Buddhist meditation in Myanmar

In this busy and struggling human life, our mind and body is full of negative states of mind, such as uncontrolled desire, anger, worry and greed. And sometimes we can’t think of what is the real meaning of life, being alive. We create endless problems for ourselves and others. It doesn’t mean that we are putting ourselves and others in trouble. Even if you love someone heartedly, it’s a hot flame which burns your inner peace. It’s a form of worry. Then where is the source of true happiness? It’s actually in our mind and in our body. But we are not conscious about it.

An ordinary person may consider it as a prayer or worship. It is awareness. Meditation makes us discover our inner peace and lightness of mind. Meditation can be applied practically to solve our daily problems and experience deeper peace and happiness. It has not necessarily to do with religion (especially Buddhism). Meditators can be from any religion actually. All you have to do is to read your mind and to know what is going on in your body. It’s a healthy way to manage stress by reducing anxiety and physical illness.

Samahta Vipassana is a unique method of meditation introduced by Buddha over 2500 years ago, which we are widely practicing in Myanmar. Many places such as meditation centers or monasteries offer meditation camps or classes around the year in Myanmar. Some meditation centers run meditation courses every month, with Dhamma talks given by Sayadaw (venerable monk) or without them. They are usually free of charge. It’s one of the best features of Myanmar. Yet you may donate money for the upkeep of center or monastery. Most Buddhists go to monasteries rather than to meditation centers for meditation and/or for keeping Sabbath. Personally, I prefer monastery than meditation centers, since Yangon meditations centers are a little bit noisier than monasteries. But it depends on the surrounding, not all centers are noisy. In monastery, the venerable Sayadaw usually gives Dhamma talks to yogis (people meditating) twice a day. Except those times, yogis have to practice meditation 5 times a day with 45-minutes-meditation at a time. Duration of meditation times vary from center to center or from one monastery to another.

Last year during Thingyan, I went to a 10-days-meditation camp that is held in a monastery in Insein. The monastery is quiet and peaceful with trees in a big compound. A newly built 3-stories-building is provided for yogis to stay within the period. The building is quite big. Top floor is set for monks (temporary monks only during Thingyan) and yogis (male) to stay and a big hall (shrine) where meditation courses and Dhamma speech are given. Yogis (female) stay in second floor. And the first (ground) floor is set as lunchroom and a big kitchen.

For the young and the old, a meditation camp in monasteries is a great place to enjoy during Thingyan. We wash away the dirt of the past year with the Buddha speech, Dhamma, rather than with water. I spent up to 10 days in the silent meditation practice of Vipassana. When I was there as a yogi, I observed ladies and men of my age who helped with chores and cooked together with old nice ladies and men. It’s also a great good deed for these 100 yogis to help in the monastery. Some come and help in the morning and go back home to play with water. Some come in the evening to do chores. They volunteer in different parts. Volunteer doctors also provide medical care to yogis during the period. It’s a very lovely custom of Burma that people love volunteering with donation and religious affairs whatever they are rich or poor.

Even some yogis are younger than them they pay respect to us. Everyone in the monastery compound looks peaceful, without anger or greed. That is because we all are in peace, following Buddha’s speech. Our mind is in control. We guard our senses, which make us always stressed and worried. Guarding senses does not mean closing our eyes, or plugging our ears, or shutting our mouth, or plugging our nose. It means when any sensory stimuli enters the mind through the eye, we look at the mind: What happen to the mind? What kind of mental state arises in the mind? If greed arises in the mind, you have to take care of that. That’s the way we basically practice meditation.

Whatever you do with awareness is meditation, so that meditation doesn’t need to be always sitting and concentrating. It can happen at all times as long as you take care of your mind, as long as you try to control and not to follow it. Here controlling mind means you are aware of what you are thinking about. If you are angry or have a feeling towards someone, you try to know it at once and you control it. If you are worried about something, you try to figure out your thoughts and keep it quiet and calm. In this way, we practice to control our scattered thoughts. That’s what we call meditation.

We, yogis have to be ready at 4:30 to pay homage to Buddha following the lead of Venerable Sayadaw in the shrine room. After paying homage to Buddha, we all meditate for one period. Then we line up and go downstairs to have breakfast. We bless those who donate our breakfast before we eat it. We eat food quietly as we control our thoughts and mind. We have to bear in mind that we are eating not because it’s tasty but because body needs it. It is said that it is bad if we eat because we like it very much, since it is already a form of greed that occurs unconsciously in our mind. As it was my first time in a meditation camp, I find it very difficult to control my mind. The more I try to know what I think, the less I can control it. Sometimes, meditation is a struggle to control the mind while it seems effortless at other times.

During the first three days, instructions about mindfulness (awareness) of breath are given with the aim of quieting and concentrating the mind. It varies from one center to another. You need to make sure which class you should choose before you join meditation classes. In this monastery, the Venerable Sayadaw consulted every yogi about his or her meditation process on the fifth day of camp. There you can talk what you experienced and how you found it. Sayadaw told me that it’s not always easy to do this if you don’t have practice, although meditation is sitting in a comfortable position and just trying to quiet your mind by thinking about nothing.

Although I could not have it done successfully, my mind was peacefully quiet. At least you are away from three states of mind which are greed, worry and anger during the time you are in camp. The time you don’t have those states of mind is irreplaceable. I realized (still realize but can’t control my mind yet) how human life is poor when it is full of those thoughts. Being a human, it is hard to neglect pros and cons of daily life. We face problems, we worry about them and we have to solve them as long as we can’t leave human society. We love, we hate, we enjoy and we cry as long as we can’t accept the impermanence of body.

Anyway, you feel much more peaceful by the time you are meditating in a monastery or a meditation center, even if it’s a 10-day-period or just one day. I wish I could do so throughout my life, but I am not that consistent or determined. I am still greedy, I know. I want to improve my life, want to work and enjoy human life. It is not the true happiness of human life actually. However, we can still take time to meditate at home (if it’s quiet enough) and apply the benefits of meditation, which are improved concentration, lower disturbance by little things, better health and a better knowledge of yourself.

There’s no point to lose anything as you meditate. As your concentration gets stronger, your creativity and productivity get stronger. The less you are disturbed by little things, the bigger you can see. As it can reduce your stress and anxiety, you get healthier. The last, but not the least, you can gain a better understanding of yourself through meditation.

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