Happier times. A girl takes the rubbish out from a shop in downtown Yangon, Taken on my trip in 2016
I have travelled to many places but few countries have captured my heart the way that Myanmar did. I became interested in Myanmar and its rich history after sitting my first course in the S N Goenka tradition at Dhamma Dipa Vipassana Centre in Herefordshire. Inspired by the stories Goenka told about this sacred country that had preserved the technique of Vipassana (the meditation technique that the Buddha taught) over the course of 2500 years I felt a strong calling to visit and pay my respects to the succession of teachers and pupils who made it possible for me to receive these teachings. Teachings which, without exaggeration, have changed my life.
A 10-day meditation course at Dhamma Joti, the Vipassana centre in Yangon, marked the start of my three-week visit, my third course in this tradition. It was an unusual (but somehow fitting) introduction to the country to experience my environment without much visual stimulus and in the context of deep, silent meditation. It allowed me to ‘feel into’ the place with an intuitive awareness, aided by my meditation practice which heightened my sensitivity to my surroundings. Rather than meeting this beautiful new country with my eyes, I heard, tasted and felt it first, adjusting to the rhythms of the land through the sound of exotic birdsong in the lush green trees above, overhearing the daily routines of nearby monasteries and the loud bustle (and roadworks!) of downtown Yangon.
Exploring the Shan Hills (and its residents) after my Vipassana course
When the course began I remember entering the Dhamma Hall for the first time; a room I would spend many hours sitting (and sweating) in and noticing that most of the Burmese meditators sat on a thin floor cushion and nothing else. No actual meditation cushions to sit on, just a thin layer to protect their limbs from the cold hard floor. Wow! I thought. Anyone who has meditated for an extended period of time will know how necessary cushions (or multiple cushions) are to your practice if you don’t want to subject your body/mind to unnecessary levels of torture and yet here these Burmese people were, ready for 10 intensive days of meditation with nothing more than a thin mattress for physical support! This really is a nation of committed meditators, I thought!
The course itself was challenging (which will come as no surprise to anyone who has sat a Vipassana course!) but I drew so much strength from being at this particular centre - one of the oldest - and feeling the strong Dhammic vibrations associated with . And hearing the chants from nearby monasteries bolstered my resolve that I was in the right place, doing the right work.
After my course I had just 10 days left to explore which I knew was a very short amount of time but I was happy that I would be able to get a taste of this country I had heard so much about. As well as visiting sacred sites such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and the ancient temples of Bagan, I also encountered some wonderful people during my time in the country. Some friends I met on the meditation course took me and some other meditators out for the day to a local market and treated us all to lunch too – my first experience of unrivalled Burmese generosity. And in a beautifully unexpected series of events I met a man called Moe in a park in Yangon who ended up taking me on a local bus to meet a monk at a monastery an hour’s drive out of town. As we all sat drinking tea in this monk’s small but humble residence, Moe translated the few words that this monk imparted to me :- ‘You should shave your head and become a nun!’ I wasn’t quite ready for that but I felt strangely delighted that he had such faith in me!!
An impromptu meeting with a monk in his monastery residence on the outskirts of Yangon
The sense of warmth and familiarity that I felt towards Myanmar and the Burmese people was like nothing I had experienced before. What inspired me most was just how much the people live and breathe Dhamma. Buddhist ethics - characterised by peaceful conduct, generosity and a strong sense of morality - are woven into the fabric of everyday life and although not everyone is a practicing meditator or devout Buddhist, these Dhammic principles are integral to the Burmese culture. The respect for the Sangha (the order of monks and nuns) that the Burmese show is truly inspiring as is the peaceful atmosphere that this wholesome way of life inspires.
And this is what makes the current events that much more devastating and heart-breaking to learn about. The brutal and senseless violence that the military are inflicting on this peace-loving nation is not only beyond comprehension but provides a heady contrast to the Buddhist ideals that the Burmese live by. Their kind hearts are being quashed by a cruel and callous military regime and they are being left to fend for themselves, with no outside support from the international community.
Please join us as we stand in solidarity with the Burmese people and consider buying one of our products before 28th October when 20% of your purchase will go directly to a grassroots charity providing support on the ground in Myanmar. Alternatively you can make a direct donation to the charity here.