Phayartaung is a hidden place where happiness is plenty and smiles come easily.
This is one of those places that you would assume exists only in dreams, or in another dimension. A place where one can easily forget about the rest of the world and immerse in a flow of happiness and experience a low-pace life.
Phayartaung exists, precisely, in a remote area in the middle of Myanmar. It is a place that received me with open arms, smiles, generosity, lots of food and with people who knows no language barriers.
This story is divided in chapters. It begins with the monastery.
Phayartaung Monastery is different from the others I had visited before, not only because Buddhism changes from country to country. Everything here is very simple and functional and, yet, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
More than a place for prayers and a living community for the monks, the monastery is the house of more than a thousand children and youth from villages nearby. They come to study in a school provided by the government and the monastery provides them with bed, food and spiritual guidance and further studies.
Phayartaung Monastery lies on the top of a hill and the village with the same name surrounds it, on the shore of the Samkar lake. The monastery is the center and the heart of the village in every aspect.
The villagers seek in the monastery not only spiritual guidance, but also advice on practical matters, such as building a bridge, they also reach the monastery to print documents, getting health treatments provided by volunteers who organize visits to the place. And not less important, the monastery is also a place for social gatherings during festive days.
The compounds of the monastery have several simple and functional buildings. Every building has a purpose to serve the more than 1.000 inhabitants, most of them children who come from villages nearby to study in the school provided by the government. Monks, teachers, volunteers and children live there, what makes the monastery a little lively city within the village.
Most buildings, some very simple structures made of wood, are dorms for girls and boys – one side of the monastery is for the boys’ dorms the other for the girls. All dorms were built donations, some by international companies or institutions. New dormitories are always in demand, as more children come every year and the monastery has a policy of not refusing any child who wants to study there.
The monastery runs mainly on donations. It is possible to see villagers coming to donate goods and money almost everyday. They bring what they have and what they cultivate on a constant basis. Not surprisingly, I have found out that Myanmar has been the world most generous country for four years now, according to the World Giving Index, with 91% of the its people saying they had donated money in the previous month.
How is a day in the monastery?
The days here begin early, really early, even before dawn… At 4:30 the sound of wood bell can be heard throughout the darkness. Suddenly you begin to hear the sounds of children taking up all the spaces. They are getting ready for the prayers in the pagoda, in the centre of the monastery. At 5am the prayers begin, followed by meditation.
As the sun rises, if the weather allows, it is time for some exercise. Meanwhile, some novices and monks go on the daily alms round.
Meals are served 2 times a day for monks and 3 times for the rest of the residents, and it is always a festive moment. Students take turns to help in preparation and serving of the food. Feeding all residents is one the most important activities in the monastery, and probably what requires most of the funds.
After the breakfast the children and teachers make their way to the school, which is just beside the monastery. And the others go on with their daily activities.
Of course there is much more happening in the monastery every day. This video shows a little more.
In the next chapter: The Children of Phayartaung.
Note: If you want to know more about Phayartaung monastery, Myanmar struggles, tales of spies involving monks and alms bowls, words of enlightenment and get to know a story of beautiful encounters that transcend religion and languages, I encourage you to read Children of the Revolution, beautifully written by Feroze Dada. And what is better, the profits from the book help the children of the monastery.