On our way to Mandalay, we visited the monastery Mahagandhayon where over 1,000 novices (the youngest is 9 years old) and monks live. it’s located in Amarapura, the ancient royal capital of Burma.
We arrived right before their 10am lunch time (they get up everyday at 3am and have only 2 meals a day) and we watched in awe the procession of them all getting their meal served in silence. Buddhist monks live entirely on donations and that day a rich family from Mandalay was funding their meal. Chicken was served along with other fragrant dishes, a feast compared to their normal daily life. It was captivating to observe it all happening in front of us. Visually, it was so strong. One thousand of those shaved heads and saffron robes passing by us in a calm and orderly manner. Eyes down but sometimes a smile peaking out, especially from the younger ones.
On the photo above, the 10 rules of conduct at the buddhist monastery could apply to any child in the world…
One of the teachers came to us when Amalya got restless, and offered biscuits, which she devoured. We chatted a bit, his English was perfect. He reminded me of Ghandi, he had the same round glasses. It was as if he awaited the opportunity to open up his heart and mind to foreigners, to express his anger at the repressive military junta. “See what they are doing to our pagodas. Who knows what our country will look like in 10 years”, he told us when we started talking about the beauty of Burma.
We moved on from the refectory, and watched the many pupils conducting their daily life at the monastery. Studying, meditating, going out in the villages to collect donations, sleeping all together on the floor. One pupil showed us his dorm, shared with 20 others, and started chatting with Marcelo, asking the usual questions. How old are you. What’s your name. And then, he calmly asked us: what are you doing to improve the future of your children? He was in his early 20’s. Ceki and I looked at each others, taken by surprise, as if we had never really asked ourselves the question. I mumbled that we were taking them on a long trip to show them the world, to open up their minds and that hopefully it would make them stronger and wiser. I wasn’t sure it was the right answer.
Did you know that there are two forms of buddhism in the world: Theravada Buddhists (of which Burma, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodge are part of) and Mahayana Buddhists (they recognize the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader). We learnt sooo much in Burma. I could write on and on…
Ps: can you tell that we’ve actually left Burma tonight and arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Finally, a speedy internet connection…!