Sunday, 9 February 2020

Insight Myanmar Podcast #3: Sayalay Piyadassii

Joah connects with Sayalay Piyadassii, a foreign meditator who took up robes in Myanmar, about growing up under the shadow of the old Soviet Union in Lithuania. Her initial enthusiasm for Christianity fizzled away at a young age, and her spirituality was later rekindled after taking several silent vipassana meditation retreats in the tradition of S.N. Goenka. She eventually began spending time in vipassana centers across Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom. That ultimately led her to Burma, where she ordained as a Buddhist nun in 2013, and she has remained in robes ever since. Sayalay Piyadassii is now a full-time student at Shan State Buddhist University in Taunggyi, a new school which was just started by Oxford Sayadaw.

You can listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast player by searching “Insight Myanmar,” or right off the web by going here.

Sayalay speaks openly about the early difficulties of her time as a monastic, during which she felt her spiritual life became unbalanced, with too much time spent in formal, sitting meditation. This ultimately led her to leaving to Burma and residing in a cave in Spain where she practiced mettā full time. When she felt she had regained the physical and spiritual balance she was seeking, she returned to Burma with a clearer picture of how to best construct her time in robes.

In the course of the talk, Sayalay also discusses several themes that have animated her time as a nun. One these was finding a balance between a structured form of meditation instruction on one hand, and being open and flexible to the moment on the other. She also contrasts her experience as a nun in Burmese Buddhist society with the preferential treatment received by monks, and her attitude towards this gender discrimination. Concerning her prior overemphasis on formal practice, Sayalay remarks on the importance of devoting greater amounts of time to study (pariyatti), and the deeper insights that can be derived solely from familiarity with the scriptures. Additionally, having spent so much time now in Myanmar, Sayalay shares how the culture of the country has benefited her practice, and how appreciative she has been overall. This, and much more! She closes by discussing her first year of studies here and the quality of the education.

After the talk, Zach Hessler joins in to discuss the overall themes from the interview. Joah remarks how inspiring it was to hear Sayalay discuss the series of transformations her spiritual journey took, preventing her from ever being “stuck” at any one stage. They note how little even Western meditators know about monasticism in general and the monastic’s life in specific, and how much training is needed for a monk or nun to feel even somewhat independent. Zach notes that the fruits of Sayalay’s practice can be heard clearly throughout the interview, and her joyous exclamation of loving the simple life was one of the overall highlights. They close by reviewing the nun discrimination that Sayalay has faced in Burmese society, and her recent enrollment in the Shan State Buddhist University in Taunggyi.

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