Shwe Lan Excerpt: The Sagaing Hills

The Meditator Guidebook to Burma is in its final stages! As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the first three paragraphs of the chapter on the Sagaing Hills:

It’s difficult to overstate the majesty and wonder of the Sagaing Hills, and for the yogi intent on Burmese Buddhist practice, there are few—if any—places in the country that can compare. For many who have never been to Burma but have heard about the country from the lips of Dhamma friends or in books by Burmese Sayadaws from another era, Sagaing can come as the closest approximation of the mental images that had taken shape. “Ah… this is Burma,” more than one meditator has been known to remark after some days in the Sagaing Hills. Local residents would concur, as evidenced by a bilingual sign greeting your arrival that reads “Welcome to the Abode of the Holy Recluses.” Or as one local Sayadaw has noted, “there are two things were always needed in order to come to Sagaing: water and good sila.” And indeed, with an estimated 700 monasteries and 200 nunneries—many of them consisting of just a couple of buildings on a quiet hillside— and well over 6,000 in robes, it is a living, breathing Buddhist community almost unparalleled in the modern world. A walk through the peaceful hills will take you on winding forest paths and past countless caves, kutis, monasteries, pagodas, shrines, dhamma halls, monuments, and other sites that bring a sense of ease and calm to the eyes of a yogi. Almost the moment you exchange the dusty lanes of the downtown area for the rarefied air of the Hills, the stillness and quiet become readily perceivable.

You couldn’t do wrong if most (or even all) of your time ended up being spent in this region, and some yogis do just that. At the very least, for those coming to the country to develop in Dhamma, the rolling hills that float above Sagaing are not to be missed. While Bagan may be the only other region with more religious buildings, the sites remaining in the Sagaing Hills continue to be used for active Buddhist practice. Many locals make their way to Sagaing during the Full Moon of Tazaungmon (around October or November) when the weather begins to cool, and when they make offerings of monks’ robes and other requisites.

In this section we cover the area around the lowlands of Sagaing town, the meandering paths and slopes of the rambling Sagaing Hills, and Sagaing’s sister city Mingun, another village located in this hill range.

The cushions for four meditators set out inside a Sagaing monastery where they are sitting a self-retreat