Filed in Community, Devotion

On Retreat in Burma

A Buddhist nun bites off more than she can chew.Diana Winston

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In California we would say she had no boundaries. The concept probably doesn’t translate into Burmese, but you get the picture. Her name was Mi Mi May and she was one of the wealthy Burmese people practicing at the monastery. She was in her late twenties, about my age at the time, with long hair that always seemed perfectly combed and styled. She must have spent hours on her hair, which could explain why she was never in the meditation hall. She wore silk brown longyis—the Burmese skirts worn by both women and men—and detailed white cotton blouses. Under the pretense of failing at meditation and trying to occupy her time, she was always in everyone’s business, especially mine. She took a special interest in me, the American nun. I tried to avoid her, but after seven months of intensive meditation, when my practice began its downward spiral and I stopped looking so concentrated, she pounced on me. One day on the path by the lake, once we were well out of the way of the watchful eyes of the Sayadaw (our teacher), she crept up behind me and whispered loudly:

“Your boyfriend, he is leaving soon.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Yes he is, everyone says he is.”

“I am a nun, he is a monk, how could he be my boyfriend?”

“Well, you won’t be one forever. You came to the monastery together. He is very handsome, a very good boyfriend to have.”

“He’s not my boyfriend!”

“Yes he is. Su will be so jealous.”

“Who?”

“Su, the Taiwanese yogini who stopped practicing because of—how you say?—hemorrhoids. Su is jealous of you because she is in love with your boyfriend.”

“She’s married.”

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“Doesn’t matter, she is in love with him.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be meditating? Why are you looking around so much? You notice everything.”

“I cannot help it. My meditation is so bad. I cannot practice, but I do not want to leave. So I have to look around.”

“What’s wrong with your practice?”

“I cannot attain nibbana.”

“Oh?”

“I am very close, very, very close, but I keep falling backwards, and now I cannot even reach 'arising and passing away.’ I am a terrible yogi, but I cannot leave the monastery either, maybe it will happen another day.”

“Not if you keep talking so much.” . . .

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