August 13, 2017

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A Temporary Escape from the Hustle-bustle of City Life

All monks and novices are accepting alms-meal in their alms-bowls. Photo: Dr. Saw Mra Aung

It was already 8 a.m, a little later than the appointed time, when Ko Kyaw Swa in his car reached the cafeteria we sat awaiting his arrival. I, together with my two sisters, hurried into it. As soon as I had seated myself, a breath of cool air pressed out of the car air-conditioner caressed my cheeks.  The car raced along Kaba Aye Pagoda Road until it got to Nawadei Junction where the Jambusiri Dhamma Beikman stood itself in a large precinct. Then it followed Oak-pon-seik Road and turned into the road hugging the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University and the Buddha’s Tooth-relic Pagoda. As the 3-day long incessant rain ceased that morning, everything on both sides of the road were clearly visible to us.The Kalaywa Forest-Retreat Monastery, the Office of the Total Petroleum Company, the Ngahlwet Lake and the Mahasi Meditation Centre had passed quickly out of view.   It came to the junction of Shwe-hnin-si Road and Pyay Road at 9am.
Now, we, as members of the Kalyanamitta Philanthropic Association, were making for the Mahavihara Dhamma-Vinaya University near Hmawbi to make alms-donation to the students. I saw many cars of various shapes, sizes and models streaming slowly along Pyay Road. As it was the hush-hour, the traffic was heavier. Our car, therefore, had to edge along the road, sometimes zigzagging through the vehicles, big and small, and sometimes making long pauses. Only after our patience had been worn out many times, we found our car free from that very  cursed nuisance. When it came to 9:30 am, our car got to the Se-hmaing-gon (Ten Mile Hill).  It was caught again in the traffic jam. Oh, What a murder on us! . I at Sawbwagyi-gon Junction  saw a lot of commuters hectic- some running after the buses they wanted to take, some forcing their way into the congested buses and some jumping out of the buses which were about to leave to be able to catch the buses they were to transfer to . At this, I felt myself out of breath.
The traffic became noticeably lighter, when we had passed the junction. When I looked right, I saw the Yangon International Air-port with some planes taking off, some landing, some being loaded with cargo and passengers and some new buildings constructed. With the shady trees lining the road, the traffic lighter and vast stretches of lands on both sides of the road,  I felt much relieved and my mind more relaxed. At 10 am, our car reached the Kha-yay-bin (Star-flower tree) cross-roads.  The Kyaikkalei and the Kyaikkalaw Pagodas, the Common Wealth Memorial War Cemetery, etc left behind quickly. At 10:30 am, we arrived at the Htaukgyan Junction. Our car took the road leading to Hmawbi. On the right of the road was the wooded Hlawkar Sanctuary Park.
Soon we came to the Air Force Base outside Hmawbi where we saw a sign-board reading  “To Mahavihara Monastery” standing at the top of a lane off Pyay Road.  The monastery was said to be three miles from Pyay Road. Our car followed the lane . On the right was seen a green golf course taking on a green velvet and on the left a plantation  of teak trees. Then we saw two helicopters standing in the grounds before the air-base at some distance from the lane. We on the right also found some beds of rosella and lady-fingers in some patches of land adjacent to the lane and on the left fields filled with grass growing wild. At one turn, we passed a Basic State High School standing in a large compound shaded by large perennial trees. Across it was a lane leading to the Air Force Base.
Then the lane went on skirting round the Bo-daw-na-gon Village. I looked over grassy moors studded with shrubs and bamboo groves on the right side. The wild grass and trees were stirring merrily with every movement of fresh morning breeze. The morning was far advanced. The white-washed Mahavihara Pagoda in the copy of the Maha Ceti in Sri Lanka, surmounting the Mahavihara Monastery, was clearly seen against the morning sky. It is said that Presiding Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vijjananda wanted to follow the practice of the Mahavihara Sect, the earliest genuine Theravada Sect founded by Ven. Mahinda at the plea of Sinhalese King Devanampiyatissa in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka during the 3rd century BC, that he, therefore,  established and named his monastery after this sect in 2003, aiming at preserving and enhancing the Vinaya Sasana of the Lord Buddha, that the monks and novices at this monastery have today totaled over 1200 and that he again opened the Mahavihara Dhamma-Vinaya University inside the precincts of the monastery in 2016 to turn out virtuous, learned missionary monks.
Our car made its way slowly along the lane and reached the gate into the Mahavihara Monastery on the fringe of Daw-na-gon Village at 10: 45 am. I noticed some branches of the big trees growing near the gate were bending down to the arched gate. Upon the entry into the precincts, we were welcomed by a feeling of coolness and our anxiety subsided remarkably. We saw some monastic buildings scattering all over the precincts. It is known that the precincts covered a total area of 165 acres of various landscapes – hills, lakes, brooks, moors, plains, forests, etc. The whole precinct was wrapped in total silence, which was occasionally broken by  the resonant calls of wild birds which flew casually over it. After parking the car under a shady tree, we walked towards the covered passage leading to the monastery of the Presiding Sayadaw. All of a sudden, we all were taken aback by a long queue of monks and novices countable by the hundred awaiting the alms to be offered by the donors in silence. All monks and novices were properly robed, bare-footed, with their faculty clear and serene and their eyes cast down. No movement, no hurry was there among them. I thought that they all observed the Indriyasamvara Sila(Restraint of sense faculties). It is learnt that Presiding Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vijjananda banned all the resident monks and novices from using money, hand-phones, computers, electronic devices of such sort, etc which can arouse sensual thoughts in their minds and from riding bicycles, motor-cycles, trucks, trishaws, etc which can be regarded as ill-manners by the lay people and fruit-bearing trees from being grown inside the precincts which may lead to commercial transactions. Out of great reverence for the far-sighted Sayadaw,  I spontaneously happened to pay mental obeisance to him for his invaluable contributions to the Buddha’s Sasana, seeing that the Vinaya is the life-blood of the Buddha’s Sasana(Vinayo nama Buddha sasanasa ayu). When we approached the monastery of the Sayadaw, we found the door standing close.
Not wanting to bother the meditating Sayadaw with our visit, we proceeded to the Mahavihara Dhamma-Vinaya University where we were to donate alms-meal to the university students. We took a foot-path leading east, with thick forests on the right and grassy moors separated by a line of trees on the left. The path took us about five minutes. At its end was a wide stretch of land. Standing in the western – most part of it was the Mahavihara Dhamma-Vinaya University, a three –storeyed brick building. Although we found the alms-meal ordered by us ready to be offered, the class  not yet  finished. So U Ko Ko Naing , Assistant Registrar of the university conducted our team around the precincts. We followed him along a track through the trees stretching to the east. After a few minutes, we found two students’ hostels under construction in clearance in the forests. Both were one-storeyed buildings. The buildings were big halls with no partition. We were told by U Ko Ko Naing  that all students monks were to be housed together in the hall so that they would be deprived of privacy which could help the students do evil actions. Electric fans were found fixed on the walls. Behind the hostels were seen rich wooded land sprawling down west wards. Then we went on along the track. At one spot, on the right side of the track was found an ordination hall being built. Some minutes afterwards, we found ourselves on the side of a bare-hill sloping eastwards. We saw a flight of concrete , steps . So we descended by it. Down at the foot was a roofed passage running north-south. A small wooden monastery stood at one end of the passage and a cave on the side of the rock hill at the other. There lay only a wooden chair inside the cave. We were told that Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vijjananda meditated alone at this wooden monastery and inside the cave every night from 10 p.m to 3 a.m. I observed around and saw a monastery inside a wide precincts fenced with trees of thick foliages on the north and thick forests on the other three sides. I noticed there reigned a pin-drop silence except chirpings of birds. No doubt, the seclusion of that place would help a meditator establish his concentration.
When we were back at the university, we personally donated cooked rice and curries to the 38 pre-diploma student-monks processing into the alms-offering hall. They accepted the cooked rice and curries (alms-meal) in their alms-bowls. Then in the refractory, they seated themselves on the floor, with their alms-bowl containing the rice and curries together in front and partook of them serenely. To my surprise, no dish-bowl, no plate, no table etc, were to be used by the monks. Partaking of cooked rice and curry put together in an alms-bowl at one sitting is said to be one of the Thirteen Austerities (Dutinga) allowed by the Buddha.

