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This is Revada Nanda from Myanmar, but he prefers people to call him “Uzin,” which means “a monk” in Burmese. He had a girlfriend, a high-paying job in Singapore (a fuel inspector), and all great prospects to build, as people would say, a normal life. He lacked only one thing – fulfillment. In search of happiness, he became a monk, and now he even runs the Buddhist monastery in the mountains in Myanmar. “Before, I was feeling happy while doing the things I like – singing karaoke, playing badminton…” Uzin shared. “Now, I’m constantly happy and free without any conditions.” “Although,” he added smiling, “singing was the hardest thing to give up.”
“MY DREAM WAS TO BE A MINING ENGINEER LIKE MY FATHER”
My name is Revata Nanda, but everybody calls me Uzin (it means “a monk” in Burmese). I am 46 years old. I was born in a tiny coal-mining town in the Shan state (Myanmar). All locals were involved in mining. There was nothing else to do. I knew all about the mining equipment and could repair it. My father was a mining engineer, so of course, I wanted to become an engineer like him. I graduated from high school, but I didn’t get enough score to enter the university (I missed just a little score!), so my parents sent me to Yangon to help at my uncle`s electronics shop where I was selling electronics for the next ten years.
“I WANTED TO COMMIT SUICIDE”
You know, I was very happy when I was a kid – I had lots of freedom and lots of friends to play with. But when I moved to Yangon, I lost that feeling of happiness. I didn’t feel fulfilled. I wasn’t satisfied with anything. All my new friends were talking just about money and the properties they had. So I started to do the same. My depression and sadness deepened. Day by day, dozens of new questions about my life and its meaning were rising in my mind. And they all remained unanswered. Day by day, I was feeling emptier, unhappier, and lost, and at some point, even wanted to commit suicide. I was 19. I needed changes. I needed new senses. This is how I came to meditations.
FIRST RETREAT: DIFFICULT AND PAINFUL
People often said – if you meditate, your mind becomes calm and happy. So I wanted to try and see what it means to meditate. It was Water Festival [or Burmese New Year that usually occurs in the middle of April – Ed.] and, instead of celebrating it with my family at home, I joined the 10-day retreat in the Meditation center. Physically, it was so difficult and painful! We had to get up at 3 a.m. and meditate the whole day. I was shocked, and very often, I fell asleep during the sessions. But mentally, I felt much better. I felt satisfied. I didn’t want anything. My faith was growing. I listened to Dhamma talks [a public discourse on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher – Ed.]; I started to be aware of many things that I hadn’t been noticing before. Step by step, things were getting clearer. “I feel like it’s truth,” I was thinking. Exactly after my first retreat, I made a decision to end my life in a meditation center.
I wanted to keep practicing back home, but it never happened. You know, friends, duties, daily routine, lack of time, all that stuff… My motivation was gone. Nevertheless, since that time, every single year during the Water Festival, I joined the retreat.
CARGO OFFICER: NEW JOB IN SINGAPORE
The new chapter in my life began when I was 27 (2001). I got a job in Singapore, and that woke me up a bit. That time Myanmar had a difficult political situation [Myanmar was under the rule of the military from 1962 to 2011 – Ed.], and it was nearly impossible to get a good job, so all young people were dreaming about working abroad. I was not an exception.
I became a cargo officer on a ship supplying fuel. Good money, pretty relaxing schedule – three days off, three days on. Well, eight years of living like this and I got really bored. So I did what I was expected to do and what all the people would do in this case – found a better job and doubled my salary. But as it became pretty clear, the question of money became as “foggy” as the question of happiness. I came to that searching-for-meaning-of-life topic again. I never actually stopped to think about that. It got even additional shades when, at this period, a woman appeared in my life.
CHERCHEZ LA FEMME
We met on the Internet. She was from Myanmar as well. She just graduated as a doctor and was up to move to the USA to keep studying. She was also interested in meditations, so we quickly settled with each other sharing our spiritual experiences. Soon she came to Singapore to visit her two brothers who live here. I postponed our offline meeting a countless number of times, finding ridiculous excuses because I predicted that it could have unfolded into the relationship, which was against my plans of living in the meditation center. But you know, looking back, I think this love story was very well planned by someone… (Laughs.)
Why? Because no matter which excuses I could come up with – we would cross each other in the end! It turned out that my apartment was just between her brothers’ two homes, so inevitably, we would run into each other at some point! And so it happened. We became close friends for two years even attending meditation retreats together. And after… After she left… I changed my job as I had mentioned already. She was the only woman in my life. We still keep in touch but very rare and just within terms of “how are you?” That’s it.
