Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ledi Sayadaw's Legacy

Ledi Sayadaw was a dynamic figure whose great accomplishments continue to be felt today, even a century after his death, in both the mundane as well as spiritual spheres. As with other great innovators and transformational figures throughout history, the complete extent of his influence (on Burmese society, culture and the spread of Dhamma) is hard to measure. 

However, one can say that many of the subsequent monastic biographies, meditation practices, and contemporary characteristics of Burmese Buddhism were built—either directly or indirectly— upon Ledi’s sturdy foundation.

The photo below shows the Third Ledi Sayadaw at Maha Ledi in Pyinmina, the site where Ledi passed away. The current monk is showing kamawasa written by Ledi and still stored at the monastery today. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

A Book on the Jhanas, by Sayagyi U Ba Khin

Many great Dhamma books have never been translated into English. One of these is Pariyatti a-chay-kham nhin pattipatti a-phyay mhan, which translates as "The foundation of Pariyatti and the correct answer of meditation." The small book was written in 1951 by Sayagyi U Ba Khin with the help of his disciples, and republished in 1965, and then again in 2014 with the biography of the great meditation master by his son U Thein Zan. 

The book deals with all 40 meditation methods of the Visuddhimagga, and discusses the difference between the Jhana consciousness and the supramundane Magga and Phala consciousness, with description of the sequence of consciousness from the Abhidhamma. As one meditator commented, "It is concise, but based on practical experiments of higher aspects of meditation."

Although two drafts of the English translation were made, neither has yet been made public.

Monday, 17 April 2017

In Monywa, They Don’t Meat Their Saviors

Over a century ago, Ledi Sayadaw gave rousing sermons in the Monywa area around the theme that the lives of cattle should be protected from colonial Burma’s burgeoning meat industry. It may have taken over half a century, but since 1985, Monywa residents have taken his advice to heart. Following the Water Festival each year, Aleyat Chantha Gyi Pagoda accepts any oxen that have been labeled with the dreaded “killing license,” meaning they are headed to the slaughterhouses. Individual donors come forward to save these animals, and their donation pays for veterinarinary care (so long as the animals are able to walk, and free from infectious diseases). Through 2017, 207 oxen have been saved in this way, and are now sent to Ingyin Myain Ngwe Taung Monastery in Thabeikkyin township, where pagoda trustees hope to construct a new building to house the oxen. Foreign yogis interested in this cause may give dāna.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Metta-Bhavana Retreat at Chan Myay Myaing

The following information is from Chan Myay Myaing monastery:

"The practice of loving-kindness (mettā bhāvana) aims at the cultivation of a loving, benevolent attitude towards all living beings. Since the time of the Buddha, this form of meditation has been used as a practice in itself, and as a support for the development and deepening of insight.

In this special retreat for foreign meditators, yogis will have the unique opportunity to learn the practice of mettā meditation from both a Burmese meditation master and Western teachers. Sayadaw U Indaka (who is renowned in Burma for his skill in teaching this practice) will be joined by Venerable Virañani and Ariya Baumann; together they will offer in-depth mettā instructions and teachings.

The venue for this retreat is the Chanmyay Myaing Forest Meditation Centre not far from Pyin Oo Lwin in Upper Burma; this centre is out of the city, offering natural surroundings that are especially suitable for the practice of mettā meditation.

The retreat is suitable for both beginners and experienced meditators. Yogis may register for the first or second two weeks; a limited number of places are also available for those who wish to sit for one month. Registration opens on 1 May 2017, and closes 1 December, 2017.

As is traditionally the case in Burma, the teachings are offered on a dāna basis: donations will be gratefully accepted for the support of the monastery and teachers. A registration fee of 160 US Dollars or 150 Euros guarantees your place in the retreat. Registration fees are non-refundable and are used for retreat expenses and as an offering to the many Burmese helpers who voluntarily support the retreat.

Sayadaw U Indaka (Chanmyay Myaing Sayadaw) studied at the famous Mahagandhayon Monastery in Mandalay and later practiced meditation under Sayadaw U Janaka. In 1999 he founded the Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Centre (CMMC), where he now guides both foreign and Burmese meditators.

Venerable Virañani ordained with Sayadaw U Pandita in 2003, and has been based at the Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Centre since 2006. She teaches mettā and vipassanā meditation in Burma and the West.

