Friday, 27 February 2015

The Mantle of Romance in a Magic Land

A Burmese boy and the pilgrimage guide leader pose happily during the 2014 Burma pilgrimage

"It is easy enough to overlook this magic land. Nature has endowed this land with water-falls, rapids, whirlpools, hot-spring, and volcanoes. There are mountains, gigantic caves, and stately, irresistible rivers. Upon these has fallen the mantle of romance." Khin Myo Chit, Burmese Wonderland

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Wrong Medicine

"Because of the wrong medicine, you have already had life; and because of your past good kammas you are now enjoying a high standard of living. It is, however, to be borne in mind that whatever you may be, healthy, rich and first-rate; you will become old… decay and death are impartial to all."
-- Bhaddanta Saddhamma Kittisara, Buddha’s Way of Immortal Medicine

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

"Why do young Burmese girls become novice nuns?"

"Why do young Burmese girls become novice nuns?"

The truth is that many young girls join the Order out of economic necessity. Anecdotally, one Burmese lay supporter estimated that only one child out of ten chooses to wear robes from her own volition. Ma Thanegi agrees with this assessment. “They don't choose to be nuns,” she says. “Here I'm talking about female children, not late teen girls. They may be orphaned or abandoned by poor parents.”

Paradoxically, there are also many well-known stories of middle-class young girls who feel a great volition towards the Holy Life, but their family tries to veer them towards more traditional careers. As the above-mentioned lay supporter goes on to share, “even when the person is 30 or more years old, the family members have great difficulty allowing the ordination-- and even though they allow it, they weep during the ceremony.”

This was true for one Burmese nun who had been meditating at Pa Auk for some time as a lay woman. She had wanted to become a nun from a young age, but her parents persuaded her to first get her University degree. She did this, but immediately came to live at Pa Auk after this, for she sought spiritual development. Then, she wished to study Pali and Buddhist scriptures, so she decided to enter a nunnery, to which her family finally gave her permission.

Ma Thanegi agrees with the basic assessment that many who come to nunnery do so because of external circumstances. She notes, “unfortunately most women who enter nunhood are those who could not face the problems of secular life so they are by nature timid.” She feels that many women may temporarily wear the robes as a way of gaining merit. Additionally, it is an excellent way to learn about the Buddha’s teachings at a much deeper level. “A few of my schoolmates from wealthy families were put into nunneries every summer holidays as little nuns so that they would know more of Buddhism. They liked it apart from going back to school with shaved heads.” For those remaining in robes for life not out of economic or personal hardships, merit also plays a major role, according to U Sarana. “This is why their lifestyle revolves around religious activities, helping others, serving monks, etc.”

Asaygan Fort

By 1850, King Mindon began to build fortifications along the Ayeyarwaddy River to prepare for the expected skirmishes to come with British troops. In 1885, three forts were built in a triangle in attempt to trap oncoming British soldiers, and were considered the last line of defense before the royal capital of Mandalay. Asaygan was one of these three, designed in the shape of a semi-circle, with walls nine feet high with holes for rifle fire (except for the south-facing wall). In the end, however, the forts were never used because the King and Parliament ordered its troops not to resist when the British did eventually come; indeed, when the advancing Colonel White arrived to disarm the populace, he was given a dinner by the newly surrendered Burmese commander. Sir Herbert White writes in A Civil Servant in Burma, “The fall of Mandalay had been so sudden that it had not yet been realized in rural places, and the forces of opposition had not yet been organized. Very soon the turmoil began. It was then long before officers were able to travel without escort in Upper Burma.”

The inexorable march of tropical greenery has invaded even the innermost fortifications, but amidst this one can find some old cannons and the original walls. On the Sagaing side there are tombstones of British soldiers who died in some minor skirmishes in 1885 in spite of the overall peaceful surrender of Burmese forces.

Obviously, this fort is not really related to Buddhist practice in any way. So unless one is a history buff, it may not be worth the detour, and there are certainly no conducive sites for a sitting. But if one does go, the crows can be quite bad here during the cool season, so a laser is recommended. Admission to the fort is free.

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Grave Risk to Future Disaster

“As strict Buddhists, Burmans are supposed to abstain from animal food, or, at least, from taking life for the purpose of providing food. For fishermen, who must break this precept daily, special uncomfortable hells are reserved. Hunting and shooting are practised at grave risk of future disaster, and usually by the younger men who think they have time to make up for these derelictions, or are giddily thoughtless of the hereafter. A pious friend of mine in Upper Burma used to be much scandalized at the levity of his aged father, who persisted in coursing hares when he ought to have been making his soul. But as regards the consumption of flesh of birds, beasts, and fish, there seems to be no practical restraint among any class... The flesh of no creature which has died a natural death, except perhaps dogs and tigers, is despised.” 

--- Sir Herbert White, A Civil Servant in Burma, 1913

Yedagone Taung

One of the highlights of visiting the Mandalay region is to see the fabled Yedagon Taung. The name means “Waterfall Mountain,” and it’s so called because during the rainy season, the water pours in great amounts down its great sloping hills. It's been a sacred retreat center for centuries for monks to practice Vipassana meditation intensively, away from civilized society.

The area is a microcosm of the tourist boom and the affect it may eventually (and unfortunately) have on religious sites in Myanmar. Recently, it has seen an influx in outdoor enthusiasts, especially those looking for caving and rock climbing. Such heavy tourist activity has almost entirely destroyed formerly religious sites in Thailand, and one hopes that the same will not soon be seen in Myanmar. 

It’s best to go by motorbike from Mandalay. To get there, follow 33rd street east to the T-intersection, and after turning right onto the main road, then the first left. Walk ten minutes on a gravel road, and after one passes a village, the monastery sits atop a hill, with the waterfall just beyond. People in good shape can climb the waterfall cliffs, where one will be treated to one of the best views one can find of Mandalay. You can reach the area by following 19th Street east, either by pickup, or via car or bike.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Hsinbyume Pagoda

Also known as Myatheindan Pagoda and commissioned in commemoration of the king’s late wife, Hsinbyume was built in 1816 in the form of a great, white wave. Once completed, the king is believed to have enshrined a very valuable emerald inside, worth 100,000 gold coins (the meaning of myatheindan in its alternative name). It’s possible that the pagoda may have been built from the materials taken from the Mingun Pagoda after it fell into disrepair.

