Archive for the 'Myanmar' Category

15
Mar
14

Latems creatief: When pictures become art paintings

Between the 31st of January and the 2nd of February there was an exposition of paintings at the “Hof Van Ryhove” in Gent, Belgium.

Monk with cat

Monk with pet

It was a group of art painters, grouped as ‘Latems Creatief’ who organized this exposition and who exhibited a large number of art works.

Young monk

young-monk-in-myanmar

Eight of the paintings were for sale, and all profit was foreseen for the Kalyan English Secondary School in Lalitpur, Nepal.

Touareg

Tuareg

These eight paintings were based on my photography, and I was very much honored by the request of their teacher Johan Morel to have some of my portraits selected to transform into art paintings.

Sadhu

sadhoe

Here you can see the transformations.

Inle Lake

rowing-during-sunset

To all members of the art group named ‘Latems Creatief’ I want to express my special thanks for their organization and for their donations to the Kalyan School in Nepal.

Red cap

red-cap

Monk with bowl

Ananda

Bandana

bandana girl

18
Mar
12

Wisdom from Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.  The word Buddha is a title for the first awakened being in an era.

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker.”

Buddha

In most Buddhist traditions, Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.”Siddhartha Gautama may also be referred to as Gautama Buddha or as Śākyamuni. The Buddha found a Middle Way that ameliorated the extreme asceticism found in the Sramana religions.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

Buddha

The time of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as 563 BCE to 483 BCE.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

Buddha

UNESCO lists Lumbini, Nepal, as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha. There are also claims about birth place of Gautama Buddha to be Kapilavastu in Uttar Pradesh, or Kapileswara in Orissa. He later taught throughout regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kośala.

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”

Buddha

Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

“I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”

Buddha
16
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 2)

Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar.

The legend of the Schwedagon Pagoda begins with two Burmese merchant brothers who met the Buddha himself. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs to be enshrined in Burma. With the help of several nat (spirits) and the king of this region, the brothers discovered the hill where relics of previous Buddhas had been enshrined.  A chamber to house the relics was built on the sacred spot and when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, amazing things happened: there was a tumult among men and spirits… rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell… the blind beheld objects… the deaf heard sounds…the dumb spoke distinctly… the earth quaked… Mount Meru shook… lightning flashed… gems rained down until they were knee deep… all trees of the Himalaya, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.  Once the relics were safely placed in the new shrine, a golden slab was laid on the chamber and a golden stupa built over it. Over this was layered a silver stupa, then a tin stupa, a copper stupa, a lead stupa, a marble stupa and an iron-brick stupa.

Later, the legend continues, the Schwedagon stupa fell into ruin until the Indian emperor Asoka, a Buddhist convert, came to Myanmar and searched for it. Finding it only with great difficulty, he then had the jungle cleared and the stupa repaired. It is easy to see why the Schwedagon Pagoda is such a holy place for believers. Built on the site of the relics of previous Buddhas, containing the relics of the most recent Buddha, the site of miracles and of royal patronage, this is an important stupa indeed. Legend says, that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period). The pagoda emerges from legend into history in 1485, which is the date of an incription near the top of the eastern stairway that tells the story of Shwedagon in three languages (Pali, Mon, and Burmese).  It was around this time that the tradition of gilding the stupa began. Queen Shinsawbu provided her own weight in gold (fortunately she was a lightweight at 40kg), which was made into gold leaf and used to cover the surface of the stupa. The queen’s son-in-law, Dhammazedi, offered four times his own weight plus that of his wife’s in gold and provided the abovementioned 1485 inscription.

It has been rebuilt many times since then due to earthquakes (including eight in the 17th century alone); the current structure dates from the rebuild under King Hsinbyushin in 1769. After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, British troops occupied the Schwedagon Pagoda complex, which stands high over the city like a castle. In 1852, during the second war, the British occupied the pagoda for 77 years and pillaged its treasures. In 1871, King Mindon Min from Mandalay provided a new hti (the decorative top), flustering the occupying British. As a symbol of national identity, the Schwedagon Pagoda was the scene of much political activity during the Myanmar independence movement in the 20th century. Amazingly, the huge earthquake of 1930 (which destroyed the Schwemawdaw in Bagan) caused only minor damage to the Yangon stupa. But the following year, it suffered from a disastrous fire. After a minor earthquake in 1970, the main stupa was fully refurbished.

