Myanmar monasteries offer bootcamp for the spirit

YANGON, July 29, 2013 (AFP) – Pre-dawn wake-up calls, days of silence and hunger may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday, but for tourists seeking spiritual sustenance Myanmar’s monasteries offer help on the path to Buddhist nirvana. The search for inner peace is unlikely to appeal to those who take a more hedonistic approach to vacations — booze, beaches and bikinis are definitely out.

“When you first start it is a bit like running into a brick wall, you know, you are having extreme problems settling down and for your mind to settle,” said Rupert Arrowsmith, a British art historian.

He spent 45 days of total silence in the “famously austere” Chanmyay Yeiktha monastery, a peaceful compound of rooms for meditation and sleeping in the countryside near Yangon.

“The new environment, different way of dressing, different way of eating… It’s like some sort of military bootcamp. You’ve even got the same hairstyle,” he told AFP.

After their heads are shaved at an ordination ceremony, new monks – foreign or Burmese — retreat to the quiet but challenging routine of monastic life.

Rising at 3.30 am, they practise sitting and walking meditation for the majority of the day, spending long periods cross-legged in the com