By Kyaw Myaing
Since the dawn of civilization the function of learning has always been an important part of our lives. In Myanmar which is a predominantly Buddhist country, this statement has even more relevance and meaning.
In the world there are of course many theories and philosophies about the meaning of life. There are different answers to the question “why do we live”. For Buddhists, it may be said that we live to know and understand the Four Noble Truths. The goal of every Buddhist is to attain Nivarna either in this life or in the shortest possible time in future lives. All Buddhists believe that we have to wander in this endless cycle of births and deaths called Samsara.
That is why all good Buddhists try to do good deeds and avoid evil deeds. For us, the purpose of living is to accumulate good deeds in this life. Buddhists believe that the main goal in life is to acquire knowledge and wisdom. The purpose of our life is to gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible so that one day we would reach our final goal of Nibanna.
The path laid down by the Buddha is quite simple: follow the Noble Eightfold Path. If we simplify it we get the three-step approach namely, Sila or Conduct, Samadhi or Concentration and Pyinya or Wisdom. So for a good Buddhist, he or she would try to lead a life of virtue based on the Buddhist precepts. All good Buddhists try to abide by at least the
Five Precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to tell lies, not to take drugs or intoxicating drinks and not to commit adultery.
In Myanmar, the first thing you would notice as you travel from the city of Yangon to other towns and villages is that in almost every town and village there is a pagoda and a monastery. The pagodas are symbols of peace and learning for if we visit a pagoda, we will encounter images of the Buddha in many poses. The most popular pose is of course the crossed-legged pose where we can see the serene face of the Buddha in deep meditation. This is called the Dhyana mudra. All Buddhist monks of Myanmar have two main purposes in donning the yellow robe and living a life of virtue. The first is to learn the Buddhist scriptures and the other is to do Vipassana or Insight Meditation. All Buddhist monasteries in Myanmar are places of learning. In the olden days when Myanmar was ruled by the Burmese kings, young boys from the villages go to the monasteries to learn how to read and write. The young boys are called “phongyi kyaungthars” which means boys who live in the monasteries. These boys are taught not only the three R’s but also other useful subjects such as astrology, herbal medicine and the Jatakas or the lives of the Buddha.
Let us discuss now what we mean by “Learn to Live”. These three words have a very deep meaning. It means we should know how to live a virtuous life as good Buddhists. However, if we expand the meaning of these three words, we get a very good advice. In this day and age Myanmar citizens need to learn to live in peace and harmony with other citizens whether they are from different religions or from other racial groups. By learning to live in peace and harmony all of us will have a greater chance of reaching the goal that we all desire. Just as every brick of a pagoda is important to serve as a symbol of peace and wisdom, in the same way every family is important to build a community which enjoys peace.
As Myanmar is a union of different ethnic races, we should all learn to live in peace and harmony. To be able to do this, we have to respect the religious beliefs of other ethnic races. One of the most practical things we could do is to study about the traditions and cultures of other ethnic races. In a very cosmopolitan city such as Yangon, where we have different communities with different religious beliefs, we need to have respect for each other and live in peace and harmony. Narrow-mindedness and selfishness will lead us to discord, disunity and destruction. Harmony and Understanding can lead us to peace and prosperity.
By Kyaw Myaing