Ariya Baumann was a Buddhist nun for 21 years, ordained in Burma by Sayadaw U Janaka. For many years she had been guiding foreign meditators at the Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Centre. She now lives in Switzerland and teaches mettā and vipassanā retreats worldwide."

Thursday, 13 April 2017

LEARNING TO DYE - An Offering from the Trees

"It's the beginning of hot season. Trees here are shedding their leaves so much that sweeping the paths is a daily necessity, sometimes twice. I came to this [Nay Pyi Daw] monastery for its healthy Vinaya reputation and to hopefully learn from the monks here how to harvest natural materials for making dye. In Thailand over the new year I had learned how to hand sew and am nearly finished with my first upper and lower robes. Amongst the forest tradition there, some donors offer plain white cotton cloth from which monks sew and dye their own robes. Here in Myanmar I have yet to come across the same practice, but some meditating monks here like to darken the bright, chemically dyed robes with natural hand-made dyes.

There are many woods and barks suitable for making dye but I don't like the idea of asking someone for bark skinned from live trees if there's an alternative. It so happens that there is one tree with large fruit pods that make an excellent dye. And fortunately, my timing couldn't be better as the fruits are falling now. An offering from the trees. Harvesting is as simple as identifying the right tree, a type of Ironwood, and gathering the seedless pods that have fallen to the ground amongst the leaves. They're relatively easy to spot as many of them are bright red and stand out amongst the leaves. The pods open and discharge their seeds by turning inside out. And they seem to curl out after they have already fallen as evidenced by one pod that was wrapped tightly around an old discarded robe and by another that was completely wrapped around the base stem of a plant!

The dye making process is quite a time consuming affair, first boiling the fruits overnight to extract the color, removing the fruits, and then further boiling to reduce the dye into a stronger concentrate. Fortunately, as a monk, I have the time. 

I have made a few experiments dying my under garment I wear over my upper body when not in villages or amongst devotees. The resulting color is a medium brown with a reddish hue. I am trying different ways to get the color to hold fast to the cloth. Currently when I sweat (which is a lot this time of year), the color runs. And I chuckle to think about wearing such a robe in the rainy season. Today I experimented with a tip from one of the monks to fix the color with green tea and salt. Not perfect but there was an improvement. Just the border, corners, and fasteners and the robes will be ready to dye. It's a joy to have this gift from the forests which unfortunately are disappearing fast from this world. I share my merits with the forests and all the beings who dwell there, including an occasional monk living in simplicity, following in the footsteps of the Buddha."

- Bhikkhu Obhasa

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

"The Sasana has some Life in it."

"Worker putting the finishing touches on the repairs to the zedi and the hti that crowns it. Sometimes the zedis actually look more picturesque before they are repaired and repainted. But one thing that's really great is that they get repaired at all. It shows these Buddhist iconic symbols are still important, still part of a living tradition. In that sense, the repairs themselves are a sign that the Sasana still has some life in it. May the Buddha's liberating teachings be available for a long time to come."

--Bhikkhu Obhasa, American monk, Kalaw, Myanmar

"The Only Thing that I was Missing was to be Reborn as a Man."

The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the tenth entry, with her story starting here.

"Difficult aspects in Myanmar and how it helped the practice and understanding of the teachings, the religion and the culture."

One of the most difficult aspects of Burmese culture is the difference in treatment between genders. Many factors contribute to this experience. One of these factors is that I was educated in the most liberal side of Mexico City. So among this sector of people in Mexico, it is considered very low ethical conduct to make any distinction within gender, religion (or non-religion, race, and among some people today, sexual preference as well). So among these people and this community, I have never encountered strong discrimination in gender.

A second factor was that I came to the study Buddhism believing that the practice was the solution for all the problems. With this I believed that all Buddhist people were bestowed with the qualities of being aware, kind, loving, and knowledgeable. In short, I had the idea that Buddhist communities were perfect. But Buddhist communities are like any other community in the world. With compassion, kindness, wisdom, craving, aversion, and delusion. So I came to Burmese Buddhism with a lot of expectation and a lot of craving! When my expectations were not fulfiled, then I experienced aversion. I was experiencing (here in Kalaw) what U Tejaniya calls the pendulum. The same amount of greed will lead to the same amount of aversion if the expectation is not fulfiled.