The great Schwedagon Pagoda stands on a platform covering over 5 hectares on a hill 98m above sea level. It can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city, and the citizens of Yangon literally live out their everyday lives in its shadow. The large platform that supports the great stupa contains a variety of other stupas, prayer halls, sculptures and shrines. A number of these are associated with eight “days” (Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon), based on one’s day of birth. Each has an associated planet, direction and animal sign. FYI, the Buddha was born on Wednesday morning. One must always walk around (circumambulate) stupas clockwise, so visitors take a left from whichever entrance to the platform they’ve chosen.

15
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 1)

Myanmar has been called The Land of Gold, and that is not surprising at all when you consider just how beautifully the capital city sparkles. Giant, golden and glittering pagodas will take your breath away in this friendly city. Myanmar is a densely populated land with a population of approximately 48 million people. The capital city of Yangon itself boasts a population of 5 million. The people of the land are predominantly Buddhist, though there are many other ethnic groups represented. All in all, there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, each possessing their own proud culture and language. In the green, tree-lined streets of Yangon you will find all these hospitable people and places, and you will find other things as well. You will find food that has been described as some of the best in the world. And you will find the glittering and vast Shwedagon Pagoda, full of history, spirituality and lore.

Sitting high atop the sacred shrine of Singuttara Hill, housing relics of The Buddha and three Buddhas that preceded him, encased in gold and in jewels, the Shwedagon pagoda is a wonder to see. The beauty if the architecture and design will take your breath away, as will the sparkling, light catching jewels. This wondrous holy place, filled with history and legend, is not to be missed on your journey.

The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity, its age unknown. Long before the pagoda was built, its location on Singuttara hill was already an ancient sacred site because of the buried relics of the three previous Buddhas. According to one legend, nearly 5000 years had passed since the last Buddha walked the Earth, and Singuttara hill would soon lose its blessedness unless it was reconsecrated with relics of a new Buddha. In order that such new relics might be obtained, King Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi spent much time atop the hill, meditating and praying. A series of miracles ensued, and eight hairs of the historical Buddha were, somewhat magically, brought to the hill. To enshrine the relics, multiple pagodas of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, iron and gold where built one on top of the other to a height of twenty meters.

During the following centuries, passing from myth to historical fact, the pagoda grew to its present height of ninety-eight meters. Much of the continued construction of Shwedagon was actually reconstruction following disastrous earthquakes. During the 17th century the pagoda suffered earthquake damage on at least eight occasions. A particularly bad quake in 1786 brought the entire top half of the pagoda to the ground and its current shape and height date from the reconstruction of that time.

While much of the pagoda’s beauty derives from the complex geometry of its shape and surrounding structures, equally mesmerizing is its golden glow. The lower stupa is plated with 8.688 solid gold bars, an upper part with another 13.153. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5.448 diamonds, 2.317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, .1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The entire temple complex radiates a palpable sense of beauty and serenity.

14
Apr
11

Amarapura, Myanmar: U Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world.

Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa in the south. Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, before being finally supplanted by Mandalay 11km north in 1857.

The U Bein Bridge is a 1,2 km wooden footbridge (longest teak bridge in the world) and is built by the mayor U Bein, salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move to Mandalay. The bridge still serves as the most important communication link for the people of his villages.

The best time to travel to U Bein Bridge is in the afternoon. The view of sunset from and around the bridge is perhaps the most beautiful scene around Mandalay. The weather is also cooler and more comfortable, with a cool light breeze blowing over the serene lake. You can sit on the river bank of Taungthaman Lake, sipping beer with fried shrimps and fishes freshly caught from the lake. Then, take a boat ride along Taungthaman Lake. Walk along the bridge until the end, and meet the local villagers coming back from work to their villages on the other side of the Lake. You will realize this is one of the best places in Mandalay.

05
Apr
11

Thanaka: The Burmese Beauty Secret.

A girl’s face with a yellowish paste on her cheeks will always provoke a question from a foreigner: What is that they put on their faces? That is thanaka paste, the most environmentally friendly and widely used skin lotion in Myanmar. No chemicals, no preservatives, the lotion that helps the skin retains its youthfulness. In a modern world of fashion where various makeup brands and anti-aging lotions are the essential weapons against the signs of advancing years, thanaka still stands tall with the people of Myanmar.

