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Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat

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Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
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4/30/19 10:09 AM
I'm researching a project on the subject of retreat, meditative and otherwise. I've just done a 9-day intensive Mahasi retreat in the UK, and would be very interested to hear from anyone who has done a 60-day retreat at the Panditarama Forest Retreat Center in Burma (or a retreat of similar length anywhere else that works in the Mahasi tradition).


RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
5/27/19 12:12 PM as a reply to Nat Segnit.
Hi, not sure this post is not overdue. I was there for 60 days. What do you need to know? ;)

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/11/19 2:58 AM as a reply to Eudoxos ..
If you'd be so kind, I have a few questions about the conditions of staying at Panditarama.

I've read both https://placestomeditate.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/panditarama-shwe-taung-gone-yangon-myanmar/ and https://placestomeditate.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/panditarama-forest-meditation-centre/ which are both useful but I was hoping I might get some clarity on a few points; I should note that my main concern is the ability to sleep.

* I've read (unsure if true) that Burmese centres can be noisy and there can be somewhat of an indifference to it. I don't know if this is just due to exceptional cases during construction or not. Did you have any issues with noise?
* Relatedly, any issues sleeping due to the environment? The blog above says that there are individual rooms which seems reassuring.
* I've also read that it can be quite strict. I'm not sure how much of what's out there is hyperbole. Are things "police-like"? I have no issue with practicing all day and sticking to the schedule but my concern is that if there's an occasional difficulty that requires a break or if I say the wrong thing in interview, how much slack is there before asking you to leave?
* Did you or any other foreign yogis get sick (or have any health issues)? I've seen this mentioned as well but I wonder if it's more a relic of the past.

I'm looking to practice in Burma and I'm deciding between Panditarama and Shwe Oo Min.

If you have any information on Shwe Oo Min, please share. I share similar concerns about Shwe Oo Min but additionally someone on DO said
> The (male) dorms that I stayed in at the time were quite disgustingly dirty. I've heard they were planning to add a new section to the meditation center for international yogi's with less strict non monastic rules. Not sure that it's done yet. (https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/10686637)
The Shwe Oo Min site also says:
> Sayadaw is recuperating from treatment and will away from May through to the end of June 2019 so the centre is not open to foreign yogis during this period.
I haven't been able to find any further info yet.

Are there other locations in Burma you'd advise for consideration? Any insight here would be much appreciated.

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/11/19 7:57 AM as a reply to Jeff.
Hey Jeff

I’ve had experience in the past year or two in the various places in Myanmar except for Shwe Oo Min. As for noise, it’s a matter of luck. The Mahasi Centre recently had some heavy duty construction going on nearby. But oddly the site seemed to close down for days at a time so was silent. Then there were dogs barking, but sporadically so it was not a big problem. Overall though it was not a deal-breaker. 

The Panditarama Forest Centre is pretty quiet, as you’d expect from the name. The other Yangon Panditarama is also relatively quiet. People within the grounds are probably the main source of sounds, so not a problem. I’d say not to avoid going there due to these concerns as even if something like sporadic noise gets to you, the benefits outweigh these. 

No health issues. I love Asian food, the spicier the better. And the weather is either fine or hot, but no big deal. And mosquitoes and all that are part of the wallpaper. So I can’t tell you of any issues in the health department. 

As for strictness, I kinda thrive in a strict environment because it eliminates for me the choice of whether to bugger off to my room and chill or not. But here’s how it was. The Mahasi Centre make a pretense of checking up on you but don’t really. I increasingly meditated in my room as the weeks went by and no one bothered me over it. The interviews were the usual Asian thing of bowing at the start and end of the interview, but the rest of the interview was a chilled out chat. The Panditarama centres are stricter and go around checking you’ve left your room to go to the hall, that sort of thing. Interviews are a little more traditional but still humane and reasonable in my experience. 

It’s a good idea not to confuse the above with the Panditarama centre in Lumbini, Nepal, as this is run by a German-born monk and his trusty Burmese sidekick, both of whom are very pragmatic and reasonable, so you are left alone at all times, with a tacit trust that you’ll get the job done with a minimum of child-like harassment. They’re awesome. 

