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Two Pilgrims’ Impressions of Northern Myanmar

We were very excited about going back to Myanmar; we had not been there since 1979.  The purpose of this visit was to join other foreigners in celebrating the birth centenary of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, the renowned modern-day meditation master who was our teacher’s teacher.

We fell in love with Myanmar and its wonderful people. This is a land that is magical.  Being there is like entering a river with a gentle swirling current; all you have to do is surrender to it and it will carry you to places you never imagined.  At times it appears that the entire landmass is decorated with thousands and thousands of golden pagodas and stupas providing brilliance and radiance to an otherwise arid landscape.  But what really makes this country so special are the gracious and generous people who inhabit it.  Everywhere we went we were greeted with a generosity that is almost incomprehensible  given the relative poverty of these unaffected and hospitable people.  The Buddha taught that generosity is the first step on the path of Dhamma; it is abundantly clear that the Burmese people have understood this noble teaching.

We travelled to Mandalay and, with the unsparing assistance of Ven. Nyanissara and his monastery, we visited sites in the area associated with Vipassana. Our journey to the town of Monywa was a bumpy three-hour trip, punctuated by photo stops and a mechanical breakdown.  The purpose was to visit the birthplace, monastery and forest mediation cave of the great scholar and monk Ledi Sayadaw, who lived there over 100 years ago and to whom this tradition of meditation is traced. As we embarked on our journey we were well aware that we owed a great debt of gratitude to the foresight of Ledi Sayadaw, since it was he who foresaw that Dhamma would spread around the world. He realized that, for this to happen, the technique of Vipassana meditation would have to be taught to and by lay people.  Until his time meditation practice was almost wholly limited to monks. Few Westerners visit  Monywa, so we were definitely a curiosity.  However, it was clear that we were welcomed. The hospitality of a local family meant that we were well fed and guided further on our pilgrimage.

 One of the highlights for us was crossing the Chindwin river to Ledi Sayadaw’s cave.  We squatted in a sleek shallow wooden boat that was silently thrust along with a long bamboo pole by our boatman.  The atmosphere felt strangely romantic, only in the sense that it was so remote, timeless and almost dreamlike; the vibration akin to a thin mist, unseen to the eye yet tangible to the senses in an uncanny way. As is so often the case in Myanmar one is naturally drawn inward.  Upon reaching the far sandy shore we walked to a cave where the great Sayadaw spent much of his time in deep meditation. We encountered a couple of monks at this cave and joined them for meditation and a limited conversation in a few words of English on the purpose of our visit and our meditation technique.  Our life’s experiences were so vastly different, yet in this droplet of time, we shared together a common quest and path.
Long after the dust of Myanmar has worn from the soles of our feet and the clarity of these memories has inevitably faded with the passing of time, this Dhamma land and its great sages will, no doubt, continue to have a deep impact on us for the rest of our lives ... and maybe many more to come.

This winter Goenkaji and Mataji traveled to the newest centre in Myanmar, Dhamma Makuta. It is the second centre in Mogok, a town  of about 35,000 people, located about 70 miles northeast of Mandalay. About ten percent of Mogok’s population have already attended Vipassana courses in our tradition and many of the Dhamma workers who served the Centenary Seminar at Dhamma Joti came from Dhamma Ratana, the first centre in Mogok. As well, of the 30 students from Myanmar who traveled to Dhamma Giri this February to sit long courses several were from Mogok.

The new centre is located high on one of the hills surrounding the town. Mogok is surrounded by beautiful pagodas, as well as mines that are the source of many of the world’s rubies, sapphires and emeralds. From the centre there are views of the city and the surrounding pagoda-covered hills. The centre has a large Dhamma hall with temporary dining facilities under it, and male and female dormitory-style accommodations, which had coal fires burning in clay bowls to provide warmth in the winter nights in this northern area. A pagoda with cells is under construction. Eventually the centre will have private accommodation suitable for long courses.
The Dhamma workers at Dhamma Makuta took very attentive care of all of the visitors who came with Goenkaji to this special inauguration of their centre.

 May this new centre flourish, and may the many students from around the world who visit it benefit from the strong Dhamma vibrations in this part of Myanmar.

Vipassana Meditation Centre, Dhamma Joti
Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda Rd
Bahan Township, Yangon
[95] 1 549-290

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