“A man’s strength consists in being able to concentrate and empty his mind to the point of being able to bear the bite of a mosquito without scratching”
They say it just takes one visit to Golden Rock, in Myanmar, to become a Buddhist. I think that’s absolutely true.
Because it is impossible to visit this archaeological site without going to Myanmar and, once in Myanmar, you will definitely fall in love with Theravada Buddhism. How could you remain indifferent in front of the timeless pagodas of Bagan and the stupas of Kakku ? How could you not make friends with the loving Burmese and be seduced by their kind smiles, their calm words, their fraternal looks? Buddhism in Burma has soaked the reality of things, it’s in everyday gestures, in every day matters.
If you get to Golden Rock, you’ve already breathed Buddhism to the fullest, you’ve seen how harmonious a society based on kindness can be, and you’re probably grudgingly counting the days left before you have to go home.
Golden Rock is an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination and the third most important religious site in Myanmar. The Golden Rock is a large cluster of granite placed on top of Mount Kyaiktiyo in the south of the country. The rock is suspended on a slope and, although it always seems to be about to roll downstream, it has been in solid balance for centuries.
It is a sacred rock: legend has it that a single hair of Buddha is keeping it from falling. On its summit, the faithful built a golden pagoda to prove how strong the power of Buddha is. The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda accentuates the sense of precariousness and further fascinates visitors to the site.
The faithful cover it every day with gold leaves, as a sign of faith and devotion, so the rock reflects the light of the sun and vibrate with a mystical glow at sunset. Anyone who has had the good fortune to visit the Golden Rock would swear that the rock is animated with a life of its own. It really welcomes the prayers of the faithful and comforts their anguish.
I get to the Golden Rock in the evening: the road to the summit of Mount Kyaiktiyo are winding and the trucks leading there are packed with pilgrims.
The first person I see when I get off is Erika, a Pisan surgeon I met a few years ago during a trip to Nepal. “I can’t believe it! What are you doing here?” We kiss and hug and share the disbelief of meeting there, among thousands of Burmese pilgrims. I won’t dwell further on the event but I felt the need to leave a trace of it, because traveling is the best way to see magic in action! If you are discouraged and your life seems to get smaller and smaller, get out of your house. Amazing things await you around the corner!
I am staying in a hotel located right on the summit of the mountain. The view from my room is breathtaking: below me, a thick blanket of clouds covers the landscape and I feel like I’m in a magical place, in an otherworldly dimension.
In front of the hotel’s lobby there is the only small street that leads to the sanctuary, where the faithful come and go and the street vendors sell their products. At the entrance of the site, I take off my shoes out of respect, as in all Burmese places of worship. I leave them on the ground, no one will steal them. I walk along the paved path for several minutes: in the distance you can already see the Golden Rock.
As I approach, the presence of the faithful increases. Some sing, others pray. Thousands of candles are lit around the rock. An atmosphere of magic and devotion reigns.
You can walk around the rock and admire the Kyaiktiyo pagoda from the cliff side, thanks to a panoramic terrace. Men who wish can then approach the Golden Rock, through a suspended gallery, and glue a gold leaf as a sign of devotion.
From close up, you can also bend down and see the light of the sunset penetrating into a fissure at the base of the rock. They say that by sticking a stick, you can swing the whole boulder. Many are lining up to observe the phenomenon. The long-awaited moment is coming, when a ray of light crosses the crack of the rock. I consider the idea of queuing up to take a picture, then I change my mind: I would betray the atmosphere of the place and above all I’d take away space to those who put on the pagoda higher expectations than mine.
Wandering aimlessly and without haste around the rock, I exchange looks with the faithful, they all smile back, it is touching. I look to the Golden Rock and pray that it will continue to protect them all.
The sun has now set: a spotlight lights up on the rock, illuminating it with amber. All around, the candlelight and the scent of votive incense warm the atmosphere and saturate the air with aromas. The faithful, quiet and serene, meditate around the rock. They remain motionless and time seems to sop, their minds go to a place where worry and anxiety no longer exist.
Alessio, my guide here in Burma, explained to me that meditation as a daily practice is embraced by all generations. “A man’s strength consists in being able to concentrate and empty his mind to the point of being able to bear the bite of a mosquito without scratching”, he says. “I have a friend who can meditate all day without ever getting distracted, not even to eat or go to the bathroom.” I listen with eyes full of admiration.
What an amazing country Myanmar is, where the strength of a man is not quantified with physical strength, social climbing or money, but on the ability to empty the mind and bring peace inside the heart!
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