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Friday, 01 January 2016

Nirvana’s Horizon: Discovering the Soul of the Golden Land as a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar - Page 3

Written by Kevin Dimetres
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The opportunity was tantalizing.  Theravada Buddhism plays such a fascinatingly prominent role in everyday life in Myanmar; golden Buddhist pagodas are ubiquitous, while Buddhist monks walk the streets at sunrise for their daily alms.  There was something alluring about the Myanmar people- their unparalleled happiness and tranquility seemed to be a direct result of their Buddhist faith.  I was eager to learn more, and became ecstatic at the prospect of such a cultural exchange. 

Without a moment of hesitation, I excitedly said “Yes!” before he could finish his sentence. 

The basic concepts of Buddhism were somewhat familiar to me- I confess to being an avid listener of Alan Watts- however I knew very little about its practical application in everyday life. Beyond my love affair with Chinese martial arts movies and musical references from the Wu-Tang Clan, I had never seen Buddhism in action. Above all, I was fascinated by the lives of Buddhist monks. How does one become a monk, and what do their daily lives entail?  Would these seemingly spiritual savants, on their individual path to enlightenment, be willing to share an anecdote of wisdom with a foreigner such as myself?

I had no further plans beyond that moment.  The thrill of the unknown lay ahead.

The monastery was located in an enduring building situated in an unfamiliar neighborhood north of downtown Yangon. The five-story building was built in a “U” shape, with an open courtyard in the center and an attached building on the side which acted as the bhikkhu’s private quarters.  I arrived with a few English language activity books, a stack of notecards, spiral bound notebooks, and a few boxes of pencils which I had purchased at a market near the English school.  I created a playlist of my favorite music to share- I was guardedly hopeful that Buddhist monks might enjoy Bob Marley and Wu-Tang- as well as pictures of my family and friends back in the States. As always, I kept a box of playing cards and a tennis ball ready; games and activities are a phenomenal way to bond with people, especially when language barriers exist. In reality, I had no idea what to expect, and deep down, I kind of liked it that way.  I was ready to embrace anything that crossed my path.

Metaphorically speaking, you could hear the record come to a screeching halt when I entered the monastery.  The older monks enthusiastically chatted amongst themselves at the sight of my presence, while the novice monks were in a state of curious hysteria.  I gave everyone a wave as I shouted “Minglaba, nay kung la?” which, according to my Myanmar language app meant “Hello, how are you?”  

The monks waved back while they roared with lighthearted laughter at my clumsy attempt to speak the language, and I continued to wave while I tried to I soak it all in.  

Dahmapalla introduced me to a monk named Zaw; he was in his early twenties, spoke a little English, and would act as my unofficial guide for the day.  Zaw came from a small village in the countryside about four hours away, and had committed to life as a Buddhist monk at the tender age of nine.  He had a brother and two sisters whom he had last spoken with a year earlier during their visit to Yangon. He had seen other Americans before, but I was the first that he had the chance to meet personally, and he was equally as excited to be speaking with me as I was with him.  

(Page 3 of 7)
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2016

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