Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Pāḷi Grammar & Diṭṭhikathā Course in Myanmar

The following message is from the Institute for Dhamma Education in Myanmar:

"Dear Venerables and Dhamma friends,

The Pāḷi Grammar & Diṭṭhikathā Course in November taught by Venerable Sayadagyi Dr. Nandamālābhivaṃsa has already started and the course is filmed and posted live on Facebook everyday in the following page:


Considering that it may not be easy for all who are interested to follow the course live due to time difference etc. We are saving the videos on Google drive daily for easy access.

Diṭṭhikathā Course


Pāḷi Grammar Course


Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Day in A Myint, northern Burma

Zaw Win Htet describes a day discovering ancient Buddhist sites around his hometown:

"Last Friday morning when I was having Monti (Burmese rice noodles) as my breakfast with all my family members, a car arrived and parked in front of my house. Ven. Pinnyasara, a chief monk of Bodhi Tahtaung Monastery's meditation centre, and his guests from Yangon came in and then asked my dad if anyone of us would mind to take them to A Myint as a volunteer guide. My dad and brother looked at me at the same time, then they pointed to me. I said happily, "yes." Thus, my wife and I became "Saw Ke Kings" as in a proverb of our township, "Saw Ke became a King (of Innwa) without any intention." This proverb is not strange to us as natives of Chaung U township because King Saw Ke from that proverb and from the history was not from other far sites and he was from A Myint in our township.

The monk and two guests let my wife and little niece come along with me that a space was available for two of them as well. On the way to Amyint, we went in a village beside the road where there is the sole palmprint of Buddha, the only one in the country and the world. We were taken to the pagodas by 76-year old Chief Monk of that monastery. In that monastery, though there were many old pagodas, many of them have been rebuilt. We feel missing of them and local people should be started to be educated how to preserve the ancient works. We saw a brick Buddha statue of a square face under a heap of bricks. Historian scholars inferred that this statue has an artistic sculptural style of Bagan Era. At about 10.30, we left there and went on.

Just a few minutes drive later, the recently preserved moat with no water was welcoming us, so was a high heap of old reddish bricks that local people call "Mingalar Myo Oo Pagoda", by showing or telling us a phenomenon or a philosophy of Constant Flux. I feel it is like telling us, "We were very new and beautiful one time but now all the people who built us, had gone and we ourselves are sadly old. See us!" Yes, it is true. In this way, I usually think about the past A Myint City of Innwa Era whenever I cross that moat and pass that pagoda. I see the Change of Everything by Time in A Myint. It was one time a big city where the Princes, Princesses and Dukes governed and lived. It was a big city where ancient kings relied on for their army when there was a war, but now it is just a big village where the township's administration offices are not stationed. King Swar Saw Ke had already disappeared, so had Duke Min Latwar. Although they and their people disappeared, today A Myint is still standing as a milestone of Myanmar's history and majestic days of ancient A Myint city. It is showing us the proofs of ancient Burmese people's outstanding architectural constructions, designs, arts of paintings and golden generosity. Today A Myint is still telling us some important points of history of our country. It is like telling us the Tides of History and Human Beings over River Chindwin's basin areas around Sanlahvati Kingdom, the original another name of Ot-jay-ni Kingdom. (Ot-jay-ni Kingdom and Sanlahvati Kingdom are the same capital citiy of a kingdom early before Bagan dynasties and at the same time as early Bagan dynasties; these names refer to A Myint.)

First of all in A Myint, we went in Pya-that monastery where Bagan Era's resin Buddha statue is. The Buddha statue is believed to be the one that King Alaung Sithu worshiped at the palace in Bagan. Although it was found in its own big pagoda in the south of the village, people brought it here to this Pya-that monastery so to be safe from the thieves of ancient statues. Some proofs have also been found to show that this resin Buddha statue was worshiped by King Alaung Sithu. The Chief Monk of that monastery gave all of us small booklets about the history of the Resin Buddha Statue (မံဘုရား, in Burmese). After paying worships to this Buddha, we went to Min Ye monastery and Min Ye Su Pagodas (meaning a cluster of pagodas in Min Ye monastery). We parked the car in the monastery next to the area of pagodas. U Thein Naing and U Thet Naing, the guests, took photographs of the old leaning wooden monastics. We walked up stairs of a few wide deep steps in the area of pagodas through a narrow gate. We walked on the walkways between the pagodas and the guests took a lot of time to take photos of different styles of old temples and an old lying Buddha statue with a slightly big flat smiling face as showing the style of Bagan Era's statues and as that can be seen in mural paintings. To show my guests the mural paintings of Thu-yaung trees and Jatakas pictures, I led the group to a temple numbered by the Ancient Research Department under the Ministry of Culture. This temple is one of the most famous temples in A Myint because it has mural paintings of the afore-mentioned Thu-yaung trees. It's famous for them. After about half an hour, we left Min Ye Su pagodas and led to the market for lunch of the monk, so it cannot be late. After lunch in a restaurant of Burmese cuisine, we left A Myint for another part of Second Bagan, Thone-pan-hla village (previously called A Naint village) where U Wisara, the national hero for Burmese in the days of colonial British Burma, was born. In this area around A Myint, a lot of famous people and monks were born. U Nyo Mya, who wrote the article "Hell Hounds at Large" to criticize at the British Headmaster of Yangon University, and wrote a lot of books, was born in A Myint. Duke Min Lat War was very famous for his governance that thieves or robbers were killed by a strike of his very wide palm, in King Mindom's times. (He was known as Min Lat War, meaning Duke Palm, for the above reason.) Ledi Pandita U Maung Gyi, a great writer and disciple of Ledi Sayadaw, was born in Nyaung Phyu Pin village where formerly was in the township of Chaung Oo, in the north of A Myint.

