Panditarama Hse Main Gon Forest Meditation Centre, Bago, Myanmar

Established by the legendary Sayadaw U Pandita

Location: 70km north of Yangon, just south of Bago (say Bah-go), in rural farming land.

Tradition: Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana, as taught by Sayadaw U Pandita (1921-2016).

Practice intensity: 9 out of 10. Strict schedule, and monks in charge check your attendance. There are still some gaps so can take a break if necessary.

Accommodation: Mostly decent individual kutis, plus one block of 17 rooms with own bathrooms. No fans in rooms as at late 2018.

Food: Meat, fish, and vegetarian options. The veg options are plentiful and very decent.

Min/Max stay: None.

Cost: Dana or donation only.

Clothing: Men: must wear a longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, which the office can loan or sell to you, plus a white shirt. Women: a dark brown longyi, white blouse, and brown sash, all provided there I think.

Transport: A taxi to/from downtown Yangon is around US$25-30, and a little cheaper to/from the airport. If you install the Grab ride-hailing app (a Southeast Asian Uber that includes taxis), you can pay by card.

Contact: The Phyu Chaung Village, Inndakaw, Bago Township, Bago Division. Ph: 09-49450787, com2panditarama@gmail.com, hsemaingon@gmail.com, http://www.panditarama.net  Please note there is also a Panditarama meditation centre in downtown Yangon, known as Shwe Taung Gone, which can be confused with this one when referring to Panditarama in Myanmar.

Visas: See info here on Myanmar meditation visas.

This is the very impressive and renowned home of the meditation centre network established by the recently deceased and legendary Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Pandita (1921-2016). Once a disciple of the even more legendary Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982), Sayadawgyi (term of respect for Sayadaw U Pandita) started his own monasteries after an administrative disagreement with the Mahasi Centre network back in the 1990s. So while his centres are a separate system, there was no doctrinal or technical dispute and therefore they teach the same Mahasi method.

The first thing you notice is it’s a huge place. Spread out over flat plantation land dotted with lakes and lightly wooded, the centre consists of many large and small buildings. The male and female areas are mostly separated but everyone eats in the same dining hall twice a day. I didn’t get to the female meditation hall so cannot comment on the women’s facilities.

One disadvantage of the place is that you have to walk long distances between, say, the meditation and dining halls. So it’s not possible to maintain the usual distinctive Mahasi glacial pace of walking and observing everything that comes up. You just have to note the best you can as the single file line marches to meals at a strong pace. It’s only my opinion, but it seemed these breaks in practice intensity led to many of us slacking off a little.

Each week, you get two to three one-on-one interviews with a teacher, and it’s the usual Mahasi experience. You report in the particular style of the tradition – sticking to the bare facts of your phenomenological experience such as the breath and the steps – and the teacher gives general responses like, “That’s common in the practice, keep going,” or “Just note and observe it.” Which I personally find unhelpful. Something more like, “Be sure to get right in there with the such-and-such and to observe the XYZ, and next time report on the blah-blah, etc” would help. (See Panditarama in Lumbini, Nepal, for this kind of detailed guidance.)

The food was, in my vegan opinion, outstanding especially considering that the general opinion of Myanmar monastery food I’d previously encountered was pretty awful. Maybe it is elsewhere, but Panditarama gets a diverse crowd of yogis, so they go all out to provide quality food. The only problem is the usual one – why Buddhists eat meat when there are perfectly good vegetarian options just shows another blindspot where a significant thread of craving (addiction to animal products) hides.

The men’s meditation hall is huge, with plenty of restroom facilities out the back. I guess during the famed annual 60-day retreat (Dec-Jan) the place would get packed out. But I was there in the shoulder season (Sept, end of rainy season) and there were around 40 men in total at most, half of those monks. The main complaint would be the building and other general activities noise going on all around.

It can be a very hot and humid place, so best to be prepared to sweat a lot, drink a lot of water, and generally get used to unusual conditions. They have a lot of air-cons in the meditation hall, which were awesome during the hottest days. But no fans in the accommodation, even though much needed.

There is a range of mats and cushions, but no benches. Oh, and chairs aplenty.

There is chanting in Burmese at 4:45-5am each morning. Then Pali chanting to finish the day at 8:45-9pm. Plus a brief Burmese chant of thanks before each meal.

A highlight was seeing the ‘mini-monks’ at every meal. These boys are in training starting at around 5 years of age, up to late teens. The littlest ones were super-cute in their robes and walking with eyes down and hands clasped in front. Can’t imagine how the teachers get little boys to be so restrained!

Please see the photos below for more details.

The dining hall
Monks eating, including the ‘mini-monks’
Nuns on the way to lunch
Monks on the way to lunch
Men’s accom block – 17 rooms
Men’s accom block – 17 rooms
Vegetarian options at lunch
The wooden gong, a staple of forest monasteries
Covered bridge
Covered bridge
Exterior of men’s meditation hall
Men’s meditation hall
Men’s meditation hall
Kuti (hut)
Twin kuti (hut)
2-room interview hall
Sayadawgyi memorial under construction right by the meditation hall
Portrait of Sayadaw U Pandita in the meditation hall
Portraits of Mahasi Sayadaw adorning the men’s meditation hall

Author: Peter Stuckings

Australian, living all over Asia. Explorer of the mind illuminated. Scholar of cognitive sciences, Buddhist & Pāli studies. Plant-powered. (Pic of EEG brain activity testing at Hong Kong U - yes a brain was detected!).

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