A Glimpse of Mount Meru by Dhamma Beri Ashin Viriya (Taung Soon) (Translated by U Hla Min)
For the return trip from Fort Wayne, Indiana (with a sizeable number of people from the “Golden Land”), I had booked the (early) 6 A.M. flight to Chicago (O’Hare airport). With the flight taking a little more than an hour, we would arrive at Chicago at 6:15 AM Local Time. Then, take the 7 A.M. flight to San Francisco with ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) of 10 A.M. Due to the Time Zones, this flight segment appears to take three hours instead of five hours.
That was what should be in principle. In reality, we arrived at Fort Wayne airport at 5 A.M. (to be conservative). We were informed that the flight would be delayed. Since the next flight would not leave until 9 A.M., our itinerary was readjusted and new tickets were issued gratis (instead of the $25 or more charge).
It was 10 A.M. or so when we emplaned. We reached Chicago a little after 11 A.M. Since the connecting flight was at 3 P.M., I phoned Mudita Shwe Kyaung Sayadaw, who would pick us at the air port, that we would land in San Francisco only after 6 P.M.
At the Chicago airport, I sensed the old backache reappearing; so I dragged the two carry-on luggage slowly. There was no hurry since the connecting flight is quite far off. The airport was not only huge, but (for an occasional traveler) it was also complex. The terminal where the small planes from small cities land is quite far from the terminal used by the big planes flying to large cities. (In my mind) the distance would be about three times the length of Yangon air port. Also, one has to use the appropriate escalators and elevators.
As I was taking an escalator, a young person of Latin American descent, asked me, “Do you need any help?” When I showed him the air ticket, he said, “The boarding gate is far. You have to pass one more terminal. I will help you.” He accosted a supervisor (or manager) of the air line that would fly me back to SF. May be he was an employee of that airline. He brought a wheel chair for me. He guided the wheel chair the route (including an elevator ride) to the departure gate. He found an empty seat at the gate. He said, “A plane will be departing for Miami. The following plane will take you to SF. Please wait here for about three hours.” I tried to offer him a $5 tip for his services, since I thought it was customary, but he politely declined and said, “Thank you, have a nice trip”, and then went his way.
It was than around 11:30 A.M. Chicago Time. Since I had only taken a cup of coffee and two slices of bread in this morning, I felt somewhat hungry. I took out my watch and I tried to look here and there hoping there would be a fast food shop. On the opposite bench was a Chinese lady about thirty years old looking at her watch. (I learned later that she was a Chinese Buddhist from Taiwan who came to the US to study. After graduation, she worked in the US.) She asked, “Have you had your lunch?” When I told her that I was looking for a fast food shop, she said, “Please wait here. I’ll bring back some food for you.” I told her, “I don’t eat Red Meat.” She might have the idea that Buddhist monks are vegetarians. She said, “I see, I see”. Upon her return, she brought a cup of coffee, sandwich and salad. She took off her shoes and then offered dana to me.
After I completed my lunch, I drank water. She was smiling. She said, “Are you OK?” When I nodded, she smiled and said that was her dana (offering). I said, “Thank you”, smiled and nodded. Uhm …. Even in such places (e.g. a US airport), the image of Buddha has not faded. That was my thought.
Since I would have to wait long, I had random thoughts. One thought was to send metta (loving kindness) to the two people who had helped (a complete stranger like) me. Another thought was to give something back to them for their acts of kindness. I slipped my hand into my bag and realized that I had brought small Jade “Pathana” wearables that Dhamma Duta Ashin Cekinda used to give to the attendees of his “Culture” classes. I gave one to the lady (who had offered dana to me). She appeared happy and delighted. She was scrutinizing the gift.
I said, “There are 24 sections. They are called ‘Pathana’ (Relations). Protect you from danger. Bring you wealth (and good luck).” She replied, “Very lucky. Thank you so much.” She appeared quite happy.