After our lunch, we went to Min O Chan Thar Pagoda that was built by King Alaung Sithu. Althogh this is a famous ancient pagoda, just a few ancient works are remained because today people renewed it again and again. It's a kind of stupa with four main sets of stairs, so we can go up the stairs to look over around but it is not too high.

Just in the south of A Myint, we saw Man Pagoda where the Resin Buddha Statue was previously put. In Tazaung village on the way to Thone Pan Hla, Monastic Donors Nga Yauk Thin Couple's stone inscription is famous and the village is situated just beside the dirt road to Thone Pan Hla. It was dated ME-658 (AD-1296) and the scholars recommend that it is a stone isncription of "mula-htoe (in Burmese, မူလထိုး)" meaning "original inscription". In that village, there is another mula-htoe stone inscription called "Monastic Donors Nga Pyae Nyi Couple's stone inscription", dated ME-677 (AD-1315), too. Since we did not have much time, we did not go in the village to see them. For the historians, Sanae Nan Gone in Tazaung village is a good site to study and make a History research from the above stone inscriptions.
(For more information about the historic stone inscriptions around A Myint Old City and A Neint Old City to make a study in history, please see in my own blog page: www.bloggerzawwinhtet.blogspot.com.)

Old trees are beside the dirt road along the way we went. It must have been an old avenue that connects A Myint City and A Neint City since the past times. After we crossed some villages and a 30-minute drive, we started to see a cluster of very old dun temples and pagodas cloaked by shrubs here and there. The temples are spreading over the areas and between clusters of palm trees or in the fields. In a place beside the road, we saw a sign and a side road to a cluster of some temples named "Thone Pan Hla Pagodas Compound". We took a right turn to the side road to visit and see them. Near a brickwork lion in front of the archway of the compound, we took photos together. At the eastern gate, only one lion statue was left as original and the rest can be only seen as a heap of bricks. We took a careful look at the remained one which was built by bricks. Its legs are wonderfully firming without any help of reinforced concrete-work and its brickwork is amazing. We can see amazing brickwork in its legs in deep strength though they are not thick enough. (Please, see the photo.)

