In mid-January 2012 an international choir travelled throughout Myanmar’s sacred sites to offer songs by Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy dedicated to the Buddha.
While the country was at the time being visited by high-profile politicians, this group of mainly Western singers were here simply to pay homage to Myanmar’s ancient meditative culture.
Myanmar has become known in recent history as a place of political unrest, but there is another side to the country which does not receive nearly as much media attention. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, contains some of Buddhism’s most sacred sites.
It is nicknamed the “Golden Land”, and it is easy to see why if you ever get to visit. In Myanmar, Buddhism and gold are closely related. Legend has it that over 2,600 years ago the Buddha gifted 8 hairs from his head to Burmese royalty, who enshrined each hair and constructed pagodas (Buddhist temples) over the sacred sites. Many of these pagodas are gold painted, and in some places encrusted with diamonds.
The singers visited most of the significant spiritual landmarks of Myanmar to offer songs in the Bengali language which praise the Buddha’s philosophy of inner peace and compassion. Their journey began with a morning concert at the Shwedagon Pagoda whose gold-coated central spire reaches high above Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Around it lie hundreds of shrines and Buddha statues of almost all imaginable shapes, materials and postures. Each sculptor gives a different impression of the great spiritual teacher’s facial features and expression. Each one tries, in their own way, to capture that exalted state of enlightenment or nirvana which the Buddha is said to embody.
Singing group member Jogyata Dallas from New Zealand gave the following report of his travels:
“Singing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in the great Buddhist temples and pagodas of Myanmar was an unforgettable experience. Our small group of performers visited Yangon, Mandalay and that eighth wonder of the world, Bagan, where scores of thousand year old shrines litter the parched landscapes and inspire a sense of reverence and wonder. In these often dusty and dilapidated towns and cities, spirituality is flourishing and Buddhism is deeply ingrained into the everyday lives of the people.
There is a simplicity, sweetness and charm to everything. The relative isolation of Myanmar from the West has protected it to some extent from materialism, consumerism and complexity. There is a contentment here not found in our Western cities, and a living spirituality of a kind I have never seen elsewhere. It is a remarkable country. Our small multi-national group were welcomed in over fifteen places of meditation, where people gather to chant and to sit before their favorite shrines.
We have recorded Sri Chinmoy’s tribute songs for the Buddha and other songs dedicated to world peace in some 20 hours of performances. These will be made into a CD, with the background sounds of everyday life left there – temple bells, the sounds of chanting monks, birdsong in the temple tamarind trees, a child’s cry – to capture some of the ‘livingness’ of this remarkable country.”