I hope this this helps you and others. Yes the blog you mentioned has lots of good info, including on visas, etc. 
https://placestomeditate.wordpress.com

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/11/19 8:52 AM as a reply to Jeff.
I did the 60 day retreat at Panditarama Forest centre in 2017/18

1) Noise: it was often quite noisy in the meditation hall. There is a small lake near the hall and around mid day there is often a very loud racket of squaking birds. Also there are these "chirping" geckos in the hall sometimes, and especially later in the evening, when everything is silent, you'll hear them extremely loudly. Also the door to the hall is very creaky and some meditators will open it abruptly mid-session without consideration for the others who are sitting. I didn't find the noise a problem though, and if you don't expect silence then you can use any sound as an object of awareness. It is certainly not an ideal very silent centre. So it depends how sensitive you are to noise. Sometimes there are lay burmese labourers in the compound and they might not keep strict silence but its still pretty minor.

2) I had an individual room and no issues sleeping. There is a large mosquito net that covers the whole bed. Very few insects in the room. Quite cold at night but you can get extra blankets (this was Jan/Dec, which is very hot during the day).

3) It is quite strict but I wouldn't consider it police like. It felt like a supportive and kind environment to me. I only stayed in my room one time , and a friendly monk rang a little bell outside my door and when i opened it he gently motioned me to come to the hall with a kind smile, as if reminding me. Personally I didn't get along well with my interview teacher and I probably said the "wrong thing" most sessions but he put up with me. I don't think you'll be asked to leave unless you really don't practice or are outright direspectful. At least three of the nuns there speak excellent english (one of them being late Sayadaw U Pandita's translator Ma Vajira) and they are all very friendly and supportive.

4) I didn't get sick. No idea about others on the retreat. I got some toothache, and they have a little medical clinic there but it didn't even occur to me to ask. The food was really great in my opinion.

No idea about Shwee Oo Min. But I did meet a very dedicated chinese practitioner who recommended that if I wanted to go to Pa Auk's monastery, that I go instead to his other centre Na Uyana in Sri Lanka because the weather is better and the teachers are just as good (and he no longer teaches at any of the centres anyway, having retired last year).

http://nauyana.org/

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/11/19 9:56 PM as a reply to Paul.
I appreciate the thoughtful replies. (I'm directing this at Paul because he mentioned attending various centres in Burma but both responses are quite useful, so thanks to Andrew as well!).

I'm curious you have a preference with regard to the centres you mentioned? The placestomeditate blog seems to me to show preference for Panditarama. He mentions a few cautionary points about the Mahasi Centre [https://placestomeditate.wordpress.com/2019/04/07/the-mahasi-centre-yangon-myanmar/]:
> One feature of the centre all potential meditators should know about is the noise. The centre sprawls over an area of high land, surrounded by construction sites, some of which bang and clang all through the night. There are also nightclubs nearby that go on all night sometimes, and there are the usual Burmese monastery mangy dogs that have random barking fits throughout the night. All of these noise sources were usually random and intermittent. I brought earplugs and managed fine, and the construction sites (my experience in Feb-Mar 2019) will some day end up being finished.

> One more feature important to note is the teacher-student challenges. Interviews are held twice a week as a group, which is awkward as you have to describe your practice in front of several or even a couple dozen strangers. There are translators for Japanese, Korean, and Chinese languages. Everyone else is expected to use English. The teacher's English pronunciation is shockingly poor, and unless you use specific terminology, he may have trouble understanding you as well. A frequent feature of interviews was getting stuck on a word that he couldn't get across or understand us saying. Having said all that, when communication ran well, his advice was solid, which is rare for this tradition where teachers often say little or just offer very basic reminders.

> The other point is how exclusionary the management seem toward non-Burmese. Signage is almost always mono-lingual - Burmese only. Foreigners who ordain as monks/nuns don't get to participate in the usual monastic activities like going out to receive donations of food from the community or chanting in Pali. [This seems like less of an issue from the perspective of those merely interested in developing their meditation practice].

These don't sound like dealbreakers to me but I did notice that the Mahasi Centre lists the schedule [http://www.mahasi.org.mm/content/whole-day-tasks-mahasi] as sleep from 11p - 3a (4 hours!). My understanding is that as practice deepens, the amount of sleep needed decreases (without feeling sleepy or adverse health issues) but I'm curious how strictly they enforce this. I'd hope that it's possible to sleep after the 9p group sit and have the option to continue practicing, but if 4 hour sleep window is forced without allowing the practice to develop into it, that seems unhealthy. I don't know if Panditarama is different with respect to the sleep schedule here but they list 9p as the last activity [http://www.panditarama.net/index.php/time-schedule].

