Jan 31 - Feb 5, 2020
Vipassana: 6 Days of Monastic Life at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Location: Pa-Auk Forest Monastery, Mawlamyine, Myanmar
Tradition: Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw (Forest Monastery)
Satipatthana Vipassana, Battambang, Cambodia
I applied first at this location, having served twice here in the past. But I never received an application reply from them. Not even after the 3 follow-up emails I sent them.
Satipatthana Vipassana, Yangon, Myanmar
Still staunch in my resolve, I applied in Yangon, Myanmar where I was accepted. However, upon entering Myanmar (Myawaddy) on Jan 23, Immigration only gave me 14 days on my visa-on-arrival, expiring Feb 6. This would cut me in mid-stream of my course. As a work-around, I planned on coming back to Thailand on Feb 2, re-enter Myanmar on Feb 3 and get a fresh 14-days visa - this would fit my 10-day Vipassana. To kill time, I stayed 2 days in Myawaddy, 4 days in Hpa-an and a few more days in Mawlamyine. Then it dawned on me that I will have to travel 7 additional hours back to Thailand, and then take an additional 6 hours to Hpa-an before I could resume my route to Yangon - that's 13 additional hours on the bus (not to mention the cost and added lodging). That was a deal-breaker. Hence, I just thought of continuing my southward direction until my visa runs out, and make an exit to Thailand. From there, I'll just figure out where to go next.
Vipassana, Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
I met Carla, a Sicilian traveler, who mentioned there is a Vipassana center in Mawlamyine. What? Really? Right under my nose? I looked it up, and sure enough, there is Pa-Auk Forest Monastery just 16 kms away from the city center. It's not the Goenka tradition, but so what? At least I get to deepen my practice. Besides, I've done the Forest Monastery tradition at Wat Pa Tam Wua and it was one of the best experiences I've had.
With just 6 remaining days before my visa expiry, I applied online - no reply. Taking my chance from Mawlamyine town center, I hired a motorbike (MMK 4K) to take me to the center and hope that they accept me. You have to know where to be taken or you could lose your way. The compound is as big as a township - and there is no information office. Go straight to the Foreigner Registration Office (see map). There, they had me register, submit my passport (to be given back upon departure), was given a quick introduction, and was given a key to my personal wooden cottage (kuti) - a hard bed and space for my belongings. There was an array of kutis gridded into a community matrix. From there, I was on my own, guided only by the instruction sheet + timetable. It was up to us to comply. There was no one to herd the meditators or check-up on anyone. You could just cocoon yourself in your kuti and nobody would notice. However, there was the daily one-on-one interview with a teacher.
True enough to their namesake, the center was tucked neatly into a forested area, even though it's near the highway. The area is massive and can house up to 500 monks - monks in residence and visiting monks. Some monks have been there for up to 40 years already. You see monks from all over the world coming from different monastic orders through the color of their robes - light coffee, chocolate brown, burgundy, gray, mustard, and orange. Us foreigners only made up a handful (unlike Wat Pa Tam Wua where foreigners make up nearly 100%% of the meditators). Vegetarian meals were offered twice daily, but the servings were generous. I found it odd that some food was served in styrofoam and plastic cups. I guess mindfulness about the environmental impact of plastic hasn't dawned here yet. The library was extensive, offering books in several languages. The main meditation hall was on a hilltop and took 243 steps from my kuti. Walking up and down the steps several times a day was already a workout. Participation is on a donation basis. The center is funded by donations.
We started our day, waking up at 3 am and ended it at 9pm. A wooden gong would sound to alert us. The entire day would comprise of group sits, meals, walking meditation (although it seems like there no established walking path through the forest), chanting, interview and yard work.
Finding My Bearings
Because instructions were minimal, it was hard to find my bearings at first. What is the protocol for meals? What do we do instead when the Dhamma talk is done in Burmese? Where is walking meditation done? I had to ask or observe and see how things were done. As a general rule, monks come first - they eat first before you do, they occupy the front area in a dhamma talk, and you always give them right of way.
Dhamma talk is the theoretical crux of this practice and could not be underscored enough. The Dhamma talk in English was done live by a monk who could speak a rudimentary of English. A lot is lost because he could not articulate enough in English and the pronunciation was hard to decipher. I had to rely on available readings to supplement. This has always been my dilemma. I would rather that the Dhamma talk is pre-recorded on a video file by a native English speaker - this way, nothing is lost. This is the distinct advantage I see from the Vipassana Goenka tradition.
