Saturday, 7 September 2019

How to Be a Rockstar in Burma....

The following photo was taken at Shwedagon Pagoda last winter, but was somehow found and posted yesterday on the ဘုရား တရား သံဃာ page, which itself has well over a million followers. In less than 24 hours, it's been shared almost 2,000 time and reacted to over 7,000.

The picture itself depicts a German monk and Swedish meditator, who likely never foresaw (or sanctioned) the popularity the photo would soon garner. What factors play into a photo like this spreading virally in the Golden Land?

The answer to this depends on the lens through which you look.

A devoted meditator with rose-colored glasses firmly affixed to face would make the inspired observation that the Dhamma which Myanmar has shared with the world has spread and now foreign yogis have access to these precious teachings of liberation. Those positing this view would surely rejoice at the hundreds of comments saying no more than "Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu!" and would thus end the commentary here. Yet is this all that's going on?

For a more cynical perspective would note that people anywhere are always happy to see their tribe, as well as their own group beliefs and culture, spread and followed by increasing numbers, especially those that look, talk and act most differently from them.

Someone who has spent real time at Burmese monasteries may recall that while the desire to help foreign yogis on the path is very real, so too is the more subtle aspect of claiming just a little bit of pride and accomplishment that the paramis of oneself, one's teacher, or one's monastery have manifested so greatly as to attract and retain foreign practitioners, one of the high water marks in a country that has so long been closed to foreign influence. Foreign yogis and monastics can sometimes be paraded out to local visitors as the prized Arabian stallions in the barn, and the good fortune of catching one of these out in the wild-- such as while taking a mindful stroll at a pagoda-- goes a long way in not only (or not at all) merit but real cyber credits of clicks, likes, and follows. Just ask any foreign monastic who ventures outside their compound how many cameras and cell phones were thrust in their face to get some idea of this activity.

Anyone well versed in online culture would study the psychology of what makes us tick as social beings, especially the addictive power of Facebook. The outrage culture is not a new phenomenon, and it is well enough alive in Myanmar for those looking to be offended through nationalistic, ethnic, or ultra-religious ways. The only thing that will be enjoyed to a greater extent than foreigners acting appropriately is foreigners acting horribly-- just find and post a picture of a young foreign woman wearing shorts above the knees at a Bagan temple to test this hypothesis (but make sure you have thick skin before proceeding). Somewhat down on the social reactive ladder from rage is joy, which a photo like this would certainly hit every mark on and encourage greater sharing and commenting.

Some other lens to explain the viral sensation that was missed above? Share your own thoughts below....


  1. A very intriguing article this is. In the coming few years, or sooner, I am certain we will see an African monk in Myanmar :0

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