I'm also curious about the distinction between Panditarama Yangon and the Forest Centre. I suspect the main appeal of the Forest Centre would be being in nature (forest... this seems obvious, right?), but I imagine most of the time is spent indoors so I'm not sure if yogis are in a position to reap much of this fact. I suspect one might deal with more mosquitos, snakes, and bugs as well. Yangon seems more practical as there isn't the additional travel cost in getting to Bago. I'd be interested if anyone has any related thoughts on this.

Glad to get more detail regarding strictness. These descriptions paint a reasonable picture; I'd read some more sensational accounts online that raised some unease.

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/12/19 1:13 AM as a reply to Jeff.
Hi Jeff, I’ll try to be of a little more help! ;-) I guess the blogger is just trying to cover all bases, like a hotel review, not wanting to omit anything that would cause a person to later say he didn’t mention X about the place. 

Noise is an issue everywhere. The ‘quietest’ places I’ve ever been sometimes are screaming with bird calls, say around dawn. Anyway, the Mahasi Centre noise was intermittent and earplugs do wonders. 

The teacher thing in my experience is like the blog says, pretty much everywhere in Asia. The Mahasi school functions like that. Teachers are under strict instructions not to divulge any suggestions of where you are on the path or what you’ve attained. They have to propagate the official method so they avoid giving detailed instructions about exactly how to pass a stage, and instead tend to just remind you of the basics - Note it, observe it, etc. So the interviews descriptions are, to me, completely normal stuff. The solution? There are some international teachers around who give detailed, tailored instructions, but you won’t find them in Burma-based centres. And occasionally if you have a good relationship with a traditional teacher, they might get a little deeper and give some details like where to focus you energies to get progress, or what to look for to move ahead. And there’s the place mentioned earlier - Panditarama in Lumbini, Nepal - where there’s a western monk who gives these kinds of instructions.

The 11pm bedtime is a surprise to me. I was usually the only left in the hall after about 8:30pm and I’d leave at 9, turning off the lights. In the morning they ring a bell at 3:45am and you’re supposed to go to the hall to start at 4. But many people didn’t. And no one chased them up. So don’t believe what you see online!

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/12/19 1:23 AM as a reply to Jeff.
{I have to start a new entry. On the iPad, once the text runs off the bottom of the text window within the browser, it cannot be scrolled so I can’t see what’s being typed.}

Ok, the forest centre. It’s not a forest. It’s a plantation, with rows of planted trees, and lots of concrete paths and bridges. You may see a snake or spider from time to time, but nothing special. Mossie nets in the hall and over the beds. Another yogi mentioned the noise there is mainly other yogis banging doors and stuff like that. I noticed it too, but what can you do? Humans are a scourge, a pestilence, and a plague, according to Ricky Gervais, haha!

Maybe this is a bit patronising, but let me say that the best approach is to choose a place, suck up whatever you find there, and take the reactivity as an object to observe and learn from. It’s my belief that we grow much more in challenging settings than in a place that miraculously caters to one’s every need. If plenty of us yogis have been to these places and benefited, then I’m sure the next yogi can too. Roll the dice, pick a place, and work your butt off ;-)

I hope this was helpful!

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/12/19 4:24 AM as a reply to Paul.
I don't mean to seem neurotic. I've just had a bad experience on a previous retreat where I had to bail due to insomnia and I wish I'd had more info about what the room was like beforehand. Intensive retreat is a big investment so it seems rational to try to avoid pitfalls when there are multiple options. I'm under no delusion that a retreat should be a comfortable or pampering experience.

You've definitely helped set me straight here so thanks, Paul.

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
6/12/19 5:12 PM as a reply to Jeff.
Jeff,
I have some pictures from Panditarama forest center, but only one of the inside of my kuti. It's not the best picture but you can get some idea of what your place would be like. It's simple but it does the job. I had some live-in geckos that kept me company and probably kept the insects away, because I don't remember there being any, except some small ants. I never had any trouble sleeping because of any noise, but some nights there will be a some noise from nearby burmese celebrations. Maybe bring some earplugs if you are sensitive.

It's a great place to practice. If you go I hope it goes well.

https://imgur.com/a/4C0zCbs

RE: Burma Panditarama 60 day retreat
Answer
8/26/19 10:42 AM as a reply to Andrew S.
You want to go to Nauyana-check the posts at Dhammawheel and read the "Naked monk's burning robe" or similar is the title of that book.