|SOURCE: " The Star " ... Thursday February 4 1999, Johannesburg, South Africa|
The snares of material trappings are winding ever-tighter around modern living. Now some people who are looking to break free, are turning to Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism.
Visiting Myanmar (formerly Burma) buddhist monk Chanmyay Sayadaw Ujanakabhivamsa believes that the growing popularity of Buddhism, especially in the Western world, has been fuelled by the need to bring "peacefulness and calm to the mind". He adds: "The Western world has had much material development but not as much of spiritual and mental development."
Sayadaw is the abbot of the Chanmyay Yeiktha meditation centre in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar. His visit is his way of staying connected with the Myanmar community in South Africa. There are about 80 families living here, many of whom are doctors who first arrived as part of Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma's call for help from foreign doctors. The community has established a monastery in Pietermaritzburg.
"It is important for me to come here because I can give inspiration," says Sayadaw.
His message for South Africans is no different from the teachings that he takes with him around the world. His travels are becoming increasingly extensive as the Western world clamours, in hope, at the philosophy of Buddhist teachings.
"Do good and abstain from evil things," is his simple advice. The core of Buddhist teachings revolve around five precepts which are to abstain from killing any living being, to abstain from taking what does not belong to you, to abstain from sexual misbehaviour, to abstain from harmful speech and to abstain from taking alcohol and drugs.
One of the most accessible routes to Buddhism is through meditation. Meditation, the Buddhists believe, is the seat of wisdom and the channel for enlightenment.
Sayadaw in particular, is a world renowned meditation master. He explains that there are two main types of meditation, one being serenity meditation while the other is vipassana or in sight meditation.
In serenity meditation the focus is to observe one object whereas with vipassana meditation the observation changes as the bodily and mental phenomena of the individual changes during meditation. Importantly though, Sayadaw says that meditation is something that can be done by anyone provided they have reached the point where they desire to meditate.
"Meditation is for daily life you must be mindful of any activities of the body and the mind. There must be no false acts or false speech then you can liberate yourself of defilements and then of suffering," he says.
He also advises a minimum of a month and a half in a retreat to fully understand the benefits of meditation and to learn the correct ways to meditate from the monks. However, the practice of meditation remains a personal journey. And it's one that has to translate to the core of your daily existence.
"When you are washing the floor it can be meditation. You should be aware of the movements, of the strokes that you make and of how your hand moves," Sayadaw says.
A week-long retreat is enough to lay the groundwork for a basic grasp of meditation. Dharmmarakkhita, the resident meditation adviser at the centre in Pietermaritzburg, says that a more intensive retreat is needed to find the deeper realisations of meditation: "We are only guides, no one can give you the enlightenment," he explains.
Though Dharmmarakkhita says that there are at present not enough teachers to accommodate all the interest, he believes that it is vital to learn techniques from the masters.
The increasing popularity is an indication of the growth of Buddhism.
"There is more awareness and there are a lot of people who are inquisitive. People are now realising that this is not about idol worship; Buddhism is about sharing, generosity morality and virtue." He adds, however, that Buddhism is not about trying to convert others, or actively seeking to increase the number of followers.
"Buddhism does not have to be religious," he says and adds that its principles can be practised by people of all religions.
"It's an extremely practical way of life and there are no secrets — we're open to inspection," he says.
Buddhism was founded more than 2500 years ago in northern India by Siddhatta Gotama when he used meditation to find ways that would free himself and his fellow man from suffering.
The essence and goals of Buddhism have not changed in modern times but there are modern tools to access the teachings, for example the website with online information at:
The site includes guidelines on the intricate principles and techniques for meditation to a children's introduction to Buddhism.
Chanmyay Sayadaw will have a dharma talk at the Theosophical Society in Pretoria.
A nine-day meditation programme will be held at the Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit from this Friday - February 5 to February 13.
For more information phone (012) 347- 2447
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