The 20st 60 days Special Retreat for strangers at Panditarama Hse Mine Gon Forest Center in Bago division was my seventh one. It was surprising and nice to meet old friends: Ramesh from USA/India (photo left), Vladimir from Russia and Bjarne from Denmark (photo right), Yossi from Australia, and many Asians. From Romania there was Teodora, whom I knew from a retreat she did last year with me in England. Half way this retreat, beginning of January, Niels (photo down right) came from The Netherlands, who did his very first retreat ever only last September.
The day after my arrival at the Yangon monastery, immediately after the 5.30 AM breakfast, together with Ramesh and Teodora I made my annual visit of Shwedagon Pagoda (photo left). Later that day Teodora accompanied me to Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha, where I had an appointment with the Argentinian monk Suppabuddho (photo right), who spent some time in The Netherlands two years ago.
During the first month my personal teacher is Nepalese nun Sayalay Ma Vimala (photo left). She is one of the youngest teachers, obviously very serious in her task, and I learn with her some fine details. I feel ashamed when in the last interview she mentions how important it is to report particularly about your best session, ‘because then I can guide you better’. It is clear to me indeed that I have somewhat too easy a tendency of mentioning ‘this time there was not such a thing as a best session’, which makes me fall into abstractions and generalities.
Ego manifests itself in thoughts like ‘no one else but me here is able to do this’ when pushing the light switch without making any noise, because attention is with the movement and the finger and not somewhere else. But also in the thought that ‘I’ am here already for the seventh time and most other yogi’s not: did I make a mess of my past retreats? And how stupid the teachers will find me because of that? And then hearing 87 years old senior monk Beelin Sayadaw (photo right) saying that he knows there are some yogi’s coming every year, yogi’s that have come more than once and many yogi’s who are here for the first time; and that all this makes him very happy. In my first retreats I had some trouble to believe such remarks, but now not only I do believe him, but it simply makes me happy too.
Concentration is improving soon. Stages of insight are popping up but, as it were, broader and deeper than before. Lightness and joy are falling over me, and give a stability in which doubt or aversion are nothing more than a sigh of wind just passing by.
It’s amazing how much news I hear in the daily instructions. And – after two months back home – how they keep working. The mind is really learning in a gradual way and ‘in layers’.
Sensual desire is the strongest of all in its manifestation, until I am fed up with it, and I take the decision I no longer want to permit myself this defilement. From then on each time it manifests itself I do bring in the right antidote. I tell it my teacher, who indicates that it is mindfulness here that exercises its doorkeeper function in an exemplary way. Now that I am back home since two months I can tell you that I am still every day experiencing ease and happiness as a result of it.
The second month, just like the past two years, Sayadaw U Nandasiddhi is my personal teacher. He is also one of the younger teachers (59), but since already twenty years appointed by Sayadaw U Pandita as the head of a centre in neighbouring Malaysia. With him I have a nice click. Sometimes I am out after two minutes (huh?
what?), sometimes we talk a lot. Some way or another he is an expert in tackling any worrying in whatever way it manifests itself.
Which made me come to the conclusion more and more, during the past few years: ‘We are causing too much trouble to ourselves, it really is as simple as it sometimes looks like.’
Around January 20 the Sayadaw makes mention of a deadly virus, broken out in China, originating from animal world, ‘something like SARS’, with hundreds of thousands of infections. He is fluently in Mandarin and has most of the dozens of Chinese yogi’s under his care. After the last interview he gives me a signed copy of one of his books, with teachings given at a 40 days retreat in Taiwan. The next day, when passing by his little house after lunch on my way to the Dhamma Hall, he comes out and calls me, and gives me a shirt of his Malaysian center Nirodharama, in which nirodha means cessation (Third Noble Truth). I am really delighted to wear that shirt and it fits me like a glove during the last days of the retreat.
Already before the end of the retreat a kind of simple certainty befell me that I will go again end of this year: this retreat brings me ease both here and at home, and also more and more ease and self-evidence in guiding other yogi’s. Even the Buddha declared that is not easy to guide others, so I’d rather not assume too easy that this ease should be self-evident.
In the closing ceremony, also called Victory Ceremony, it fell to Teodora’s (photo left) share to express, on behalf of the female yogi’s, what the retreat had brought to her, as well as her gratefulness for that.
Afterwards I share with Vladimir and Yossi (who both were there for the fourth time) how inspiring their presence had been to me. Vladimir is very clear in his reaction: ‘You know, I have been for a long retreat in Thailand twice, in Sri Lanka and in Russia as well, but this retreat here is absolutely incomparable in how you can intensify your mindfulness’. A straight confirmation.
Again I visit Bhikkhu Suppabuddho, the Argentinian monk, at Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha. And together with Ramesh and Sinja (from Germany, photo right) I have a useful and cordial meeting with old comrade Alan Clements, who is there every year to assist in guiding a 10-days retreat. On my way home at Yangon Airport I buy some face masks.
In the past, being back home, I often had been asked after a few days, or even after some weeks, if I ‘had already landed, come to earth a bit’. However, it is just the other way around! Landing is just what you have been doing for sixty days, and ‘being landed’ was what you have been sometimes for a longer period of time. Home again the big point is not to take off. In any case not for a long time and without knowing.
In the meantime Panditarama’s website indicates that due to the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic no applications will be accepted until further notice. On the Myanmar page on this website you will find the situation there regularly updated. April 10 there are 27 infections and 3 deceased. As in Myanmar really EVERYONE is on Facebook, it is very unlikely the authorities will be able to provide a flattered image of the situation.