Introduction: Sayadaw U Jotika (Autobiographical)
The need to express is very strong. It is very important for our growth. If you don’t have any opportunity to express, you lose creative thinking. Well, that’s another attachment. I can’t force myself to let go of it. Many times I picked up my pen to write, and many times I put it down. Something hard to put into words is in my mind. Please don’t think I’m preaching. I’m just expressing my personal point of view (feeling, observation) which seems true to me.
I know that a lot of things I’ve said can easily be misconstrued. A person can use them against me. I can’t really make my points clear in a letter. Even to talk about them would be a very difficult task for me. Anyway I tried to express my views. The things I’ve said might not agree with the great books. I don’t expect you to agree with me. They are not universal truths. Just my opinions as of October 1986. I’m liable to change, as anything else. Excuse me for my mistakes.
I’m a man who keeps himself upset all the time, believe it or not. One day I’ll be happy. Here is something about me. I was born on 5 August 1947. I was educated at a Roman Catholic missionary school. I read about most of the things in this universe. I did not believe in any organised religion. Well, who knows? I thought of becoming a bhikkhu (monk) from the age of nineteen but instead I went to university, and found the education very unsatisfactory. I then educated myself. I found that almost everybody was after position, money, pleasure — very superficial.
I couldn’t go on living for the rest of my life like that. I left my family although 1 love my daughters very dearly. I have no place in this competitive society. Being a bhikkhu and living in the forest is the best way of life for me; it suits my temperament.
Yes, my grand mother was Shan. She lived a long, peaceful life and died when she was about eighty. I was fourteen then. We were very close. I think of her quite often.
I like Shan people, too. They are very mellow. There are a lot of Shan people around Maymyo; some living in Ye Chan Oh Village where we are. There is another village called Yengwe where most of the villagers are Shan, and they speak the Shan language. Some old Shan ladies look like my grandmother — quiet, peaceful, loving, simple, patient, content, unimposing and very friendly. How unlikely to find such people in modern cities. People who are rich are very suspicious; they think people are after their money.
You asked me about my relationship with my family. It was never good. The only person I love in my family is my elder sister. She loves me although she could not understand me.
Yes, “I’ve never felt I belong to that family”. I was like a stranger in my family. Maybe some day I’ll go and see my sister. My relationship with my parents was a love-hate relationship. (Both of them are dead now.) I was very lonely at home. I know how you feel about your relationship with your family. It’s OK. We find love and understanding elsewhere. No matter what you do and no matter what happens I will always be your father, brother, friend, counsellor, etc.
I live on the border of two different cultures — Eastern and Western. Born in Burma (Myanmar) and educated in a Western-style school. Being exposed to all different kinds of religions — Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam — and also to materialism through philosophy. I ended up not believing in anything seriously. Western psychology — Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Laing, William James, and many others; Western philosophy — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Bergson, etc. — enough to make a person very confused. I studied electrical engineering; read advanced scientific theories, including black holes.
I know how little people are sure of anything. The most important thing to know is your own mind. Yes, I want freedom. And this should be known from the outset. My freedom is not for sale.
Living too long in one place makes me feel like I’m in prison. I’m a lion, according to the Burmese tradition. I really feel like roaming in the mountains like a mountain lion. Ah, freedom… I can’t tolerate any restriction, bond, or tie. Even attachment that restricts my freedom is not to my liking. People get attached to me and I see that as a danger to my freedom. I love freedom and I can’t exchange it for anything. I love freedom of mind too. So I am seeing more and more what imprisons the mind. Although I’ve read a lot of the Pitaka [see glossary for definition], when I find something (see something) it’s like I’m making a new discovery. To discover for myself those simple truths — what a great joy! Eureka!
I can’t stand those people who talk like they know about something just because they’ve read about it in books. But sometimes I catch myself doing just that, though I’m doing it less and less.
Mountain lion I am. Alone, but not lonely anymore. I have learnt to live alone. Sometimes I want to express my deepest understanding, but it’s hard to find a person who knows how to listen, understand and appreciate. Mostly I’m the one who listens. People like to talk to me.
I think wanting to be independent and free (physically as well as mentally) is my strongest desire. There are different forms and stages of freedom. I must follow my nature, at all costs. I might have to disappoint my friends. So many people expect so much of me. It is very unlikely that I can/will fulfil their expectations of me. I am heading towards my own freedom, not conformity.
I’ve been reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. I am very interested in some of his ideas. Some of the things he said about himself really expresses me also. So I am going to quote some of the passages to you: “As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.”
Loneliness does not come from having no-one around oneself, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views that others find inadmissible. If a man knows more than other people, he becomes lonely. But loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no-one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his/her individuality and does not identify him/herself with others.
I have to obey that inner law which is imposed upon me, leaving me no freedom of choice. Of course I did not always obey it. How can anyone live without inconsistency? (“Talking about rebirth — in my case it must have been primarily a passionate urge toward understanding which brought about my birth, for that is the strongest element in my nature.”)
“I have also realised that one must accept the thoughts that go on within oneself of their own accord as part of one’s reality. The categories of true and false are, of course, always present but because they are not binding they take second place. The presence of thoughts is more important than our subjective judgment of them. But neither must these judgments be suppressed, for they are also existent thoughts which are part of our wholeness.” (So, be mindful of everything.)
A person who has not passed through the inferno of their passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force. (Don’t sit on top of your passions; be mindful of them. For me, ‘passed through’ doesn’t mean ‘acted out’, it means being aware of them, experience them mindfully.)
“Indeed, our ‘cult of progress’ is in danger of imposing onus even more childish dreams of the future the harder it presses us to escape from the past. Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. By no means do they increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Instead, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleas antly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before.” (So, live as simply as possible.)
I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, and I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple. In Bollingen, silence surrounds me almost audibly, and I live in modest harmony with nature. An indescribable stillness prevailed.
In the Tower at Bollingen it is as if one lived in many centuries simultaneously. The place will outlive me, and in its location and style it points backward to things long ago. There is very little about it to suggest the present. If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamp and the matches would be new to him; otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty. There is nothing to disturb the dead, neither electric light nor telephone. (Carl Jung)
There is a lot more left, but I want to stop here. You must be bored to death. I think I am a rebel in some ways. All my life I’ve been a rebel. My fantasy: living deep in the mountains, away from people and noise with bare necessity; quietly and peacefully. Do I cry? Well, who would believe that an old monk like me still has tears to cry. My nature is like slow burning ember. You don’t see the flame but it burns nonetheless. I don’t want judgment; I want understanding. I am also not perfect.
I am becoming even more imperfect. So I’m scared of those who are judgmental. I want to be left alone. They say a monk shouldn’t be attached to any body or anything but I can’t do that. I’m not just a monk; I’m also a human being. I am not trying to be somebody. I just try my best to understand whatever is happening in my life, in my mind, in my heart. No name and no fame; when I die nothing will remain.