"My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest; Every year the green ivy grows longer. No news of the affairs of men, Only the occasional song of a woodcutter. The sun shines and I mend my robe; When the moon comes out I read...poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends. If you want to find the meaning [of life], stop chasing after so many things."
—Zen Master Ryokan
Our friend Maybelle drove us to Kyaswa Monastery, an hour from Mandalay to visit with my esteemed meditation teacher, Michele McDonald who was just about to complete leading a three week meditation retreat. She was kind enough to create a half hour window for us to meet, which wasn’t easy, as I contacted the retreat manager last minute. I hadn’t seen Michele for eight years, yet she remembered me. Over the years Cecile and I have supported the local nunneries and school affiliated with the monastery. This year was no different. One of the highlights of doing a meditation retreat at the monastery is the opportunity after the retreat to give out uniforms to the kids in their classrooms and having the young nuns sing loving kindness chants just before the last sit of the evening.
With over 30 years as an insight meditation teacher, Michelle was the first woman to teach a formal silent meditation retreat along side senior monastic figures at Kyaswa. I was fortunate to have her as one of my main lay teachers several times in Myanmar (Burma) and the US. I found her down to earth style of teaching to be accessible, incisive, compassionate and illuminating. She definitely assisted me to find entry points into stillness and find peace no matter what challenges came my way both in the meditation hall and in everyday life. The last time I sat a retreat with her was around 2010.
In the early evening Maybelle took me to see the gilded majestic looking reclining Buddha, housed in an old museum type building on the lower part of Mandalay Hill not to far from our hotel. It appeared to be closed. The door was locked and the lights were out. That didn’t stop Maybelle as she is as persistent as she is kind, and she managed to find the custodian of building who is a young monk who also lives there. The pleasant monastic is pretty handy. Apparently, all the donations visitors place in the glass container are used to maintain the statues and the pedestals they sit on. This is the Burma I know, based on the wisdom of kindness and generosity.
Speaking of generosity, I have learned a lot from Maybelle. In a country that is 90% Buddhist, she makes it a regular practice to help people that are hungry, disabled, elderly at any given opportunity, no matter what their religious preference. She is also a part of a sisterhood who make small seed loans to women for small opportunities.
Photos: With the exception of the reclining Buddha, all photos were taken at the monastery on this trip and in 2010. The wrap around dress is called a longyi and along with a white shirt is required clothing for men at these monastery retreats. The four story building with the stone steps to the right is the meditation hall. The hut I was assigned has a bed, closet, desk and bathroom. I was quite happy there.