Sunday, 31 July 2016

What Caused the Post-World War II Patipatti Explosion in Burma?

Following is an excerpt from an unpublished draft of Shwe Lan Ga Lay, the meditator's guide to Burma/Myanmar:

It was the postwar period where lay meditation practice really began to take off, a phenomenon that jumpstarted in Burma before spreading and becoming established in neighboring Buddhist countries. 
And in Burma, nowhere was this happening more than at Rangoon’s Sasana Yeiktha Center, where U Nu and other prominent lay leaders brought in Mahasi Sayadaw to establish the new grounds.
Ingrid Jordt, a scholar who spent many years as a nun at Mahasi, captures the excitement and enthusiasm that characterized the early days of this site. She notes that “the laity flocked to the center to practice for enlightenment. The thrill of participating in the mass lay project of enlightenment had never before been so conceived in institutional terms. The center grew around Mahasi in the way that the texts describe laity coming around the Buddha. People vied with one another to have their offerings accepted by him, and new forms of participation emerged: schoolchildren on vacation, night yogis who returned to their offices during the day, retirees, and nuns all immersed themselves in a rigorous schedule of sitting and walking meditation, punctuated by monkly meal offerings at which the laity thronged around the eating tables to observe the project of sasana revitalization happening before their very eyes.”  
And Masoeyin Sayadaw U Theiktha expresses just how it felt at that moment in time to have a genuine practice that one could undertake to follow diligently, after so many years of war and colonization: “It had been a long time that we had become almost unbearable or choking, as it were, for not knowing the real concept or meaning of it. Our happiness knew no bounds when we came to discover the right method relating to the latent ambiguity in the higher aspects of Maha Satipatthana meditation practice.”

And although the non-monastic International Meditation Center led by Sayagyi U Ba Khin may have not seen the same high numbers (and was not state-supported to the same extent), its role and influence were profound. Many of the elites of society attended courses and became deeply affected by their experience, which sometimes manifested even in their work in matters of state. And it was not only the heads of Burma who were attending, but also top politicians other countries, scientists, Supreme Court judges, university professors, and actors. 
As the monastic teacher Maha Gandayon Sayadaw U Janaka put it, “If I were asked what you pray for, my answer is simple. One has to work for himself to get what he wants.” This ethos took over the Burmese people in these years, and can be seen manifested in Sayagyi U Goenka's mission in the following decade (he himself benefited from his patipatti boom as a student during this time). 
Why was it at this very time that the patipatti movement began to flow now as a raging river? There are many theories attempting to answer this, and it may have been the case of several important factors occurring at once, making the conditions ripe for such an undertaking. In the following section, we present no less than twenty possible arguments that have been put forth on this topic.

The Reclining Buddha at U Khanti Monastery.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Release of "The Golden Path Part 2"

Shwe Lan Ga Lay, or "The Golden Path," the meditator's guide to Burma/Myanmar, launched in April 2013. "Part 1: Planning & Logistics" was released in May 2015, and the five chapters comprising Part 2 are nearly complete. In addition to the Introduction, other chapters due to be released are the regional guides to the following places: Around Yangon, Mandalay, Around Mandalay, and Shan State. This will include detailed information about sites where Ledi Sayadaw, Webu Sayadaw, and Saya Thet Gyi lived and practiced (along with countless other monasteries and pagodas), allowing meditators to more easily access these important sites and to appreciate their significance and history while doing so.

After having worked on these pages for so many years now, we are very happy that they are so close to being shared with the meditator community! However, we have one final, critical need before their release... that is of someone with a copy-editing background who can make a final review of these drafts. If you have such experience and are willing to join our project, please let us know, and help us to hasten the release of Part 2!

While not as critical, there are other volunteer roles we're happy to have help with as well. First on the list would be someone with map-making ability, including artists able to copy from maps, so that meditators can more easily find the sites we describe. Also high on our list is anyone with design/layout experience, and has an aesthetic background, to help in preparing our text for the designer.

