cultural attitudes contrast with this.

Perhaps nowhere has this contrast between modern tourism and a search for exoticism, and the traditional Buddhist faith come more into contact than at Maha Gandayone Monastery in Amarapura. This was overseen by many years by one of Myanmar's great 20th century monks, Sayadaw U Janaka.

In addition to his many Burmese lay supporters, U Janaka also welcomed foreign visitors in the post World War II era. Initially this was a beneficial exchange. The Sayadaw remembered how “many foreigners came and talked with me. They looked around and said that they were quite pleased with everything they found here.” One Korean monk during this time was so moved that he commented: “This place is an ideal for monks and we hate to leave it. It is sad that we were not born here. We hope to mettā gain and hope to become this Venerable Monk’s disciple and pray that we reach nirvana together.”

Unfortunately, the monastery today has ended up on the tourist trail, with large tour buses showing up and treating it like a cross between a museum or a zoo, freely taking photos, walking around, with many of the foreign tourists unconcerned with dress or basic protocol. Monks report that nearly as many as one hundred visitors may come in a single day, and they usually do so just after 10 am in order to watch the monks take their meals. For many of the monks this ritual is part of their mindfulness training, but tourists strain to observe the exotic scene and record it with photography and video. There is even at least one package tour group that organizes visits here strictly for aspiring photographers.

Other monasteries may be threatened by similar issues in the future, and it’s worrisome to consider how this will affect their training, signs of which can already be seen in neighboring countries Thailand and Laos, where seeing an alms rounds is on the “to-do” list of most tourists. In some ways, the schizophrenia of the modern Western world’s relationship to traditional Burmese Buddhist sites and practices can be seen playing out at Maha Gandayon in real time. For example, in one past edition, Lonely Planet recommended that backpackers try to visit Maha Gandayone specifically during lunch to watch the monks eat; then, in a subsequent edition, they stood by their recommendation but advised against wanton picture taking; and in the present edition, they now call picture-taking at the monastery “worth avoiding.” In other words, while they may be commended for their growing awareness, they are now frowning on the very behavior they were hyping only a few short years ago!

One may wonder how the Maha Gandayone monks themselves regard such an increase in this frenetic activity. One response has been to plaster English signs throughout the grounds advising tourists on basic monastic discipline. They also have tried to restrict tourist access to just certain parts of the monastery, so the disruption can be contained. Towards this end, “No Entry!” signs hang throughout. Burmese tour guides are often implored to make certain that their foreign visitors are properly attired, but money talks loudly, and so this is not always adhered to.

The obvious question may be, why do the monks tolerate this? When asked, some senior monks admitted that they are not so fond of the noise, disruption, or occasional inappropriate behavior; however, as one monk commented, the Mingala Sutta teaches how even glimpsing the sight of a monk may give one faith in the Dhamma. He went on to say that “Buddhism is to share, and not to own. Foreigners may come for tourism but still find some happiness while here. The Buddha would also allow this, because the Sasana is open to all, it is like the moon that everyone sees.” He added that a foreign visitor may become more curious about the Buddha’s teachings, and in asking may learn something valuable. Such a sentiment is even found on the large English sign advising visitors on basic monastic etiquette, where Point #9 reads: We all the monks from this monastery thank for your visit and pray for your happiness and goodwill.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Buddha in Modern Myanmar

On the Democratic Voice of Burma, Dr. Paul Fuller has reported on a fascinating developing story in Myanmar, about a New Zealander, Philip Blackwood, who was arrested for using the image of a Buddha wearing headphones in a trance-like state to promote his new bar. Mr. Blackwood, along with Burmese partners Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, have been charged under blasphemy law. Additionally, monks from the ma-ba-tha movement (meaning the "Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion") have protested these images for being highly offensive and inappropriate. 

This story hits so many themes and and cultural attitudes that disentangling them may pose a challenge. On one side, many Burmese Buddhists, Western meditators, and most readers of this blog would also share in being offended and disgusted at seeing a Buddha image shown to be rolling in sensual entertainment (e.g. rave music) and even worse, advertising and encouraging people in a deeply Buddhist country to come to a bar whose main purpose is the distribution of intoxicants (e.g., beer and other alcohol). These acts so oppose the Buddha's teachings, as well as Myanmar's conservative values, that it is highly shocking and inappropriate that a Buddha image would be used in this way. Few meditators would condone such an appropriation and many would protest the image with a goal in mind of having it removed. 

