Monday, December 28, 2009

Postcard from Burma

Postcard from Burma

On December 23 I left Sagaing and took the overnight bus to Yangon. I
will live in Yangon for the next two months, until I return to Texas.
Sitagu Sayadaw, my preceptor, had made arrangements for me to study
with Ashin Pannyasiha, a teacher at the Sitagu International Buddhist
Missionary Center. Here is a picture of the center: with a short article.

By the way, it is not the case that the various Sitagu centers are
named after Sitagu Sayadaw, rather it is the other way around. Sitagu
Sayadaw's name is actually Dr. Ashin Nyanissara. Some time ago he
became the abbot of the Sitagu monastery in Sagaing Hills, so he is
called Sitagu Sayadaw, distinguished teacher of Sitagu. Similarly Pa
Auk Sayadaw acquired this name when he became the abbot of the
existing Pa Auk Forest Monastery where I lived March - June. From the
original Sitagu monastery grew the Sitagu Academy, established on the
other, western, side of Sagaing Hill, the Yangon center, Austin's
Sitagu Buddhist Vihara, and some other centers. The original Sitagu
monastery is under direction of a new abbot, who I don't think uses
the name Sitagu Sayadaw; at the Academy we always called the original
Sitagu East. It is quite a beautiful monastery overlooking the
Irrawaddy River, and mostly trains young novice monks.

I had known U Pannyasiha earlier in my trip; he traveled a bit with
the pilgrimage group last February. He is 36 years old, ordained at
20, and lived in Nashville, TN for 1 1/2 years. He is known as a good
teacher, and is a serious, smart, dedicated and enthusiastic monk, who
smiles a lot. Also his English is excellent. His name is cool, it
means Lion (siha) of Wisdom (pannya)."

U Pannya goes regularly for alms rounds. Most of the monks I have hung
out with are student and teacher monks, often known as pariyatti monks
or village (as opposed to forest) monks. Their lifestyle is often a
bit less traditional than the patipatti or meditating monks. At the
Sitagu Academy and at the Yangon center, as at many large monasteries
of both kinds, you only have to find your way to the dining hall for a
food offering. Many large monasteries, like Pa Auk Tawya (forest
tradition), keep the form of the alms round: you stand in line with
your alms bowl, robe covering both shoulders, and people drop food
into your bowl but it's all done in one spot. At Sitagu we do not use
the traditional alms bowl at all; food is formally offered by monks
and lay people lifting a table together on which food has been placed.
U Pannya eats breakfast and lunch at Sitagu each day, but goes on alms
round at 9am, then brings the food back to contribute to the Sitagu
kitchen or to other monasteries. He does this because this is what the
Buddha wanted monks and nuns to do; the point of alms round is not
just to feed the monks and nuns, it is also to bring them into contact
with the lay people so that the latter will have the opportunity to
learn Dhamma from the former, and otherwise benefit.

Anyway, U Pannya asked me if I would like to go with him on alms
rounds while I am living in Yangon, and I immediately said, "Yup." So
we went out for the first time this morning, single file, silently,
mindfully, alms bowls slung over our shoulders held in front but
concealed under our robes. He always follows the same route, visiting
the same families. He says in Yangon you have to learn the families
that give to monks and nuns; in Sagaing it's much easier: everyone
does. With U Pannya the process is more intimate than I understand it
normally to be; he knows the families well and likes to teach Dhamma
if they have questions. At every house we enter and sit down, and
someone brings generally rice and curry. Everyone does bows to the
monks, of course. Apparently other monks keep a lot of little
containers for curry in their bowls. I did not have any so people kept
donating them to me. We were offered tea and coffee at one house, to
drink there. Everyone was curious about me; I heard U Pannya say,
"Ameyika' pongyi," American monk, at each house. Sometimes he
explained my relationship to the Sitagu center in Austin. People asked
me, through U Pannya's able interpretation, "Are you a temporary or a
permanent monk?" "Can you speak any Burmese?" ("Bama zaga ma pyo da;
pu," the one thing I know how to say well) "Is your family Buddhist?"
"Are your children now Buddhist?" "Why did you become a monk?" and of
course, "How old are you?" All of these families are very poor, very
devout and very happy in their generosity. Most of the families have
cats, sometimes several, living inside. One family had two pet
rabbits, a white one and a brown one named Obama.

