[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

No Subject Given


(This is the third in a yearlong series of letters, the Japanese translation
of which appears in the MAINICHI SHIMBUN the same day.)

Mainichi Daily News, Sunday, December 10, 1995



     It was noon when we entered the three-mile radius around the hill of
Thamanya that comes under the fatherly care of the /Hsayadaw/.  The air hung
warm and still and groups of monks, women ascetics and little novices were
working on the road, the ends of their robes draped over their shaven heads,
their faces well-rounded and cheerful.  We passed clusters of huts and small
bungalows smothered in a tangle of greenery and at last came up through a
bazaar to the foot of the hill where there were some brick buildings and a
number of cars.  It was not too crowded.  Soon, after the full moon of
/Thidingyut/, the place would be bustling with thousands of pilgrims from
all over the country.  We had deliberately chosen to come at a time when we
could listen quietly to the /Hsayadaw/ and absorb the spirit of this unusual
domain of loving kindness and peace founded on the edge of lands where
violence had held sway for decades.
     The /Hsayadaw/ divides his time between two monastic residences, one at
the foot of the hill and one near the summit.  He received us in the
audience chamber of the residence at the foot of the hill.  I was about to
describe the /Hsaydaw/ as tall and well-built, then my eyes fell on his
photograph and it occurred to me that he was not physically as large as the
image impressed on my mind, that in fact he was somewhat frail.  Perhaps it
was the aura of protective strength around him that made him seem bigger
than he actually was.  There is a Burmese saying: *Ten thousand birds can
perch on one good tree.*  The /Hsayadaw/ is as a strong, upright tree
spreading out stout branches thickly covered with leaves and laden with
fruit, offering shelter and sustenance to all who come under his shade.
     On and around the hill which was barely inhabited little more than a
decade ago there now live over 400 monks and between 200 and 300 women
ascetics, all cared for by the /Hsayadaw/.  In addition everybody who comes
to the hill can eat flavorsome vegetarian meals without any payment.  Many
of the villagers who live within the domain come daily for their food.  On
holidays when pilgrims flood in, more than 60 sacks of rice have to be
cooked and almost a whole drum of oil goes into the curries.  The /Hsayadaw/
is very particular about using only peanut oil in the interest of the health
of his hordes of visitors.
     There is a large shed in which 20 men cook rice in giant steamers made
of concrete.  In the kitchen, appetizing-looking curries bubble and simmer
in huge wok-shaped vessels; the spoons, carved out of wood, are larger than
shovels and the spatulas used for stirring are as big as rowing boat oars.
Not far from the kitchen some people are engaged in making meat substitute
from a type of yam.  It is not difficult to be a vegetarian at Thamanya: the
food, cooked with generosity and care, is both wholesome and delicious.  The
day or our arrival we had two lunches, one specially prepared for us and one
in the pilgrims' dining hall.  The second lunch consisted of just a few
dishes but these were not inferior in taste to the banquet-like meal we had
first eaten and replete as we were, we found it no hardship to do justice to
the food of the pilgrims.
     But food is not primarily what the /Hsayadaw/ provides for those who
come within his ken.
     The first question he asked me after we had made our obeisances was
whether I had come to him because I wanted to get rich.  No, I replied, I
was not interested in getting rich.  He went on to explain the greatest
treasure to be gained was that of nirvana.  How naive I was to have imagined
that the /Hsayadaw/ would have been referring to material riches.  He spoke
in parables to teach us the fundamental principles of Buddhism.  But there
was nothing affected about him and his deeply spiritual nature did not
exclude a sense of humor.
     The /Hsayadaw/ seldom leaves Thamanya but he displays astonishing
knowledge of all that is going on throughout the country.  He combines with
traditional Buddhist values a forward-looking attitude, prepared to make use
of modern technology in the best interests of those who have come under his
care.  There are a number of strong, useful cars in Thamanya in which the
/Hsayadaw/'s active young monk assistants go dashing around the domain
checking on the road construction projects.
     The /Hsayadaw/ himself also goes out everyday (driven in a Pajero
donated by one of his devotees, vastly superior to our borrowed vehicle) to
encourage the workers and to give them snack, /pan/ (a preparation of betel
leaf, lime and areca nuts) and /cheroots/.  The sight of his serene face and
the tangible proof of his concern for them seems to spur on the workers to
greater efforts.
     Whenever the /Hsayadaw/ goes through his domain people sink down on
their knees on the roadside and make obeisance, their faces bright with joy.
Young and old alike run out of their homes as soon as they spot his car
coming, anxious not to miss the opportunity of receiving his blessing.