But on the other hand, the values of freedom and individual choice are so cherished in Western life that many of these same meditators would feel something unpleasant upon hearing that the government would wade deep into religious territory, let alone by imprisoning individuals who are merely engaged in artistic impression-- no matter how disgusting their choice of artistic impression may be. In this vein, one can easily compare Myanmar locking up Mr. Blackwell with Muslim governments that harass writers and cartoonists who portray Mohammad in ways that they disagree with.

This may essentially be a question of "How far is too far?" This is a question that Myanmar especially must grapple with as it moves into a free society, and a question that every society must evaluate at at each stage of its history. For Western meditators, it may be especially tricky, for two forces oppose each other-- the force of the Dhamma, the devotion towards the Buddha, and the preservation of all his teachings and practices; and the force of safeguarding individual rights of expression, religion, opinion, and choices.

Interestingly, this is a dynamic that most Western monastics and yogis who live in Myanmar have to negotiate in some way or the other. An example from the life of one European monk illustrates this issue in a rather drastic way. He was living deep in the forest, under the protection of his Sayadaw. Here, "protection" has a many-fold meaning: his Sayadaw ensured his health, nourishment, shelter, meditation instruction, visa, as well as the greater spiritual protection to practice the Dhamma. The monk had great faith in this Sayadaw, and had renounced his entire life in Europe in order to learn under him. 

After about a year into his stay, the monk had requested to meet some friends a day car trip away from his forest retreat and the Sayadaw accepted. However, when the day came to leave, the Sayadaw changed his mind and refused to give the monk his passport, and did not offer to take him in his car-- the only way to leave the forest. The monk was torn along these very lines described above. The "dhammic" and "Buddhist" part of his being sought to take this as another moment for practice. To observe the mind as it rolled in frustration, to accept the wisdom of his Sayadaw in whom he had faith, and to submit to the instruction of a superior as he continued to make the Path is highest aspiration. However, the "Western" part of his upbringing felt a need to stand up to what was essentially a broken promise, to insist that the passport was his property and to protest against the justice (and illegality) of it not being given to him on demand, and to find a productive way to communicate his frustration with the Sayadaw so that their relationship could be maintained. Which side to follow? For many meditators reading about Mr. Blackwell, a similar dynamic may come into play.

Dr. Fuller does not so much get into this discussion in his article, but rather focuses on the power of the Buddha image itself, such as when he writes: 

"The power of Buddhist sacred objects is part of what has been termed “apotropaic Buddhism”. This idea is often ignored in the modern understanding of Buddhism. The term “apotropaic” refers to object, texts and teachings that are regarded as having protective and even magical qualities. An image of the Buddha (which in a way is not simply an image, but is the Buddha, a surrogate Buddha, as it were), has the power to protect and avert danger....And this is where the offence caused by the DJ-like Buddha image is lost on those producing such an image. The images are not only offensive to certain sensibilities but are primarily dangerous and inauspicious. The modern Buddhist might emphasise those parts of the Buddha’s teaching that focus upon notions of freeing the mind of all forms of attachment, including attachment to sacred objects, but miss other important aspects of Buddhism that emphasise the protective power of the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha."

While it is good that he tries to explain the offense caused to what may be a primarily Western readership at DVB, what is missing from this description is the absolute devotion and respect shown to monks and the Buddha throughout Myanmar. For a Westerner to really understand the level of shock and offense that Mr Blackwell's poorly thought out image must have caused, one needs to see the spotless pagodas, the monks' alms rounds at 4 am on each and every morning through villages and cities across the country, the daily offerings made at Buddha statues in one's home or at pagodas or at monasteries, the huge dana given to Buddha statues from a people that are considered some of the poorest in the world, the way these Buddha images are kept clean and immaculate even in a country without a proper refuse system, etc. The first thing any Burmese Buddhist will do upon moving into a new home is build their shrine room and then maintain its sanctity. There is no level of devotion or respect that can be found in any Western country as a comparison, and it goes into the very heart of the Burmese Buddhist to see this Teacher portrayed so inappropriately in their very city. Again, this may not mean that imprisoning the perpetrator is the correct response, but a clearer understanding must be made of how shocking this portrayal would be. For many Westerners who may believe that they understand the Buddha's teachings, Dr. Fuller gives voice to them by noting that "those using an image of the Buddha in a commercial way stress part of the teachings of Buddhism in which “letting go” and non-attachment are the central focus and then assume that the use of an image will not be offensive because the Buddhist is not attached to such things." This is a very superficial and Western-centric way to view the faith, and one that entirely ignores and dismisses the Burmese Buddhist attitude. 