Burmese consider Hsinbuyme one of the more symbolic or poetic pieces of Buddhist architecture in their country. It is believed to be a representation of Sulamani Pagoda, which in Buddhist cosmology stood atop Mt. Meru, the mountain in the center of the universe. The Heaven of the Thirty Three Gods (Tāvatiṃsa) is believed to be found on the top of this. Seven terraces surround the pagoda, representing the seven mountain ranges around Mt. Meru. Various deities are carved around the base of the pagoda’s central tower. A Buddha image sits at the very top, and there’s an interesting story as to how it got there. A Buddha statue on a lower level was beheaded by treasure seekers, but when it was restored, pilgrims felt the new head was tilted too low, so this image was then commissioned to sit atop the structure. One of the original walls still runs across the perimeter, with some speculating this may be that barrier containing the cosmos. The top of Mingun Pagoda affords an excellent view of this site.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Burmese Buddhism: Vast, Brutal, Gentle, and Sticky

 By Miles Bukiet 

"Much of the Buddhist world has been crushed over the last century. The wake of devastation stretches across the Asian continent, a result of the Communists in Mongolia, Vietnam and Laos, the Cultural Revolution in China, and the ongoing ruthless occupation in Tibet. Even the countries spared violent political suppression have been assaulted by modernization and development. In Thailand, for example, economic growth has led to the wholesale destruction of the forests that once served as the ground of the Forest Tradition. Is there anywhere dharma is still at the root of things, where the people have been steeped in it for millennia, where the built environment reflects the devotion of a nation, where the spirit of the society is infused with the wisdom of the Triple Gem? 

Welcome to Myanmar. 

Many know of Myanmar as an incubator for the modern Vipassana movement, the home of Mahasi Sayadaw and the birthplace of S.N Goenka. Others know it as the base of the fabled Pa Auk monastery. These strands of teaching and practice lured me to Myanmar with their promise of fourteen hours of meditation a day, the strictness of their demands, and the fullness of their support. Wake up before dawn, keep your mouth shut, and sit through pain in exchange for a bed and a free lunch. This was the brutal no nonsense approach I sought. If this is what you seek, Myanmar won’t let you down. 

My own journey began last winter at Panditarama, a sprawling 100-acre campus still presided over by the indomitable Sayadaw U Pandita, a man who has been in robes for more then 80 years. Here the task is an unremitting focus on the moment-to-moment arising of phenomena. From 4:30am until at least 9:00pm you alternate sitting and walking meditation in one-hour blocks. There’s a ferocity to the approach here. It’s not about feeling good; it’s about relentless application of the technique, and hopefully over time a breakthrough to liberating insight.

Pa Auk has a similarly driven attitude although the focus is, at least in the early stages, narrowed to the breath and sitting meditation is prioritized. Its 500-acre campus inhabits a forested hillside with kutis spreading up steep pathways and extending deep into the jungle, making the scale almost impossible to grasp. These kutis house the monks, whose numbers sometimes swell to over 1000. Go to either Pa Auk or Panditarama and you will be assured a clean and comfortable lodging, abundant food twice daily and the expectation of rigorous practice.

I most likely would have stuck to this limited itinerary if it weren’t for a chance encounter with a man named Joah that would radically alter my trajectory. Neat, trim, fit, he carries a quiet calm matched by a fierce intensity of purpose. Two years ago a small group of foreign yogis at the Shwe Oo Min center north of Yangon met to exchange tips about where to study. Seeing that most of these yogis were new to the country and understood very little about the ins and outs of Burmese Buddhism and culture, Joah began gathering and collating information in order to deepen and enrich the experience of foreigners living and practicing in Myanmar. The project has since snowballed into an exhaustive and long overdue guide to Burmese Buddhism. This guide will become an immediate classic of indispensable value to anyone looking to experience the dharma first hand in Myanmar as well as for those with a more armchair style curiosity. But the book is about more then just satiating idle curiosity and facilitating the experience of foreign yogis. It’s a treasure trove of history and a chronicling of one of the richest extant cultural realms on this planet. It arrives at a time of radical change and will help to redefine what development and progress can mean, not only in Myanmar, but in Southeast Asia and the world at large.

The book is called Shwe Lan Ga Lay (Shwe Lan for short), which translates as The Golden Path. It contains a thumbnail sketch of hundreds of monasteries, practice centers, monuments, pagodas, shrines, and stupas across the country. It profiles dozens of Sayadaws, both contemporary and historical, and it contains information from interviews with Sayadaws, scholars, lay devotes, and seasoned foreign yogis. Much of this content has never before appeared in English, and some of it has never before been written down in any language whatsoever. The book has a section on Burmese culture and the ways to be respectful, focusing on common guffaws and cultural differences. It notes the practicalities of travel with information on transportation, health, food, and visas. It will even teach you how to ordain as a monk.

With dozens of artists donating original pieces, both professional and amateur photographers contributing photographs, and professional designers working to create a dynamic layout, it promises to pack a strong visual punch to match the hefty written portion. When Shwe Lan is completed Pariyatti, a non-profit devoted to disseminating the teachings of the Buddha, will publish it in a way that insures as broad a distribution as possible including freely available e-versions.

More impressive still, the entire document has been created exclusively by volunteers and a scanty few thousand dollars of dana (donations) to cover various costs. I was floored and struck with a powerful urge to lend a hand. Joah emailed me and another young American, Sam Hanft, a list of 25 places to scout in Yangon. For each place we were instructed to report back on the conditions, the food, the sleeping arrangements, the style of teaching, and the vibe. We were asked to iron out directions, cull anecdotes, interview Sayadaws, record relevant history, and take pictures.

The scale of the task begins to crush me as even finding the monasteries proves to be a maddening undertaking and a herculean test of patience. Hurled into Yangon, the pulsing hub of the emerging nation, I spend a sweaty confused week lost and stuck in traffic. Busted sidewalks, with potholes big enough to fall into, heave with swarms of people hawking cheap Chinese merchandise and local fruits. Several stories above the mayhem, trees grow through the cracks of the function over style concrete flats that dominate the downtown. A rooster sits on the top of a glass counter full of the latest model knock off smart-phones. This is the angsty epicenter of the nation set to set to become the newest democracy in Southeast Asia, set to increase its GDP ten fold in the next decade.

