The "Open Secret" of Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing
The co-founder of Myanmar Pilgrimage is Mandalay resident Ma Khaing. The following passage describes how she and her family came to have a special knowledge of the Buddhist sites found throughout the Golden Land, and the role they have played for decades in bringing foreign meditators to these places.
Shwe Lan Ga Lay is unique as a “meditator’s guide to Myanmar,” but actually, the original “meditator guide to Myanmar” was none other than a wonderful man named Kyaw Ngwe. In countless hours over vertebrae-jolting, dusty, potholed roads, he forged a literal path to sacred sites, leading many fortunate pilgrims (including many of Shwe Lan’s future volunteers) to their first encounter with the rich Dhamma of Myanmar. Although a professional tour guide, Kyaw Ngwe chose not to charge a set fee when taking yogis, for he admired their noble volition and appreciated the trips as an opportunity for his own merit, to say nothing of the deep inner joy he experienced during these visits. Those now benefiting from this book may feel gratitude for the early role that he played in helping to make this information more accessible.
Through his breadth of knowledge and also his personality, he developed a word-of-mouth reputation among Dhamma friends around the world. Foreign yogis would arrive at Mandalay Airport tired, with limited time and little knowledge of the country, but whisked off by a beaming Kyaw Ngwe to monastic sites, allowing their inner energies to be conserved for meditation. Trips with Kyaw Ngwe typically began and ended with a lavish and lovingly-prepared, home-cooked meal with his family.
Kyaw Ngwe was initially “found” by Laura and Parker Mills in 2002, where they met at Dhamma Joti in Yangon. As Parker recalls, “[We] spent the next eleven days bouncing over terrible roads covering a huge amount of territory, hearing a wealth of stories from both Kyaw Ngwe’s past as well as the present and sharing many moments of laughter. He was very excited to have meditators asking him to take them to sites of Dhamma significance rather than the usual tourists looking for a good time, so our conversation often turned to the teachings of the Buddha and his many Burmese disciples. With each passing day we became more and more enamored of Burma and our host…We are grateful to Kyaw Ngwe for opening his family and his culture to us in ways that would have not been possible any other way.” Eventually, some Western meditators donated a van for Kyaw Ngwe to use on future trips, thus enabling him to better serve the foreign Dhamma community.
Another American meditator remembers, “Kyaw Ngwe is inseparable from our affection for the Golden Land. He was our tour guide and companion for pilgrimages in Upper Burma in 2005 and 2009. We joined a steady flow of Vipassana friends who were folded into his lively, competent, familial care…When we said goodbye to Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing at the Mandalay airport at the end of our first yatra [pilgrimage], it suddenly struck me that I had never felt so well cared for and so safe. He has that distinctive Burmese trait of being able to anticipate one's needs and to fulfil them expertly and invisibly…He carried our cushions the long or short way to the various places we would meditate. At the end of our meditation, he would materialize seemingly out of nowhere to help carry our cushions back to the van. He is blessed with, and blesses with, the boon of mirth.”
Kyaw Ngwe battled cancer for several years before passing away in 2013. During this time, grateful yogis from around the world remembered his kind service and supported him and his family. Today, Kyaw Ngwe’s widow, Ma Khaing, continues the tradition of cooking nutritious, vegetarian food for those foreign meditators passing through town. She has named her kitchen Kalyana, which means “beneficial,” “wholesome” or “wise.”
And more importantly, she has also co-founded Myanmar Pilgrimage, which organizes Dhamma tours for any meditators fortunate enough to make it to the Golden Land.