Then, one thought led to another. A simple gift to express her help had made her happy. Also, I felt indebted to one who has helped on the short 10 minute trip in the air port. Then, how indebted should I be to the teachers who have taught and guided us through our lives? How grateful should I be to the donors of the daily alms and the four requisites over the years? How could I repay to the dhamma audience and the readers?
The thread led to my beloved mother and her virtues. One often does not see things that are too near, or too big. One prime example is the good things that my mother had done for us.
[Hope it’s not too late.] … Ah May (Mother) … Ah May (Mother) … [I miss you.]
My native village named U Yin Ywa (Garden Village) lies to the east of Nat Mauk Myo (Town) and to the west of Ah Le Yoma (Middle Range). More importantly, since my village is within the 10 mile radius of Mai Za Li Bin Sa Khan (also known as Ah Le Yoma Sa Khan), the camp and/or headquarters of Ba Ka Pa (Burma Communist Party — BCP), it is in the jurisdiction of Ah Mai Yaung Ne Mye (Black/Dark Area — unsafe area occupied by insurgents). Moreover, since there were also Yebaw Phyu and Pyu Saw Htee, the region is also known as Yaung Sone Tha Bon Ne Mye (area occupied by multi-colored insurgents or parties with different colored flags).
(It was customary for youths to be temporary novices.) After leaving the novicehood, my father joined the Yebaw Phyu army, which was organized and formed by Bo Pho Kun according to an order or directive by Bogyoke Aung San. With the rise of Burma Communist Party (and its splinter groups), there were “demands” that people should join their (splinter) group. The situation became complicated.
My paternal grandfather called my mother and said. “My Tu Ma (niece) … In this chaotic time (with so many trying to recruit your husband) you seem to have only two choices. Do you want to be a widow? Do you want to a Yahan Ah Ma (offering four requisites to a monk)? My mother’s replay was short, “It only depends upon your son’s wishes.” So, my father, then 33 years old, became a monk and moved to a Taw Ywa Sar Thin Daik (teaching monastery in forest) about 7 miles from our village. I do not know the details since I was only 3 years old at the time. I only remembered what my grandparents told me. My grandfather said, “Your mother was brave. She was also decisive.”
Ah May (Mother) … what can we say (about you)? (You were) NOT a widow. (You were) NOT a divorcee. (You were) NOT abandoned by your husband. (You) graciously allowed (your) husband to become a monk and then struggled to take care of (your) two young sons.
Ah May was very hard working. (At that time, there were NO daily bazaars. Most places have bazaars called Nga Yet Da Zay that open once every five days.) There was a Nga Yet Da Zay at Taung Nyaung Kone in Pyaw Bwe district, and is about 10 miles from our village. The bazaar sells wholesale and retail. She would start early in the morning and take cart to buy merchandise at the Zay. It would be quite late at night before she got back home. Then, on the following mornings, she will sell her merchandise at the villages at the foot of the Yoma. Sometimes she would ride on a cart. Sometimes, she would carry merchandise on her head and walk. She was a wandering vendor.
Ah May not also worked as a vendor. She also labored on the fields. There is one thing that she repeatedly told us. “Although I am a vendor, our Ah Myo (lineage) is
NOT that of vendors. We descended from Thu Gyees (Headmen).” My grandfather Pho Tun Kyaw was not simply a Thu Gyee. He was a revered Thu Gyee with special authority to judge cases worthy of Five Kyats (a huge amount at the time) in his jurisdiction. Most people in the area feared him. His power lies in part being a close follower of U Min Yaung, an extremely powerful Thu Gyee of Nat Mauk.”
What Ah May mentioned is possible. In our village Ah May and her siblings own a lot of fertile land and farms, and they can be seen in all four directions.
Ah May’s eldest brother was single; so he stayed with Ah May. The reason Ah May can go to neighboring villages to sell her merchandise is because Oo Gyee (mother’s elder brother) took care of us and also cooked and fed us. Since the two siblings (Ah May and Oo Gyee) had inherited a vast amount of farm land, they would either allow their cousins to farm them and take half the earnings or hire manual laborers to cultivate the land.