When walked on the pavement in the compound, we were seen and directed by an old man named Bagyi Gyan (bagyi means old grandpa), a trustee member, to the temples in which the mural paintings are there. Inside the temples in the southernmost of the compound, we could have a great chance to see priceless mural paintings. In the paintings, we saw some ancient writing styles that are quite different from today's. For example, we once read and learned that the Pali term "Thera (meaning elder bhikkhu or elder monk)" is written as either "မေထရ္(ma-te)" or "ေထရ္(te)" today. But, in the ancient writing that is found in mural paintings of Bagan Era, it was written "မထည္(ma-hti)" or sometimes "မထည္း(ma-htee)". Myanmar linguists said in the books that later people and today people read and write it "မထီး" and they think this is another term and a term for those monks who are not Theravada Buddhist monks. We also found the writing "အရည္း" in the mural paintings on the walls and concave roofs of the cave inside the pagodas. The terminologists and Myanmar linguists said that this word was derived from a Pali word "အရည (Aranna)" and adopted as a Burmese word "အရည္း" by putting ( - ္) and ( - း). The words "အရည္း" that we found in the mural paintings, used to mean Theravada Buddhist monks who used to live at a monastery in the rural areas. However, we do not write and call those as "အရည္း" today. If someone sees a word "အရည္း" or sometimes "အရည္းၾကီး" today, he misinterprets that this means the ones who told themselves as monks, practiced non-Buddhist practices without perceiving any Buddhist percepts and principles, and who founded a religion-alike in early Bagan Era before King Anawratha's times when Buddhism started to flourish in upper and other parts of Myanmar, except around Mon State, the initial start point of Theravada Buddhism in the entire Myanmar in history. Therefore, what I get a message from the mural paintings that we saw, from the scope of Myanmar linguistic and history, is that we can elicit these pagodas were built in the Era of Bagan. Another supportive strong reason to elicit this point or statement is that some scholars say the pictures of people, Buddha, monks or Arhats, look those of mural paintings in Bagan temples. To clarify, this means that faces in the paintings are pear-shaped. Anyway, it was very good and knowledgable to see or observe the paintings and learn the way that scholars made historical elicitations by observing the writings and pictures in the paintings.
Lovely, the name of one of the pagodas where there mural paintings are well reseved, is "Ma-shi-ka-na (မရွိခဏ)" Temple that means the temple of "No Lack". (PS: There are many other so-called "Ma-shi-ka-na" pagodas in Sagaing and in some other parts of the country.) In our group, the two guests from Yangon, also have the same interest in interior mural paintings and exterior decorative arabseques in the pagodas as me. According to U Panna, they are makers of the documentary of Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung Sayadawgyi and they seemed to make a documentary about A Myint and Thone Pan Hla, the areas of Second Bagan. They were taking a lot of photographs outside the temples and then we all were brought by Bagyi Gyan to another important site of the compount which is Aung Myay of Queen Sambula. In Myanmar Theravada Buddhist's beliefs, people like to visit Aung Myay where a famous person or a famous monk once succeeded in his resolution and wish in the past. We went up the stairs of the throne or platform of Aung Myay and stood on the slab to wish and make a resolution. The story about this Aung Myay is that Sambula once made a resolution here to renovate old stupas and temples in Thone Pan Hla before she became a queen. When she became the Queen of King Kyan Sit and her wishes were fulfilled, she built Thone Pan Hla Stupa surrounded by seven smaller stupas. At the other side of these red stupas and near western gate, the Aung Myay is there and there is another famous temple outside the brick walls of the compound. That temple is called Pitakat Wahso Teik and the mural paintings of Arhat monks who are paying homage to Buddha, on the concave ceiling of the temple. We walked on the walls to that temple and almost the whole of its exterior was recently renovated, so it seemed to lose some parts of ancient exterior decorations and even some lower parts of mural paintings inside the temple were already lost because of the later paintings of lime. Not only in that temple but also in the other temples, the lower parts were limed by the later people. U Thein Tan, one of my guests, said that they might have been lost perhaps because the later people who came here and stayed in the temples while perceiving eight percepts on Sabbath Days, might probably be leaning against the walls and thus they were faded. He continued to elicit that the paintings were probably made of watery fruits or vegetables and it might be a certain reason why their colour were easily faded years after years. Anyway, it just took a short time to fade them because the later people were less-educated in preserving ancient temples and antiques. Aother reason is that Buddhist people do renovating and rebuilding old stupas or temples as great merits. Thus, they were careless to preserve or renovate them without losing any ancient works that can become a national proof of the ancient times' standards in architecture and of the history.

We were shown the enshrined stuff which were found in renovating, such as broken ornamented smoking pipes in a big tent of trustees. In that tent, the picture of King Kyan Sit and Queen Sambula, a big map of spreading stupas and temples around Thone Pan Hla village and some pictures are hung on. Buddha statues and a red statue of U Wi Sara, the sign of this village and national hero who made a hunger strike over 160 days against British Colonial Government in British Rule and then passed away, were put on a table in the tent. After taking some photos and listening to Bagyi Gyan who was explaining to us about the temples without feeling tired, we walked back to our car. Bagyi Gyan walked along with us and waved his hands to us until our car had already left.

We passed through Tone Pan Hla village and saw other ancient stupas in different sizes and shapes. We passed a pond under big trees and people playing caneball nearby. In the center of the village, we passed a library named after U Wisara. Since we hadn't got much time and were going on to Pareinma Village, the native village of King Kyan Sit, in Myaung Township, we didn't go to any other temples. About at 1.00 pm in the afternoon, we said goodbye to Second Bagan where is rich of spreading historic temples and stupas covered by bushes. We learned that there are 132 stupas and temples, so I made a decision to visit Thone Pan Hla again very soon to look at more stupas and temples and study more about history of Second Bagan, our township's pride.

