Postcard from Burma

Postcard from Burma

Kathina Day.
Last week was Kathina Day, a time when lay people make donations of
robes to monks. Not that they don't at other occasions throughout the
year. Kathina Day is always scheduled after the Rains Retreat (Vassa)
has ended. The original tradition, as described in the Vinaya,
involved a lot more work for the monks. In the old days donations were
often in the form of robe cloth rather than finished robes. Monks
would accrue pieces of cloth until they had enough to sew a robe. On
Kathina Day all of the monks at a monastery would, as a joint project,
sew a single robe from scratch and donate it to the monk who was
considered most worthy or most needy. Here is the catch: the robe
would have to be sewn by the following morning , by hand of course.
Everyone would pitch in regardless of seniority, and stay up all night
sewing. Nowhere in the scriptures does it explain why the Buddha would
institute such a silly practice, but the reason would seem to
encourage solidarity among those who shared the Rains together. Isn't
that cool? With time and modern industry, robes have lost the value
they had at the Buddha's time. Certain forest monks keep the old
tradition alive, but by and large Kathina Day has become a kind of a
festival at which purchased, manufactured robes are simply donated,
along with toothpaste. Today's Kathina involved also a Dhamma talk by
Sitagu Sayadaw and a very good lunch, prepared by a lot of lay people,
both for the monks and for themselves, monks eating first, before
noon. Then this evening the monks met together for a brief ceremony.
English Classes.
Petra, the German woman who was living here for a couple of months has
left for a new job in northern Myanmar, teaching meditation to
tourists at a hotel. She had started an English conversation class
while she was here, alongside my English pronunciation class which was
largely preempted by Sayadaw's lectures. I am continuing her class
daily 4:00 – 5:30 pm, except for Uposatha Days and the days before
Uposatha Days. Uposatha Days are full, new or quarter moon days when
many laypeople visit monasteries and monks recite Precepts. The
afternoon before an Uposatha Day is temple cleaning for the monks.
Cold Season.
November 1 was full moon, therefore an Uposatha Day. I believe this
also marked the beginning of the Cold Season. The Cold Season lasts
four months, as does the Rainy Season (just ended) and the Hot Season
(which will start just before the beginning of March, I think). The
weather has been getting cooler, still warm in the middle of the
afternoon, but a bit chilly when I get up at 4am. I no longer take a
shower first thing in the morning, but wait til it is warmer, sometime
before lunch. There is no hot water, of course. In about a month is
is supposed to be quite chilly. I don't think this means freezing
temperatures; I've never seen anything like a space heater in Myanmar
and many buildings don't have real windows. But I think I have
adequate blankets and enough layers of robes to cope.
On this full moon I was invited with the other two foreign monks to a
nuns' monastery, right across the street from Sitagu. Another unknown
senior monk was there who seemed to be a regular. Quite good food. The
various laypeople and nuns took a lot of pictures, as usual featuring
the exotic Western monk. About half an hour after I returned home
about ten people from the monastery showed up at my apartment guided
by the senior monk who proceeded to give them a tour, showing them the
little bathroom and all. They just showed up and let themselves in;
knocking is not customary in Myanmar, then all did prostrations not
only to me, but also to my altar with its $2 gold Buddha. Of course as
usual they were all delightful people.
Later that evening three children showed up at my apartment (I usually
do not get so much traffic) asking for money. That surprised me, since
there is very little begging in Myanmar (unless you count the monks),
and only in public spots, and it is odd to expect a monk to give you
something besides the Gift of the Dhamma. I wouldn't give them
anything. I learned later that this full moon day is a special day
each year in Myanmar when children are allowed to ask for small things
like money and cake. In a way, it is like our Halloween, but not as
scary. OOPS!!! And I did have some Kyat (Burmese $$) in small bills
that I could have given them.
A monk who lives in Yangon invited me about a month ago to tour the
Buddhist sites in India with him. This was U Pan~n~asiha, who used to
live in Minnesota, and has a new doctorate from an Indian university.
He suggested this rather casually, but when he comes through here
again I've decided to try to pin him down. Sitagu Sayadaw has
suggested about three times that I go to India while I'm here, and
once that I go to Thailand. If you look at a map you will see that I,
here in Central Myanmar, am not at all far from the area in which the
Buddha lived. I probably can live in monasteries, travel maybe three
weeks. Hopefully my visa will allow me to leave the country and get
back in.

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