Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Dāna in Burmese Society

This short feature looks at the quality of dāna, or donation/generosity. It examines how a country such as Burma could be one of the most generous countries in the world despite extreme poverty and political oppression, discusses the role of dāna with the Buddha's teachings, and shares the advantages of a life lived with dāna as a consistent practice in one's spiritual development.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Living Memory of Saya Thet Gyi

This short video depicts U Myo Myint, the former Burmese Ambassador to Russia. Made in 2015, he is believe to be the last person alive at the time who had direct experience meditating under Saya Thet Gyi.

Saya Thet Gyi (who passed away in 1945) went on to teach Sayagyi U Ba Khin (who passed away in 1971), who is the teacher of Sayagyi U Goenka (who passed away in 2013). Given this remarkable history, hearing the reminisces of U Myo Myint in the present day is quite special indeed.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A Letter to an Aspiring Nun

The following is written by a Chinese meditator who had been a temporary nun in Burma; to a European meditator who is considering to become one. It is a very inspiring and authentic look at considerations for women looking to take robes in Burma.

"First, I can joyfully feel your strong aspiration to enhance your spiritual development from your inquiries. And it also reminded me of the time when I took the courage to become a nun. I suggest you have already had a clear clue of the reason why you want to become a nun? Specifically, what will be the main "theme" when you are in robes? I assume that you have known the three different aspects of exploring Buddhisim: Pariyatti(Learning the theory of Buddhadhamma), Paripatti (Dhamma practice) as well as Petivedha (Penetrate it). Which aspect do you want to focus on? I noticed that you mentioned meditation and a far-off monastery. So does it mean you want to find some quiet place for a long-termed secluded meditation course? Have you ever thought of studying the theories of Buddhism, such as Abhidhamma as well as other noble scriptures? So the first thing is to have a clear idea of your general intention. It may determine which monastery or nunnery is suitable for you in a large sense.

Second, if the nuns there can not speak adequate English while you can not speak good Burmese, the life as a nun may turn to be a hard one. Nevertheless, I do not think it is that awful even though you and other nuns can not communicate much, especially if you just want to keep a noble silence for meditation. But you need to figure out the way to communicate with meditation teacher. I think you know that very well since you have been in Burma before. Do you have the volition to study scriptures and meditation or just to obtain an unique experience as a nun? For example, if you want to study scriptures, then an international Buddhism university may be a good place for you. If you want to meditate, the monasteries or meditation center corresponding with your practicing meditation tradition will fit you better. If you want to experience the "standard" nun's life, then a Sagaing nunnery is excellent and it is an excellent place to learn how to be a nun!

Third, I ordained at an well-known nunnery in Myanmar, especially famous for the students' exam results as well as its efficient and rigid orderly management system. You will be so impressed by the nuns volition to make the nunnery a disciplined and well-respected one. The nunnery is very beautiful and people say the hardware there is among the top ones in Myanmar's nunneries. At times, there are (not many though) foreigners ordained there. Some head nun's assitants or teachers can speak English but not good enough to teach the Buddhism scriptures in English. So it means you have to study Burmese as soon as you arrive there. And there is no meditation schedule because the main task of the students there is to pass the exams held by some national department and get a degree after graduation. So they are so tied up with their study and daily duties. There is not enough time for meditation, although some nuns may sit for a while daily personally. For foreigners, they do not have the same requirement as for local nuns. You can have a flexible schedule except that you have to follow the morning chant, cleaning the compound as well as attending other important events. I found a teacher to teach Burmese three or four times a week. Also I borrowed some Buddhism books in English, such as Ahbidhamma, Buddhapada, etc and read some pages everyday and tried to look for the appropriate place for meditation everyday. Well this is not a meditation center so that it was hard to sit without "disturbance". At first, I thought others disturbed me. Then I realized that it was just ego! This is magic of meditation. After that, there was no disturbance from others when I was sitting. Besides, the nunnery is very famous so that many lay people, even the ordained came to Dana. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. And I attended several Dana ceremonies, which inspired me in many ways. Oh Alms round! I was crazy about it. I mean I enjoyed it very much. Usually the nuns goes on alms round for two whole days a week. Foreign nuns can make their mind whether they want to go or not. But I tried to follow as much as I can. For many times, feelings arose which was beyond words. Wow, I am feeling to become a nun again:)

Fourth, the following is about my own experience and reflection in. I feel much gratitude that I could have the chance to get ordained there. Much thanks goes to the other good-wishing people who helped me all the way there. Yes. I love it there. Without any doubt, I was "spoiled" by their love. We loved each other so much that once I even thought I would like to be there for my whole life. Sometimes, I just got feelings which could not be expressed by words. It was above and beyond the words. It was something only to be experienced. Everytime I need some help, they showed up. For many times, they gave me offerings anonymous. Finally, I became several nuns' "daughter" because they really felt like taking care of me. Actually some of them are much younger than me. In short, we were happy together. Even so, it does not necessarily mean that my life there was easy. Not at all. Actually before I went to Myanmar, I got health problem but I did not take it serious. So I quickly experienced a break-down after I came to Myanmar and I found myself struggling with desease almost everyday there. And even sometimes I was lamenting that why the noise was so loud that I could not meditate, why I got so fragile that even a breeze could make me get a cold, why I was so spoiled in China before that my body could not diagest the food.... My mind was trapped. I just could not accept that I was in such a low state! As the mind reacted more and more, the body got worse and worse. Finally, I felt like starting to grow strong with the living pattern. Well, it is a pity that I had to leave much earlier than I have planned before. As you may know, foreigners need to be aware of one's health in Myanmar. You may refer to Shwe Lan Ga Lay for detailed information regarding that. I think there are many reasons leading to my health problem in Myanmar. Besides the food and cold water shower that I could not get used to, the reacting mind played a main role. Actually I did learn a lot from the suffering there.

