A Brief Visit to Varanasi Monastery, Mingaladon
I had a few more days before I was allowed to arrive at ITBM University (I am there now). Very close by is one of my favorite monasteries in the Yangon District. Actually, there are very few choices for monks who follow the monk’s rules (Vinaya) if you want to live with like minded vinaya monks. Even though Pa-Auk is a vinaya monastery, there is not the same consistency of monks who have vinaya in their hearts. Local monks often come for meditation retreats and often “temporarily” follow the rules “while they are there”, storing their unallowable items with their friends, family or even the bus station across the street from Pa-Auk. In this way, they can experience the life of not using money, but it is often not in their hearts when they arrive. In a positive way, Pa-Auk is often a transitional place where monks can taste the freedom of life without money, and then make the full commitment later on. There are of course many monks who follow vinaya at Pa-Auk and who have vinaya in their hearts, and that might make up the majority. Many people come to Pa-Auk for this reason. However, the attraction at Pa-Auk is Meditation and monks often come there for that reason. Pa-Auk is always on my list of places that follow vinaya and support vinaya monks. It too is a truly unique and wonderful place!
At Varanasi, there is only one attraction. Vinaya. Most monasteries in Myanmar are “learning monasteries.” Unfortunately, we can say a “normal monastery” is one that allows and encourages monks to use money and other unallowable items. At Varanasi, strict Vinaya is what separates this monastery apart from the others. It is certainly a unique monastery, mostly because they follow and encourage the monastic rules to be taken in the heart.
The monastery is also run by Ethnic Nepalese who were born and raised in Myanmar. The original plan was to have a monastery cater to the 300,000 ethnic Nepalese. This “Nepalese” themed monastery excited me when I first visited 2 years ago because they also chanted in the Nepalese style which is more or less, like the rest of the world. Myanmar is the only country that chants with different pronunciation even though the spelling of the words are the same. That plan to cater to their own people had failed because 300,000 was still not enough to get Nepal monks to ordain and stay ordained. Now they teach according to the Myanmar way and pronunciation and attract Myanmar monks who wish to learn Dhamma and Vinaya. Varanasi is well known now and donations now come from many different types of people. Before, the place was supported by one Nepal donor who purchased the land for $4 million usd. He also built the three story dormitory and pledged to feed 200 monks. The parents who want to send their kids to a proper monastery send their kids to Varanasi even though their village may be very far away. There are few choices for vinaya monasteries, and Varanasi is one of those.
The three story building is nearly finished or finished enough to be used by the Sangha. About 60 or so monks live at this monastery, and it is a real joy to live there. All or most of the monks live in this building, sleeping together on the floor which is normal for many learning monasteries. Do not expect the comfortable kuties found at Pa-Auk. Never the less, I was assigned to a guest kuti which was very nice and comfortable. There is only one or two guest kuties and it happened to be available when I arrived.
The pictures you see below are:
1.The Sima (designed by Ashin Pannyagavesaka) (top of the post)
2.The three story Dorm and learning building
3. The new Mahabodhi styled pagoda (which has approx 36 meditation cells “Goenka Style”) (also inside view too)
4. The monks in line
5. Servers donating the meal
To get to Varanasi, simply take a taxi or bus to “Tiger Beer Factory” and look for the red Varanasi sign on the village side of the road. Then follow the signs about 1 mile inside.