The Sitagu center is a 5-star monastery. It serves as a school and as
a transit center, given its location in the hub of international
travel. The rooms are very Western. The food is outstanding. The
reason is that many families make meal donations to the monastery. I
think it works like this: Donating a meal to a monastery, for all of
the monks or nuns, is a common practice, especially for the
well-to-do. Yangon has 4 million people, so a lot of such donations
must be made like this in the city each day. In a list of the many
monasteries in Yangon, "Sitagu" jumps out, because of the fame of our
Sayadaw. When they make a donation to the Sitagu center, they probably
have a cost in mind, but generally discover, if there is no great
event bringing transit travelers through, that there are only about
six monks to feed. Therefore, they can afford to donate something
really good, and do so multiple times. Anyway, we eat to square meals
a day here, both before noon.

Bhikkhu Cintita

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I haven't had many photos to show you. However, when someone inquired I found this site on the Web. There are some very good shots. Click on "Sagaing" for the area I have spent the most time. You probably won't find me in any of these photos, but let me know if you do.

Bhikkhu Cintita Dinsmore
Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Myanmar

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Postcard from Burma

Postcard from Burma

Dog Update. Tiny Tim, the scrawny lame puppy I've been feeding, is still holding in there. He is not growing as fast as his siblings, but his lameness is gone. I was worried for a couple of days when there was no sign of him, but only of his two siblings.

Village Trip. Last week I was invited by one of the teacher monks, Ashin Issariya, to visit his home town. His teacher, 80, had just received a major recognition by the government and a major festival was organized to welcome their favorite son home. We had a car and a driver provided by U Issariya's donor, which plowed through the pigs, bicycles toting housewares and building supplies, dogs,ox carts and women carrying precariously balanced things on their heads. We visited U Issariya's family, ate with the monks at the monastery where U Issariya had once practiced,  and slept at a pagoda nearby. The monastery has maybe 200 monks. The pagoda has little built-in outdoor meditation niches, each with a little altar, and a lot of space for walking meditation, in a beautiful area with many trees. We had a lot of time to kill overnight and U Issariya was catching up on things with two sisters, one of whom is a nun, who also stayed at the pagoda. So I meditated very happily for about two and a half hours in the evening then for another two and a half hours in the morning.  The festival was at the monastery and was a huge affair, with live music, booths where food and toys were sold, and a lot of chit-chat. And of course a religious observance and words from the senior monks.

I witnessed my first altercation since arriving in Myanmar: I was standing on a second-story balcony of the monastery building watching families arrive and situate themselves in front of the outdoor stage. Someone had marked out a checkerboard pattern with chalk, each square labeled, and families arrived to claim their squares. Each family laid out a grass mat that was too big for their square, but they overlapped them and that was fine. On either side families had set up wooden platforms, about the same size as the squares, which would raise the family up about two feet. These platforms are ubiquitous in Myanmar, used where we use picnic tables. Their main function, I suppose, is protection from snakes, but at the festival they could afford a view over the heads of those sitting on the ground. The altercation concerned two of these platforms. Apparently the previous day one family had set up their platform, then left, then a second family arrived and set up their platform in front of the other family's platform. The day of the festival the first family arrived again first, and the father was furious. He took his platform apart, shoved the offending platform into the place his platform had occupied and reconstructed his platform in the place the other platform had occupied. In the middle of this the other family arrived, and now the father in that family was furious. Both of them began yelling at each other and each armed himself with a 6' slat from his respective platform, ready for battle. Each was immediately engulfed by a wave of bystanders, led by the respective wife, to restrain the father's unskillful intentions. This incident surprised me, because Myanmarians are so invariably even-tempered. What's more, this happened at a Buddhist monastery!

