What is faith?
She did not believe in a god as such, but equally she had never wanted to believe that the here and now, this life on this earth, is all there is. She did not think that praying to a greater power was the way to heal, find happiness or seek whatever we are looking for, but she did believe that we all have the power within ourselves to find our path.
Nevertheless, she had always been fascinated by those whose lives are rich because of their faith, who find answers where she had never looked, who believed that a greater power would hold their hand and guide their way. She did not understand, did not judge, but in many ways envied their total belief that that they would find their way, because they believed. It is love and it is hope … however and wherever we find it.
Buddhism had touched her life when she had dipped in and out of yoga and meditation practices over the years, and she was curious to see a country where faith was not a lifestyle choice but a life’s journey. On her travels, she had always found extraordinary, whatever the faith, the desire to demonstrate ones commitment to ones faith by donation, often, it seemed to her, by the most poor to the most rich …. even more extraordinary, here in Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in the world, to see gleaming gold pagodas peeping out of the vegetation at every turn, as their plane came in to land.
It would be churlish and disrespectful to say that it’s all in the size of your pagoda … or indeed your buddha! But there are a lot of them, and some of them are huge!
A large shed, north of Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon, houses the impressive Reclining Buddha – 66 meters long! White face staring benevolently down, a vision of gold robe, red lips and finger nails, and feet so large that a platform has been erected at its feet to read the 108 characters painted on the soles.
But this had nothing on the Shewedagon Pagoda.
For a buddhist, especially a buddhist in Myanmar, this 98m high gilded stupa which dominates Yangon’s skyline, is regarded as the most sacred buddhist pagoda in all of Myanmar.
Monks, swathed in their distinctive saffron robes, going about their day, gliding silently amongst those who had come to pay their respects and those, like her, who had come to see this most sacred of shrines as the sun came down.
Barefoot, she walked around the stupa, gold, resplendent, towering above her. It was one of those moments when being a tourist feels invasive, out of place. So important to respect the privilege it was to be there. Everywhere, the offering of prayers and flowers, and the lighting of candles around the vast perimeter of the padoga. Flames flickered in the sultry evening breeze, the sun slowly fell in the evening sky, its glow falling onto the gold stupa …. a hush descended on the gathering crowds, a moment to be still, to think, to pray .. .
It was spell-binding. It was faith …. and it was beautiful.