As usual, we also welcome any artists who would like to draw/sketch, and photographers or anyone who is willing to donate photos from their time in the Golden Land. If you've been to Burma/Myanmar and have a story to tell, please do share with us, or if you are planning to go and have some time, let us know as there is always on-the-ground assistance and needs. Next, someone with writing or editing experience, who can act as in a dual style editor/author capacity. The person in this role helps shape new raw material gathered from different sources into a coherent mix with existing Shwe Lan text, and oversees the overall flow of the book. Volunteer translators have been working at the text of Part 1, and contact us if you wish to help in the translation. And if you have any other skill, or just time on your hands, let us know as well!

Finally, keep in mind that the project is entirely funded by dana, with almost everyone involved a volunteer, and the completed PDFs are freely available to one and all. We are always in need of financial dana to cover our basic costs, as well as to help print and distribute completed copies of the book. You can keep the project afloat by donating here.

To get in touch, please email us at burmadhamma (att) gmail. You can also follow our project on Facebook at

Monday, 25 July 2016

Mogok Vipassana... in English!

Bhikkhu Obhasa shares his experience practicing Mogok Vipassana for the first time. The above photo shows the American monk's secluded dwelling for the Rains in 2016 in Kalaw, Shan State. For more information Mogok in English, see here.

"Last year I had the chance to attend an eight-day Mogok Vipassana course on the outskirts of Yangon. It has always been sort of an enigma as it's by far the largest and most widespread Vipassana technique in Myanmar with its famous Paticca Samuppada wheel seen everywhere, yet it has remained almost entirely off the radar to foreign meditators.

After understanding the general Myanmar teaching/learning style, it is clear why the technique has such appeal to the laity as it's laid out in a simple system that easily lends itelf to being delivered and learned in a way locals are familiar with.

That being said, although such a delivery would appeal far less to Westerners, both the practice and theory I think have incredible potential. My background in Vipassana has been mostly in the U Ba Khin tradition as taught by Goenka and the Shwe Oo Min tradition under Sayadaw U Tejaniya. I'd actually place these two traditions at opposite ends of a spectrum, the Goenka technique being prescriptive and focused, the other being more open and natural. In the Goenka method, the object, body sensations, is chosen for you whereas the U Tejaniya method, the object is whichever objects of the 6 senses naturally arises in the mind with more attention given to the mind. In the Goenka method, a clear cut technique is specifically laid out and its connection to theory is systematically explained whereas U Tejaniya lays out some basics and then explains more theory as it naturally arises in Q&A's from yogis individual practice. 

The reason I present these two as a spectrum is because some people may be familiar with one or both and it so happens that the Mogok method fits right in between the two. On the one hand, it shares the more choiceless open awareness via any and all of the 6 sense doors as U Tejaniya teaches. On the other hand, the technique is more systematically laid out like Goenka's and the practice is clearly and extensively connected to theory via the famous Mogok Wheel. All three I think have their appeal to different people at different times. I think the Mogok technique then, fills a gap in this spectrum nicely. It seems it would appeal to those that do well with more open awareness yet also enjoy a more explicit structure and clearly explained grounding in theory.

The issue currently is the Mogok method and facilities have yet to be properly adopted for a foreign an especially Western audience. Even though there are at least two teachers that speak English, the current Myanmar presentation style of the technique seems to me to be quite inadequate for foreigners. Also, the available texts in English are straight translations from Myanmar books which again are in a style unsuitable for foreigners and are full of culture specific examples from Myanmar. If these issues get worked out though, I think the Mogok method could fill in a gap and rise to some prominence in the Vipassana spectrum for Westerners."

An American Monk in Burma: "I Once Ate Organic, was a Vegetarian, followed Ayurvedic, 'What Comes Into the Bowl!"

Bhikkhu Obhasa is an American monk living in Myanmar. The above photo shows the view from his secluded kuti from Kalaw, his meditation "cushion" being a straw hand-made Shan seat. He shares his thoughts with his new dietary restrictions:

"One of the biggest sacrifices of ordaining was putting my dietary health options into the hands of a culture with very little understanding of healthy nutrition. I ate organic, was a vegetarian, followed Ayurvedic principles for my body constitutional type, etc. I let go of that to live in a country that does copious pesticide and herbicide spraying, loves dishes swimming in low quality oils, loves sweets and pre-packaged food with artificial ingredients, etc. They don't seem to take care of their own nutritional health nor do they seem to have much nutritional education. There seemed no way they'd be able to take care of mine.