One other thing was unusual at this monastery: almost all the monks smoke. I had noticed that at Sitagu U Issariya is about the only monk who smokes. Actually not many people at all seem to smoke in Myanmar. At U Issariya's home monastery, not only do the monks smoke, but lay people make offerings to the monks of cigarettes after meals. It makes me wonder if there are designating smoking monasteries in Myanmar; when somebody wants to ordain, they are asked, "Smoking or Non-Smoking?"

Goodbye to Sagaing. I'll be leaving Sagaing, and the Sitagu Academy, in a couple of days to study in Yangon for a couple of months. I will be studying with Ashin PannyaSiha (Lion of Wisdom), whom I know and who has lived in the USA. My intention was to return to Sagaing for Sayadaw's birthday, February 27, which is a huge event, but word is out that it will not be in Sagaing this year, but in Sayadaw's hometown, near Yangon. So I may not return to Sagaing at all. I'll fly from Yangon to Austin starting on March 2.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Picky Eaters in the Land of the Fork.

Picky Eaters in the Land of the Fork.

The reception committee of the Springdale Buddhist Center and Ping
Pong Club held a lavish banquette for its Buddhist members, and
offered the Whole Buddhist Fare, from Embodiment to Realization. To
their great dismay, no one seemed to eat much. The committee (Bob,
Carol and Skipper) realized some adaptation of the Buddhist Fare
might be necessary for the next year's banquette. However, they soon
discovered that most guests who were failing to eat well, were doing
so for what they felt were all the wrong reasons. "Is this what is to
shape the future of Western Buddhism?" they thought collectively.
Anecdotally they identified the following feeding patterns:

Some guests are simply uninformed about food. Some people, Bob
observed, would not eat things simply because they do not know what
they are. They might have thought that a bagel was a napkin ring, or
that a clear soup was for washing one's fingers. Or, having
identified something as actual food, they might not have known the
correct manner of eating it, so they didn't. They could have asked but
most of the people around them didn't seem to know either. Or they
would mistake the foods available for foods that they don't like, for
instance burritos for egg-rolls or meat pie for something sweeter.

Some guests are happy with bread and butter. Some people, Carol
noticed, will not eat things because they are afraid they will not
like some things, or they might upset their stomachs. Fish eggs or
lychees, or octopus make them cringe. These people simply don't
understand why people want to eat unusual things in the first place,
and so they themselves end up eating rolls, cold cuts, and cole slaw,
because these are safe, and they feel comfortable with this as long as
they cover all of the basic food groups.

Some guests have already eaten. One or two people, as Skipper
identified, will not intend to stay long, but will maybe take a slice
of tiramisu or something particularly exotic or appealing. They often
share the recollection of their experience with friends the following

Some guests seem more analytical than daring in their approach to
eating. These people, Carol explained, are always quite informed of
recent incidences of salmonella poisoning, tainted shellfish,
misidentified mushrooms, typhoid. They know all about trichinosis,
cancer, and how all of these relate to the food we eat. They also
carefully calculate calories; fat, protein and carbohydrate levels;
the amounts they are getting of each vitamin and mineral. They eye
unidentified foods with great suspicion. All of these are terribly

Some guests can only stay long enough to grab something to eat in the
Porsche. Bob observed that some people always partake of something
like a sandwich or couple of egg rolls because they have to rush to
put in some overtime at work, or they are on their way to the opera,
or to a lecture on the situation in Myanmar. They have also generally
just came from a workout at the gym, which they already had to shorten
at the other end to meet with their interior decorator or stock
broker. And even in the buffet line they talk on their cell phones.
These are busy people, people with life-styles.

And, of course, some guests try everything. Skipper pointed out, there
are still rare individuals who come with big appetites, know their
foods, have let go of all destructive preconceptions and are curious
and daring about the what they've been invited to enjoy, capable of
savoring the sublime and valuing the simple. Furthermore these people
generally give themselves ample time to spend enjoying food and
company. "They have a fork and they know how to use it," added Carol.