A third aspect that increased this aversion was the system of hierarchies. 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. Burmese Buddhism believes that the lineage of nuns called Bhikkhunis have died out, so by law one is prohibited to ordain women as monks here. Women are allows to take robes as Seminaries or Sayalays. They have eight precepts or ten. The majority of the nuns take eight precepts, the same as any yogis or lay people. So the level of attention and support that Sayalays get from lay people is much less than the monks in Myanmar. The first time I came to Shwe Oo Min Yangon 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.

Also, some Myanmar monks (but certainly not all of them) do not recognize other kind of Bhikkhunis from the Mahayana tradition because they consider it as another religion. So sometimes the Burmese Sayadaw will tell their students to see Bhikkhunis as they were Sayalays. Bhikkhus need to follow a lot of rules if they encounter a Bhikkhuni. For instance they cannot be together without a third person. They cannot ask a Bhikkhuni to do domestic service and they also cannot accept food from one of them. I believe this also applies for seminaries nuns. However, in reality in some monasteries Sayalays are cooking and cleaning the monastery continuously and they also give every morning food to the monks.

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 for the practice, the only thing that I was missing was to be reborn as a man. In some Buddhist commentaries, this Burmese men 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. After that he told me that then I should see by myself, I was the only one who could have the answer for that questions. Finally, here was something that we can agree on! Some others scholar monks mention that a women can never become a Buddha. They also say these statements without any evidence whatsoever.

I also have the experience that sometimes some monks—again, not all of them-- pay more attention to what monks said than yogis. Sometimes I have felt that lady yogis are completely ignored. It happens many times that local people would like to introduce a group of foreigners to their own Sayadaw and some of this monks will only talk with the monks and lay men, completely ignoring the lady yogis who are present. Then again, some other monks will treat everyone equally and with the same amount of respect and caring. It depends very much on the level of kindness and awareness of the monk.

On some occasions I thought that perhaps there were a degree of Moha (ignorance) in what I was conceiving, but I asked some female yogis and they agreed with me. Some Burmese female yogis even believe that this gender hierarchy is the main problem of Burmese culture, and they consider it to be against basic human rights. However, they only admit these things when they feel very comfortable and secure, and will not say things like this in a public space where men or monks are present. Some of these ladies privately conceive that be born as a woman is a bad kamma and so they needed to obey monks and accept that they could not become one of them in this life. Still others were interested in re-establish the bhikkhuni lineage. Many Burmese women want to become Bhikkhunis. However, in the public space these same women will always look very religious and respectful to monks. They will obey, give rise every morning and pay respect to them. Even some of these women that admit they do not feel confortable; they still have a lot of appreciation towards monks and mainly the teachings of the Buddha. Some others young ladies said they were interested in learning more about gender inequality, however they noted that in Myanmar there is not much information and opportunities to do so, and some wanted to go oversees.

For me all this aspects were incredible shocking. I was very surprised that Buddhism was so violent regarding gender aspects. 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 are the same.

Also I found it surprising because I was expecting that monks will be the most humble people in the country. But the culture treats them so well and takes care of them so well that even local people said that they can become a bit arrogant. Sayadaw U Tejaniya mentioned that is important to watch the mind continuously, when this knowing mind is not present, many defilements can come. He mentions ones that when people did not bow to him and offer things to him first, he could get angry if he was not mindful. So then, he recognizes and let it go. Unfortunately, not all monks are practitioners, so not all of them are as skilful as U Tejaniya. So defilements like arrogance and pride are some times recognize by lay people in monks. “It should also be noted that monks should not give the teaching desiring worldly benefits such as receiving homage, and it is an offense (pācittiya 24) for a bhikkhu to accuse another bhikkhu of doing this.” (Sujato, 2010, p. 57)

Fortunately, this happens with some monks but not all of them. Some other monks are very humble, helpful and caring and they tried as much as they can to embody the teachings of the Buddha. However, these teachings are not that easy to embody. So it takes long time, a lot of patient and it need a very good motivation to keep practicing. So one of my main problems in Myanmar have been aversion to this situation. Mainly because I did not expected and I have never felt it so close to me."