MORE MONEY, MORE STRESS
So, a new job… I got more money and more responsibilities. I lived in continuous stress because I worked as a petroleum inspector at a ship. It means that I was a middle man between two parties – one is selling petroleum, and the other one is buying it. My duty was to inspect a ship and assure the receiving party that they get the fuel quantity & quality they paid for. And, people, you can’t even imagine how easy it was for fuel suppliers to play with quantity!
To begin with, we all know that fuel evaporates at higher temperatures, then, you know, a ship’s movements in the water matter as well. There are dozens of things that matter and it’s impossible that one ship transfers to the other ship exactly the same quantity of fuel. It’s a massive field for money-making, no? (Laughs.) So all these people – fuel suppliers, fuel buyers, and ship owners are cheating each other, suing each other, trying to bribe each other, and me, of course, as well. Madness. It’s like Indian soap operas, but the main motive is money, not love. (Laughs.)
“THERE SHOULD BE SOMETHING DEEPER”
At the same time, I cannot say that all these years in Singapore, I was unhappy; neither I can say the opposite way. I was happy just when I was doing the things I liked – playing guitar, singing karaoke, playing badminton. It was rather a temporal pleasure than long-lasting happiness. I was telling myself – C`mon, there should be something deeper than that, something stronger. As I already had an experience of meditations, I knew what real happiness is. The more I meditated, the more my decision of deeper discovering this spiritual path was getting stronger.
Until one day, I felt – I had enough for two years. I was 37. I could not live like that anymore. All these ups and downs in career and relationships were bringing me nothing but a strong desire to fulfill myself with something that I consider as right. So I quit my job. I canceled my permanent resident card in Singapore and came back to Myanmar – directly from the airport to the meditation center. I decided to become a monk.
“BECOMING A MONK? ARE YOU CRAZY?”
My friends were like, “Whaaaat? You wanna be a monk? You are so young! Are you losing your mind?” But you know what – having made this decision deeply inside, I was feeling that perhaps this is the first time in my life when I was finding my mind. (Laughs.) At 39, I officially became a monk.
My parents were okay with my choice. Unlike in Europe or the States, where parents would get shocked and beg to give them grandchildren, in Myanmar, it`s quite a cultural thing when one son in a family becomes a Buddhist monk. Moreover, I have three sisters and a brother; all are married and raise kids, so my parents have someone to take care of them. Now my mum is staying in the monastery I run and also practices meditations. She like no one else, understands the spiritual path I took.
WORKED AS A DRIVER FOR MONKS
Before I started to run the monastery, for a few years, I had worked as a driver for Thabarwa Meditation Center in Yangon – every morning, I drove a track with monks to do alms. I found this center accidentally. Back in the time when I did a few retreats in Yangon, I came to the point that I was not improving. I noticed that as happy I was during the retreat, I was as miserable coming back to the outside world after. It seemed pointless to me as I wanted to achieve that sort of inner calmness and peace, which doesn’t depend on who is around and what is going on around. Unconditional peace.
With the idea of further self-improvement, I started to search for a center with the different meditation methods, and this is how I came to Thabarwa Meditation Center and now I`ve been even heading one of its centers. Oh, I will never forget my first retreat there; it was very different from other centers. Before I practiced meditations in a very peaceful, thus comfortable environment – you had to keep silence and obey the strict rules. It was easy to meditate – nothing distracted you.
Well, things were different in Thabarwa – so noisy and crowded! I remember a room full of people, different people… Some were super patient and strong, while others could get angry within seconds. We were supposed to listen to Dhamma talks but I could not almost get anything. I was utterly shocked, looking around and slowly coming to the point – actually, this is that place where I have to make my mind calm and satisfied. If I succeed, I won’t have a problem at doing that in the outer world. Since that I firmly knew – this is my center. This is where I will come and stay until I die. I grew a close connection with the leader of Thabarwa – Sayadaw U Ashin Ottamathara [‘Sayadaw’ in Burmese means royal teacher, the senior monk who leads the monastery – Ed.] For a few years, when he was coming to Singapore, I arranged everything for his visit: stays, food, visa, tickets.
I could not even imagine that later on, I would run one of Thabarwa branch – Shwe Chaung Thabarwa Meditation Center in the north of Myanmar.
When I first came to this center, there was nothing – a flat landscape. No shelters for meditators, not enough food and water. It all looked very uncared for as there was not a person to be responsible for the center. Once, the locals who live here asked me, “Hey Uzin, please come and meditate with us – guide us a bit.” I did so, and, you see, I`m still here. In 2014, my friends and I arranged the first retreat here, which from that time and on happens each first week of every month. Since that time, we have improved our infrastructure a lot and welcome meditators and volunteers from all over the world.
