Monday, 27 February 2017

Syriam: from Orwell to Ledi Sayadaw, where the Great Game met the great Dhamma practitioners...

Than Lyin-- across the river from Yangon, and known historically as Syriam-- is a place combining such dynamic figures as Philip de Brito, Mahasi Sayadaw, George Orwell, Ledi Sayadaw, the Burmah Oil Company, Mohnyin Sayadaw, etc. Following tells how these all happen to come together in this unlikely place...

Way back in 1897, George Bird was already recording (in Wanderings in Burma) that “beyond the ruins…nothing now remains of the once flourishing European settlements [of Syriam].” Now, over a century later, there are very few European footprints left in the sand here anymore, either. These include a ruined Portuguese church from 1750, some Armenian tombs, and parts of the old wall of the city. And at nearby Henzada village, a small pagoda bears the inscription of the apparent descendants of the Portuguese (and anti-Buddhist) warlord Philip de Brito, (a somewhat ironic twist of Dhamma that one of the few remaining testaments to the existence of that foreign pagoda-destroyer in Burma would be…a pagoda, and built by his own descendants to boot).

Syriam was certainly not known for its beauty during the Colonial period, during which time the Burmah Oil Company set up a refinery here, although it was later destroyed in World War II. George Orwell was posted here from 1924, where he worked as an Assistant District Superindentent. It was a toss-up as to whether the rough town was better known for its frequent murders or acrid air at that point. It seems that Orwell spent much of his days reading what British literature he could acquire from nearby Rangoon bookstores. According to Keith Ferrell in George Orwell: The Political Pen, Orwell “lived in a house that lacked all the amenities to which Europeans were accustomed: there was no running water, toilets, or electricity.” Today, Than Lyin’s port—Thilawa—is the largest port in the country, building on its status as the port of choice for European ships during the Colonial era.

But on more of a Dhamma note, the area does have some significant Buddhist past. Small Gonnyinsu Village is where the deeply revered Mohnyin Sayadaw was born in 1873, and who went go on to become one of Ledi Sayadaw’s most important disciples. And yogis today can attend a course at the Saya U Than Kammathan Center, which offers teachings in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi. Mahasi Sayadaw arrived here just one year after Orwell, in 1925, after leaving his hometown of Seikkhun and prior to his intensive study in Mandalay and Moulmein. Finally, Ledi Sayadaw practiced the jhanas here in 1895 following his Indian pilgrimage. 

The photos seen with this text are from a monastic education monastery in Than Lyin today.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Liberation through the Kanni Method of Vipassana and Samatha

The following was written by Dr. Khin Maung Win, describing his experience at Bodhi Aye Nyein Yeiktha. They teach within the tradition of Kanni Sayadaw, who taught Sayadaw U Wayama, the famed presumed Arahant of Prekhemma Monastery in the Sagaing Hills. Kanni Sayadaw 
was also a younger contemporary of Ledi Sayadaw, and a meeting between the two great monks is memorialized in a statue exhibit in Kanni village.

“I practiced the Insight meditation by means of the mindfulness of breathing. At the first stage, I had to practice to comprehend the nature of materiality. The observing mind penetrated the body. The brain, the skull, the heart and the spinal cord and ribs where burnt [sic] and destroyed, the skull became a fine gauze, the skeleton was broken down. When the observing mind pin-pointed at the toughness of the body, the feeling of pains disappeared and the mind knew that the materiality was subject to decay.

Then I practiced to comprehend the immateriality. The observing mind highlighted on the severe pain. It was composed of many small pains. Each small pain showed their own nature of pricking, hotness, numbness, coldness, hardness, and each of which were in flux. The whole body became minute particles and then disintegrated. Only the observing mind was left in the sense of knowing.

When I pracied to comprehend the condition factors of mind and matter, the whole physical body changed to the particles, some of which were in tremendous motion and some in slow motion. At that stage, the last eleven past extensces were seen in my mind’s eye. The first four existences were a tiger, a horse, a goat, and a cow. The fifth was a woman. That woman reverended [sic] a high priest and did a lot of wholesome deeds with the intention of becoming a monk in the future life.

As a result of good deeds the next life was a monk. That monk trained himself and followed the disciplines and rules for monks. The seventh life was a god. The successive life was an acestic who took delight with sensual pleasure. The next was a pig. That pig wanted to be free and wished to run like a rat. So, the tenth life was a rat. It was afraid of cats and wanted to be a cat. The eleventh was a cat. That cat lived in a monastery. It was familiar with the Triple Gem and never chased the rats. The wholesome deeds done in the monk’s life reinforced to be reborn in the human wold.

One day, when that cat suffered from the disease of ageing, a lay woman came to the monastery and made donation. Soon after the woman went back hom then the cat died and followed the woman. That woman became my mother in the present life.

During the practice of Insight meditation, I saw the blood flowing thorugh every nook and corner of the body, and everything in the body were in flux. More than that I saw the dissolution of all parts of the body. The whole body was seemed to be [sic] a fearful disaster or a great enemy. I felt weariness of living with that socalled body. I wanted to liberate [sic] from that pyscho-phyiscal aggregates.