Elsewhere, Dr. Fuller writes: "Therefore, on the one hand, the manipulation of the Buddha image is harmless and surely the Buddha, being free from all attachment would not have taken any offence. In another sense the Buddha was not simply an ordinary person but someone who had strived for thousands of lifetimes generating ethical actions so that one day he could become a Buddha."

The Buddha was certainly no ordinary person, and this gets at the heart of the dynamic between "honoring those who are worthy of respect," while finding the line where individual freedoms may be maintained.

"How Do I Extend My Meditation Visa?"

One yogi recently sent us a question asking about the Meditation Visa Following is our answer. For more questions about Dhamma in Burma to be answered on this blog, shoot us an email at burmadhamma(at)gmail.

"Mingalabar, dear ShweLanGaLay,
I am currently in Mandalay with a meditation visa. I would like to extend it. Could you help me and tell me what I need and how I have to proceed? Your help would be very valuable as nor the Minister of Immigration and Population no the embassy could provide any information about that. What kind of letter do I need from the monastery? Do I need to go out of Myanmar? Do I need to go to Yangon or is it possible to do it in Mandalay. Many thanks in advance for your help. Julie"

Religious Visa (also known as Meditation Visa)
** Note that if one is planning to stay overnight at monasteries or meditation centers, it is ideal to procure a Religious or Meditation Visa. Some monasteries and centers do not allow foreigners to stay even one night with unless they come with this specific visa. **

The Religious Visa is also commonly referred to as a “Meditation Visa,” although the visa covers not only those wishing to engage in formal meditation practice but also those interested in studying other aspects of Burmese Buddhism (the stamp one receives in the passport is actually an “R” for “Religious”). Provided by the Department of Promotion and Propagation of the Sāsana, these are often initially valid for up to 90 days. Those who are considering applying for a meditation visa should first consider these important points:

- This visa is only for those with a genuine interest in learning about Burmese Buddhism.
- To apply, one must have a letter from a government-recognized meditation center or monastery that states one is coming to Myanmar for Buddhist reasons, and will be studying or practicing at their site.
- A Tourist or Business visa can not be converted into a meditation visa; if already in the country, you must leave and apply from abroad.

Theoretically, a meditation visa allows the holder to visit Buddhist sites, pagodas, and monasteries throughout the country. However, this is entirely up to the discretion and policy of the sponsoring agency (i.e. the meditation center or monastery that has issued your welcome letter), as they are officially responsible for you for the duration of your visit in the country. Some sites may be more relaxed in their policy and others stricter.

The meditation visa can be extended indefinitely—sometimes for even several decades, in the case of some long-term yogis—and can be done so without having to leave the country, because government servants are mindful that this would interrupt one’s Dhamma practice. The renewal process is done through the Department of Religious Affairs, and must either be completed by going to the office in person (with a Burmese translator if one is not fluent), or by having one’s sponsoring agency complete the procedure on one’s behalf. Extensions for lay people are six months and those in robes can get a full one year. Both presently cost $90 USD, and must be processed at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

As the renewal process can take up to ten weeks, yogis planning to stay longer than three months are advised to begin the renewal procedure soon after they enter the country. It is each yogi’s responsibility to get this done in time or face whatever consequence may come as a result, such as getting the dreaded “overstay” stamp socked into one’s passport. Finally, anyone who plans to extend their Meditation Visa past the initial three months will need to get a Foreign Registration Card (FRC), which must be shown upon leaving the country.

No matter how long one remains in the country, the Meditation Visa is almost always single-entry, meaning that once one leaves the country a new one must be applied for at a Burmese Embassy. In limited cases and for long-term foreign monastics, re-entry and multiple-entry meditation visas may also be available for a higher fee.

Past yogis have reported that the Burmese Embassies in Asia, in particular New Delhi, Bangkok, Sri Lanka, and especially Kuala Lumpur have been said to be slightly faster at granting meditation visas. Meditation visas applied for outside Asia tend to take much longer.

The Meditation Visa itself dates back to 1979, before which only a handful of diplomats and scholars were allowed in on specialized visas. Tourist visas at that time were hard to come by, and even if they were granted, the maximum period was only for seven days! This prompted the great Sayagyi U Ba Khin to lament that he couldn’t impart his Dhamma knowledge in such a short window of time.

