Visiting the Shwedagon pilgrimage site

Buddhist initiation at Shwedagon pagoda

Today in the afternoon I visited the Shwedagon pagoda where I got an unexpected Buddhist initiation. This is without discussion the most important temple in Myanmar. It contains one large stupa covered with gold leaves, and around it, you have numerous other temples and shrines. The complex is a representative pilgrimage site for the Burmese. And it is very easy and even recommended to reserve enough of your time to visit this religious highlight. I would say, it takes at least half a day to see most of the places of interest.

Shwedagon temple site Yangon

Guided Buddhist initiation

While I am walking at the complex, at a particular moment, a monk addresses me. His English is rather good. When he finds out on which day I was born, he takes me to the Monday-Buddha. To have a good life, or in case I have worries which I want to get rid of, I have to perform a Buddhist initiation. Even though I do not consider myself a Buddhist, it will help me in my further life, he tells me.

Ritual at her Monday-Buddha

The Buddhist ritual consists of these steps: first, I have to pour nine times a cup of water over the head of the Buddha statue, then seven times over the accompanying animal, a tiger, and again five times over the Buddha behind it. I do my best to follow the instructions as well as possible while observing how the Burmese perform similar actions. All in all, it is an enjoyable experience for me.

pouring water over Buddha image Yangon

Gaining merit

bronze bell at Shwedagon Yangon

Then the monk brings me to a massive bronze bell, said to weigh 42 tons. I have to tap five times with a wooden bell-clapper. That should yield merit; for Buddha, karma, sangha, knowledge, and my parents. Afterward, we visit a footprint of Buddha – containing 108 religious symbols. Sacred water flows over the print. I have to sprinkle my face with this holy water, and finally, pour five cups of water over the nose of the accompanying naga (a mythical snake). Completing the whole Buddhist ritual will bring me a good life and make my wishes come true. My thought is that even if it does not help, it will do no harm either.

The most crucial Buddhist relics at Shwedagon

My guide further shows me the most essential Buddhist relics of the Shwedagon temple complex. For instance, a cave of more than 40 meters deep in which the eight donated hairs of Buddha have been washed. Or an image of Buddha inlaid with diamonds and gems.  Furthermore, we visit the Buddha with the eye of a goat and a cow, and finally the Buddha between the tiger and the lion; these animals are supposed to help you confront your enemies.

massive seated Buddha at Shwedagon

Is a monk allowed to accept payments?

In itself, this guided Buddhist initiation is a fascinating experience which – in my eyes – ends with a small downer. The monk asks me too much money for his services. I did not even know monks were allowed to accept payments. After my initial surprise, I do give him something but not the amount he wants. Fortunately, he takes my offer without discussion and we say goodbye in a friendly manner.

Fortune or chance at dark

While walking back to the hotel, there is another general power outage. This happens at least 2 or 3 times daily in Yangon. As it is already dark, with numerous broken up pavements, I step into a gap in the road. Luckily without too many consequences. My ankle gets bruised slightly, but I can still walk without too much pain. Fortune or chance, who can say? My Burmese adventure could have already ended today with a broken foot alike.