The following year the reception committee of the Springdale Buddhist
Center and Ping Pong Club met to consider again holding a Second
Annual Buddhist Banquette. The main question brought to the floor was,
What To Offer, and there were different opinions about this.

At one extreme was Bob's suggestion. Bob was rather upset at what he
interpreted as a lack of gratitude or respect shown by the guests the
previous year, in picking at the food the way they did. Bob's proposal
was to offer the Whole Buddhist Fare, from Embodiment to Realization,
exactly as they had done last year. However, this time there would be
some changes: Before the banquette they would send out abundant
information on the various foods, along with detailed descriptions of
how to eat lobster and some of the more difficult dishes, with
photographs and diagrams. Guests would be asked to arrive by 5:00 pm,
after which the doors would be locked from the outside and not
reopened until all the food was eaten. Also pocket calculators,
cell-phones and other electronic gear would be collected at the door.

At the other extreme was Carol's suggestion. The other two members of
the committee could not determine if Carol was more forgiving than Bob
or not. Her proposal was to offer spaghetti, marshmallow salad and
dinner rolls. And beer. "The greatest common denominator," she called

Like the lavish banquette, Buddhism is an array of various dishes.
These include meditation practice, on and off the cushion; bringing
mindfulness and awareness into everyday situations; cultivating
skillful mental factors, such as loving-kindness, and minimizing
unskillful, like envy; studying the teachings and commentaries;
attending Dharma talks and classes; cultivating penetrating insight
into the nature of reality; practicing generosity and renunciation;
taking refuges; following Precepts; ordaining as a monk or nun;
seeking the company of the wise and avoiding the company of the
foolish; paying homage; chanting or reciting; attending ceremonies and
observing special days of practice; and so on.

Now, in Buddhism these many elements are integrated into a working
whole, like the parts underneath the hood of your car. Let's take an
example and follow some of the interworkings: Buddhism values
selflessness as a skillful attribute. Selflessness is difficult to
learn and train in, and must be conveyed, supported and encouraged at
many levels. Buddhism gives us the philosophical teachings of no-self,
that the self that we tend to prize so dearly is a delusion and does
not exist in the way we conventionally think it does. Until this
difficult thesis is understood, however, faith in this premise is
necessary to keep one on track, while practitioners are encouraged to
experience no-self by seeing things directly as they are with the
support of a meditation practice, in particular, to observe the
reality being described philosophically in the rise and fall of
everyday phenomena. Also, through meditation practice one learns to
let go of unskillful emotional states, greed and aversion, that
according to the teachings are based in the concept of a self, thereby
undermining much of the functionality of the belief in that self. In
Asia almost from infancy, the practitioner will have learned the
practice of embodying selflessness through ritual, including through
bows and expressions of respect, then later through the practice of
generosity and through observance of the Precepts. Throughout, one's
faith in developing selflessness is nurtured through the powerful
example of monastics, who follow a set of vows for outward behavior
that almost completely precludes doing anything, owning anything or
being anything on behalf of a Self, and who depend in turn for its
support on lay Buddhists, who then have this opportunity for
practicing generosity, already mentioned above. Their respect for the
monastic sangha is encouraged through reciting the Refuges as the
articles of Buddhist faith. And so on.

In summary, the Buddhist path is supported by a complete package of
interrelating and cooperating factors, and has been so since the most
ancient times. These factors include teachings at the conceptual
level, empirical investigation and direct experience of causality both
in nature and in mind; meditative absorption and calm, clarity and
purification of mental factors; ethics and rules of conduct, faith and

So, lets consider the needs and habits of the guests of the Buddhist
Banquette, not as diners, but as Buddhist practitioners.