Anyway, I felt I was told a message by Thone Pan Hla that everything is Anicca (meaning 'impermanent' or 'not stable') according to Buddha's Dhamma. Thone Pan Hla was telling me that we have faced a lot of changes by time and reminding me not to forget this phenomenon. It had been a big city which its people commercially communicated with the people of the great Bagan Kingdom. It had been a city where dukes governed. Today, it becomes just a village but it still owns a great dignity in history.

We continued to Parein Ma, the native village of King Kyan Sit, where there also had a communication with Thone Pan Hla."

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."

Saturday, 26 August 2017

A walk back to the history of Vipassana in Burma

The following post is taken from the blog section of Myanmar Pilgrimage. It describes a special new pilgrimage being offered in Myanmar this winter that will tour 14 distinct regions connected to the lineage of S.N. Goenka, and in which all overnights will be at monasteries. 

"Experiencing the Dhamma riches of Burma can forever change one's life and one's practice, and can bring a unique sense of inspiration and appreciation that is never forgotten. And then later, sharing one's experiences with one's home meditator community, after returning, can further motivate even those who have never been to the Golden Land! For this reason, one of the goals of Myanmar Pilgrimage is to make these special sites accessible to as many people as possible.

However, this is made challenging by the fact that Myanmar has become the most expensive tourist destination of Southeast Asia, with prices over 20% higher than neighboring Thailand. For meditators who wish to see the special Dhammic sites of the Golden Land, this cost increase makes travel more challenging. And as many meditators have consciously chosen less materialistic lives, and to choose a simple life over a busier one that may yield a higher income, it can be difficult for many meditators to afford these soaring Myanmar prices.

For this reason, Myanmar Pilgrimage has developed a Dhamma tour that stays entirely at Buddhist monasteries. In addition to making it more affordable for a greater number of people, it has the added, and perhaps more important advantage, of allowing the pilgrim to stay wholly in a Dhamma environment for the entire duration of the trip. From the early morning gongs waking up the monks, to lining into the Dhamma Hall after the monastics have eaten, to evening meditation sittings conducted with Pali chanting in the background and followed by translated Dhamma talks and Q&A with senior monks, this holistic experience allows the foreign meditator to get a glimpse of the Burma-Dhamma as very few newcomers to the country can penetrate.

Exploring the Lineage: Monastic Stay is a pilgrimage that will take place from November 24-December 10, 2017. Only limited space is available, and it is first-come, first-serve. The pilgrimage will visit 14 distinct sites connected to the four main figures in the S.N. Goenka lineage. Informative talks will discuss the history and background of each place, and we will meditate together at the special sites we visit. The pilgrimage is the result of nearly five years of research, and many of the sites included have only very rarely been visited by the foreign meditator before.

Go here to learn more about this pilgrimage."

Thursday, 24 August 2017

"Myanmar Pilgrimage" to Offer Dhamma Tours of the Golden Land

Myanmar Pilgrimage will begin offering Dhamma tours of the Golden Land from Winter 2017-18. As its co-founders and several of its lead guides come from the volunteer Shwe Lan Ga Lay ("The Golden Path") project, the pilgrimages will lead meditators to many off-the-beaten track monasteries, pagodas, caves, and other important Buddhist sites throughout the country, and feature comprehensive information and historical background about them. Their Facebook page can be found here.

One of the pilgrimages will explore the sites (14 different regions in total) related to the lineage of S.N. Goenka, and to increase the Dhamma atmosphere, all nights of this 17-day pilgrimage will be spent at Buddhist monasteries. The American monk Bhikkhu Obhasa will also be joining this trip as a special guest. (Another pilgrimage will follow the same schedule but stay mostly in hotels.)

Myanmar Pilgrimage warns potential travelers that a pilgrimage is not a touristy trip. In its own words:

"Prospective travelers should keep in mind that a pilgrimage is different than a tourist trip or backpacking. The intent is not merely to see exotic sites, take photographs, and buy souvenirs, but also to appreciate Burmese Buddhist culture and most importantly, to grow in the Dhamma, or the teachings of the Buddha. If more interested in a standard tourist package, we recommend going with a more conventional Myanmar tourist agency. For those wishing to grow spiritually and experience the way that Myanmar society follows the Buddha's teachings, we welcome you."

 Elsewhere, in describing its mission, Myanmar Pilgrimage writes:

"All tourists are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the tours we offer to ensure a right fit with their expectations and reasons for visiting Myanmar. Those interested in a more conventional tourist experience, with a greater focus on shopping or following the standard traveler route, may want to consider other providers."