One of the many benefits of being in a center to practice Vipassana is to once again live the simplicity of a monastic existence. You live with the monks, eat with the monks, practice your precepts with them and meditate with them - but not converse with them (Noble Silence for everyone). You live a simple life - and there is no other beauty more pronounced than a simple life. A kuti with nothing but a hard bed is all that is provided - no tv, no internet, no social media, and no interaction. Washrooms are shared. Although discouraged, I still used my laptop to write down my thoughts and insight, fresh as they occur (not for anything else distracting). I also used my personal time by reading up on related material - the eBooks by Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw (which I still found a little abstract despite my near comprehension of it), and Yoga Makaranda I & II by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. I had full focus without any distraction - no coffee gatherings, no Blues night, no hotel check-ins or outs, no unannounced visitors, nothing! Nothing but dedicated time to deepen my practice.
Noble Silence is the practice of no talking, no looking at someone and no making of any body language to communicate. This way, meditators are not distracted and can remain focused. That is the policy here, but loosely implemented. Some monks, lay meditators and foreigners alike take liberties in talking, sometimes loudly, to the distraction of others.
The Chinese Corona Virus continued its global onslaught. Its threat is felt here in Mamlawyine. Already, monks coming from Singapore, Malaysia and other parts of Asia have already canceled their trips. Likewise, anyone who is already at the center but may not be well is prohibited from having a personal audience with the abbot, Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw. We were all handed face masks to protect ourselves and prevent the spread of the virus.
I started meditating since 2008, done 9 Goenka courses and 2 Forest Monastery sits. I have exorcised (or maybe the better word is "disempowered") all my demons out of my system as I am no longer consumed by anger, fear or hate. It's easy for me now to meditate where I can totally relax the body, mind and spirit. But that's as far as I can take it. Despite all that meditative ease, I am not able to deepen my meditative state. I still cannot dissolve my solidity, nor arrive to a single-pointed concentration. As much as I try, the mind simply does not want to go there. I reach a point where my mind tells me I've had enough - not unlike the body telling me to stop eating when I have eaten way too much in a buffet restaurant. At times, during a sit, it got too tiring to keep controlling the mind - nothing would register, and that's the time I give it a rest. I might do pranayama instead (I shouldn't be doing this, but it's better than sitting idly). I try to discern if it's just my clever mind trying to cop-out of meditation, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm thinking, why try to go deep, when I am already reaping the benefits obtained from deep meditation? Perhaps what I'm doing is enough. Perhaps I don't need to go into Samadhi or any other esoteric level in a heightened meditative state.
Leaving Pa Auk Forest Monastery
I left one day before my visa expiry, just in case there might be some snag. I asked the Foreign Registration Office for info to help me get to Myawaddy (the border town for Thailand) but they couldn't understand me. It was frustrating. I thought they would already have that info printed on the wall. I was advised by 2 people to walk to the lower monastery (about 2 kms) and look for Senda - she speaks English and can help me. I took that long walk and asked her to write in Burmese the following, to show the drivers:
- for the motorcycle driver:
- for the shared-taxi driver:
You can also print the above and it'll save you a lot of headache. The trip by taxi was so much faster than a bus since it took the short-cuts, and I paid just a little more than taking a bus. Take the front seat - it's worth the extra payment.
I'm drawn to the conclusion that it's enough for me to regularly sit (or serve) in a meditative course to regain perspective and fortify my practice, but not necessary for me to go deeper into a meditative trance. What for, when the mind refuses (despite due diligence on my part). Besides, the things I aim for in meditation, I have already received (no more anger, keeping the balance of my mind, switching my nervous system into para-sympathetic mode for healing and recovery). No, enlightenment is not my goal. It's enough to live in peace and in harmony with everything else. Perhaps that is already enlightenment.
This is not a beginner center and there is practically no teaching here. The one-on-one teaching or instructions here in the center are minimal. English from the interviewer and giver of Dhamma talk is also limited and not that easy to understand. I would suggest a beginner to read up on the abbott's 4 eBooks before getting started.