But despite all the hustle, and bustle, despite the promise of modernity, despite the smog, and despite the traffic, there is the palpable sense of a collective, expectant pause. On a balmy evening, wandering the streets of Yangon, a Burmese friend and a poet, quips to me “it’s like Godot around here, everyone’s waiting, but they don’t know what they’re waiting for.” Myanmar is poised to transform, but in the interim you’re still hard pressed to find internet or an ATM and you can still see an older, gentler way of life and practice of dharma. This poisedness lends a poignancy to all that I see, a sense that the world that’s unfolding in front of me, the world that Joah is eager to share, is open, but only for a moment. 

Even within the crowded downtown, each monastery is a universe unto itself. Aletawya Monastery is lost in time with decaying colonial relics interspersed with lush green foliage and hidden pagodas. Orange robes hang on lines as elderly monks move quietly about their business and cats bask in the sun. Dhamma Theidhi Kya Ung center is full of the charged youthful energy of hundreds of novices showering and running about. Smart new concrete school buildings stand proudly above the well-marked sports fields. The Mogok Headquarters occupies the sprawling former tax building. In the 1950’s this was a crucial center for the massive post war meditation boom, when tens of thousands took up the practice for the first time. Drenched in history it’s a Blade Runneresque maze of corridors and rooms, some filled with huge dusty machinery. Everywhere wires and pipes run this way and that. Dhamidaow Daya Dhukhidarma is an orderly and serene nunnery housing hundreds of well fed young women dressed in the classical hot pink robes. Some monasteries ooze a turgid energy with pudgy monks lazily lounging, chewing betel nut, the fast acting narcotic of choice in Myanmar, as packs of mangy dogs roam the grounds.

The continual refrain from the monasteries is: come stay, come practice, come learn. Everyone is ready to roll out another mat to sleep on, ready to set up another mosquito net to meditate under, ready to make room on the floor around one of the round tables laden with food. Whatever your style, whether it’s learning Burmese and studying Pali; practicing one of the many different types of meditation; or helping the young novices there’s somewhere to suit you. Shwe Lan will highlight this diversity of options opening dharma doors both within and beyond the formal practice of meditation. 

Something of both the relative and absolute scale of it all can be grasped by noting that Myanmar is a country with 53 million people and a whopping monastic population of over 500,000. Those 500,000 live off donations alone. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in the world, and yet the society somehow manages, through extraordinary generosity, to unfailingly support its bulging monastic population. Much of this generosity comes in the form of a single spoonful of rice given daily. Indeed this generosity, and the faith and understanding that inspires it, is legendary. This spirit of giving has created a softening effect on the country, such that despite the poverty, and despite the political oppression there is an air of friendliness and safety. The people possess an unusual uprightness both physically and psychologically, and they have a remarkable brightness and warmth. Some of the money that flows into the monastic world is squandered on flat screens for the Sayadaws, vain building projects, and sluggish monks, but much of it is funneled towards education and authentic practice whose fruits radiate through the entire society.

Watching a long line of monks marching through the streets at dawn, large metal bowls held out expectantly, people bowing and filling them with all types of food, I wonder how long such generosity can last as Myanmar hurtles into the 21st century. Shwe Lan reminds us that change is not new to Myanmar, recounting the mighty kingdoms that have come and gone, the rise and fall of colonial rule, the passing of the World Wars, and the five decade long grip of a corrupt military regime. Somehow through it all the dharma has remained strong and relevant, often reinventing itself to do so. But the juggernaut of consumerist culture that is already descending on the land is something unprecedented. How the society galvanizes to protect what’s worthwhile in the culture, while also working towards valid development goals concerning health, sanitation, infrastructure, access to education, ending hunger, the alleviation of poverty, and protection of minority rights, will have effects far beyond the boundaries of the nation.

Although originally tasked with investigating particular monasteries, it seems Myanmar is so saturated with Buddhism that I can’t help but trip and fall over it everywhere I go. Riding on one of the busy highways I see a massive Buddha, perhaps dozens of stories high, rearing up from the flat lands visible through the haze like a mirage. “What’s that?” I ask the cab driver excitedly. He dishes back a deadpan shrug as though such things are so commonplace as to be forgettable. Trundling through the streets on one of the 1950’s wood floor buses, I look up and notice that above the driver the bus has its own shrine, with flowers, pictures, and a small statue. I soon discover this is nearly universally the case.

Stumbling upon the former residence of Aung San, the much-loved father of modern Myanmar, I learn that despite being both a general and a communist, he was also a devoted Buddhist. In a turret of his house I pause for a moment of meditation in front of the gold, oddly squat Buddha statue where the general sat quietly each morning in the last few years of his life. My spine tingles and, chills course up and down my body. There’s a palpable charge to this turret. It’s not only here. Almost daily I find places that provoke this peculiar energetic reaction. 

At night Shwedagon Pagoda, beaming over Yangon, beckons me to retreat north of the downtown. As the heat recedes and the crowds dissipate, I walk barefoot on the still warm marble, head craning up to see the 344ft golden spire stretching towards the heavens. The profound allure of gold, its austere and relentless beauty against a dark sky, captivates the eye. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the singing of the small brass wind chimes placed high on the monument. Lovers walk hand in hand and families picnic idly.

In Myanmar the romantic rarely comes without a reminder of the real as the nation grows up. A youth anxiously spins his smart phone in his hand as he talks in a jittery manner with his girlfriend. LEDs have been affixed behind many of the bronze Buddhas nestled at the foot of the pagoda and cheesy looking plaster statues have been added around the base. The true devotees don’t seem to mind, kneeling silently by the Buddhas in the various reliefs, the altars full of offerings, fruits, flowers, dried goods, incense. A time for prayer. A time to tune into something beyond time.

I’ve become lost in this strange timeless momentum and have taken a young Sayadaw named U Asabha, at his word to come and stay. On the outskirts of Yangon is a vast sprawling neighborhood known as South Dagon. Flat, dry, hot, poor, and dusty, its massive blocks stretch for miles, lined with rickety wooden houses packed close to one another. Small makeshift footbridges cross the open sewers that run alongside the bumpy dirt streets. Sayadaw U Asabha speaks impeccable English, and teaches in the Mogok style, a style that is barely known in the West, but with more then 700 major centers, represents the most practiced tradition in Myanmar today. He presides over Shwe War Win monastery on a small plot at the corner of one of the blocks.

He takes me with him everywhere. Day after day we wind through the neighborhoods in his Toyota 4Runner, his infatigueable driver spitting betel nut out the window, honking his way through pedestrian-choked streets. We’re off to lunches and breakfasts, Sayadaw U Asabha blesses the homes, the babies, the marriages, and gives dharma talks everywhere he goes. Each home, no matter how modest the family, provides an immaculate spread, of fruits, rice, tealeaf salad, fish, curries, tea, sweets, on and on. Rolling out low wooden tables to sit around, they take great joy in offering food to the monks and me.