Simply uninformed. Buddhism is a rather elaborate and sophisticated
meal, the required understanding of the various courses is not
trivial. Unfortunately, most of who are regarded as teachers in the
West, the Land of the Fork, are not completely in the picture
themselves. Much of the Buddhist Path is virtually unknown in the
West, for example the Buddha's extensive teachings on community. Often
the simply uninformed will misinterpret certain elements in Buddhism
negatively because they are confused by their root religions, for
instance, seeing bowing to an altar as worshiping a graven image or
"faith" as "blind faith" not realizing that the Buddha always
encouraged investigation. The information most broadly missing in the
available teachings is often selectively the elements most challenging
to Western mainstream culture.

Happy with Bread and Butter. Those happy with bread and butter
recognize a common core that many religions, "the Great Religions,"
share in common, then conclude that the rest can be dispensed with.
While embracing our sameness they become intolerant of our
differences. They may be attracted to Buddhism for a kind of
simplicity, but eschew the exotic in Buddhism. They fail to recognize
that the differences among religions can be crucial to realizing their
commonalities. Let me give an example: Like Buddhism, much of
Christianity values and attempts to cultivate selflessness. But where
Buddhism refers to the doctrine of no-self, Christianity refers to
God; rather than eliminating a self, it introduces something greater
than the self. Commonality and difference. Removing the difference
weakens the commonality; you might still have selflessness as a common
value, but you lose the ability to cultivate it.

Already eaten. Those who have already eaten attend a Buddhist lecture
one weekend and a Sufi dancing seminar the next. They never miss the
opportunity to hear a famous spiritual master speak, of whatever
faith. They also have an appreciation for the value of many religions,
but unlike those who are happy with bread and butter, they
particularly value religious diversity, always seeking a novel
experience. Now, we have seen that Buddhism, like your washing
machine, includes many cooperating elements. Those who have already
eaten are like a centipede who is unable to coordinate its myriad
feet. The many practices they experience cannot work together; they do
not have a history of working together. And often the neglected
mundane practices are critical in the Buddhist path.

More analytical than daring. The analytical, or skeptical, actively
find rational bases for removing individual elements from Buddhism.
They are often attracted to Buddhism because it by and large appears
refreshingly rational, much of it is almost scientific. It also values
personal investigation and seeing things as they are, and fairly well
avoids metaphysical speculation. However, many elements are
unacceptable for them, either because they appear in spite of the
general trend to be irrational, or because they resemble elements of
Christianity that have not survived the European Enlightenment fully
intact. Sometimes the rejected elements include faith, devotion,
hierarchy, ceremony and ritual. I've started writing another essay
called "Buddhist with Beliefs" in which I will point out that many
areas of the secular life, including Science, have these exact same
elements, and that big difference between Buddhist on the one hand,
and Christianity and Science on the other, is that the Buddha
establishes a rational basis for these elements. Ethics or morality
has gotten bad press in the West and Near East. It does indeed seem
that those who talk most of Good and Evil turn out to be the latter.
Buddhism is ethical to the core, but its ethics have an entirely
different, and more rational, basis than that of the Abrahamic faiths.
Other factors are rejected as simply un-forklike, or at least a hard
sell in the West. My own feeling is that if Buddhism fails to
challenge the West, there is no point in bringing it to the Land of
the Fork.

"Religiosity," as much as it is necessary, often scares people; it is
the world of terrorists, hypocritical opportunists, pedophiles,
blindly faithful suckers, and people who knock on your door to tell
you stuff, won't go away and keep coming back. These are scary things.
"Religiosity" (with scare quotes) sometimes might also remind the more
analytical than daring too closely of the root religion they thought
they put behind them. They often advocate a "secular" approach to

Grabbing something to eat. The busy are particularly challenged fully
to embrace a Buddhist way of life. They can't build a new foundation
while so many rooms are already under construction. Instead they add
Buddhism as another room, another area of busy-ness, nothing

Trying everything. In Asia one finds the Whole Buddhist Fare
functioning both in the practice of the individual and in the life of
the Buddhist community, in both the Land of the Fingers (Theravada
lands)and in the Land of the Chopstick (Mahayana lands). For them,
it's so much easier; they are born into a Buddhist Society. In the
West many are inspired by what they have learned of Buddhism, of the
Wisdom of its teachings, of its Compassion, of its Serenity and
Peacefulness, and how they experience the presence of well-known
people like Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Steven Segal, and
other exemplars of Buddhism they might have encountered. However there
is little opportunity to see the Whole Buddhist Fare in the Land of
the Fork. People come with differing motivations, and expectations and
are for the most part timid in enjoying the Buddhist Banquette when
the opportunity arises. The person open to trying everything is very
rare. "A rare bird indeed," says Carol.