Although Ah May worked very hard, she was very frugal. Others would mention Ah May’s frugality. Her favorite response was, “I work very hard not so that I can spend and eat (lavishly). It’s to ensure that my sons would not feel lowly and insecure.”
She would not buy (special exotic) food, but whenever she went shopping she would buy a week’s worth of snacks, and items needed for cooking at home. Examples include dried fish, potato, and cabbage. In those days, in the rural villages, snacks usually mean jaggery and roasted beans. We were fortunate to have different kinds of Zay Mont (snacks sold at the bazaars) every morning.
Earlier Ah May would usually work on the looms under the (legged) house. The fact that Ah May later had to work hard for seven or eight years — not caring for rain or sunshine and often with missed meals and sleepless nights — had a toll on her body and health. When I was about (11) years old, Ah May became bedridden and unable to work for a living. In modern terms, she was probably having stomach (indigestion) problem. Was gas (bloating and blurping), she lost her diet and finally became bed ridden. Ah May was afraid of medication.
In 1319 B.E. (1957 A.D.), I was 11+ years old, and my elder brother was 13+. Ah May was about 45 years old, but she looked much older for her age. We were ordained as novices.
When Ah May became (quite) ill, Ah Phay Uzin (father turned monk) moved back (temporarily) to our village and stayed at the monastery. At times when Ah May felt better, she would offer soon (food) to Uzin and also consult him on (important) matters. One issue is our Shin Pyu (ordination as novice[s]).
Ah May felt (quite) healthy during the days of our Shin Pyu. Not sure if that was attributed to her (positive) mindset at the time. She was hale and hearty. She even put the robes in a Ban (platter) and carried them on her head and joined the Ah Hlu Wut Hle (team going around the village asking for donations for the ceremony). She also participated in the libation ceremony and shared merits. Soon after the Ah Hlu (Shin Pyu ceremony), Ah May became bed ridden again. This time, never to recover as if lying on a Thay Yar Nyaung Saung (death bed).
It was customary that our Nge Sayadaw (Venerable/mentor since our young days) would not allow temporary novice to disrobe within three months. In our case, Sayadaw made an except after seven days for us (two brothers) to leave the order and to take care of our mother. Her health deteriorated (quickly).
A few months later, Ah May wanted to invite Sayadaws from the Ywa Oo Kyaung (monastery at the head of the village) to chant Paritta (Protective Verses) for her to listen and appreciate. That evening, five monks including Taung Kyaung Sayadaw (Chief Abbot from the Southern monastery), Myauk Kyaung Sayadaw (Chief Abbot from the Northern monastery), and Ah Phay Uzin, came to our house.
Two cousin Gyee Daws (maternal aunts) supported Ah May so that she could listen to the Paritta in sitting posture (show of reverence to the Sayadaws). Oo Gyee led the Ye Seik Cha (libation) ceremony. Towards the end of the ceremony, Ah May motioned to us in a firm voice to come near her. Only at that moment, I realized the objective of having a Paritta recitation.
First, she said to us. “Well … My sons … I will speak short (and to the point). Please listen (carefully). After I pass away, (promise that) you will not stay with any relative. I have worked hard so that you will not feel helpless and insecure. When I had the Shin Pyu ceremony for you, it was not done without thought or preparation. I made sure that the ceremony was on par with that of others. No matter how many relatives you may have. The house of others is (definitely) not your mother’s house (home). The face of others is (also) not the face of your mother. I do not want my sons to look up at other’s face (just) to have a place to live and to have food to eat. The only face that is worth looking up and has better quality than your mother is the face of Buddha. Look up at the face of the Buddha. Do not look up at the face of others.
Well … both my sons. So that I may pass away peacefully, can you promise in front of the Ywa Oo Kyaung Sayadaw? That, after I pass away, you will enter the Order and remain for life as monks. Only after I hear your promise, I can pass away peacefully.” Her face showed an uplift. Her voice was clear, stern and strong.
