The Art of Living in Burma
The Art of Living in Burma Yangon Reviews
Aug 10, 2007
I sat next to a travel agent on the flight from Thailand to Burma who said that I had got the best rate for On Arrival Visa and that he had never heard of a cheaper rate and wanted my information. Entry into Burma was simple, standing on the other side of the customs check in was my travel agent with my On Arrival visa documents, they ushered me past customs, I gave Shan my passport, he took my passport into an adjoining room, got it stamped and I beat every local person through customs. I didn't even have to show my face to the customs officers.( firstname.lastname@example.org Mie Mie is the person at the travel agent I dealt with and they charge $55US).
Driving in Burma is on the right hand side of the road, but the quirky thing is that the driver is also on the right hand side of the road….weird!!
Free maps of Myanmar can be found here www.dpsmap.com or email email@example.com
The government outlawed motorbikes in Yangon because they considered them too dangerous.
I arrived in Yangon during the wet season, but I felt it wouldnt matter as the UAE experiences bugger all rain and it would be a welcome change….also its summer so warm to warmer temperature are experienced. I went straight to Dhamma Joti the vipassana centre at 11pm, they opened the gate and gave me a room and made my bed. I fell asleep listening to the heavy rain, I woke up several times and listened to the heavy rain, I started dreaming that the whole centre was under water, apart from my bed.
Morning was overcast and clear with thunder storms in the distant. I joined another foreigner for breakfast, Sarah from Ireland and we spoke briefly before I took off to explore Yangon. Registration was at 5pm, so I had the day to run around and get a little lost and get conned by the locals. First conners were 2 seven year old girls, who tried to change some US$ for me into the local currency Khat (pronounced 'Chat'), they gave me a plastic bag, which I needed to put my shoes into since I was going into the amazing Shwe Dagon Pagoda. They tried to give me 500 Khat back for $1US, I knew it was worth around 1200 Khat and kept asking for more money, some other kids joined in and were trying to convince me that it was fair, they eventually gave me another 100 Khat, then another 200 Khat and finally I handed over the $1US when they reached 1000 Khat, the kids were very cute and funny.
Entrance into the Shwe Dagon was $5US, but free if you have a letter from the meditation centre as being a meditator, which actually allows free entry to whichever pagoda you visit in Burma, even in Bagan which is a huge archeological site, just visiting Bagan and staying the night incurs the entrance fee. At the top of the Shwe Dagon pagoda it is encrusted with jewels, the crown jewel is a 76 carat diamond the size of your fist. And at night time you can see all the colours of the rainbow gleaming shimmering from it (thanks to a spot light), there is a special spot to see this and not everyone knows about it.
My main reason for visiting Burma was to do a 10 day meditation course called Vipassana. I was interested in finding the stillness underneath the mental noise. At the Vipassana centre I found so much more.
Out of all the places in the world (taught in many countries around the world) I chose Burma for its rich Buddhist culture, known for its peaceful, friendly & happy people. Not really knowing what I would find and not expecting anything either. I found approx 150 people attending this meditation course, learning to live a better life, one with less misery and suffering, one with more harmony, happiness, love & compassion. It was a wonderful feeling to see so many people learning and practicing this ancient secret. Ancient as its been around for approx 2500 years, discovered by Siddhattha Gotama (Buddha – the Enlighten One) and kept alive by the Buddhist monks in Burma since then. Gotama taught it to his disciples and they were sent around India and to many other neighbouring countries to teach it. I found out that Burma was the only country that kept practicing and teaching this technique in its purity for over 2500 yrs.
The meditation technique is very simple, but at the same time it's a challenge. It's not easy to change 37 yrs of thinking. But the 10 days helps to provide the first step, by shutting out all your normal routines, all the normal distractions, allowing you to give this a good damn go….if you can hack it!
It's another world, although the same world, where locked inside our mind is a doorway which none of us have looked deep enough to find this door, beyond this door is an un-exhaustible amount of love, compassion & happiness.
The courses are free! Free lodging & free food & water. All that's required is signing an agreement to stay for the entire 10 days. All they ask is if you gained or enjoyed the course that you make a donation to help support the next person that attends. It contains no commercialism to it at all. Their doors are open to anyone that is ready to learn what they have to teach. And it is all so simple. It only requires discipline as the unrueful mind behaves like a spoilt child. Think of it this way, we are all shown how to exercise the body, either through sport, hobbies or for better health and fitness. This is the teaching of exercising the mind. It must have great benefits attached, as does exercising the body.