It is not difficult to manage laypeople, but controlling the monks takes some effort, yes. (Laughs.) You see, some senior monks do not accept me as a leader because they were ordained much earlier than me. I understand them, though. I look young and not really impressive. (Laughs.) They saw me as a driver who became a monk later on and came to teach them meditations.
EASY TO BECOME A MONK
Actually, it is very easy to become a monk in Myanmar. No special requirements needed – you have to be over 20 and free of debts. At the time of the Buddha, a person should have had permission from family or an employer – this was to prove that he doesn’t choose a monk’s life simply not to work.
During the ordination ceremony, you are also asked if you have a robe and a bowl, and if you are free from debts and diseases. A long time ago, some tricky men were becoming monks just on purpose of free treatment from, let’s say, leprosies.
You can ordain for a week or two or a couple of months – as you wish – to experience the monk’s life by yourself. It’s a common cultural thing in Myanmar.
A MONK’S LIFE: MUST FOLLOW 227 RULES
People who consider themselves as Buddhists must follow five precepts such as no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no taking drugs. Monks, according to Buddha teachings, must follow 227 strict precepts (311 for nuns), including, for example, not eating after midday – and this never was a problem for me. The opposite, this habit made me very healthy. We also are not permitted to handle money so we cannot buy anything. At the same time, we can accept eating in a café if someone invites us.
One of the fundamental precepts to follow for monks is not boasting of spiritual attainments that he may have, which means a monk should not show off. Most of the other rules are minor instructions, such as the maximum size of shelters, the type of robe that is allowed for wearing, etc. It seems quite complicated and boring, no? From my point of view, the life I lived before was boring, yes, and this part of it is, the opposite, full of discovering. (Laughs.) Although there was one thing that I missed when I became a monk – karaoke! (Laughs.) When I was working on ships, I sang a lot. There were just men deprived of women’s attention and the water all around. Partying was the only way not to go crazy. So we sang and drank as much as we could.
“WHY DO MONKS EAT MEAT?”
Foreigners who stay for a retreat in my center and observe monk’s daily life, find it to go against their expectations. Nowadays, almost every monk uses a phone as well as the Internet – people, we live in the 21st century, let’s face it. I need to arrange retreats and solve dozens of occasional issues a day, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without a phone. The question is not WHY a monk uses a phone, but for WHAT PURPOSE he does it? For instance, there is a ton of literature on Buddhism that can be found just online.
Next, sometimes monks can be seen smoking or having coffee after noon. Well, putting on a monk’s robe does not make you a monk either automatically vanishes your defilements. Everyone leads their battle with bad habits. The crucial thing to understand is that the choice of a few monks is not indicative and cannot represent monk’s life in general.
But the most popular question that foreigners bombard me with is next – if that is okay that the monks here eat meat? Yes, it’s okay. Monks and nuns in Myanmar live on alms only; thus, they eat absolutely everything which is donated to them – without any preferences. If it is chicken – they have chicken, if that is potatoes – they eat potatoes. Monks cannot be picky. At the same time, they cannot eat meat only under one condition: if the animal was killed purposely for them.
“I KNOWINGLY LIVE MY LIFE”
Before I became a monk, I hadn’t known my goal. Why do I live? Why do I earn money? What will I do with that money? Now… How to put it right… I knowingly live my life. I know what I am doing and what I will get depending on which path I am following – right or wrong. I have strong confidence to live and much less worry than before. Worrying brings nothing. Only doing brings results.
I still have a lot of defilements. Mostly, dissatisfaction. I feel angry sometimes, but it does not last long like before, and even if I want to stay angry, I cannot. As soon as anger or dissatisfaction is coming I feel like my chest is getting very tight, I don’t want to keep that. So I calm down and it passes. There is no sense in anger.
“YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS”
Sometimes meditators and monks tell me that they have kind of bad thoughts about something or someone; thus, they feel guilty about that. That is why it is essential to understand that you are not your thoughts. No one knows or sees what is going on inside you – so you can change that mind and way of thinking when you want. No one can blame you for your thoughts unless you follow them and start to act.
“YOUR LIFE IS YOUR MEDITATION”
In the monastery, we practice different kinds of meditations – walking, standing, and lying down meditations. You have to be able to practice in any posture and quickly switch it, not torturing yourself with sitting only. I believe that meditating is experiencing your life fully with all ups and downs that surely are going to appear. Your life is your meditation. Do good. Avoid bad. Keep your mind pure. This is it.
Thabarwa Meditation Center (Myanmar)
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