If you haven't guessed already, we are in the LAND OF TEMPLES! Holy Cow! (Or should I say, holy dragons, guinea pigs, clown birds, elephants, and snakes!)
That is me next to a guinea pig and an elephant, figures from the Burmese Buddhist horoscope (I'm a dragon)
We haven't quite reached the point where they are all starting to run together, but we have certainly reached the point that you all should be seeing some of these amazing pictures. Yesterday I was trying to imagine whether or not we have equivalent monuments in the United States, and I think we came to the conclusion that there are absolutely no grounds for comparison.
Cobra Dragon outside of Botataung Paya, Yangon
Each act of devotion is a performance in itself. Here are a few that we have experienced.
At Sule Paya, in Yangon, you could put offerings into a little boat that you cranked up to heaven (a little shrine in the pagoda). I'm pretty sure that these offerings went towards the upkeep of the pagoda itself, since each shrine had its corresponding offering box, all devoted to construction and maintenance of the temple, wherever we were.
Ric with our offerings.
Boat to Heaven
Central pagoda at Sule Paya
Many of the smaller Buddhas could be washed. At Shwedagon Paya, you were supposed to wash the Buddha that corresponded to your birth day of the week. We were both Saturdays, so we washed the Buddha by dousing it with 8 cupfuls of water, then one on the spirit behind it, one on the post behind that, and one on the dragon at the base.
Here is a man washing a Buddha at Sule Paya
Buddhism isn't the only religion practiced in Myanmar, although it might seem that way - about 70% of the population is Buddhist. Other religious groups are legally recognized and have temples, mosques, and churches in most major cities.
Hindu temple in Yangon
However, tension between religious groups is a growing cause for concern, as was evident in last June's violence in Rakhine state in which a violent mob of Buddhist citizens killed 10 Muslim men after the rape of a Buddhist nun. I learned through speaking with a specialist on AIDS prevention in Myanmar that rape is sadly common throughout Burma, and that it was her opinion that this particular incident of interreligious violence as provoked by the high profile that the rape of the Buddhist girl by a Muslim man received in the media of this country that is still grappling with issues of ethnic warfare and human trafficking. This is what I mean when I say that it is difficult to reconcile the awe inspired by the spectacular temples with the plight of the people living in Myanmar.
Shwedagon Paya in Yangon with the moon rising in the background - staggeringly beautiful - a picture doesn't do it justice
The original pagoda of Shwedagon Paya, currently undergoing renovations
A temple ruin in Bagan
River temple of Bupaya in Bagan, currently being renovated
Bagan at dusk
A practice that seems to be common among Thai and Burmese Buddhist temple-goers is a three-times circuit around the central stupa. According to the Thai woman we were traveling with yesterday, it is considered good merit for the world and for you. Let's hope our circuits put some good energy back into the world, and Myanmar in particular - we all need it!