"We think happiness is what we get when attachment gets what it wants. Buddha says happiness is what we get when we give up attachment."
By Janice Polizzi
I retired from a long teaching career in June 2013 and was delighted to find that Ven. Robina was leading a pilgrimage to Burma in September. This was the perfect way to transition to the rest of my life! I had not previously travelled to Asia and appreciated that the trip was well-organized and would cover many Buddhist sites in Burma. We stayed at lovely hotels and had time for individual rest and reflection. Our meals were delicious!
In general our days on pilgrimage were spent visiting amazing holy sites, making offerings, praying to the Buddhas and listening to Venerable Robina’s insightful teachings on the Buddhist path. Practices included prostration and circumambulation, meditation, reciting lam-rim prayers and praises, purification and dedication. I found our daily group practices inspiring and my personal practice was rejuvenated. I loved be part of the “water bowl team” at each site. The trip was also facilitated by a Burmese guide who was very knowledgeable about the history of the places we visited.
I was amazed by Shwedagon in Yangon particularly when we visited very early in the morning. Ven. Robina provided wonderful teachings under a Bodhi tree at Shwedagon. The many temples and pagodas of Bagan were varied and beautiful. We spent several days on retreat here listening to Ven. Robina’s teachings on the Bodhisattva path, karma, the mind, dependent arising and emptiness. Our group discussions helped clarify what we learned. Other Bagan highlights included a very moving morning at Shwezigon Paya and the visit to the Ananda Pahto.
In Mandalay we spent time at Kuthodaw Paya known as the World’s Biggest Book. The site has 729 small stupas each holding text-inscribed marble slabs. The entire Tripitaka is represented. The view at sunset from Mandalay Hill was breathtaking. There were many young monks here wanting to practice their English with us! On another day we made offerings to Sakyadhita Nunnery School in Saigaing which houses 700 young nuns. Ven. Robina and the abbess of the nunnery enjoyed their time talking together.
Another highlight for me was climbing the many stairs (took about an hour) to get to Schwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda in Pindaya. These caves contain over 8,700 Buddha statues left there over many centuries by pilgrims. Our group was able to find space in the caves for teachings and we returned for a second day as this was a very special place. From Pindaya we moved on to Inle Lake where we travelled from place to place by boat. One amazing day we travelled by boat for 45 minutes then hiked into an area with many stupas that have not yet been restored. This area is home to the Pa-o people. We did Medicine Buddha practice at a nearby temple for the benefit of all!
At the end of the journey we returned to Yangon then took a bus to Kyaiktiyo, the Golden Rock that is said to hold a hair of the Buddha. This huge boulder sits on the edge of the mountain and like many of the holy sites in Burma it is covered in gold leaf. Here Venerable taught about Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows and offered these to those wishing to take them. We returned to Yangon for our last day and farewell dinner.
I feel that I benefitted immensely from going on this pilgrimage. Spending three weeks with Venerable Robina reminded me of the importance of Buddhist practice for daily life. Hearing her insightful teachings was a wonderful introduction/of the lam-rim for those new to Buddhism and a great review for those already familiar with it. Ven. Robina was also available to meet with me and others to discuss personal questions and issues that came up for us. She is an amazing guide and her deep knowledge and years of practice are evident in her teachings.
I look forward to future pilgrimage opportunities!
• Dharma Journeys Pilgrimages
• Advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on pilgrimage
• Pilgrimage in India: Stories and Allegories
Ven. Robina shares her own experiences on pilgrimage with students at Tse Chen Ling, the FPMT center in San Francisco, and explains the real purpose of making such a journey. December, 2008.