I have much to share with you and thanks for your patience to read this message. I hope it helps. And Shwe Lan Ga Lay is very powerful for the yogis who seek a Dhamma practice in Myanmar. If you have any further question, please feel free to ask me. We can discuss together:)"

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Tree in Ingyinbin

John from New Zealand took this photo at Kan Oo Monastery in Ingyinbin, the site most associated with Webu Sayadaw. This is a tree from the "Pariyatti Monastery" in the village, and one that John especially resonated with. It also has some history-- as a young novice, Shin Kumara (who would later be known as Webu Sayadaw, after the Webula Hills in Kyaukse) used to water this tree every day. Before this, when still a lay boy, his father had also given him the task of throwing pebbles to shoo away birds landing on the rice paddy, but he ultimately refused to do this task as it disturbed the birds, showing his compassion at even a young age.

This March, there will be a ten day silent meditation retreat in the tradition of Sayagyi U Goenka held at Ingyinbin, the 8th overall that has taken place there. This will be a very unique and precious opportunity for meditators to sit at the very site where Webu Sayadaw instructed thousands in meditation.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Buddha’s Inheritance: A Cheerful Invitation

A Mexican meditator/monk and frequent visitor to Burma shares this advice:

"Sometimes one may be at a monastery or retreat centre that is not in good shape or is untidy, instead of allowing disappointment or worse a finger pointing attitude to enter the mind, it is beneficial to imagine beyond the surface remembering that everything that we see was once… an offering. It is not difficult to feel that all of this is actually, materialised generosity! Imagine, this generosity started as a wholesome thought - maybe generations ago - and now, we are standing, sitting, studying, sleeping and growing out of it! Nurtured by anonymous acts of selfless kindness. A gift that involves many people and spans generations.

And what was the base for such kind acts? The trust and appreciation for the Buddha and his teaching. Actually all this goodness started with His gift of wisdom, that being so, we could say that all this is his inheritance, isn't it? By looking in this way a shift happens, gratitude and energy arises to care for our Teacher’s gift and legacy, we can get involved!

Every sweep, brush and stroke of the mop becomes an opportunity to develop Saddha (faith) and gratitude that in turn invites other beautiful mental ingredients to generate wholesome (kusala) states (just cause and effect). This shift also leaves bare the judgements and expectations one may have, leave them ready to be studied, and by doing this, one may also see the many things we have taken for granted.  Maybe it's time for 'us foreigners' to come, support and care more directly for the gift that our Burmese Brothers and Sisters have nurtured for millennia, we can do it all together and it is happening, let’s care for our beloved Teacher’s Gift!

Goodness is bound to come."

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Bye Bye Sayadaw

For foreigners unaccustomed to the style of Burmese names, it can be confusing to understand the best way to refer to a monk, as well as to keep track of the different names used to reference a single person. It is most polite within Burmese society to use an honorific prefix before the name when referring to people. Burmese people-- including lays-- may also be known to change names more often than in other cultures. While it is not common to do so upon marriage (since family names are usually not employed), one may do so in order to change one’s luck. Then, ordination gives the aspirant a new Pali name. This is also the case for monks who reach a high level of renown, when their formal Pali name becomes superseded by the name of a place or region in which they achieved their attainments or spent extended periods of time. Indeed, at that point, it is usually considered slightly inappropriate to use their Pali-given name because it sound too personal for a monk who has become so venerated. There is no set point at which the monk’s name formally changes from the Pali name to one that includes the site or regional inference, but rather it is an organic process conferred by the followers and other monks. In such cases, many devotees who come later may never learn the name of the monk at all.

This was true of U Nyanadhaja, who spent time in Ledi forest; U Kumara, who resided in Webula Hills; and U Vimala, who spent the Japanese occupation in Baw Ba Tant Caves near Mogok. Some titles have a less clear origin, such as U Sobhana, who took the name of the monastery where he was residing, which itself was named after a famous “big drum” (or Maha Si); or the monk who was a former royal tutor and later went to live in the wild Sagaing Hills, eventually living in seclusion in a “cave of birds”, and becoming known at Hngettwin Sayadaw. Others, such as U Āciṇṇa in the Pa Auk tradition, may take on the name of their lineage, and he is commonly known today simply as Pa Auk Sayadaw; or U Aindarwanthais, who is referred to as the tenth Ledi Sayadaw (according to Mendelson, this started only in the 19th century). This was even so of U Lawkanatha, who during his lifetime was known commonly as “Italy Sayadaw,” referencing his place of birth. This is perhaps better than the name given to an American monk who would communicate the only words of English that village novices knew when seeing them, saying “bye bye.” Eventually they came to calling Bhikkhu Cintita the Bye Bye Sayadaw.

From a Western perspective, say that a relatively unknown monk has traveled to Eugene, Oregon, and here he begins to practice seriously in the forests surrounding the town. As he begins to get known throughout the state and beyond, some may refer to him in a short-handed way as “the Eugene Sayadaw.” Eventually he may become so renowned that the definite article “the” is dropped and “Eugene Sayadaw” begins to be used a proper name. When rendered in English, different authors choose to use or omit the definite article, and today some consider the use of the definite article to be more formal.