People bring a lot of different perspectives to the Buddhist
Banquette. But the upshot has been the slow development in the West of
a radically pruned down Buddhism when compared to what is found in
Asia or to what the Buddha taught. To a large extend, Buddhism has
become meditation. "That's what I mean by Spaghetti," exclaims Carol.
Almost all Western Buddhist centers focus on meditation and many offer
nothing else in the way of Buddhist practice or teaching.

Why meditation? Why should it be the single element with the widest
appeal in Western Buddhism? For "Simply Uninformed" meditation is
recognizable. Western yogas have meditated for years, the Buddha
almost always sits in meditation posture. For "Already Eaten"
meditation is the most reliable source of peak experiences. For "Bread
and Butter" meditation is a commonality with many religious traditions
at some level, or is at least similar to prayer and to many other
other contemplative practices. For "More Analytical Than Daring"
meditation has some solid science behind it, verifying certain
beneficial qualities, physical as well as psychological. Direct
benefits of other aspects of Buddhist are more difficult to quantify.
For "Grabbing Something To Eat" meditation fits well with the
structure of the Busy Life: It can be scheduled in a consistent way,
requiring little or no restructuring of the rest of one's life. It
generally requires a commitment of time, but "Grabbing's" life has
probably become busy in the first place through the repeated
willingness to add yet one more time commitment; it's how "Grabbing"
attained membership in a gym, for instance. For "Trying Everything"
meditation is perhaps less than what is desired. At the same time,
meditation in and of itself is a very sumptuous dish and can keep
one's fork active for a long time. But "Trying Everything" will
probably look for opportunities for something more complete.

Neglected are, for instance, the following:

The Buddha divided the program of learning and practice that he
advocated into three trainings: Virtue, Meditation and Wisdom, and two
of the three are critically neglected and the third is significantly.
Almost the whole area of Virtue (aka Ethics, Morality, Right Conduct)
is missing. (Some centers offer Buddhist Precepts but there seems to
be very little expectation that the relatively few people who take
them will actually follow some of the more challenging ones.) The
area of Wisdom is critically compromised. For the Buddha this
consisted of accepting a number of teachings provisionally, belonging
to Right View, as a foundation for focused investigation and insight,
in conjunction with meditation practice. But relatively few in Western
centers seem to know these provisional teachings, even those regarded
as Buddhist teachers. "What's left is marshmallow salad," explains
Carol. Although meditation is the most developed practice in the Land
of the Fork, my impression is that Right Effort is not practiced well,
the cultivation of skillfull mental states and the weeding out of the

The Refuges and other articles of faith and commitment are poorly
developed. Many Buddhist centers, perhaps most, do not offer the Three
Refuges, which are traditionally the initiation into the Buddhist
life. Elements of ritual and respect. Bowing and other traditional
rituals of respect have made some headway in traditional Zen Centers;
I'm not sure they have elsewhere. Many other centers have removed the
perceived "religiosity" of altars, chanting and bowing completely, for
instance, as in the Goenka-style Insight Meditation centers.

The practices of generosity and renunciation are not only rarely
understood, but seem rarely to be recognized as fundamental Buddhist
practices. Members of Buddhist centers generally have little
encouragement to simplify their lives. The centers are normally run
with at least a partially as part of the exchange economy with fees
for various programs and services, rather than on the model of giving
freely. Of course the community of renunciates, the Sangha, a
consistent and significant part of Asian Buddhism, is only beginning
to sprout in the West.