At night we’re often driven to this or that neighborhood of Yangon for large public talks where many hundreds of people cram into a temple or onto the streets that have been closed off for the occasion. The Sayadaw’s normally cool temperament is here augmented by a ferocity that sweeps the crowds on a roller coaster from excitement to hushed silence and on into the rollicking laughter so typical of the Burmese people. When he leaves the organizers present him with piles of cash gathered from the attendees, shoeboxes or plus sized envelopes stuffed with kyat. As per monastic code he doesn’t touch any of it. Instead one of his lay supporters carries it faithfully back to the car. This will go towards the construction of his monastery and towards feeding and educating the monks and young novices under his care. Somehow in his spare time he manages to instruct me on the Theory of Dependent Origination, the central teaching of the Mogok tradition. He’s adamant that the link between vedana (feelings) and tanha (craving) is the crucial link that must be severed in the karmic cycle.

He takes me south with him to the bottom of Mon state for a retreat. We clunk along in the 4Runner for twelve hours on poor roads with four people to a three-person seat. The retreat is an assault on my senses as Burmese continuously blares through loud speakers across the monastery. But the dharma is between the cracks out here. A young man noting the awkward position I’ve ended up in takes me on his motor-bike on an impromptu tour around the state to see massive religious monuments and enormous forested monasteries supported miraculously by local farming communities. I get a glimpse of the vastness of the monastic network and gain a new respect for the power of a spoonful of rice. In the small “kitchen” a handful of middle-aged women with large smiles, a few immense woks, and a small pile of wood, crank out enough food to feed hundreds. They consistently come by and ask me “alright?”, “happy?”, “enough?”. I assure them “kaun deh,” Burmese for “it’s / I’m great.” 

Golden Rock Pagoda in Mon State

When it’s time to part ways with Sayadaw U Asabha a young man offers to take me to the bus stop and once there he buys me a ticket before I know what he’s doing. It’s only 5000 kyat, a few dollars, but for him it’s likely a week’s pay. To refuse would be obscene so I accept as graciously as I can. “Call me when you get to Pa Auk, it’s good place, it’s good thing you do, good luck.” He leaves me with these words and I leave with a heart bursting with the absurdity and the profundity of such a gesture. There’s a saying that when it comes to Theravada Buddhism: if you want the universities go to Sri Lanka, if you want to learn the Viniya go to Thailand, but if you want to practice, go to Myanmar. Everyone is relentlessly ready to help and is determined to support you in any way they can.

Before I leave Myanmar I head north to the Sagaing Hills, a place I had never heard of, but for a few words from Joah and the battered pages of printed notes from an advance copy of Shwe Lan. “It’s difficult to overstate the majesty and wonder of the Sagaing Hills. And for the yogi intent on Burmese Buddhist practice, there are few—if any—places that compare... with an estimated 1,000 monasteries and 200 nunneries—many of them consisting of just little more than a scant collection of buildings on a quiet hillside— and well over 15,000 in robes, it is a living, breathing Buddhist community almost unparalleled in the modern world.”

Further along in the Shwe Lan section is a quote from V. C. Scott O’Conner in Mandalay and Other Cities of the Past in Burma that seems as true today as it was one hundred plus years ago when he wrote it. “By far the most interesting part of Sagaing lies in the hilly country above it, where austere monks live; and every peak bears testimony to the piety of bygone kings and people…. The effect of the spectacle is enhanced, and lifted up to something strangely majestic, by the atmosphere, dry, prismatic, mystical— glorious with all the effulgence of Sagaing… One does not come upon sights like this out of Burma. There is some unconscious undercurrent of great qualities in the Burman personality that alone makes them possible.”

At a quiet monastery, tucked into a valley in the Hills, I stumble upon an old friend and a small gaggle of foreigners. I tell them a bit about the project and they nod. “Ohhh, just don’t tell them about these Hills” they giggle to themselves, wanting to keep Sagaing a secret. For a moment I falter. Perhaps they’re right. Maybe sharing these places will just spoil them, leave them overrun the same way the Lonely Planet often destroys the very places it highlights. Joah has already considered this, opting to craft the Sagaing section not as a traditional guide, but as a monument to the unknown and untold history of Sagaing and an open invitation to make your own path there… still I wonder.

But as I wander for days up and over and around the hills I begin to see just how embattled this ancient bastion is. Only a generation ago wild tigers roamed these Hills, today the towns on the edges steadily encroach on the habitat once reserved for these magnificent animals and the seekers brave enough to live alongside them. In the Hills once quiet forest paths have been paved and tractors blare as workers illegally mine rocks that will be crushed and made into cement. The historic Dat Ma Ku Kan Pond has been reduced to a puddle by a strangely dry year. On the peaks you can hear the speakers of the nearby towns blasting pop tunes. Myanmar is surrounded by nations eager to plunder it. It’s filled with people enthralled by the promises of material wealth and its climate, like that of the rest of the world, is becoming strangely unpredictable. It’s these forces that will radically reshape the monasteries and transform the character of the nation and not a few earnest seekers. It’s these changes that also lend an urgency to the completion of Shwe Lan and to the explorations it will engender.

I leave on a direct Air Asia flight from Mandalay to Bangkok, one of many such new connections that are facilitating Myanmar’s rapid transformation into just another cog in an increasingly monolithic global capitalist culture. The plush red and black pleather seats contrast sharply with the brown earthy hews of the Myanmar landscape fading beneath me. The tight-fitting uniforms, fake smiles, and menus where everything is for sale likewise contrast sharply with the modesty, authenticity, and generosity fading beneath me. As I sink back into the seat I begin to reflect that perhaps Myanmar doesn’t fade from you quite so quick as that. Maybe its got more of a sticky hard to rinse off quality.

I went to Myanmar hungry for a certain almost violent approach to practice, but in experiencing such practice delivered in impeccable form I began to navigate towards something else. Of course there can be enormous value in hardcore practice environments, but the dharma is not one size fits all and even an individual will need different things as he or she evolves over time. Myanmar seemed to effortlessly accommodate, perhaps even instigate, my own shifting orientation and turned out to be more diverse, gentle, and nuanced then I’d ever imagined. It swept me along in its current, delivering teachings on its own time and its own terms.

