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