Postcard from Burma
Well, it's been a quiet month at Sitagu Buddhist Academy. Sitagu
Sayadaw was away for about a month, and returned yesterday for about a
week. He is a busy guy. He will be back in Austin, Texas sometime in
December, then again in March, when I will also be returning to
Austin. I have no idea where he has been for the last month.
It is interesting what a flurry of activity accompanies Sayadaw when
he returns. Visitors, mostly lay, but some monks and nuns, start
checking into the Guest House, where I live, in the days before his
arrival. I don't know who all of them are, but generally they seem to
be people who need to meet with Sayadaw while they have the chance.
Donors start providing more of the meals, for all of the monks, which
means the cuisine takes on a couple of extra stars, and monks start
gaining weight. This morning we had Mohinga for breakfast, which is a
specialty in Myanmar, made of noodles under a thick soup, with various
toppings to choose from (eggs, fried bread dealies, parsley, lemon).
Mmmmmm. A lot more lay groups start showing up presumably from the
immediate area, filling the parking lot, many of them apparently not
on business, but just to look around at the Convocation Center and the
various statues and altars, apparently at the same time wishing to get
a glimpse of the famous sayadaw. This flurry of activity presumably
follows sayadaw wherever he goes, to Mandalay, Yangon, Bangkok, Korea.
It would explain why sayadaw is so chubby. I wonder if he even knows
that the flurry of activity leaves each place when he leaves.
Monastics are renunciates, which means that their lifestyle leaves
almost no channels for sensual pleasures or accumulation of stuff, or
for all of the problems that accompany these. The effect is that we
settle into a state of quiet contentment, of not struggling with the
world. This makes absolutely no sense to most people, but there is
actually enormous joy in this kind of life, if your passionate
impulses don't get the better of you. The one channel that is open to
the monastic for enjoyment of sense pleasures, at least until noon
each day, is enjoyment of food. So don't be surprised when monastics,
including me, express dismaying enthusiasm for food or even start to
get chubby. What's more, lay people here, who take as great an
interest in doing things for monks as you do in the welfare of your
cat, recognize this one channel as a way to please monks while
ingratiating themselves, so they like to excite monastic passions even
more through the culinary arts. This is probably better for lay
practice than for monastic practice, but it sure can be yummy.
The lay people who come to visit SIBA are always upbeat, whether or
not Sayadaw is present, in a festive way. Happy voices working in the
kitchen or gardening, or just looking around. Often people come for
one reason, maybe to meet with one of the monks, then while waiting or
afterwards pick up a broom, or take one away from a monk, for some
habitat cleaning while they are here.
The weather is getting cooler. It is quite nice, a little chilly in
the morning, a little hot in the afternoon, bright and sunny during
the day. It's quite beautiful. I saw a big snake behind the Guest
House, near the gopher holes, a couple of days ago, maybe four feet
long. One of the monks explained to me that if you whistle it attracts
snakes. But he said you don't want to do that because most of them are
VERY poisonous. There are still a lot of mosquitoes; I'm hoping the
cold weather will reduce their numbers.
I am still teaching English five or six days a week, following the
lunar weeks, with two days off for every uposatha day, before and on.
I've started showing documentary that are available here in English
once a week. So far I've shown two: One was on Egypt, and had Omar
Sharif in it, more of a docudrama. One was on the Mayan civilization.
Tomorrow I will show one on the American Civil War. There are also a
few on nature: Some National Geographic films, some films about
geology, and profiles of different countries. Most of them have rather
difficult narration, most of these with an American accent, which the
students find more difficult than a British accent. I chose the first
two films because they also had English subtitles. I've been teaching
geography and some other subjects mixed in with English lessons. Most
of the students are amazingly uneducated. Some cannot find Europe and
Asia on a world map! One of the great tragedies about this country.
They are very eager to learn though.
My friend Venerable Jitamaro, from Laos, has been expressing a strong
interest in coming to the USA for a long time. He is interested in
being a missionary for Western Buddhists. I think he will be very good
at this. He is my main English student. We've been exploring ways to
bring him over as a monk, most viably to live at an ethnic temple.