Mahavihara Dhammawinaya University. Photo: Dr. Saw Mra Aung

A great reverence for these strict Vinaya observers gushed through me. After that, Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vijjananda preached a discourse in appreciation of joy over the donation and return alone with a palm-leaf fan in his hand to his room. We all left behind in a respectful manner, gazing at the back of the Sasana hero until he disappeared from our view.
On the return of the Sayadaw , I went alone up to the second-floor of the university and looked around down. Everything on the north and the west was wild with thick forests rolling away into the distance. At some distance inside the precincts on the south was found a Mahabodhi Tree growing on a well-fenced high plinth.
On the east was also seen a new university building in its background with many acres of fields and virgin land extending miles and miles.
Deeply breathing fresh-air coming across the fresh forests and fields, I felt satisfied with myself in the thought that I had today participated in a great donation and escaped from the hustle-bustle of my city life temporarily.
In fact, we are blind to the facts that we ordinary worldings are suppressed daily by gross mental defilements every moment from sun-rise to sun-set , that however, deluded by greed (lobha), anger(dosa) and ignorance (moha) , we do not notice that we , after death, may be dragged by these defilement into the Four Inferior Realms (Apaya)-hell (Niraya), animals (Tiracchana), every-hungry ghost (Peta) and demi-god (Asurakaya) .
O my dear readers, I would like to suggest you that you, leaving behind your routinely works for some hours or for a few days,  should take to a forest-retreat and engage yourselves in donation, if possible in meditation.
Then only will  you see how your mind is being tortured by gross mental defilements and how you can control these mental impurities and attain real peace of mind.

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