The mission of the Burma trip was to deliver the dana raised from the Mettathon to several orphanages in Bagan and Pyin Oo Lwin, and for Burgs to reconnect with his teacher Pa Auk Sayadaw, and his life-long friend on the path, Sayalay Dipankra.
Our first visit was to Swedagon, a hive of devotional energy, chanting and prayers with hundreds of Burmese sitting in quiet reverence or lighting lamps and incense to the four Buddhas of the four ages. We rang bells for the sangha, made offerings and sat underneath a mighty bodhi tree.
After we circled the temple several times a man with a beaming face ran up to Burgs saying ‘You…! Very concentration face!… I’m very proud of you!’
In the most unlikely nook of Yangon, down a dusty dirt track, behind a pagoda we found the temple of Burgs’ old alchemy teacher. We step out of the frenzied noise of the street and step into another world. A handful of people sit quietly, drinking tea and talking in hushed voices. Each one nods to us in friendly welcome. Others sweep the stairs or prepare fruit for offerings. Slowly we become absorbed into the gentle sense of bliss that pervades this hidden place. This is the first time Burgs has been back since the passing of his teacher a few years ago. We payed our respects and the healing energy of his teacher was palpably present. We find an old photograph of Burgs, a keen and youthful apprentice kneeling before his teacher, pinned to the wall! Later we are taken to a secret market full of alchemical pots and crucibles, old men with weighing scales and racks of mysterious ingredients.
From Yangon we travel to Bagan. Over the course of the trip I learn of the epic arrival of the Dhamma to Burma and its flourishing that led to the building of over 3,000 temples in Bagan.
The ancient heritage of Burgs’ teaching in this country slowly becomes apparent. The depth of his connection to this most venerable lineage seems to awaken within him. Over the days I observe him in a process of deep reflection on his teaching of the Dhamma.
I feel so immensely grateful that our Sangha has a teacher who’s history is so utterly woven into this land and home to the Dhamma. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.
The multitude of these ancient pagodas, scattered across the plain, pay homage to the religious spirit and culture of merit-making that encompassed the land.
These splendid temples of red-brick, gold or white, remain as heavenly conduits for those who follow.
By this abundant merit I desire
Here nor hereafter no angelic pomp
Of Brayamas, Suras, Maras; nor the state
And splendours of a monarch; nay, not even
To be the pupil of the Conqueror.
But I would build a causeway sheer athwart
The river of samsara, and all folk
Would speed across thereby until they reach The Blessed City.So prays Alaungsithu at the dedication of the Shwegugyi Pagoda. (The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Myanmar, 1923)
Mandalay and the North
To stand within the compound of the Kuthodaw Pagoda was an awe inspiring experience. Known as the “the largest book in the world”, it is quite possibily the most extraordinary combination of devotion, craftmanship and scholaticism on the Earth.
The entire Pali canon, which in book form would fill over 10,000 pages, has been hand engraved in stone, each tablet preserved within its own stupa. Drifting among the avenues of tablets and stupas, you feel as though you are literally floating in an ocean of Dharma.
The Giving of Dana
The Blind Orphanage
Here, Burgs offers to the blind Sayadaw of the orphanage and receives a blessing. Below, a donation presented 10 years ago!
Our guide at the blind orphanage showing the photos of those who have succeeded in gaining diplomas. He explains that many of the children are blind from birth, accidents or reactions to medication. He introduced us to his son who, despite having two blind parents, has sight and helps him around the house.
The end of lesson’s bell is rung and the school erupts with children, marching around, linking arms in threes, dancing to music and wrestling.
Here, two of the teachers, also blind, play a quick game of chess in their break from lessons. The atmosphere is one of total mutual support and care for one another. What an inspiration it was to see these group of people getting on so joyfully with their lives.
The Boys Orphanage
Next we visited the largest orphanage that Burgs supports home to over 300 kids. The exuberant Sayadaw emerged beaming ‘Ah… Ing-land! Ing-land!” and proceeded to offer us tea and cheroots. He then summoned the boys to offer prayers for the Art of Meditation saying ‘If you don’t come quick, no donation!’. Below is a photo of Burgs and the same Sayadaw, on a previous trip 10 years ago.
Burgs visits Sayadaw
When I met up with Burgs again after his long awaited reunion with his beloved teacher, he was clearly moved. Burgs was most fortunate to have been tutored personally by Sayadaw in the days before his reputation spread internationally. During his time at the old monastery Sayadaw insisted that Burgs visit him twice a day. In the evenings Burgs would massage his teacher while they discussed his practice. Sayadaw is now 84 and somewhat frail and out of respect Burgs did not request to take a photo, but he did have a moment to briefly massage his legs one final time.
They engaged in an animated discussion about the intricacies of teaching the Path to lay students and how to respond to some of the challenges we are facing more broadly as humanity. At the end of the meeting Sayadaw beamed his smile and requested of Burgs; “Please come back and stay…stay for a long time” .
Burgs meets Sayalay Dipankara
While on our dana round in May Myo we stayed with Burgs’ old friend Sayalay Dipankara. Wishing not to be an inconvenience we had our lunch before we turned up, only to arrive to great hustle and bustle as Saylay’s assistants ushered us insistently into the dining area. ‘Come come, you must eat. Sayalay has been cooking for you all morning.”
As we walked in Sayalay emerged from the kitchen with an enormous smile. “Ah my brother. Welcome, welcome. Such a long time you didn’t come…” Laid out on the main table was a feast truly fit for a king. We sat down to eat our second lunch while these two old and clearly very dear friends began the process of catching up after an absence of many years.
As a female member of the Sangha I felt overwhelmed to have been in the presence of Sayalay Dipankra. It had been a dream to be able to meet her and pay respect. I was also able to talk to one of the nuns at her centre, a bright and animated soul, who was tending to the vegetable patch. It was incredible to be with, if only briefly, these utterly pure beings who are delighting in their lives of virtue, simplicity and service.
The Spirit of Burma
I feel so deeply grateful to have come in contact with this land, the home and heart of the Dhamma and to be surrounded by the unique spirit of the Burmese people. Just knowing that somewhere in the world, the Dhamma is alive and safe brought me a profound sense of peace. Whether it be outside the most splendid golden temples or on the dusty roadside, you will see people living in accordance with the Dhamma, living out their simple lives with a sense of reverence and delight. It is a land where every aspect of life is held sacred; we would see shrines erected at the foot of a towering and majestic tree, homage to an unforgotten ancient giver of life. Of all the people we met, not one carried a feeling of being burdened. Each character left behind a mark of their generosity and brightness of spirit. Thank you to all of those who helped us on this trip and for those who attended and supported the Mettathon. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.