Many yogis today swoon over the thought that a meditation visa exists in Myanmar, and hope that this will open the gates for months of Dhamma practice in the Golden Land. The fact that the government provides this opportunity for dedicated meditators is indeed a sign of the nation’s commitment to Dhamma practice at the highest levels. And this is not a new phenomenon—Prime Minister U Nu once offered state funds during the 1950s to any foreigners who wished to come to the country to learn meditation.

However, the process of applying and receiving a Buddhist study visa entails more than simply listing the number of courses you have sat or describing how you follow the Precepts. For this reason, attention to protocol and procedure is important. The expression “once burned, twice shy” is applicable here, as some meditation centers and monasteries have had experiences in the past of sponsoring a visa application or welcoming a foreign yogi to stay on their grounds, only to find he or she was really a backpacker or English teacher in disguise looking for an easy way to remain in the country. Unfortunately, such behavior has led some monasteries to be more hesitant when considering requests for sponsor letters, as past incidents have weakened their trust. The reality is that each yogi’s actions—if they are in line with expectations and acting responsibly and honestly, or not—will impact the decisions that monasteries, lay people, and even government officials make about the Dhamma hopes of countless future yogis.

A Western monk in Myanmar has seen concerning signs of this already. He writes, “This situation has taken place over the past several years in Thailand to the point where a number of monasteries, previously supportive of foreign yogis and the ordination of foreigners, no longer allow such opportunity, and meditation centers have had to impose accommodation and meal fees as many backpackers abused the hospitality and support of the locals. Now, the early signs of this same unfortunate turn of events are beginning to take place in some of the better known meditation centers in Myanmar.”

Concerning visa extensions, he adds that a “Sayadaw may wish to give the yogi the opportunity to continue practice for a long time with the impression that the yogi is sincere in his/her practice, but in some cases once extensions are received, the yogis leave the monastery for travel or use the monastic accommodations simply as free lodging. Some meditation centers now only allow a stay of three months maximum as a result and will not sponsor visa extensions beyond the initial meditation entry visa.”

** It cannot be overstated that those who receive a Meditation Visa should be especially mindful to follow the rules and conditions of the sponsoring monastery, and use it with the right intention, otherwise future yogis may be not able to similarly enjoy the benefits of a meditation visa! **

In the past, some visitors chose to deliberately overstay their 28-day visa period and upon leaving, pay a nominal fine of $3 to $5 USD per day. While this was permitted in the past, it is discouraged nowadays. Having an invalid visa will cause one problems at hotels and monasteries, when booking travel tickets, and when asked to show one’s passport at other times. Additionally, a Burmese souvenir one should not wish for if one has any desire to return to the Golden Land in the future, is an “overstay” stamp in one’s passport!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Center in Taunggyi

“Pain is observed not to make it go away, but to realize its true nature.” Chan Myay Yeiktha Sayadaw U Janaka

This center offers yogis a wonderful place to continue their practice of meditation according to the Chan Myay Yeiktha method. It is overseen by Sayadaw U Nyarnawara, and he warmly welcomes foreigners and can instruct them in English. Courses run all year long and one may come anytime one likes, and stay for as long as one wishes. Males stay together in one large building, while there are 24 separate bungalows available for women. Usually four women stay to a bungalow, but as many as ten may share suring Water Festival. There are also six separate buildings set aside for monks. However, there is no water heater, so meditators will have to manage with cold water showers. The center is five acres in size, and not far from the Technological University of Taunggyi. The northern area of the compound is shaded with a pleasant grove of trees, and much of the area east of the monastery is undeveloped, allowing for pleasant scenes and quiet space.

Details: Aye Tharyar Industrial Zone, Tel : 95 81 2127600, Email:

"My first experience of learning and practicing with Sayadaw left a very deep impression. From the very first interview, I knew without a doubt that I had found my teacher. The recognition was indisputable. With Sayadaw, I had a sense of being coached and guided based on my actual experience, without presumption on what a yogi that has only attended three short retreats was capable of or limited to... my practice flourished in a very short period of time... I was being guided by one the most compassionate, understanding approachable and skillful teacher. What amazed me most was the consistent and immense metta, compassion and sympathetic joy that Sayadaw would infallibly exude throughout the duration of my practice with him.” Malaysian yogi

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sitagu Sayadaw in Iran

Referring to a Burmese website that originally posted the story, Dr. Paul Fuller has shared about a recent trip that Sitagu Sayadaw has taken to Iran in order to engage in a Muslim-Buddhist dialog at the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

This quotation is included in the story:

Sitagu Sayadawgyi has arrived at Teheran, Iran at the invitation of Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of Iran government for the purpose of exchanging views between Buddhism and Islam last night.