Still being a relatively new monk having just entered my second rains retreat, it has slowly dawned on me just how much stress I had put the mind/body under in this decision to move across the world to a new culture and life as a monk. In that stress, I noticed the mind seeking comfort by trying to control food, which inadvertently often caused more stress. In the mental health field of studies in America the powers-that-be have decreed obsession over such dietary concerns an actual mental disorder. My own observations of mind was seeing the same thing. Agitation and worry over diet and strict adherences to my dietary beliefs and choices only lead to more agitation. Who knows? I wouldn't doubt if that mental stess is actually as bad as or worse for my physical health than the food I'm fussing over. One thing I've done is re-examine some of my food beliefs and found some of them to actually not be true. Another is to loosen up on being a vegetarian, occasionally eating meat. In doing so, I have seen that there was attachment and defilement in both habits. Since then I have let go of some of the control I thought I needed to exert and life has become easier and I grow closer to exemplifying 'paccuppannena yapenti', being content with what is. In this case, what comes into the bowl.

Once the mind lightened up a bit, I actually noticed some of the positives of alms food in Myanmar. In most places devotees still offer fresh home cooked food with a fair variety of rice, veggies, meat dishes, salads, and other proteins. Within what's offered is usually a fairly balanced meal of fresh good. I dare say that what's offered overall is at least as, if not more, healthy than how most people eat back home. It's also pretty easy to be vegetarian here as protein via beans, peanuts, and tofu is commonly offered, and even more is regularly available if one eats eggs. Myanmar grows ample fresh fruit although they seldom offer it as they don't seem to eat too much themselves. It does though from time to time make it into the alms bowl. I occassionally praise the healthiness of certain offerings when appropriate, and often several families catch on to this appreciation and offer fruits, fresh cooked veggies, salads, and other healthier dishes.

Another positive aspect of Myanmar alms food is the sheer abundance given in many places and people seem to be extra generous towards foreign monks. This means I can be selective with my diet, choosing a good balance and allowing me to avoid the unhealthier options. In a pinch, I can always just eat more rice like the locals do which is always plentiful. And I can certainly forego the prepackaged snacks, deep fried treats, and the abundant artificial drinks and sweets. That's just lobha.

Overall, so far I feel pretty healthy. As my attitude has lightened up, the mind has loosened up and let go of some attachments. The wisdom that has arisen seems to find a way to maintain dietary health within what is given. So not only does the food situation seem healthier than it did upon first impression, the mind has become healthier too."

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Dhamma Ramsi Meditation Monastery in Monywa


Established in 2006, this Mogok Paṭipatti Monastery, known as Dhamma Ramsi, offers a ten-day course each month, sometimes filling to capacity and hosting up to one thousand yogis. It is overseen by Sayadaw U Sunanda who, due to high demand, often travels throughout the country giving Dhamma talks and teaching. Because of this, he is able to conduct only one course a year, and around 20 monks reside here full time.

The Dhamma Hall is a large, beautiful structure, with wooden floors and statues of the Buddha and Mogok Sayadaw towards the front. There is even air conditioning, quite valuable for the scorching temperatures this region is known for. Modern kutis are provided for each yogi.

At present, there are five Dhamma Ramsi centers in Myanmar. Its headquarters is in Yangon, where an additional one is being built to international standards, to be staffed by English-speaking teachers and specifically designed to welcome foreign meditators.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Surviving the Burmese Monsoon

The American monk Bhikkhu Obhasa has submitted the following essay, giving some suggestions for fellow monastics and yogis as to how to best survive Burma's monsoon season in full health. 

After the extreme heat of hot season, the coming of the rains is often a welcomed relief. Rainy season, however, can come with its own set of challenges. At the onset of rainy season, the body is trying to adjust from hot dry conditions to suddenly cool damp conditions, and it is common to experience a loss of energy, especially during the initial transition period. While dukkha cannot be totally avoided, excessive unhealthiness of the body is considered a difficult condition for practice.

There are two common causes for difficulty during the rains, slower digestion and increased chance of infection.

