Saturday, 19 August 2017

Sagaing: the Hidden Treasure of the Golden Land


“After the return to Australia I found out that for a Buddhist to go to the Sagaing Hills is something like a Moslem going to Mecca, and when I casually mentioned to an Australian Buddhist who had been in Burma that I had stayed there, I could almost feel the halo growing round my head.” Marie Byles, Journey Into Burmese Silence

It’s difficult to overstate the majesty and wonder of the Sagaing Hills (The name “Sagaing” actually denotes three different things: the largest division in the country extending from Mandalay to the northwest; the town of Sagaing; and the Sagaing Hills. This chapter is concerned with the latter two.). And for the yogi intent on Burmese Buddhist practice, there are few—if any—places that compare. For yogis who have never been to Burma but have heard about the country from the lips of Dhamma friends or books by Burmese Sayadaws from another era, Sagaing may come the closest to approximating the image one had formed. More than one meditator has been known to remark, “Ah… this is Burma!” after spending time in the Sagaing Hills.

From almost the moment one leaves the dusty lanes of the downtown Sagaing for the rarefied air of the Hills, one enters the stillness and quiet of winding forest paths, past countless caves, kutis, monasteries, pagodas, shrines, Dhamma halls, monuments, and water stands. It brings a sense of calm to the heart. And like with Shwedagon Pagoda, even if a person is just passing at a distance, he/she often bows in veneration towards the pagoda-covered hills.

In Colorful Myanmar, Khin Myo Chit writes, “Of the first things I learned about pagodas, nothing had to do with the intellectual side of Buddhism, but all was full of colour and romance. Once, while we were crossing the river from Mandalay to Sagaing in a small flat-bottomed boat, we headed towards the long dark range of thickly wooded hills, crested with shining pagodas, and the tinkling bells from their htis chimed welcome to us. Colonnaded stairways zig-zagged through the flowering foliages. They looked so inviting that I could hardly wait to run up the steps and reach the pagodas there.”