Like a pebble emerging from a river I feel a little smoother and softer around the edges. I fear that upon returning home I’ll effortlessly regain all my old prickly hardness, but this is far from fated. Despite what the dominant culture may encourage, culture is not a one-way street. Individuals create culture just as culture shapes individuals. At one point the dharma was new to Myanmar, carried slowly by pilgrims, seekers, and wise men from the Indian subcontinent. I’ll be taking home a burgeoning understanding of how these initial seeds of dharma can root and flower and grow into something of tremendous scale and multifaceted value. Tempering this awesome possibility, I’ve also seen how even mighty trees can be threatened by storms and disease. And alongside these grandiose conceptions of how radical large-scale social transformation emerges and declines, I’ll carry something on a much more intimate, and visceral level, a quiet twang in my chest reminding me of the deep worth and infectious quality of human kindness.

Hopefully the majesty, the grandeur, the mystery, the improbable scale of it all can be a reminder that the world still holds pockets of wonder and goodness. As we consider the people who make all this wonder possible, as we reflect on the relentless drive of Joah McGee, the welcoming embrace of Sayadaw U Asabha, the patient persistent contributions of peasants offering their daily spoonful of rice, and the monks and yogis battling to transform their minds we can settle back in these reminders of uprightness and benevolence, finding solace and warmth in their glow. We can also use these reminders as an edge to inspire us to dig deeper in summoning our own relentless drive, in conjuring our own warm embrace, in finding an arena for our own consistent contribution, and in waging our own inner battle."

To read Shwe Lan Ga Lay Part 1, go here.

About the author: Miles Bukiet has followed a consuming passion for yoga, bodywork, and meditation to India, Malaysia, China, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.

Miles Bukiet

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Shwe Lan Ga Lay: A Project of Selfless Giving

The editor of Shwe Lan Ga Lay has shared this statement about the progress of the project:

"In the spirit of the Buddha’s advice to give freely and without expecting anything in return, Shwe Lan Ga Lay is entirely a dāna project, and everyone associated with it is a volunteer. While several hundred volunteers have helped us in some capacity, a core group of a couple dozen people have been involved since the inception. This includes a dedicated team of professional editors, translators, scholars, artists, photographers, layout designers, writers, web designers, and others who are giving in kind by offering their unique skill set to the project. 

Those of us who work on this project believe that Myanmar has an untold wealth of profound wisdom and sacred teachings to offer the world. For it is here that the depth of the Buddha’s teachings have been followed and practiced for centuries, and a visit offers the foreign meditator an unparalleled opportunity to grow in the Dhamma.

Shwe Lan Ga Lay explores Burmese monastic discipline in depth, instructing the foreign yogi in not only where one can go to practice but also how to behave respectfully in the culture. Towards these ends, we have worked with dozens of senior monks, nuns, and scholars, who have reviewed many of our drafts and kindly offered feedback for revisions."

A Strong Adhiṭṭhāna

The Washington Post, quoting the Siberian Times, has reported a stunning find in Mongolia from January 27. A 200-year old corpse of a monk has been found “is sitting in the lotus position vajra, the left hand is opened, and the right hand symbolizes the preaching Sutra,” Mongolia's Morning Newspaper wrote that "the mummified body sits in a lotus position, as if still meditating... Experts that only had time to carry basic visual test say they believe the body can be about 200 years old.” The monk's identity has not yet been identified, although some have suggested that the body belongs to famed Mongol Buddhist monk Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, who inhabited the rugged Siberian terrain near the border with Mongolia.

Monday, 16 February 2015

U Mandala Coming Down Under

As a previous post shared, U Mandala has been working towards plans to visit Australia. Many will recall that U Mandala is the disciple of the great Webu Sayadaw, having begun his meditation practice by learning at the foot of this revered monk. He is also the calm, welcoming presence seen in the Webu biopic documentary Anthology of a Noble One, and a still from this feature is shown above. As U Mandala has only traveled outside of Myanmar once (to Singapore), this will be a monumental trip indeed for the senior Ingyinbin monk. 

U Mandala needs to attend to his monastic duties during Thingyan, or Burmese Water Festival, which takes place in mid-April. He therefore plans to visit Australia from early May and may stay for several months. While here, he hopes to attend several Sayagyi U Goenka ten-day courses, visit Burmese and international Theravadin monasteries, and meet local meditators who have met him in Burma or who are interested in the lineage of Webu Sayadaw.

For those who would like to support this noble trip, there are ways that meditators and readers of this blog can take part. First, a dana (donation) fund is now being collected on U Mandala's behalf. This money will go towards covering his expenses, such as transportation, food, visa, and other logistics. Secondly, one can offer one or several meals to U Mandala. Thirdly, one can offer to help U Mandala with either accommodation or transportation. And finally, one can invite U Mandala to visit one's home region (including parts of Australia and possibly New Zealand as well). For anyone who is interested in being involved, please email at burmadhamma@gmail.

There is also the possibility that U Mandala may be available to meet meditators and possibly give a presentation. As the details of his trip get closer, this will be shared in further detail.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

"The Dog Barks at the Man on the Elephant"


A foreign meditator's welcome to many new villages or monasteries is often a chorus of howling hounds. This was one of the things that surprised the American Bhikkhu Cintita, who observed at Sītagū Academy in Sagaing that “to announce mealtime, someone would hit a big bell outside the kitchen with a mallet and at that time all of the Sītagū dogs… would take this as cue to point their chins skyward and howl.” In the case of dogs barking at a new arrival, eventually local residents will come over to investigate, whereupon they’ll immediately call the dogs off. And as one stays in one location long enough, it will not be this constant, daily headache, as the dogs will become accustomed to one’s presence. This non-sensical—though instinctual—dog barking is such a common feature that there is one expression, sin paw ga lu kwe haun which means “the dog barks at the man on the elephant.” It refers to exerting effort toward something that will not likely be very effective.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Burmese Airport Customs

Many Burmese can recount the famous story of when Sayagyi U Goenka left Burma in 1969. At this time, he was leaving his country of birth in order to travel to India and teach his parents the precious Vipassana meditation that he had learned under Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Before clearing customs, an airport agent asked if he had anything to declare upon leaving, to which the future meditation teacher replied he was taking three precious Burmese gems. The agent became concerned and further security wandered over, and they asked U Goenka to elaborate. He said he was taking with him sīla, samadhi, and panna to share with people abroad, and upon hearing this the customs agent broke into a smile and let him pass.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sayadaw U Tejaniya on the Legacy of Ledi Sayadaw

“Before Ledi Sayadaw, there was a popular belief that during this period [the 19th century], people simply couldn’t become enlightened, and so they could only study the scriptures. But this was just an idea, and it was a wrong idea. It was a misunderstanding, and it meant that people had no faith in practice. Ledi Sayadaw argued against this, saying that you can work towards enlightenment, and he encouraged the whole country to practice."