According to the Buddha Dhamma, the continually arising body has four sources of nutriment: kamma, mind, food, and temperature. According to the ancient health practice of Ayurveda, the body uses the element of fire (pali tejo) in the form of heat to digest food and the sudden drastic shift in the external environment from hot and dry to cool and damp inhibits the body's ability to do so. The more one can do to prevent the body from further imbalance by avoiding getting cold and wet, the better ones digestion, energy, and overall health will be during monsoon season. Here are some simple tips to follow:

Eat hot food. For one who depends on alms for food, sometimes almsfood cools down considerably between receiving and eating it. If this is the case, reheating the food, which is allowed by Vinaya, can be helpful. One can use the kitchen at the monastery, acquire a small gas stove, or make a small fire to reheat the food. In case of the latter, it is advisable to gather a stockpile of wood before the onset of the rains.

Eat less. In order to assist the body's digestion, don't eat more than the body can easily digest. The digestive stress on the body and the amount one will have to adjust will vary from person to person. For most the amount will be less than it was during hot season. Examining bowel movements, besides being a helpful asubha practice, is one of the best ways to assess the quality of digestion. If the faeces are more loose and less well formed than normal, this is a sign of incomplete digestion. Help the body out and experiment with eating less.

Eat spicy. Food eaten with hotter spices such as chillies, garlic, onion, and ginger make any meal easier to digest. Some even soak these same ingredients with turmeric root in vinegar for a couple of weeks and add both the spicy vinegar and the pickled ingredients to the meal. Considered as medicine, these ingredients may directly requested.

Avoid raw food. Besides the higher risk of contamination during monsoon (see below), raw food takes more energy to digest and is more cooling, the opposite of what is helpful to a weakened digestive system. If the body is weak and digestion poor, it is advisable to eat only simple, well cooked food that is easy to digest.

Drink hot fluids. Drinking cold fluids around mealtime hinders the digestive strength of the body. Some health systems even go so far as to say not to drink at all around mealtime because the cooling effect of any fluid in the stomach inhibits digestion. During monsoon season it is advisable to keep the body warm and so drinking hot fluids throughout the day is advisable. Again, a gas stove or wood fire will come in handy as well as a thermos or insulated flask to keep it hot. One can add ginger root or ginger powder with a little palm sugar to hot water as well for a little extra heat.

Drink less. During cool damp conditions, the body loses less water through processes like sweating, therefore, less water is needed daily by the body compared to hot season. Stay hydrated as always and also understand that extra water during monsoon is not only unneeded, it only serves to exacerbate the already damp conditions.

Bathe before eating. Deluging the outside of the body with water after eating while trying to digest is also believed to hinder digestion. It doesn't matter whether the water is hot or cold but the effects are even more so when cold. Therefore bathing before meals and then allowing the body to warm up is advisable.

Keep feet warm and dry. When allowed by Vinaya, it is advisable to wear footwear to insulate the feet from the cold wet ground thereby retaining more heat in the body. When barefoot, try to avoid standing for long periods on cold, hard, and/or wet surfaces. Dry and warm the feet as soon as it is possible.

Stay warm and dry. Keep the body and robes dry if at all possible. If the robes get wet, it is advisable to change into dry robes and dry the body as soon as possible. Try to keep the body warmer rather than cooler by wearing extra layers as needed.

The dampness of monsoon season is a condition for greater risk of infections. As the ground floods with water, the filth that lies on the ground can spread more easily into both our bodies and onto our food sources. There are two main areas of concern, feet and food.

Wear footwear. When Vinaya allows, it is advisable to wear footwear. The water on the ground has a higher likelihood of contamination from things like faeces and dead animals and these contaminants can enter the body via the skin of the feet.

Scrub feet daily. After alms round, scrub feet soon after with soap and a brush. Take extra care to clean any open wounds regularly and thoroughly. Consider regularly applying turmeric in water to any wounds to prevent or stop infection.

Remove callouses. When callouses, especially on the heels, become cracked, they can split to form an open wound, thus providing a higher risk of infection. Prevent this by regularly removing the dead skin with a pumous or other rough stone or by rubbing heels vigorously on wet rough concrete.

Avoid raw vegetables. Many areas flood during rainy season including vegetable crops and the possibility of food contamination is considerably higher. When food is well cooked there us no need for concern as high heat is the most effective way to remove bacteria and parasites, the main causes of intestinal infection. However, raw food presents a significantly greater risk and is best avoided during monsoon.

