Friday, 22 September 2017

The Sagaing Hills: A Perfect Antidote to Civilization and Privilege

The Meditator's Guide to Burma, Part 2, is due out soon! Nearly four times as big as Part 1 and the result of nearly five years of intensive work by a team of volunteers, it will function as a kind of Lonely Planet's guide to the Golden Land... but specifically for those spiritual practitioners who wish to develop in Dhamma. Following is a draft from the Sagaing Hills chapter, which would be included in a potential Part 3-- but unfortunately, no work is happening currently as there is not sufficient financial support to sustain the project. This section introduces the Sagaing Hills before describing some specific site history. 

"The monks of 150-200 years ago were especially attracted to the ravines and hilltops of this remote region of the Sagging Hills, in sharp contrast to the congested, flat lowlands around Mandalay Hill they were leaving behind. Some took to criticizing some Mandalay monastics for their laziness or laxness in adherence to Vinaya, and saw in the promise of a simple life in the Hills the perfect antidote to the adverse pull of modern civilization, and privilege.

Given the wild nature of Sagaing in those days, forest monks were left to their own devices in finding a place to reside and practice. Caves were the shelter of choice for many. However, because there are few natural cave systems in the Sagaing Hills, forest monks had to hew many hundreds of make-shift enclosures out of hillsides or cliffs. Enough fresh water to sustain them was available either from collecting rainwater or a walk to the river, depending on how far away the monastic decided to set up camp.

Ironically, civilization followed these seekers of solitude. Over time, small settlements of lay communities slowly grew around these pioneering monks, which themselves turned into villages. Monks intent on complete solitude could, of course, venture deeper into the hills, where the dense forest and hilly terrain made it possible to live in near-total seclusion even in fairly close proximity to lay supporters. Indeed, the many winding, narrow hill paths throughout the Sagaing Hills have likely been used by countless monks on alms round."