--Sayadaw U Tejaniya

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Documentary of Ruth Denison, Appointed Teacher by Sayagyi U Ba Khin

The great lay meditation teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin appointed just a handful of assistant teachers during his lifetime, and only one Western female-- Ruth Denison. Originally from Germany, she was appointed by U Ba Khin with the special mission of teaching females in the West. Now 92 years old, a new documentary, The Silent Dance of Life, is about her and her meditation center located in Southern California.

As Indiegogo reports, Sandy Boucher chronicled her early efforts in Dancing in the Dharma, noting that "it is really crucial that the records of great women teachers are produced and disseminated. Ruth Denison, with her unique perspective and teaching methods, made the Dharma available to a wide range of people, men as well as women. But she is especially cherished by women Buddhist practitioners: Ruth welcomed us and encouraged us to see our own true value and to work hard to become more aware and compassionate people. Her teachings on mindfulness of the body took us deep into this present-moment reality and taught us to accept and honor our physical and mental beings. In her spacious, joyful love of life she taught us to care."

The Lion's Roar has reported that the documentary is made by filmmaker Aleksandra Kumorek, who has shared the following clip:

Ruth Denison Dharma Talk Anger from Aleksandra Kumorek on Vimeo.

The Linguistic Sensitivity of Ledi Sayadaw

Ledi Sayadaw’s linguistic sensitivity was one of his finest attributes, according to Sayadaw U Wilasaka, who is a student of Maha Bodhi Myaing Sayadaw in the Webu Sayadaw lineage. “Before Ledi, whenever monks used Pali instead of the ordinary language of the people, the Dhamma was not in their [the lay supporters’] hands. The Dhamma was only in the hands of the monks. But because Ledi brought the teachings in ordinary language, they spread. And then those great monks who came after followed his tradition of putting the Dhamma into simple language that anyone could easily understand.”

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

U Sarana Arrives in the Sagaing Hills

U Sarana has reported that his first full day of intensive research in the Sagaing Hills has been completed, and was an astounding success. Reports a monk who made contact with him: "he is happy (and proud) of the work done in a day and says that you will be amazed of all the gems he has found. Lots of material is coming! Apparently local monks are helping and have found unedited maps drawn in cloth of the area, they have camera, dana," and all other needs being fulfilled. As there are only walking paths carved into the wilderness in the Sagaing Hills which go back centuries, discerning how to get around is a major challenge that even many locals do not know. This is therefore awe-inspiring news that, like a line out of Tolkien or Robert Jordan, "unedited maps drawn in cloth" have already been found at local monasteries. For those that would like to support U Sarana's trip, dana may be offered for all to share in the merit.

Monday, 9 February 2015

"What's So Special About the Sagaing Hills?"

Regarding the recent news about U Sarana undertaking an intensive research trip in the Sagaing Hills, some readers who have not been to Myanmar have asked, "what's so special about this area, anyway?"

This is a fair question, and one that would require a book to answer-- or, perhaps, the upcoming Shwe Lan Ga Lay.

One cannot find the words to adequately describe such an unusual gem as these Hills. It is noteworthy that it has played critical roles in the genesis of the two major Burmese Buddhist practices that have been exported from Burma: Mahasi Sayadaw and Sayagyi U Goenka. It was in Sagaing, at Thameikdawdaya Nunnery just after World War II, in 1947, where Sir U Thwin beheld Mahasi Sayadaw speaking for the first time. He was transfixed listening to the sermon, and later remarked that “[Mahasi Sayadaw] was teaching with utmost dignity in a tranquil state of mind without any distraction….This eminent teacher is the savior I have been searching for.” Conferring with Prime Minister U Nu, Sir U Thwin invited Mahasi Sayadaw to the newly opened Sasana Yeiktha in Rangoon, asking him to be the lead teacher here. It was from this this center where the Mahasi movement swept not only Burma but the entire Southeast Asian region in unprecedented ways, an unparalleled Dhammic movement that had its origins in a humble Sagaing nunnery.

Similarly, U Goenka has suggested that Ledi Sayadaw learned Vipassana meditation deep in the Sagaing Hills from an unknown master. Although there are questions about this speculation, it is extremely significant that this region would be chosen as the origin of Ledi's Vipassana practice, for it is a region especially known for patipatti-minded monks. Ledi would be asked on two separate occasions to return to the Sagaing Hills to drive away plague epidemics, and was successful both times, according to one monk biographer. He also spent the last couple years of his life in a monastery near the Ayeyarwaddy River (although passed away in Pyinmina), where pilgrims can still today go and meditate just beyond the peaceful flowing river. It was also here where he was given the highest award by British colonials. (by this time, however, Ledi was legally blind, having exhausted his eyesight from his continual reading and writing) Also, perhaps U Goenka's greatest contemporary Dhamma friend in Myanmar was Sitagu Sayadaw, who played a critical role for the spread of U Goenka's teachings within Myanmar. And Sitagu Sayadaw, of course, established his famed Sitagu Academy just at the foot of the Hills-- and is now building a massive Vipassana Center much deeper into the Hills in the model of Borobudur in Indonesia.

Until just a generation ago, tigers roamed the dense forestation of the Sagaing Hills, and some monks even today bear tiger scars upon their bodies from attacks that occurred during alms rounds-- talk about unwholesome kamma for the great beasts! Countless arahants have been produced from these Hills, and the surviving stories of their challenges and ultimate successes make some of the most inspiring reading available to meditators today-- it is histories and stories such as these that U Sarana hopes to further track down.

U Sarana: Preparations for Sagaing

A previous message noted that U Sarana will undertake an intensive one week trip into the Sagaing Hills, accompanied by the Burmese monk U Tiloka and one lay supporter, to do comprehensive research of the monasteries, pagodas, and history of this region. Next to nothing has ever been written about the Sagaing Hills in English, and very little even in Burmese, since for the last one thousand years this has been a refuge for Vipassana-oriented monks who were more interested in seeking full liberation than in preserving historical records or making a lineage. Still, some history has remained here, and for the benefit of the many thousands of future meditators who also seek this practice, U Sarana has chosen to undertake this great task.

