S.N. Goenka at Maha Myat Muni Pagoda in Mandalay
Following is an image of the Burmese pilgrimage leader showing pilgrims the most revered Buddha image in all of Burma, at Maha Myat Muni Pagoda. This pagoda has significant importance for the pilgrims, who practiced in the tradition of S.N. Goenka, for the great meditation teacher's earliest Buddhist experiences were at this temple.
Sayagyi U Goenka has frequently shared his memories of going to Maha Myat Muni pagoda as a young child of eight with his grandfather. He admitted that his primary motivation in going at the start was the electric tram he got to ride to the pagoda, and once there he wanted to play in the open courtyard. But his grandfather would instead instruct him to walk around the temple three times before they sat quietly together for half an hour. Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with such playfulness at a pagoda; Khin Myo Chit writes that the young boy “is allowed to roam freely, playing or munching his snacks. Very little restraint is put on him—so long as he keeps away from the older folk doing their contemplation.”
In any case, the young Goenka relates being bored for the first five to seven minutes, but soon after noticing that “the entire environment was very peaceful.” Having been born in Mandalay, U Goenka has referenced this early life experience as one of his first encounters with dhamma practice. He would later say that “the pure vibrations in the tranquil air of the ancient Maha Myat Muni Buddha Temple caused a thrilling sensation throughout the body and filled the mind with rapture. It was extremely enchanting and pleasing.” He notes, “I continued to visit the temple even after my grandfather’s death… The peace and cleanliness of Buddha’s temples attracted me. I knew nothing about meditation then, but whenever I visited Maha Muni temple I felt very calm.”
When U Goenka sat his first course under Sayagyi U Ba Khin, “these childhood memories of peace and tranquility were awakened” and he recalled how it was here that the seed was initially sown in his mind. His grandfather’s example would continue to be a positive influence on his life in the years to come, as he would attribute his ethical business dealings and future itinerant life of traveling for the spread of dhamma to lessons he learned from childhood.