I heard of one girl who attempted the vipassana and ran out after day 9 screaming everyone is nuts your all being brainwashed. In the same way a hypnotist is used to quit smoking working on your unconscious mind, so does Vipassana, using the technique that works on reaching the goal of nirvana. It shows you how and helps you practice it. For me the 10 days only showed me the door. So yes, sitting meditating 11 hrs per day could be seen as brainwashing, but when all it is teaching is greater love and compassion for all, and then what harm is it doing? This practice is not religious at all and has no bad intentions embedded in anything they say.
These are the things I came up with that it can do for me and anyone else that would like to give up 10 days of their life time to explore….
- Quiet the endless chatter of your mind
- Allow the intuitive mind to step through the foreground noise
- Learn something new and inspiring
- Challenge yourself out of your normal comfort zone
- Lose weight, as its only vegetarian food & 2 meals a day
- Experience more love & joy
- Meeting new people & making new friends
- Show you the door to enlightenment
- Liberation from all misery
- Learn to slow down and pay attention….stop and smell those flowers, stop and chat with that neighbour, the power of the present moment.
- Learn the real truth about the mind
- Experience it yourself, it's the only way to learn & make up your own mind.
Here is a quick run down on who was attending the course, 5 foreigners, 1 Kiwi, 1 Japanese guy, 1 Irish girl, 1 American girl and another girl who had taken a vow of silence for being a nun. The rest was made up like this, 64 males and 86 females, ranging from 14 yrs to 80 yrs old, from first timers to one Burmese gentleman I spoke with that was doing his 14 th course. These are all normal people with the same problems as anyone around the world, battles with health, stresses at work or family, financial worries & government oppression.
This is how it went for me…..
Day 1 – felt like day 3 (funny how the mind plays tricks) and I wanted to run
Day 2 – felt like day 5 and I wanted to run
Day 3 & 4 – settled and accepted it.
Day 5 – felt a rush of elation….I had IT!!
Day 6 – Realised I didn't have IT, wanted to run.
Day 7 – In balance again
Day 8 – Concentration fading…bored
Day 9 – Made big progress….happy :)
Day 10 – End of noble silence.
My biggest challenge was because I have patella formoral syndrome, everyday it felt like my knees where going to explode. Uppekkha – Equanimity….yeah right!! I didn't die in the end; my mind fought and resisted this new idea, as it normally does. But I honestly feel it was worth it for me. I had to apply the saying no pain no gain to help me along.
On the last day we are allowed to talk, and I couldn't wait……I got flooded by people wanting to know who I was and where I came from as we had walked past each other everyday during breakfast and lunch, only catching a little eye contact, there are no sorrys or excuse me as you bump into someone, as its not necessary...no harm done. The atmosphere is one of peace, softness, calm, tranquility.
After the last meditation this lady who sat opposite me, who we often caught eye contact while we were stretching our legs out from sitting in the meditation pose, walked over and took the scarf from around her neck and wrapped it around me, it was a gift from her to me. Why? It was just a gesture of a gift for a guest. Just one of the many times I was touched by the peoples random acts of kindness. Her grand-daughter was also doing the course, so she explained to me that it was also her grandmothers 1 st time and she was 80 yrs old and for 80 she looked fantastic and she was super friendly.
Once the course was over I met Sara and invited her to come along to Bagan. Sarah was very interested in going as she had made the trip to Bagan 4 yrs ago, and had felt something from this magical place.
Kopwint my other new friend from the course adopted his new vipassana buddies and decided to help us organize our bus & flight to & from Bagan. Kopwint is fantastic, he is a tourist guide, with all the best knowledge of the cost of taxis & the black market exchange rate so we could change some US currency getting the best rate. Kopwints knowledge extends throughout Burma, recommendations for hotels or guest houses, places to visit, people to visit, with stories of historical value and just the ins and outs of the daily life of Burmese people. If your planning on visiting Burma, send Kopwint (his nickname) an email to make all the enquiries you need. Very trustworthy person and highly recommended… firstname.lastname@example.org
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