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A BUDDHIST CHILDHOOD
The arcadia that is Sagaing

      The motor launch skimmed over the wide expanse of foaming waters of the Ayeyawady River. The city of Mandalay faded away in the distance. I turned my gaze towards the range of wooded hills with golden and white pagodas embosomed high in tufted trees. I could see turrets of the colonnaded stair-ways among the thick growth of neem trees. I was beside myself with excitement, for there was so much to see. All around the launch small flat-bottomed boats flitted over the surging waters like birds; and "birds" they are called in Myanmar. The prow was painted to represent the beak of a bird. I nestled against my grandfather, whose patient replies could not keep pace with my eager question.
      The pagoda-crested hills loomed closer. Ba Ba Gyi, for this was how I called my grandfather, made me sit down and took my palms in his, I knew exactly what I should do. I put my palms together like a lotus bud and raised them to my forehead; and directing my gaze to the pagoda on the hills, I recited:
      I take refuge in the Buddha,
      I take refuge in the Dhamma,
      I take refuge in the Sangha.
      Ba Ba Gyi smiled and said "well done". This ritual of saying prayers as we came nearer our home town was a happy prologue to the glorious days I was going to spend with my grand-parents.
      My maternal grandfather lived in Sagaing, a large town in central Myanmar. An old city of monarchical days, she lies on the bank of the Ayeyawady River, opposite the city of Mandalay, the last seat of the Myanmar Kings. My happiest memories are associated with Sagaing, where my parents stayed whenever my father managed to get a long leave from the police force in which he was serving as an officer. Whenever we came up there Ba Ba Gyi came and met the family at Mandalay, from where we took the ferry launch. It was decades before the handsome Inwa Bridge, which now joins the two towns was constructed.
      Life at Ba Ba Gyi's place was quiet, peaceful and leisurely, being far from the busy streets. The house was an old-fashioned rambling affair built of teak and pyinkadoe, 'Myanma steel, timber,' and the roof was wagut, bamboo slats woven like thatch, which gave the whole house a cool air-conditioned effect. Ba Ba Gyi disdained the foreign-made corrugated iron roofing as unsuitable for the hot dry Upper Myanmar climate. The sight of the dear old home filled me with happiness and I fell into the arms of my May May Gyi (Grandmother) waiting for us at the gate.
     

Daily devotions
      The next morning, I lay on my bed gazing at the criss-cross pattern of bamboo slats and counted the tiny squares and triangular triangles as the first light of dawn, stole into the room. I dozed off again until Ba Ba Gyi's mellow voice reciting Pali prayer texts brought me back to greet the days. I felt happy and secure, knowing that Ba Ba Gyi's recitations would drive away the evil spirits and bring in good spirits to bless the home.
      As Ba Ba Gyi went on reciting, I looked at the bamboo matting wall with fair isle patterns woven in black against pale-yellow background. The rooms in Ba Ba Gyi's house were partitioned with bamboo matting and the patterns were varied and beautiful.
      Ba Ba Gyi struck the brass triangular gong and called upon all sentient beings to come and share the merit of his good deed of morning devotions and I pulled myself up and made for the door. The next moment I felt I had stepped on air and no wonder... the floor level of my room was few inches higher than the corridor outside, and I fell on the floor with a bump.
      It was always like this in Ba Ba Gyi's house... so full of unexpected turnings and levels, which kept on changing all the time; Ba Ba Gyi pottered round the house armed with carpenter's tools and the rooms, corridors, doors and windows were never in the same place. Poor May May Gyi was often exasperated especially when she had to call in professional men to finish what Ba Ba Gyi had begun.
      I knew my Ba Ba Gyi would get a scolding if she knew my mishap, so I silently rubbed my hip and limped away to begin my morning ablutions. Another day had begun with the sweet tones of the brass triangular gong which was glorious climax of Ba Ba Gyi's morning prayers and recitations.
     
Paritta : Recitation of Pali texts
      The recitation of Pali texts and calling upon one and all to come and share the merit is closely connected with the basic teaching of Buddhism... that all sentient beings go through the cycles of birth and death and rebirths. There are thirty-one planes of existences. With the abode of the humans as centre, there are twenty-six higher regions above and four lower regions down underneath. When one dies, one is born again as human, animal or celestial being according to the merit of one's own deeds.
      Recitation of Pali texts is done so that the celestial beings could once again hear the words the Buddha had spoken in His lifetime, for the texts are from His teachings. It is considered a deed of merit to recite them and the good spirits or celestial beings who hear them are gladdened. Such ones bring blessings to the home. Evil spirits do not dare to come near such a home.
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