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Meditation Movement in Burma

Why did the patipatti (meditation) movement take off in Burma's postwar era? The Golden Path has tackled this question, and has discovered over 20 factors leading to the conditions where this not only could grow, but thrive. The following excerpt is taken from an unpublished draft, which would be included in the meditator's guide Part 3. (However, with minimal dana now available past Part 2, and given that the volition to ultimately share all works freely to all, it is unlikely this will reach publication, unless further support is forthcoming.)

One theory relates to the powerful experience of surviving the brutal war years. Such a period allowed some of the great future teachers to spend more time in meditation, and both during and immediately following the war many thousands of lay people were pushed from their home and found refuge in the monasteries. Author U Tin Oo notes that many Burmese fled to the Sagaing Hills during World War II, where they began a vipassanā practice that was maintained well after the fighting subsided. The same has been said of the vast Buddhist communities that the Mohnyin Sayadaw cared for at Thanboddhay Monastery. And even Mahasi Sayadaw himself saw his development and teachings affected by his experiences during the way. At this time, he had to leave Taungwainggale and return to his native village of Seikkhun, for it was safer. While here he practiced, taught, and wrote his famous Manual of Vipassana Meditation, a comprehensive guide on how to practice according to the Satipattana Sutta.

However, yet another factor seems to directly contradict this. Rather than seeing the hard times of the war as guiding people to concentrate on what was really important, Maha Gandayone Sayadaw U Janaka instead felt instead that they led to an opposite result. In Autobiogrgahy, he wrote that “[m]orality became too low after the war among both young and old people. The government commissioned a committee to give Buddhist lessons at school to check this moral deterioration.” U Silananda seems to bridge these two views in discussing his opinions on how the war affected morality. He writes: “World War II had caused to upset the living conditions of many a people in one way or another. Just as the people who were originally seemingly delicate, mild and soft-hearted in nature had joined the tough army as impulsed by their intense patriotism; there were some who had entered into monkhood being fed up with their own’ life’s condition.” 

Objective reporting certainly backs up U Janaka’s observations, as the rise in dacoits at this time in Burma was well documented—however, others made a political argument to account for this, and that it was more due to a weak central government than the overall morals of people. In any case, in U Janaka’s view, this decline began many years before, stemming from the Colonial Era, and only peaked after the war years. For this reason, he fully supported the idea of the Buddhist Revival, commenting that “State and Religion would have a perfect coordination to work out the progress of the State as well as the Religion.” With such low morality amongst the people, he compared the work ahead with that of King Anawrahta and Shin Arahan one thousand years earlier when Theravada Buddhism was established in the country. In this way, the rise of the patipatti movement could be seen as a kind of state-orchestrated policy accomplished with the cooperation of renowned monks, and having been motivated by the decline of the faith and morality that had been building for decades, and culminated only now.

Sagaing: the Hidden Treasure of the Golden Land

“After the return to Australia I found out that for a Buddhist to go to the Sagaing Hills is something like a Moslem going to Mecca, and when I casually mentioned to an Australian Buddhist who had been in Burma that I had stayed there, I could almost feel the halo growing round my head.” Marie Byles, Journey Into Burmese Silence

It’s difficult to overstate the majesty and wonder of the Sagaing Hills (The name “Sagaing” actually denotes three different things: the largest division in the country extending from Mandalay to the northwest; the town of Sagaing; and the Sagaing Hills. This chapter is concerned with the latter two.). And for the yogi intent on Burmese Buddhist practice, there are few—if any—places that compare. For yogis who have never been to Burma but have heard about the country from the lips of Dhamma friends or books by Burmese Sayadaws from another era, Sagaing may come the closest to approximating the image one had formed. More than one meditator has been known to remark, “Ah… this is Burma!” after spending time in the Sagaing Hills.

From almost the moment one leaves the dusty lanes of the downtown Sagaing for the rarefied air of the Hills, one enters the stillness and quiet of winding forest paths, past countless caves, kutis, monasteries, pagodas, shrines, Dhamma halls, monuments, and water stands. It brings a sense of calm to the heart. And like with Shwedagon Pagoda, even if a person is just passing at a distance, he/she often bows in veneration towards the pagoda-covered hills.

In Colorful Myanmar, Khin Myo Chit writes, “Of the first things I learned about pagodas, nothing had to do with the intellectual side of Buddhism, but all was full of colour and romance. Once, while we were crossing the river from Mandalay to Sagaing in a small flat-bottomed boat, we headed towards the long dark range of thickly wooded hills, crested with shining pagodas, and the tinkling bells from their htis chimed welcome to us. Colonnaded stairways zig-zagged through the flowering foliages. They looked so inviting that I could hardly wait to run up the steps and reach the pagodas there.”