One of the places to which I took Ven. Lama Yeshe and his group was the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda - one of the wonders of the world. Kyaiktiyo means 'a pagoda shouldered on the head of a hermit,' and celebrated shrine is on the crest of the Paunglaung ridge. The diminutive Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is just 18ft high. It is built on a huge boulder which balances on a projecting tabular rock. The rock itself is separated from the mountain by a deep chasm which is spanned by an iron bridge. According to legend, at the time of the Buddha, hermits lived in the mountains and after obtaining sacred hairs from the Buddha enshrined them in the pagoda on their respective mountains. But the hermit from Kyaiktiyo, reluctant to part with his share of the sacred relic, treasured it in his hair-knot. Only after finding a boulder resembling his head did he enshrined his cherished share in a pagoda built on it. You can push the boulder and feel it move, but it never falls. The pagoda is situated some 200 miles south east of Yangon. On the way we stopped at a monastery where over 1000 monks study the Buddhist scriptures. Ven. Lama Yeshe was very pleased to see so many monks. We stayed overnight at the Pagoda which was crowded with visitors, including several Europeans.
We returned to Yangon for the opening ceremony of the new university that took place on 9th. December. This was a state occasion and took place in a vast man made cave built in 1954 for the 6th. Buddhist Council. Over 2500 monks took their specially arranged places and about 40 invited senior monks sat on a stage at the front. Ven. Lama Yeshe and his disciples were invited as special guests. Senior government ministers and diplomats also attended. The ceremony was held very much in the Myanmar tradition, which was of great interest to the foreigners attending. The new university has had applications from more than 200 foreign students applying for admission from 17 different countries, of these 54 have been accepted this year. I have been appointed Visiting Professor, and so from time to time I will be helping with teaching there. Of all the Buddhist countries Myanmar is the only one to have monasteries of over 1000 monks. In particular one monastery in Mandalay has 2600 monks. This, together with the innumerable temples and pagodas, makes Myanmar a worthy place of pilgrimage and many people from Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and Japan visit to make offerings.
Some of the Buddhist holy sites in other countries are perhaps valued mainly for the archaeological and cultural aspects, as well as being places of pilgrimage. But in Myanmar the veneration of the ordinary people, and their interest in meditation practice, is more tangible. Many people start their day by meditating, chanting and offering prayers and rituals in the temples. Groups of men and women learn chanting of the Dhamma and recite these chants on special days. The fabric of peoples lives is everywhere interwoven with their love of and respect for the teachings of the Buddha.
When you drive through the countryside you will see young boys and girls collecting donations to give to the temples and monasteries - not for their own personal benefit. It is popular that young children, boys and girls, ordain as novice monks and nuns during their school holidays and stay in viharas and meditation centres, learning about Buddhist principles and ethical values and meditation practice. In some areas schools organise mass ordinations of hundreds of young children. There are many organisations and groups that conduct Buddhist classes for the younger generation. Examinations are held and those who do well are given prizes and certificates.
People from outside Myanmar have often said to me that the regard Myanmar as one of the very poorest countries. But when I meet Westerners who have actually visited Myanmar I hear a different story. They say they found a lot of happiness among the people there and everywhere people offer much of their earnings to the temples and monasteries with great joy. Yes materially they are poor by modern western standards, but they are content and happy and they have great spiritual riches. Many senior Mahayana monks who visit Myanmar from Taiwan and Korea and even Tibet have told me how moved they are by what they see. Even though Myanmar is of the Theravada tradition still these monks can see so much that is worthwhile that has been preserved.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be happy.