In his own words, he shares:

"I want to go straight inside the Sagaing Hills, to the places where lay people, foreigners can't get. I want to get to the most dangerous and most "wild" places, which are most shrouded in mysteries. This is where I can be helpful, not elsewhere. Prepare me the trip-plan in this way. Not otherwise, please.

The greatest luck here is, that the monk supposed to go with me is eager to tell me everything and anything, so I am able thus to gain a lot of "answers", and also "questions" for further research. It is the monk who is the cause for my travel, nothing else. I am completely convinced, that if there is something very sacred or extremely difficult to know/understand about Sagaing, this monk will just take me to the answer, or point out the right source of information.

From words of U Tiloka I have a strong belief, that lay people won't get access to certain places, unlike monks. Me, as a monk, going there together with a Sagaing native, might have an enormous, immense possibility to get such information that you perhaps never even dreamt of. In the course of searching answers for your questions, I will certainly learn much, much more.

You also should know, that I have huge expectation of the Sagaing research trip. I expect to take thousands of photos, visit extremely developed Sayadaws - see their feats, see all the mysteries by my own eyes. I expect to learn hundreds of new vocabulary and great number of proverbs, lists of wisdom and maybe even find the monk who could be my meditation teacher after I finish my studies."

For those who would like to give dana to support this monumental research trip, please see here.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Starbucks in Sagaing

“I once stayed at a cave in a monastery in the Sagaing Hills for some time, doing my own meditation practice. I left, and returned later after an interval of a year and a half. Literally the moment I arrived, one of the monks came running over to me waving an empty tin of Starbuck’s candy in his hands. ‘You left these last time!’ he called out to me. I can’t describe my feelings at this time. Carelessly, I had left this item in the cave instead of putting it in the trash, and the monk’s careful Vinaya prevented him from either throwing it away or keeping it himself, since this would be ‘taking what is not given’, or a violation of the second precept of Adinnadana. So he kept this trifling tin for over a year, not knowing if I’d even return, just to preserve his stainless sīla. All the time I was spending silently meditating in the cave, and this single act teaches me more about the practice than anything else.” Californian yogi, 2013

Sayagyi U Goenka pilgrimage: A Visit to Saya Thet Gyi's

A British pilgrim meets children living near Anauk Monastery in Pyaw Bwe Gyi Village, the hometown of Saya Thet Gyi. It was also here where the great lay meditation master began to teach the practice, inviting lay people to come to his zayat to study under him. Although the numbers of students were never very high, he did manage to reach a middle-age government minister named Ko Ba Khin, who would go on to open a meditation center in downtown Rangoon and teach some of the Burmese and Shan elites of the post-war society, along with a number of prominent foreigners. While Saya Thet Gyi began his teaching at the family zayat, a nearby monk later became upset that a layman would dare to teach Dhamma. Not wishing to cause any discord, Saya Thet Gyi promptly left the site entirely and was hosted by the Anauk Sayadaw, whose monastery was found in a peaceful stretch of paddy field on the other end of the village. Saya Thet Gyi actually enjoyed this new site more, as it was much quieter and away from the village's thoroughfare. The very room where he instructed Vipassana, housed a beautiful old teak-style building, is visible today and one can pay respects and meditate in this historic site. While many foreign meditators today come to Pyaw Bwe Gyi to visit his zayat, few know about Anauk Monastery-- another of the benefits of joining a pilgrimage.

To read about the previous year's pilgrimage to Pyaw Bwe Gyi, see here!

A Special Tree

Pilgrims from the current pilgrimage gather around a special tree, whose meaning is explained by the pilgrimage guide.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Sayagyi U Goenka pilgrimage: Food Break!

Pilgrims from the current Sayagyi U Goenka pilgrimage break for traditional Burmese food in a very special, little-known Burmese style restaurant. With all logistics included in the pilgrimage, meditators can focus on building the special Dhamma atmosphere while their requisites are fulfilled. In many cases, the challenge is on remaining equanimous with many pleasant sensations coming into the six sense doors!

Follow Burma Dhamma on Instagram!

"Burma Dhamma" now has an Instagram account, and feel free to follow us here! While this blog shares diverse information related to Buddhist practice in Myanmar, on Instagram we share various photos illustrating the many forms of the Dhamma that can be seen in the Golden Land. Many of the photos capture real-time moments, especially when foreigners visit the sacred sites. Many of these Instagram photos do not appear on this blog, so for those who wish for more Burma-Dhamma in their life, follow us there!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Sayagyi U Goenka Pilgrimage: A Day in Kyaukse

On this day, pilgrims descended on the important town of Kyaukse, near the Mandalay airport and just south of the city of Mandalay. This is a place of vast importance in the biography of Webu Sayadaw. For many years, this monk's whereabout were totally and entirely unknown, and even present-day biographers have been unable to construct any narrative of where the great monk was for nearly a decade. Likely he was practicing intensive Vipassana meditation in wild forest regions, and had little to no contact with other people at this time. However, Kyaukse marks the site where Ashin Kumara, as he was then known at the time, resurfaced after so many years away. Suffering from chronic stomach problems, he had a dream in which a supernatural being directed him to a special well in Kyaukse that contained celestial water. "Drink some of this," the being promised, "and you shall suffer no more." U Kumara followed the advice, and true to his word, his stomach pains did indeed ease. 

As he recuperated, he found a cave just up a hill where he could meditate intensively, later followed by a black stone on which he would sit for many hours in the open air. Located on Webu Hill, U Kumara ultimately because known as "the Sayadaw on Webu Hill," or just "Webu Sayadaw" for short.

Eventually-- to speed the story up many years in the space of a sentence-- a vast monastery was built around the great monk, which is what a young government minister found in 1943 when he had a brief layover en route to Yangon. The Minister's name was U Ba Khin, and upon meeting Webu Sayadaw for the first time here and describing his meditation practice, he was instructed in no uncertain terms to begin teaching immediately! Just a few hours later, he taught his first student: a train worker at the Kyaukse station. Later, with Webu Sayadaw's blessing, U Ba Khin would open IMC, where a young Indian named S.N. Goenka would learn under him, and eventually spread this wonderful Burmese Dhamma around the world...