Since these various aspects function as a whole, even meditation
itself will always be inadequate without the other elements. Ajahn
Suwat from Thailand, leading a meditation retreat in the USA, once
commented, "I notice that when these people meditate they're awfully
grim." He soon attributed this to the lack of preparation of the
meditators in the other Buddhist teachings, in particular, in
Generosity and in Virtue, which in Asia would generally precede
training in meditation, and as Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggests, develop a
sense of spaciousness and happiness as an appropriate context for

In the discussion of the Second Annual Buddhist Banquette of the
Springdale Buddhist Center and Ping Pong Club, Skipper represented the
Middle Way and prevailed. They decided as a group to provide a variety
of dishes very similar to the Whole Buddhist Fare, from Embodiment to
Realization, of the previous year (and again not to serve beer or
anything other spirits --- "Shucks"). In addition, they decided also
to put effort into educating people beforehand about what they will
find at the banquette. They hope that if they are steadfast in
offering the same each year, maybe they will gradually become a
community of Non-Picky Eaters in the Land of the Fork.

"It's going to be a long haul," suggested Carol.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Postcard from Burma

Postcard from Burma
Electricity Update. Now that the Rainy Season is over we seem to have
electricity only about half of the time. It has generally been out in
the early morning, most of the afternoon, and on and off, but mostly
on during the evening. With a good battery in my computer, a
rechargible flashlight and candles I am not particularly
inconvenienced. There is no longer a need for the A/C. Often the
electricity goes out during my 4:00 English class. That's OK, except I
generally show a documentary DVD in English (they have a few here) one
day a week. Sometimes it gets postponed or we watch it a bit at a
time. I like to make tea with my little water heater; sometimes I have
to wait, or start it only to have the electricity go out.

Weather Update. It has been quite chilly in the morning. We are now
one month into the Cold Season, in which the prevailing winds come
down from Tibet. During the night temperatures plunge to below 60. All
the monks, including me, wear shawls to breakfast, wrapped around both
shoulders, and sometimes over the head as well. I like it, but many of
the monks seem to think it is a hardship, they look like they are
trudging in a blizzard through the snow. A different idea of what cold
is. It warms up during the day to a nice temperature. Since there is
no such thing as hot running water in Burma, except in international
hotels, I now take my shower in the afternoon.

Dog Update. Wigglet never became pregnant. Recall that she had been in
heat a couple of months ago. Wigglet's mom has become a regular
visitor to my apartment. She is very friendly, but very greedy (she is
the chubbiest dog anywhere around) and stubborn. One morning as I was
leaving to breakfast, it was still fairly dark out and the electricity
had gone out, she slipped unbeknownst into my apartment and I was
surprised to find her in an obscure corner when I returned maybe half
and hour later. She decided thereafter that she was my roommate, and
would practically force her way in every time I opened the door. I
would have to forcibly drag her out but then she would whine at the
door. One day in her distress she decided to chew my sandals, which
until that time I would leave outside the door. She has relaxed a bit
now but I still keep my sandals inside the door just in case. There
are three new puppies living with their mom around the side at the far
end of the Guest House. One of them has a lame leg and is scrawnier
than the others, so I've been giving it some pieces of meat after

Cintita Update. I will be moving down the the Sitagu Center in Yangon
at the end of December and remain there for my final two months in
Myanmar. Sitagu Sayadaw had asked me to stay until March so that he
could continue to teach the Mahasatipattanasutta. But he has been so
busy, he has not been in Sagaing very often. In December he will
travel to India, then to Hawaii, then to Minnesota and Austin. His
last excursion took him to Israel for an Interfaith conference, among
other places. So he has made arrangements for me to study with another
monk in Yangon. Maybe I can find someone in Yangon to make a trip to
India with during those two months; it will be easier to get there
from Yangon. I will pop back up to Sagaing for Sayadaw's birthday,
February 27. Moving to Yangon means I will have to halt my English
class earlier than anticipated