The Sayadaws (from the two Kyaungs) also said, “This is to pay back your debt to your mother (for bringing you up). Please promise what your mother has requested.”
At the urging, and for no particular reason — especially since we had never defied the words and wishes of our mother and our Sayadaws, we promised, “We will try to fulfill the wishes of our mother”. Ah May said, “Sadhu (well done)”. There were tears in her eyes.
Then, she requested Ywa Oo Kyaung Sayadaw. “When Tapyidaw Ma (female devotee) is no longer present, will you perform the novice ordination for my two sons?” Then, touching us with her gentle hand, she proclaimed, “Giving birth to both of you and bring you up has been worthwhile.” She was trembling and probably exhausted. The Gyee Daws said, “Well … (You have) heard the promise. Pay respect to the Sayadaws and then rest.” Then, they helped her lie down on the bed.
It did not take a long time. Barely before a month elapsed, Ah May passed away (peacefully). A week later, there was Yet Le Soon Thoot (offering of food to the Sayadaws for one who had passed away seven days earlier). Ywa Oo Kyaung Sayadaw and Ah Phay Uzin conducted the novitiation ceremony for the two of us. We became monks once again … to this very day. At times, I felt happy; at other times, I felt sad. At times, I felt determined; at other times, I felt discouraged. is it not remarkable that I have endured/crossed life’s journey as a monk — to repay my mother’s debt (kindness and care)? That I am preaching Dhamma in lands far away that Ah May would never have imagined.
As I was immersed in my thoughts, … I heard a voice, “Are you OK?” I looked around and saw the young man who had brought me here in a wheel chair. He was bringing another passenger in a wheel chair, and greeted me. In imitation of his gesture — a fist with thumbs up — I greeted him back, and said, “OK, tahnk you.” The Chinese lady on the opposite bench saw the exchange of our greetings, and she smiled.
I had expressed appreciation at the two acts of kindness and help by complete strangers. One with a quick trip to the boarding gate. The other with lunch donation. Had I expressed appreciation at the metta and cetana of our beloved mother who took care of us? I tried to introspect deeply.
I remember the day when I completed the recitation portion of the Sutta Pitaka. Emulating Min Gun Saydawgyi, I shared merits with my mother. I also remember the exhortation of Ah May. “So that others may not get harmed by thorns and obstacles, you should remove them when you see them in the path.” Every time I remove thorns and obstacles (for myself and others), Ah May will flash in my mind.
I will never forget her words. “Other house are not (like) your mother’s house. Other faces are not (like) your mother’s face. The only face that is worth looking up and has better quality than your mother is the face of Buddha. Do not look up at the face of others. Look up at the face of the Buddha.”
“Momentary help (by someone); you’re indebted”. “A meal fed (by someone); you’re indebted”. Those two that I’m indebted to for their help and kindness are facing me. I am looking squarely at their faces. I do not have to look up at them. Compared to their help and kindness, my mother’s devotion and sacrifice seem like a tower or a mountain. … My face turned upward and looked above … Could not guess or estimate the end (of the sight). Oh … the saying “Higher than Mount Meru is the immense Kye Zu of our parents (gratitude owed to our parents”) could be true.
Still thinking. The pair of hand automatically rose on the forehead. Without prior thinking, I uttered in a low voice, ” I share my merits that I have performed to this day. I pay my respect to my mother and repay the dues for her Kye Zu. May she rejoice and say ‘Sadhu’.” I do not know why. My eyes were beginning to moist with tears. I tried to close my eye lids rapidly. Looked around stealthily. Took a tissue out of the bag. As the tissue touched the cheeks, Ho …. seemed like Ah May’s hand that touched me — that final day — after she listened to the Paritta chanting.
Ah May … May you hear with your divine ears.
Dhamma Beri Ashin Viriya (Taung Soon)
Dhamma Cekkhu Dhammayone
San Gabriel, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
(Translated by “Bay Area Kappiya” U Hla Min)