Thanaka is a tree (Murea exotica,) grown mostly in the semi-sandy and arid regions of Central Myanmar. A thanaka tree needs about 30 years to mature and be harvested. The bark will be thick and shows deep serrations and exudes a faint fragrance if smelled. This is the most valuable part, rather than the wood.  The thicker the bark the better the quality. It is what gives the thanaka its fragrance and the paste when ground on a slab of stone. However, it can also be confused with thee or wood apple trees (Limonia acidissima) and many unscrupulous traders will just do that for an unsuspecting buyer. But some housewives still prefer the thanaka roots to the branches or the trunks, saying they are more durable, although much harder to grind.

When the thanaka trees are mature, they are cut into small sizes and sent all over the country for sale. At home the thanaka logs are then ground on stone slabs, with water added to get a thick paste that is applied on the skin. The paste is cool and fragrant. Some girls might even add dried flowers to add to the fragrance or draw decorative designs on their cheeks. Thanaka is a versatile skin lotion. Children are made to wear this natural lotion when they are out playing in the sun and the local ‘village belles’ treasure thanaka paste on their faces rather than the expensive skin care products available to their city cousins.

Girls doing hard work under the sun like, planting paddy or harvesting crops, even on construction sites, we see them with thick layers of thanaka on their faces. This protects them from the fierce rays of the sun, an age old UV protection nature had given to us. Thanaka is also a therapeutic. A small dab of this thanaka paste on an insect bite or minor itches and sunburn will ease the pain. The best present for a visitor to bring from Central Myanmar is a bundle of thanaka logs and how they hostess will love that: a treasure she will always cherish.

Male school children can also be seen with thanaka on their cheeks too. Many of the women folks put on a thin veneer of thanaka paste after a shower, on their whole body, from head to foot. They believe it protects the skin from aging and wrinkles. A stone slab on display at the Bago Shwemawdaw Pagoda Museum is reputed to be used by a famous princess of the Hanthawaddy Dynasty to grind her thanaka logs. Who knows, even the most popular screen personalities of Myanmar might secretly have small thanaka logs at home to make them look forever young!

01
Apr
11

The ultimate goal of a Buddhist Monk is the attainment of Nirvana

A Buddhist monk dedicates his live to Buddha and to gain enlighten. At certain countries such as Myanmar or Burma and Thailand, Buddhist monks have a high level in the social life in every community.

There are many legends, and the main reason for a Buddhist monk is to comfort the people in his environ and try to help them in their spiritual life. In many Buddhist countries it is natural to ask a Buddhist monk from the next monastery if there are problems of almost any kind.

To become a Buddhist monk, and to be one, is a usual way of life in many Buddhist countries in particular in Asia where most of the kids move in a Buddhist monastery for a couple of days. Being a  novice is as a part of their childhood. The Buddhist monastery also function as a social network to integrate kids who lost their parents, and have no place to go and at the other end of the lifespan, to take care of the elderly. Becoming a Buddhist monk is not so easy, it takes a lot of preparation and suffering.

About 80 percent of Myanmar’s people are Theravada Buddhists, where great stress is placed upon individual achievement — one must work out one’s own salvation. All good Buddhists must traverse the slow and tedious path of purity with diligence and patience. Buddhism emphasizes love, tolerance, compassion and gentleness. In order to influence or determine their Karma all devout Buddhists and in particular Buddhist Monks, strive to make merit through good actions such as charitable deeds and to refrain from evil or bad deeds which will earn demerit. Karma is the law of cause and effect under which good begets good and evil begets evil in this or the next existence.

The Buddha established the Order of the ‘Sangha’ or ‘Bikkhu’ (monks) and the ‘Order of Bilkkuni’ (nuns) for men and women wishing to renounce the world and live a life of purity, austerity, perseverance and self-discipline. Not everyone is expected to lead the life of a Buddhist monk or a Buddhist nun to achieve one’s goal although one’s spiritual progress is expedited by this process. A lay follower can also become an ‘Arahat’ (Saint) and proceed to his or her final destination.