Myanmar without Buddhism? Never ever! Buddhism without monks? Just does not work! Buddhist monks without meditation? Impossible! Therefore: If you want to integrate into Myanmar and ist culture, you just have to study about their religion and, of course, meditation.
Since we are planning to return in August or September to „our“ Buddhist monastic education school in Sagaing Hill to continue teaching, and because we have always wanted to learn more about Buddhism and meditation, we decided to go for 10 days at a Buddhist monastery.
Ponchi, the director of Aung Myae Oo, chose for us apparently the most famous meditation center in Myanmar and personally took us there. On the way to the monastery, we were privileged to visit several pagodas and other known religious sites. A rumor says that there are more Buddha statues and pagodas in Myanmar than residents. And after this trip, we can confirm: in this rumor, there is definitely some truth!
The welcoming to the monastery was everything but friendly: As soon as Silvan and I arrived, we were literally separated and sent to different monasteries. They collected our passports and sent us straight to bed. Briefly we were informed about the daily schedule: Waking time 3:30 am, 4:00 a.m first meditation, breakfast 5:30 a.m, meditation, lunch at 10.30, meditation, meditation, meditation… and go to bed early. But without dinner – monks are strictly not allowed to eat anything after noon!The cell was exactly like you would imagine a monestary cell: a simple wooden bed (no mattress!) and a small cupboard to one side.
We quickly got used to our new lifes. Every other day we had the opportunity to see us for about an hour and have a chat on our experiences. The Convent of Buddhist nuns (located near the town) is located just over 2 km away from the male Buddhist monastery, which is quite hidden in the woods, away from everything. (Surely they did this intentionally for preventing men going out at night for having a beer!) Knowing that we were only here for 10 days, we have been able to keep almost all the strict rules. There were some very strict rules: Theoretically we were not allowed to use any cell phones or talking to other people (there were even nuns who had a sticker on their chest where was written: „Please do not talk to me“). Even jewelry, books (apart from Buddhist literature) or music were prohibited items. And for monks there is apparently the rule: ONLY urinate while sitting, NOT standing. As we said, we (or Silvan) respected almost all the rules.
More than just „relax“
Most Western people think that meditation is mainly a relaxation technique. This is completely not through, thoug, according to what we have learned in these 10 days. It is much more than that. If you want to properly learn about meditation, 10 days are not enough at all. Let’s describe it with a comparhison: If the actual „distance of meditation“ was 1 kilometer long, then we „walked“ only 1 Centimeter during our 10 days stay at the monastery. Got it?
Cobra next door
Many of the monks living in the monastery live in small wooden huts (called „Kuti“), which are isolated in the woods. There they meditate several hours a day without being disturbed. Had it not been for Silvan who spent his evenings exploring around the monastery and discovering even the most distant Kuti. Silvan always explored armed with a wooden stick to fend off snakes that occasionally crossed his path. A special meeting was in a small cave, far away from the monestary, at the foot of a slope. For seven years, this cave was inhabited by a monk in ordert o meditate. Silvan asked the monk if he had no fear of poisonous snakes. He gently smiled – just as soft as a Buddhist monk can. Then he pointed to a small cave, about ten feet from his cave, and said calmly: „For several years, there has been living large cobra. We have been best neighbours so far.“ „But the snake can be very dangerous!“, Silvan responded quickly. „The Cobra does not bother me – because I am a monk! „was his reply, again accompanied by the soft smile. What can I say to this point? But apparently he has is right, as you can read ruther below…
No typical monk
In another walk Silvan met by chance Mokkhita: At first glance he did not seem tob e a Buddhist monk with his blue eyes, bare chest and large tattoo on his arm. But, indeed, he was. He is a German naturopathic doctor of 33 years, which has lived and meditated here for several years. This encounter was a real benefit for Silvan: he was the only monk who could clarify a number of controversial questions about Buddhism and meditation (the other monks did not want to talk about it because it distracts them too much from meditation). He even allowed Silvan to accompany him to his place of meditation, far from the monastery on a hill with a fantastic view. The exposed place with its breathtaking beauty remembers on the „King Rock“ oft he Disney film „The Lion King“. If Mokkhita is not healing other monks or goes on „food tour“ (as it is common for Buddhist monks), he lives, meditates and sleeps on this hill. One meal a day is enough for him. He walks the road through the forest to go to his place barefoot. „Are you not afraid of snakes?“ Silvan asked. „Snakes do not make me anything – I am a monk!“, was his response. Silvan reflects: „Have I not heard that before …?
One thing was certain after these 10 days in the monastery: we will definitely never become monks. But the experience was indeed very valuable, and the fact of not having any comfort for 10 days and focussing only on meditation and teachings of Buddha, was very enriching. And now we understand better „our“ young novices in Aung Oo Myae: It is particularly difficult for young men and women getting up early every day, eat the last meal before 12am and still concentrate in school.
For our next stay in Myanmar we are best prepared with more knowledge about the life of a Buddhist monk and Buddhism in general!