An Indian pilgrim takes photos of the very cave where Webu Sayadaw began his practice in Kyaukse

The very kuti where Webu Sayadaw was meditating when U Ba Khin came to the site as a young government minister

U Sarana to visit Sagaing Hills

Readers of this blog may find that many of our entries share information about the Dhamma in Burma which is basically unavailable anywhere else on the Internet, and which even many printed books do not carry.  Most of these posts are excerpts from the upcoming meditator's guidebook to Burma, Shwe Lan, for which hundreds of specialists and volunteers have given their time for more than two years. For Shwe Lan, hundreds of monasteries, pagodas, meditation caves, and other Buddhist sites were visited in Myanmar, and dozens of interviews were conducted with noted scholars, writers, monks, nuns, and meditation teachers. Many of the blog posts are but a small window into the breadth of information that is being compiled and revised in the Shwe Lan draft, to be freely shared with seekers on the Path.

With this in mind, it is with great joy that we announce that the monk U Sarana has volunteered to take a one week fact-finding mission in the Sagaing Hills. He will go with another monk who is familiar with the mystery and legends surrounding the Hills, both of whom will be supported by a local lay woman, who will look after their daily needs. They will spend an intensive week visiting more sites from morning until night, and conducting interviews with monks who have lived in these Hills for many years. Surely, they will find much precious information that has never been known about this area of the Golden Land where, more than any other, Vipassana practice has flourished for centuries. What is more, U Sarana is known for being particularly devoted to his Buddhist studies, Vipassana practice, and monastery responsibilities, and very rarely ever leaves his monastery. So it is all the more remarkable that for the first time, he has offered not only to leave his monastery, but also to go all the way to Upper Burma! This is a rare event indeed. His findings, research, documentation, and photos will eventually appear in Shwe Lan as well finding their way on this blog, to benefit all meditators.

U Sarana's trip expenses will be covered by the generous dana that meditators around the world have given Pariyatti to fund this volunteer project. All dana received goes directly to project expenses; which in this case will cover the travel expenses from Yangon and throughout Sagaing for these three researchers. His lay supporter has estimated that the total cost for this week trip may be $600-700. For those meditators who have found inspiration from this blog and would like to see this continue, and who moreover would like to gain merit by being involved in this kusala project, financial dana may be offered to Shwe Lan via Pariyatti's page here. Scroll to the bottom of this link and there is an option for giving dana through one's credit card.

For those without financial resources but who would also like to be involved in this wholesome project, please send us an email directly.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sayagyi U Goenka Pilgrimage: Dhamma Mandapa in Mandalay

The 2015 Sayagyi U Goenka Pilgrimage is now underway! Pilgrims descended from such countries as Israel, England, India, the US, and China, and are being led around the sacred sites in the U Goenka tradition.

On this day, pilgrims visited the Dhamma Mandapa U Goenka Vipassana center in Mandalay.

Meaning “Pavilion of Dhamma” and located where the royal gardens once stood, this center affiliated with the Sayagyi U Goenka tradition is actually located within the compound of Bamaw Monastery. In the spirit of mutual respect and honor that characterizes many Dhamma practitioners in Burma, several years ago the present Bamaw Sayadaw offered part of his compound to be used for this U Goenka center, the first to appear in the Mandalay region. As one enters the compound, one sees the bright white spire of the Maha Bodhi monastery, a site in the Saya Thet Gyi tradition, looming up beyond the monastery grounds. In the compound itself, to the right, is a newer Bamar Monastery, and set against a backdrop of palms to the left is the architectural highlight of the compound, the older Bamar Monastery.

To read about last year's visit to Dhamma Mandapa, see here. Also, please note that while the 2013-4 pilgrimages were sponsored by Pariyatti, the 2014-5 pilgrimages going on now are being run independently by Compassionate Travels Myanmar. For upcoming pilgrimages, see Muditā Works.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Female Meditators in Burma: Point, Counterpoint

Individuals within a particular category or grouping may react any number of ways to a similar situation. This is certainly true of female meditators in Myanmar. The same situation may frustrate one woman, cause no reaction in another, and become a learning experience for a third. With this in mind, we share two contrasting experiences of foreign women who chose to live at monasteries for some time in Myanmar. 

First, a Mexican female meditator shares her thoughts:
“Myanmar is organized by a system of hierarchies where the monks are at the top and young lay people at the bottom. So the treatment is very different between the level of attention that monks get and the level of attention that everybody else gets. The religious organizational system is a patriarchal... The first time I came to [a monastery] I was surprised to see the difference in treatment among monks and Sayalays. Sayalays spend much of their time taking care of monks: they clean, cook, organize the monastery, and take care of the female yogis. They offer all the time things to monks and from an outsider’s point of view, or at least the way I saw it, Sayalays role’s is more like been at the service of monks... in reality some Sayalays are cooking and cleaning the monastery continuously and they also give the food to the monks every day.
For me this radical treatment among men and women, not only in the religious environment but also sometimes in daily life, was radically new. I was told by a lay Burmese man that I have all the conditions present in order to practice, the only thing that I was missing was to be reborn as a man! In some Buddhist commentaries, this Burmese man continued, it said that one of the conditions for enlightenment is to be a man. So therefore, according to him half of the population of the world cannot get enlightenment! As a good Latin women, I immediately reacted and told him that he was wrong and he need to prove those statements before saying them.
For me all this aspects were incredible shocking... I find it a massive contradiction because it is against the teachings of compassion and Metta. It also against the teachings of non-self. Why should the form matters if in the core there is no form? The process that happened in the mind is the same."

Then, a Chinese woman shares the following:

“These issues [concerning gender matters in Myanmar and relations with monks] are not new to me since I got to know them either from talks, information online or my own observing. I did not feel so much culture shock as a result. Well, as I am trying to learn more, I feel like I know less or nothing sometimes! So I become more and more inclined to ask questions and listen carefully. The thing is that I am not always intelligent enough to see the whole picture so that probably there is lack of insight present on my part. Sometimes I see things on the service level, but do not have enough insight to penetrate the subtle level; or say the hidden blessings. For example, based on Western culture, we can say that Burmese females are treated inferior to males. But at the same time, women can gain merits by serving monks, male foreigners and so on, which can go on to benefit their Paramis. Some people may say if these women don't invest as much time on their daily duties, then they can make better progress in their meditation. But as far as I observe myself, when I experience Dana of any kind, I felt wholesome mental states arise. But if I asked for this for that, many times I get disappointed. If I could have been giving without so much greed to gain since I was born, probably I could have made a faster progress! I am not sure if women exerting effort to strive for equality is actually a sort of craving. For me the best way is to observe and have patience. Things are changing. There is Dhamma.”