- Knowing and Seeing
- Mindfulness of Breathing
- Workings of Kamma
- The Only Way for the Realization of Nibbana
But the environment that the center provides is so idyllic to find bearing, to gain centering, to recharge the energy and reboot the system. It's a placid place that calms the nerves and soothes the senses. For that reason alone, it's time and effort well spent to be here.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat (sit) Apr 1-12, 2009
- Serving at Vipassana Meditation Course (serve) Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009
- Vipassana Meditation Course Part 3: Forgiveness (sit) Mar 24 - Apr 4, 2010
- Vipassana Meditation Course Part 4: Getting Established in the Technique (sit) Apr 25 - May 6, 2012
- Vipassana 5: Seeing the Bigger Picture (sit) Aug. 20-31, 2014
- Vipassana 6: Serving at Battambang, Cambodia (serve) Sep 17-28, 2014
- Vipassana 7: Vipassana as an Art of Living (serve) May 5-17, 2015
- Satipatthana Sutta Vipassana (sit) Mar 16-25, 2018
- Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day (serve) May 1-5, 2018
- 20 Days of Monastic Life at Wat Pa Tam Wua Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
- Vipassana: 6 Days of Monastic Life at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery Jan 31 - Feb 5, 2020
Where to Register for a Vipassana course
- Vipassana Official Website (Goenka Tradition)
- Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery
- Pa Auk Forest Monastery in Mawlamyine
Next stop: Full-Body Ocular by the Immigration Officer in Mae Sot, ThailandMAWLAMYINE
- Vipassana: 6 Days of Monastic Life at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery Jan 31 - Feb 5, 2020
- Exploring Mawlamyine, Myanmar Jan 29-31, 2020
Mawlamyine FYI / Travel Tips
- Hpa-an to Mawlamyine - departure 1:30pm, arrival 5:00pm, 3.5 hours, MMK 10k including car pick-up from hotel
- Hpa-an to Mawlamyine - by BUS, MMK 1200k, disembarking on every bridge crossing
- Yangon to Mawlamyine - Man Dalar Minn Express is also a popular and reputable bus company
- Yangon to Mawlamyine - PTT bus (War Dan St., 01-221479, 01-221472, 01-212131), 7 hours, special seating, MMK 8000, departure 8pm and 9pm, arrival 3am and 4am respectively.
- Mawlamyine to Yangon - Mawlamyine to Yangon is MMK10k, departing 9pm and 10pm, and arriving Yangon at 4am and 5am respectively. $16 USD for upper class seats at Mawlamyine train station counter #7
- Yangon to Mawlamyine - 2 trips daily, depart 6:00 am (two stops at Thaton and Kyaitiyo), arrive 3:30 pm (9.5 hours), next service leaving Yangon 7:15 am, arriving Mawlamyine at 6:30 pm.
- Mawlamyine to Yangon - 2 trips daily, depart 6:00 am (two stops at Thaton and Kyaitiyo), arrive 3:45 pm (9.75 hours), next service leaving Yangon 10:00 am, arriving Mawlamyine at 8:00 pm (10 hours).
- motor cycle commute - pay only MMK 500 for short distances
- motor cycle tours - I was quoted MMK 20,000 for half-day tour covering 3 attractions
MOTORBIKE WITHIN MAWLAMYINE
- Pa-Auk Tawya Meditation Centre - Theravada Buddhist monastery practicing both Samatha (tranquility) and Vipassana (insight) meditation. Take bus bound for Mudon, ask the driver to let you off at Pa-Auk Tawya (the bus goes right past the main gate of the monastery on the way to Mudon)
Tel (95) 57-27853 / (95) 57-27548 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Zeigyi (Central Market) -
- Gaungsaekune Sandawshin Pagoda -
- Night Market -
- Kyeik Tha Lan Pagoda -
- Kyaik Thoke Pagoda -
- Win Sein Taw Ya - Reclining Buddha -
- Death Railway Museum -
- Bilu Island -
- Thanbyuzayat World War II Cemetery -
Mawlamyine Cost Index
- As a general rule, local food much like its neighbors Hpa-an and Myawaddy, is inexpensive in Mawlamyine. It is delicious, safe (I never had a tummy issue with any of its street food) and all over the place. You can get a decent local noodle meal for MMK 500 ($0.30).
USEFUL INFORMATION(as of Jan 2020)
Myanmar FYI / Travel Tips
- accommodation - not all destinations in Myanmar can accommodate foreign travelers. Walk-in hotel guests could be refused. Better make an online booking, or make sure the hotel you wish to stay, at is listed in the online booking sites (Agoda, Booking.com, etc.)
- local time - adjust time 30 mins behind from Thailand (if arriving from Thailand)
- Burmese people - Burmese people are new to what's happening to Myanmar - being opened-up to the rest of the world. They remain friendly, helpful and curious. Tourism being new, the culture is not yet corrupted by it.
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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