Burmese Miracle Stories
Outside of us monks, two things that help sustain Buddhist faith here are (1) really Big Buddhas and Pagodas, and (2) Miracle Stories. Both are exemplified in Kyaik Tiyo, Golden Rock, Pagoda. This is the lastmsite the Burma Pilgrimage Group visited before dropping me off at Pa Auk Tawya Meditation Center on March 18, 2009.
The miracle of Kyaik Tiyo is the golden rock, a huge boulder, maybe 40 or 50 feet in diameter, perched on top of a sheer cliff, at the very top of a tall mountain, in such a way that it has been just about to roll off for maybe the last hundred thousand years. It is amazing. Inspection from below invites one to try to pass a string, an accomplice holding the other end, under the rock all the way across; it looks like it would work, maybe by rocking the rock a bit. From higher up, one can see that its center of gravity does keep it from rolling off the cliff, but golly it seems that there must have been an earthquake or a big dinosaur sometime in the last innumerable millennia that would have toppled it. It is certainly a wonder of nature.
In Myanmar all miracles have to do with Buddhism. The story is that some of the Buddha’s hairs are contained inside of the rock and that the rock remains in place be the power of the Buddha. Once upon a time, there were some non-Buddhists tried to push the rock off the cliff in order to undermine people’s faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, but they were turned into monkeys. That’ll show them! In an inspiring, hopefully not foolhardy, display of faith, there is now a nunnery directly below the rock, exactly at the point of first bounce.
A huge pagoda and tourist attraction has been built at Kyaik Tiyo. A bus (or actually truck) takes you up the mountain, and one needs to walk for about 40 minutes up a steep path to reach the top and the rock. We stayed at a hotel near the top. Hundreds of people were milling around, looking at the rock, doing prostrations, lighting incense and candles, and chanting when we arrived. We got up the next morning around five-ish, before dawn, and I’ll be darned if there still weren’t hundreds of people around. A group of around 20 Thai monks was in the middle of some marvelous chanting.
Many miracle stories have to do with relics that remain after an arahant is cremated. There are many samples to view
in Buddhist museums here. The relics usually take the form of crystals. In one museum they are kept in a jar and it is reported that they keep multiplying by themselves. They can give samples away and the samples will continue multiplying. A museum has been built in Amarapura, near here, in the temple where a local arahant lived and died. Pictures in the museum reveal he had very intensive eyes. Anyway, after he died and was cremated, his eyes did not burn! Moreover, the concrete ground floor one story below the bed in which he died has continually cracked and burst open.
Also with regard to arahants, there is a widespread belief that such a noble being can choose to become a Mummy, that is, with no preparation they can choose not to decay after death, and to thereby remain as a Protector of the Dhamma should the need arise. Somehow I have trouble picturing how this would actually play out. I have seen such a mummified arahant at a pagoda near here, and he did not look like he would be very healthy, or particularly useful, were he to arise from death even with the noblest of tasks in mind. He would scare a lot of people, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike.