Burma 2015: Yangon, Day 1

Our 13 travelers arrive in Burma on a 15-day journey few have had the chance to experience in recent memory. First stop, the 2600-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda with its special traditions.

By Patricia Andersson
Portland OR, trip leader

We made it! On Monday, January 19, 13 DFW members from all across the United States gathered in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) for a 15-day journey through this fascinating country. We’re here to visit Girl Determined, an organization we supported in December 2012, to meet the girls whose programs we helped fund. Excitement (as well as jet-lag from the 30-plus hour trip) was high as we met together for the first time to begin the process of getting to know each other.

The highlight of the day was our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, a stunning Buddhist temple founded more than 2600 years ago. The brilliant gold spire — over 300 feet high — dominates the skyline in many parts of the city. The spire itself is the largest of a huge complex of smaller pagodas and temples that covers 14 acres and takes your breath away with its ornate beauty.

Walking clock-wise around the complex, we learned about the history and Buddhist beliefs associated with what we were seeing from our Burmese tour guide Win. A special ceremony had been arranged for our group to light 3,000 traditional oil lamps, as a way to begin our journey with intention and awareness. Each of us took time to think of what we wanted to wish for our trip for ourselves, for those we will visit, and for the people of Burma in general. We were all given a long stick with a candle tied to the end, which we lit and then used to light the oil lamps.

The sky began to darken with the fall of the evening, and a magical sense of peace descended as our wishes and intentions were carried up to the heavens by the flickering flames. I watched as our travelers lit more and more lamps, and the number of lights grew to form a wide curve around the base of the pagoda, with others visiting Shwedagon also joining us in the ceremony. I began to take part too, silently forming my thoughts and wishes for the journey — for the health and safety of all the travelers, for our visits to be beneficial to those we meet, and with more and more lamps lit, my intentions began moving wider, into traditional Buddhist blessings “… may all beings be happy … may all beings be free from suffering … may all beings be at peace…”

By the time all 3,000 lamps were lit, the sky was totally black, and the flames beautifully illuminated the golden temple.

With plenty of good karma generated, we moved on to dinner and afterward, for those who had just arrived that morning, a long-awaited sleep.

[HR]Photo Caption: Sandy Lease (Houston, TX), front, Nicki Maxwell (Eugene OR) and other DFW travelers light traditional oil lamps at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma, in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the trip. Photographer: Patricia Anderson