From 2001 – 2004 I spent three years living in Myanmar (Burma) as an ordained Buddhist monk in the Burmese Theravada tradition. I was ordained under Sayadaw U Janakabhivamsa, well known to his followers as Chanmyay Sayadaw. Sayadaw is one of the senior disciples of the late Mahasi Sayadaw, one of Burma’s most famous meditation teachers, who helped revive the ancient Vipassana (Insight) meditation technique. He was one of those who accompanied the late Mahasi Sayadaw to the US and UK in the late 70s, where they helped establish the Western Theravada Sangha and was also influential on the lives of prominent Western Buddhist teachers like Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzburg.
I was based at the Chanmyay Yeiktha Monastery and Meditation Center in Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, Yangon (Rangoon.) When I first arrived in July of 2001, just in time for Vassa, I had to get used to the intense humidity and the monsoon rains that every afternoon soaked everything and lead to many instances of flash flooding. It normally lasted about 1-2 hours and then everything would be quiet again.
I thought at first that I will be given time to rest and sight-see, but as an ordained monk I had to immediately start the 3-month long monsoon retreat (Vassa), a tradition dating back to the time of the historical Buddha, when he advised the monks to stay in one monastery and not go traipsing around the country, ruining the farmer’s lands and crops.
On this page I shall post some pictures and reflections on what was learnt while there and how that experience influenced my life up to now.
This picture was taken at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, where I spent a year studying for a Diploma in Buddhist Philosophy (Dip. B.Dh).
It shows Sayadaw U Silananda, another of Mahasi Sayadaw’s senior disciples and rector of ITBMU, and other senior monks in an ordination ceremony for a Japanese and Romanian student, both from my class, who took temporary ordination vows as dullabha monks.
This picture shows me on the far right of the group of monks, looking at the camera and frowning. They were some of my classmates from Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh (in order from left to right) and we used to be taken out every Saturday morning to go and see a different meditation center or pagoda or significant Buddhist landmark in and around Yangon (Rangoon).
Culturally, it has been one of the richest experiences of my life thus far, although it has not always been easy to understand one another. Normally, to be allowed as a student to the ITBMU, one has to write an admission test, and English language skills is a pre-requisite, so at least we had a lingua franca, albeit a very limited one in some instances…