Above and Beyond Rangoon

Doug Booth travels to an ancient monastery in Burma for a vipassana retreat where he combats mosquitoes and materialismDoug Booth

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Tell me, are you Western yogis really interested in nibbana?

The Burmese interpreter’s piercing brown eyes looked into mine as he waited for an answer. U Mya Thaung was a dignified, precise man of seventy-three, with a mischievous smile. He would interpret for the retreat I would be attending. In the sweltering waiting room of the Rangoon airport, Burmese men wearing sarongs looked at me curiously. I, too, was wearing a traditional longyi, but my Voit high-top sneakers stuck out conspicuously beneath the blue-checked material. We waited for the dilapidated 1950s prop plane to refuel for our flight to Mandalay. In response to U Thaung’s question, I mumbled something like “Some of us are and some are not” - but it continued to haunt me throughout my three-week retreat at the fourteenth-century monastery called Kyaswa.

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