Uposatha Day, Full Moon, September 30, 2012
This week we have had three visitors on private retreat and we have been meditating together in the Dhamma Hall at 5:30, 10:30, 2:00 and 7:00 for 50 minutes a shot, my normal schedule, and chanting as usual at 8pm. Along with studies I have gotten a lot of work done in organizing our new library, the last couple of days with the help of my daughter Kymrie. I’ve also had some time to return to writing and can now offer the next chapter of the autobiographical Through the Looking Glass. The pagination and chapter numbers have changed from what followers are used to as I have reorganized the earlier chapters.
Chapter 10. The Burmese Monk
“You’re going to become a What?
“You are going to do everything, on purpose, that everyone else is trying hard to avoid? Like Discipline, Commitments, Sitting on the floor, Noble silence, Wearing a bed sheet in public and Waking up before dawn?
“All this, so that you can renounce everything everyone else thinks makes life worth living? Like Entertainment, Parties, Lavish food, Singing and dancing, Wine, women and song, Fast cars and fast women, Gossip, Strong opinions, Being right, Self-promotion, Self-adornment, Revenge, Late nights, a Vacation house in Belize, Tacquilla sunrises on the beach with an awesome woman, Spiffy clothes, and Hair?
“What are you thinking?”
These were questions of my own mind, raised anew for the umpteenth time in many years.
“You see,” it replied to itself, “We are born into a Looking-Glass World, a world of Misperception in which Forward is really Backward, Outside is really Inside, and what seems Soothing is really Too Hot to Handle. Things are not really as they seem.”
A monk or a nun is someone who, generally even before fully understanding them completely, boldly acknowledges that these misperceptions exist and lives accordingly, thereby stepping boldly out through the Looking Glass to inhabit, as a matter of vow — bodily, verbally and mentally — the world as it actually is. As perplexing as this sounds to most, the life of the monk or nun there on the opposite side of the looking glass is actually one of great ease and satisfaction. Detached from the petty concerns of the world life is no longer such a great problem.
Monks and/or nuns have been an integral part of Buddhism in every Buddhist country in Asia since the time of the Buddha, and is in fact the cord that keeps the beads of the mala of the sasana in line. The voluminous Vinaya, the founding charter of the Saṅgha, is certainly the most widely studied, consistently respected and observed Buddhist scripture across the Buddhist world, outside of perhaps a handful of individual original suttas/sutras. And this is true only because there have always been those who out of faith or understanding and also with the endorsement and support of the general Buddhist community dare to venture through the looking glass.
The Golden Land of Pagodas.
One by one the seven pilgrims stepped aboard the Singapore Airlines flight from Houston, Texas, bound for Moscow, Russia. First class passengers, some by now comfortably holding cocktails, glanced up as Ashin Mahosadha Pandita, smiling in his voluminous bright burgundy robes entered, the revered leader of this pilgrimage.U Maho was one of the first monks I had met at the Sitagu Buddhist Vihara in Austin on my very first visit years before, the elderly smiling monk who spoke but little English.
Many of the premium travelersnext spied through the bottoms of uplifted beverages two more monks in similar robes, Ashin Ariyadhamma and Ashin Nayaka. U Ariya was the abbot with whom I had enjoyed an occasional but long-lived and ongoing discourse about monastic practice, and who had now invited me on this expedition. U Nayaka was a young residen tof a Burmese monastery near St. Paul, Minnesota.
As the first class passengers opened their complimentary copies of the Wall Street Journal three less exotic passengers failed for lack of color to draw so much attention as they passed by: Wendy, Scott and U Aung Koe. Wendy had been my first connection with the Sitagu Vihara as her early exploration of the Buddhist Way brought her for a short time to AZC. Aung Koe had not been in Burma since he had fled after participating in the 1988 student uprising.
Finally as much of the priority class adjusted its overhead air puff thingies some of their eyes couldn’t help but alight on a shaved head dressed all in black and wearing yet another black garment around his neck, much like a bib or maybe like a pouch,a man in his late fifties wrangling his bag down the aisle.
Burma is almost opposite from America, both on the globe and culturally, a land of almost perfectly upside down people from the Texas perspective,rendering a route through Moscow, Russia nearly equivalent to any other route. After a brief stop-over in Moscow and during the night we looked down on Afghanistan,India,Burma and other exotic places finally to arrive at the great transportation hub of Singapore about dawn. Although we had spotted the lights of little villages along almost all of the route, including over Afghanistan, Burma itself had appeared eerily without light.From Singapore a short couple–hour hop back up the Malay Peninsula brought us to the Yangon (Rangoon)airport by the midmorning.