Turmeric. Turmeric, amongst its many other healthy properties, is known to prevent and fight infection. Turmeric root, powder, and/or pills can be found widely in south and southeast Asia and is highly recommended to take internally regularly. The anti-infection properties are especially helpful during rainy season. As mentioned above, turmeric mixed in water and applied to open wounds externally can prevent or stop infection. If the wound is not healing or becomes more red, itchy, or swollen, it is likely to be infected. Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and apply turmeric water or paste immediately. Turmeric can be applied to itchy rashes as well, especially in the most moist areas of the body where bacteria are likely to grow, namely the armpits, belt-line, and crotch areas. For lay people wearing shoes, the feet as well.

Papaya seeds. Papaya seeds are believed to act as an antibiotic effective against parasites, and especially against parasitic worms. Worms start out as microscopic parasites that can enter into the body in a number of ways, one of them being through the feet. They attach themselves to the lining of the digestive tract and papaya seeds are believed to shed such parasites from the lining so they may pass through the body. Whether or not one has worms, a large spoonful of fresh papaya seeds may be taken daily anytime they are available or seek them out if one has any suspicion. Taking a spoonful regularly during monsoon season is recommended.

These are tips I've come across so far. If anyone has more, please do share.

I wish everyone health, happiness, and freedom from all suffering.

Bhikkhu Obhasa

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Webu Sayadaw's Meditation Cave

Before U Kumara (the future Webu Sayadaw) popped up in Kyaukse out of the blue on March 12, 1924, no one was quite sure where he had been spending time. All that was known was that he was in the midst of years of intensive, solitary practice; even his modern biographers and closest disciples have been unable to reconstruct those early years in any detail. And while U Kumara continued his secluded practice here, Kyaukse was also where the next phase of his life began, and from where word about the achievements of the noble monk would spread to the rest of the country. 

The first site of note at Webu Sayadaw Monastery in Kyaukse is Dhat Ma Shaw Well, situated on the right side of the road, between the inner and outer monastery gates. After leaving his formal studies behind at the Masoyein Monastery in Mandalay in his mid-twenties, U Kumara spent some time living in remote caves and forests; perhaps given these hardships, he was frequently afflicted with stomach illnesses. 

One story goes that he was once travelling by train from Shwebo when someone advised him about a well near the Webula Hills that was known for its medicinal qualities. (In one version this was a holy man or pilgrim clad entirely in white. In another, it was a woman who met him before the train, and when U Kumara suggested that he may go home to Ingyinbin seeking a cure, she diverted him instead to Kyaukse) Soon after, he had a dream in which a being directed him to come here and search for a well of clear, bluish water. When he found the well, it is said that the same supernatural being appeared to personally offer him the water, and after drinking it, the monk’s stomach pains ceased. U Mya Thaung wrote that following this event, Webu Sayadaw never again laid down, had a cold, or spit. Those who wish may drink from this well, but note: pilgrims do so at their own risk.

Dhat ma shaw carries a couple of different meanings. Translated literally, it means “the knife falls down,” a reference from the 12th century when King Alaung Sithu is believed to have passed through here, back when the village was known as Paung. At that time, one of the royal attendants accidentally dropped his knife in this well. But when “knife falls down” is said quickly in Burmese, it can be heard as “the diarrhea has stopped,” a reference to the curative effect the well water had on Webu Sayadaw.

The words “ye phyu ye pya,” (or “white water, blue water”) came to be associated with the famous Kyaukse well that healed Webu Sayadaw. The white color refers to the water found naturally throughout these hills, while the curative water in Webu’s story was blue. Located around Webu and Weba Hills, this gave rise to the clever ditty, “Ye phyu ye pya, webu weba,” which references the geography, water quality, and famous monk all at once.

Beside the well is a stone tablet with a Burmese inscription, telling the Phaung Daw Oo story of the magical royal barge that carried King Alaung Sithu by air around the country. The king constructed a pagoda wherever he stopped, and so today many pagodas carry the name Phaung Daw Oo, meaning “the prow of the royal barge.”

Today, only serious meditators are allowed to enter and meditate in this cave, which is still standing today. Below is a photo of an inscription on this cave, with the translation below:

"Follow the tip of the nose - align with mindfulness,
To other object - (mind) should not be let go.
Contact and mindfulness - should be known continuously,
(thus) the difference between body and mind - will be known without fail."
The benefactor Venerable Webu Sayadaw
Champion 1998"