I kept on practicing with steadfast mindfulness to observe the phenomena of mind-matter processes in all four postures. I encountered the intense light beams, more brilliant than the light image, appeared in me and I felt the great rapture.

Once the physical body transformed into particles and disappeared while the observing mind rapidly moved to a far distance… I observed the rise-fall phenomena for half an hour, then I was in void, and enjoyed a peaceful feeling. When the observing mind reappeared, I observed the nature of impermanence.”

Thursday, 23 February 2017

45-Day Course in the Tradition of Saya Thet Gyi

The "tazaung", referred to by modern yogis as "meditation center", is where Saya Thet Gyi began teaching Dhamma in small Pyaw Bwe Gyi village across from Rangoon River. One of his students was the future Accountant General U Ba Khin, who became Goenkaji's teacher. 

Every year, a 45-day course is offered at this tazaung by Anauk Sayadaw, in the tradition of Saya Thet Gyi. The Anauk monastery in Pyaw Bwe Gyi has a long history with Saya Thet's teachings. Foreign practitioners may be able to attend the annual 45-day course offered here, a unique opportunity to receive meditation instructions in the Saya Thet Gyi lineage, and in the very place where he lived and taught. 

The course consists of ten days of samathā practice in which the yogi observes the in and out breath (the first three days of which bathing is prohibited), and vipassana therafter. During this period, the meditator alternates between postures, with long practice periods taking place in the sitting, standing, and lying down postures. Yogis first focus on body feelings, and later instructions direct the practice to the Four Elements and the mind base, with encouragement to remain in one’s posture for longer and longer periods. Instructions initially lead yogis in scanning the body, and later, concentrating more deeply on specific areas, such as feeling the different parts of the skin, bones, blood, etc. As the practitioner is asked to observe the body, he is instructed to keep in mind the Three Characteristics. Monastics who successfully complete the course are eligible to lead seven-day retreats in this technique for other yogis.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Passing of Shwegyin Sayadaw

The most Venerable Maharathaguru Waso Sayadaw Bhaddanta Aggiya, Abhidhaja (head monk) of the Shwegyin Nikāya (myanmar's second largest monastic order), has passed away last week while undergoing medical treatment in Mandalay General Hospital. He has thus left the burden of the aggregates at the ripe age of 100, just a few weeks before his 101st birthday. Bhaddanta Aggiya had 81 vassa.

Following his demise, this Tuesday a large meeting was organised in his Monastery, with many chief monks of the Shwegyin Order such as the Venerables Dr. Nandamalabhivamsa, Yaw Sayadaw and Sitagu Sayadaw, to discuss the preparations for his cremation ceremony with his devotees and the regional chief minister.

The remains of the Sayadaw are being displayed in a coffin for public obeisance in Aungmyaythazi Monastery in the compound of Vithudayon Taikthit Kyaung on 86th street. In the last days many devotees came to pay their respects to his remains, as well as many monk communities from Shwegyin monasteries came to pay their respects and practice marananusati (contemplating death) near his body. Today evening Yaw Sayadaw will be giving a Dhamma Talk there.

The cremation will be held on Sunday afternoon on the sport fields of Shwe Mann Taung Golf Course at the western foot of Mandalay Hill.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Impromptu Anapana Instructions

A European meditator has ordained temporarily as a Buddhist monk in Myanmar, and shares this inspiring story about an impromptu meditation lesson:

"Today out of the blue I was asked to come to the chanting hall (the teak wooden) and my Sayadaw presented me to a group of about 15 Americans as a very strong meditator, student of the great meditation master from India, and said to me they are here to learn meditation from me now. =D

So far I hadn't prepared anything for teaching the novices, so I had to completely improvise. And Dhamma came to help me, as I took several seconds of silence for myself to capture the situation and went into a quiet mind which allowed me to give an anapana course with which I'm quite satisfied in the end. =)

I started by raising the question why to meditate, explained the problem of suffering and what the Buddha found out as the cause for it; the solution to the problem by the eradication of the cause (or defilements) and then the threefold way to liberation. Emphasising and explaining the importance of sīla, then how samadhī is necessary and helpful for that and how experiential wisdom gained by direct insight in the phenomena will solve the deep-rooted cause. 

Then I explained how and why the Buddha gave the breath as a tool for self realization and how we are to observe it (yatha bhuta, etc.) and how we are to deal with the tendencies of the mind...

During the meditation (maybe about 10min) at times I felt a need to remind them to relax and keep the awareness naturally, not to control the breath, and to keep the body relaxed and that they could change their posture as it was not a physical exercise.

After the session I asked them for their experiences and explained the tendencies of the mind and how this will help them in daily life situations to keep their minds in a balance and how it will help them to understand the close relationship between mind and body.. then their guide pressed that they needed to go.. so something I'd have liked to say more would have been an encouragement to try for a week morning and evening 10-15 minutes And some few details and more opportunity for questions..

Just felt like sharing this."