Thursday, February 12, 2009
Our group (3 monks, 3 lay and me), ison a pilgimage to Buddhist pagodas and monsteries, but we've also had the opportunity to visit some parks and look around some cities and towns. The Sitagu organization, a network of monasteries and public service establishments, all founded by Ashin Nyanissara, has taken us under its wing, so wer feel well cared for. On a couple of occassions our group has been invited to a meal by lay supporters of Sitagu, once on board a boat that took us up and down the Irrawaddy River. We have stelpt in Manday, in the middle of the country; in Sagaing Hills, which will become my home base, just across the Irrawaddy from Mandalay; Maymyo, east of Mandalay, on the road toward China; and Taungoo, in South Burma, where we just arrived today. We've stayed mostly in monasteries.
Mandalay is a very busy, largely impovershed city that was once the capitol of King Mindon, but captured by the British in 1885. An interesting sight is the world largest book: the entire Pali Canon on marble slabs, each slab housed under a tine pagoda. It goes on and on. Maymyo was developed by the British as a resort, since at 3000 feet it is much cooler than most of Burma. There are many solid British colonial buildings and the city is visibly much more posperous than Manaday. Ashin Punnobassa, whom some readers might remember as the monk who took the Nagarjuna class at AZC, works in Maymyo at a training monastery for 100 novice monks. We offered them all breakfast one morning. Taungoo is near Ashin Ariyadhamma's home. We met his preceptor on arrival, and will meet his teacher, a 100 year old meditation master, tomorrow.
People here a very friendly and smile a lot. Almost everyone is a devout Buddhist. We really see that when traveling with monks; people spontaneously start doing prostrations when they pass. Life here is very bare-bones. A typical house is basically a wicker box, with a thatched roof, a garage-sized opening for a door and large shuttered windows, no glass just holes. Many of the roads are good, but there is nothing like a bicycle lane or even a sidewak. Bikes, scooters, pedestrians, cattle, pigs, cars, semi carrying goods from China, horse carts, ox carts and dogs all share the same space. To drive a car you just plow through this and honk a lot. Bikes and scooters typically carry multiple passangers, and sometimes large loads of various wares, including lumber.
At meals, in a monastery, restaurant or house, each person almost always receives a plate of white rice and sometimes a bowl of soup. Then various things like fish, chicken, pork, cooked and raw vegetables and spicy condiments cover the table and people mix what they need in which the rice. The food is quite good, though Scott, an American in our group, got very sick today, apparently from something he had eaten. Monks almost always eat separately from lay people because they must eat their last meal before noon. Today we visited a family for lunch. After the monks had eaten, seated at a low table on the floor, the family simply picked up the whole table, with lots of uneaten food, and moved it to where the lay people were sitting and replaced it with a table full of tea and desserts.
We will return to Sagaing Hills in two days, after which I should be writing more regularly.