Saturday night, August 20 2016
We wake up bright and early at Shwe Oo Min monastery. The gong rings at 3:30 am, and the first sit is from 4 to 5. By sit, I mean sitting meditation in the meditation hall. Breakfast is at 5:30, then we start again at 7. The schedule alternates between hour-long walking and sitting meditation sessions all day until 9 pm, with a lunch break at 10:30 and a juice break at 4 pm. Seems pretty dire, and you probably wonder how I have time to keep a blog. So the reality is that people manage their schedule as they wish, and probably no one attends all the sessions. The official schedule is a suggestion, but in reality, people can do sitting or walking meditation all day long, or none at all, and there is no one taking attendance.
The meditation hall is a large two-storey building, where women meditate on the ground floor and men upstairs. The women seem more assiduous. It’s a little embarrassing to see how full the ground level is when I walk up the stairs, and to then see how sparsely populated the men’s floor is!
Every morning, a Burmese teacher gives a talk in Burmese (untranslated) downstairs, and it is broadcast upstairs through loudspeakers. Non-Burmese speakers can listen to recorded Q&As with the main teacher, Ashin Tejaniya, from 5 to 6 every afternoon. Otherwise, we have access to books and hours of recorded translated talks.
The place is becoming increasingly more popular among English-speakers, and there is a real effort to cater to us. Tejaniya himself speaks quite good English but always speaks through an interpreter. The office staff also speaks English.
I haven’t yet met Tejaniya in a teacher-student setting, but this will soon happen. In this tradition, there is a lot of contact between teacher and students. Here, there is one teacher and 300 students, so the interviews happen in groups. It should be the English-language groups’ turn within a few days.
So how have I been managing my time? Hum… well I don’t exactly hate the laxity around the schedule. I quite enjoy the fact that we can make this as stressful or as relaxed as we want. I’ve made it to the 4 am sit three times out of six, and I usually end up sitting about four hours a day altogether. I do some walking, usually while listening to recorded talks. And I usually head back to my room for a nap once or twice a day when I go into nodding-meditation mode.
It is Saturday night 9:15, and I feel bored and restless. It is 9:45 in Bangkok, and my friends are dancing salsa right now at Asiatique… Me, I’m lying on my bed in a Burmese monastery writing this blog entry, with my roommate Kuzaw playing with his phone a couple of meters away. Strange life!