Friday, 25 March 2016

Ingyinbin Journal: Meanwhile, Sitting Continues



John, a meditator from New Zealand, spends extended periods in Ingyinbin each year, the home of the revered Webu Sayadaw and with his friend Ashin Mandala. This winter, he has decided to keep a journal, which he has kindly offered to share with us. His journal alternates between observation and poetry, between meditation practice and commentary about Burmese Buddhist society, from his learnings and his questions. The full collection of his musings can be found here.

1 January

After breakfast we are met by Aum Pyee who offers his assistance. The ibises appear to have left their roost, and the matting of weed that covers the lake allows smaller birds to land and walk about on its surface. The new pagoda is at the east side, its stainless steel and gold-finished spire still brightly lit by the display lights as well as the new rising sun, a combination that absorbs the surrounding scene with a mirrored clarity. On the farther bank the younger nuns, fresh-looking in pink and orange robes, sweep the bare earth around the kitchen and outside their own quarters with coarse bamboo brooms. The trees are drenched in dust and sunlight. Outside the green cottage that was constructed by his family, a solitary older monk, as on all other mornings, appears at first light and proceeds to sweep the ground around his accommodation, leaving here and there little piles of dust and debris.

The rising sun, disinterested,
lights the trees, the white pagoda, the near-empty compound 
where the lone monk sweeps, clothed in sparkling dust.

Meanwhile sitting continues:
Leaves, birds, dogs,
one sound, three sounds: 
I slog on in my hut!

Webu Sayadaw, the reputed arahant who trained as a novice in the paryatti (learning) monastery in which we are housed and for whom on his return to the area the extensive patipatti (meditation) monastery, including the hut where we meditate daily, was built.

The little brown puppy with the unusable rear quarters munches on the beans and rice that Karen places before him. On Uposata day (On each eighth day of the lunar cycle layfolk dedicate this day to their Buddhist practice, taking eight precepts, undertaking of moral behavior, and spending time at their local monastery, as well as contributing the meal shared with those at the monastery) a local engineer, recently returned from America, arrives with his extended family to give dana and a shared lunch. Outside one boy makes another boy cry. An older woman smokes a cheroot as she comforts another young child beside the lake. The novices take turns sliding down the angled stack of coloured roofing iron, lifting their robes and grinning as they do so. A photo with the dana family and foreigners and they’re away! We take food with the monks; the Sayadaw and senior monks sit at the head table, others in descending order of seniority down to the most junior, who pile their plates with rice and add a morsel of vegetables. Some adults serve while others stand near us, marvelling at our plates loaded with various vegetables taken from several of the seventeen dishes that crowd the round table. The nuns, who have spent the entire night in food preparation, take a table together in the rear near the entrance door. As we leave, the men working on the pagoda approach the dining room: the straggler carries a mortar board and sings near the top of his voice. Nearby,

half the length of its tail, the squirrels
campers along the aerial cable:
earth its mirror.

In the evening we visit the family of Aum Pyee: two families and three generations share a large compound. We are sat down and offered fruits and bread and a sweet tonic drink and local tea. Everyone talks gently and convivially and with sweetness. The compound houses white bullocks and a cow with its calf, dogs, pigs, piles of cut rice stalks (harvest is near-finished and what isn’t stored indoors is sold in the nearby towns), tamarind and other fine trees, and various accommodations, the latest a tidy brick house occupied by the elder brother with his wife and their two children, aged 7 and 12 and both quite shy. We are returned by Aum Pyee to the monastery near 6pm, the distant sky golden and near dissolution as the white birds home in to the lakeside trees to chatter and groan before sleep.