Today, Dec 29, the meeting between Buddhist leaders and Islamic Leaders met at the head quarter of Islamic Culture center and Sitagu Sayadawgyi delivered a keynote speech on regarding multilateral dialogue between Buddhism and Islam. After morning secession, Sitagu Sayadawgyi was interviewed by several Iranian Television Networks.

Following this, a video was posted of a speech that Sayadaw U Nyanissara gave, "unconditionally" condemning any Buddhist violence towards Muslims. While those interested in Burma and the Dhamma may be interested to hear this story, it is unlikely to be covered by any mainstream news organization, whose past biases and misperceptions have already been discussed in this blog.

Responding to Thomas Fuller: "Is There Free Will in Theravāda Buddhism or is it Fatalist?"

Last month, the New York Times' Myanmar reporter Thomas Fuller used the derogatory word "fatalist" to describe contemporary Burmese Buddhist attitudes. As a previous post showed, this is a highly offensive word, and using it in the way that Mr. Fuller did portrays a borderline racist attitude towards the Burmese Buddhist faith. What is more, it is entirely erroneous to suggest that fatalism plays any role in the Buddha's teachings.

The Czech monk U Sarana has responded to this question of "Free Will versus Fatalism in Theravada Buddhism," and his exceptional study of this issue can be seen and downloaded here. Writing with clarity and referencing the Buddha's own words, U Sarana shows that there is no room for fatalism anywhere in the faith. 

While open-minded readers may find the paper insightful, one holds little hope for writers like Mr. Fuller who are entrenched in their own uninformed biases and unquestioned assumptions. After all, the "fatalist" and "nihilist" terms have been bandied about for centuries by Western colonialists, Christians, and writers, and despite long treatises (such as this present one by U Sarana), these derogatory terms continue to find their way into the mouths and papers of those who attempt to describe the religion without proper understanding.

Monday, 5 January 2015

"The Birth of Insight," by Erik Braun

A previous post shared the interview that Ledi Sayadaw biographer Erik Braun gave on Buddhist Geeks. In the oddly-named podcast Secular Buddhist, Ted Meissner interviews Dr. Braun. Mr. Meissner is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. The entire interview can be heard here. Additionally, William B. Noseworthy of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has written a review of Dr. Braun's new book, The Birth of Insight.

"Here, I'm absolutely satisfied."

Czech monk U Sarana has shared the following story as to why he wished to become a monk in Burma:

"I found that Theravada is rather more original than the other ‘sects’, so I just needed to find out where I have to go to live as a Theravada monk. I simply took an Encyclopedia and searched the term Buddhisms whereby I saw the list of Buddhist countries, and first was Sri Lanka. Later on I met other Czech Buddhists who old me about Czech Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, so adding [to] the unrest in the Golden Land I was sure that Sri Lanka was the place where I wanted to spend the rest of my life (I was 18). When I was 20 I went to Sri Lanka and there I even searched information of ways how to get Sri Lankan citizenship. After a year I moved to a village monastery where [there] was a Burmese monk (he also attended the university). But he was so different from other monks I’ve ever met before. He’d never get angry with me even when I was bad to him. He’d never think of revenge or wish me anything wrong. He cared about my satisfaction and whatever (even slightest) difficulty I had, he really did his best to help. Whenever visitors had to come, we stopped all other work and prepare some delicious food just before the visitors arrived, so that they can eat just when they come. [And he] had around 25 years (vassa) of monkhood! A great Sayadaw when in Burma… I was truly realizing his position and his behaviour. The way [these Burmese monks] carried out their duties, their knowledge of Dhamma and Vinaya, their attitude towards other beings, their patience and self-sacrifice, their humbleness and effort to emphasize in different situations of other people, endless effort to help those who suffer—I had never seen a human like that! In my sight their behavior and attitude to life’n’problems were simply superb. And seeing them so, I decided not only to get my full ordination in Burma, but also to spend my life right there. Now, having spent some six moths in Burma, I can just jump so happy with my decision. Burmese people are truly wonderful. I can’t imagine better environment, people, culture, and historical basis for ardent monastic practice than in Burma. Here, I’m absolutely satisfied."