A Spiritual Journey to Burma and Buddhism

Published worldwide on July 3rd 2018

Foreward by his Holiness the Dalai Lama

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Preface by Duncan Baird

Children of the Revolution is a book of converging worlds. In it you discover the very human weave of courage, perseverance and vision, woven with a delightful touch of humour and surprise. It also has the beguiling pattern of a journey unfolding. And as it unfolds, you learn. And you are inspired.

The Children of the Revolution by Feroze Dada is a story which begins with a chance meeting at a family gathering in Burma (Myanmar) with a Freedom fighter from the Pa’O region in the northeast of the country, and which then takes you on to a monastery on the shores of beautiful Inle Lake in Shan State. There, at the Buddhist monastery of Phaya Taung, the head monk Phongyi, is passionately caring for and teaching more than 600 orphaned and refugee children of the Revolutionary wars. You discover that both the Freedom fighter and the Buddhist monk are in their different ways forces of nature, or men of action, and while you learn about their lives, you also find the human goodness that shines in the darkness of war, and you witness the path of the dharma in the world. You cannot fail to be encouraged by Phongyi ’s example to ‘go beyond ones imagination because there is no limit’.

But at the same time another story is unfolding, and that is the journey of self-discovery of Feroze Dada, who moves with his Burmese wife MuMu between his metropolitan western life and Taunggyi in the northeast of Burma, or Myanmar, where her family live, and in doing so finds a new reality and purpose.

Feroze is a man of action, too, as you will discover. And he has written an inspirational story which is all the more powerful when you consider that his reasons for making the journey are literally a world away from what transpired. There are no accidents, the law of karma tells us, but we’re not the sole cause of our experience either.

Children of the Revolution is both an insight and a teaching and, as every journey is, both a surprise and in many ways surprising. At the heart of the book is the orphanage at Phaya Taung monastery and the story of what it gives and is giving is truly remarkable.

The Burma that we are projected into is one that is gradually discovering democracy and beginning to reform itself as the fledgling government makes its way tentatively along the path to democracy. But the strife and warfare in the country after 1948, leading to the military coup in 1962 and the subsequent oppression by the military of the minorities, meant that life in the provincial districts was often cruelly hard for the villagers, at the mercy of both the factional warring between rival militias as well as their campaigns against the Government forces. Regional conflict was often viciously amplified by ideological differences, including the rise of communism in the east, as well as the ethnic and tribal rivalries and the turf wars to control the cash from the lucrative opium trade.

In the Pa’O tribal areas of Shan, Kayin and Kayan in the North and East of Burma we discover the emerging country through the eyes of the Freedom fighter who, for reasons of anonymity, Feroze refers to by his Pa’O army rank ‘Major’, who learned his survival skills early in life smuggling cattle across to Thailand in order to pay for his education. He went on to join the PNO, at one time the largest insurgent force in Burma and now the political and welfare arm of the Pa’O, courageously providing valuable assistance in the movement of fighters, supplies and information between their training camps in Thailand and the conflict zones with the government troops.

At the time the young Major was making his way in the world of the Revolutionary fighter, the monk Phongyi was returning to the monastery at Lin Lam near Loikaw in his native Shan province, after completing his formal Theravada Buddhist training in Yangon.

Phongyi had endured a desperately hard childhood in a small village called Pinlaung, but had been accepted into the monastery at Lin Lam to further his schooling, and this experience led him to the passionate conviction that only education could help his people – ‘the path to enlightenment is through education’. But by the time he returns to Lin Lam the PNO, fighting against the government forces in the mountains around Taunggyi and Inle Lake, had split into two warring factions – the Red Pa’O and the White Pa’o. East of Inle Lake towards the border with Thailand had become a war zone with government forces trying to suppress the Red Pa’O who had allied themselves with the Burmese Communist Party or BCP. Life in the towns and villages became even more precarious and the refugee problems were soon to be overwhelming.

By 1986 a fragile peace allowed Phongyi to start work on his vision and he managed to establish his primary school at Phaya Taung, and the middle school followed by 1993. This was when the monastery opened its doors to the orphans of the wars, and soon there were more than 450 children living at the monastery and enrolled in the school. Life was very difficult, and in particular the feeding of the children was a huge challenge, but nonetheless Phongyi continued to persevere and by around 2004 permission was granted for the opening of a senior school. Numbers of pupils had risen to around 600 by then, all needing food, care and education. No one is turned away.

Phongyi’s and Major’s stories bring us together with Feroze at Phaya Taung monastery and it is here by the lake that Feroze becomes more than a story-teller; he himself becomes a moving spirit in the vision to help the children.

Always in the background is the hauntingly beautiful Inle Lake, now becoming increasingly fragile with the onset of development. In some ways the lake can be seen as a metaphor for our constantly changing and impermanent world, and Feroze describes the lives of the peoples of the lake, the fishing communities, and the beginnings of the modern culture on the ‘eastern shore’. But in a sense, too, it is the lake that embodies the mysterious transcience of the world and its preciousness and sacredness.

The monastery at Phaya Taung where Feroze, MuMu and Major shelter from a severe storm on the lake one evening is a place where lives change. Feroze describes how his very moving relationship with the orphaned children of the Revolution grows, first from the welcome and shelter extended to him at the monastery, and then increasingly from experiencing the sense of peace and purpose that Phongyi’s inspiring example of leadership and support for his community gives.

Feroze’s view of the world begins to change, and he starts to do what he can to help the children at the monastery, initially by bringing in computers and teaching skills. He recognises the extraordinary achievement of Phongyi in sheltering the children from the wars and providing education and, as their friendship flourishes, he begins to learn from the Buddhist monk some of the wisdom that comes from a true sense of compassion matched to a deep intellect. He begins to understand the true nature of the Perfections or paramitas by seeing them in practice at the monastery. For the reader, there is the joy of participating in this wisdom teaching as Feroze asks Phongyi to help him understand how Buddhism offers a transformative vision about how to live a meaningful life.

There is an energy at the monastery that gathers up Feroze as he glimpses ‘the still centre of the turning world’ and he asks Phongyi what he can do to help. Realising that the most important thing he can give is the imagination and drive to enable the monastery to become more self-sufficient and help provide for the children, he begins to think about ways of achieving this in a manner that respects the aims and principles that he has found there.

The result is the plan to build a drinking water bottling plant from the natural springs behind the monastery, and Feroze sets to work on the practicalities of realising this. He raises the funds, negotiates his way through the complexities of the permissions, and puts in place the resources for the design and delivery of Ko Yin mineral water. Ko Yin means novice monk. There are two ambitions – to provide health in the community though fresh purified water, and to generate an income to help feed the children at the monastery. The water plant is now operating successfully, as are the sanitation facilities, a medical clinic, and healthcare training school. Work has progressed on a Teachers Training facility. Again, with the same purpose of providing education, health and healing for the now 1500 children at Phaya Taung.

Children of the Revolution is both an inspiration and a teaching. It unfolds as a flower does. As you are taken along the twin tracks of a journey through a conflicted region, and a personal journey of reflection, gradually what remains with you is a story about Loving Kindness. Appropriately it starts with a family gathering and ends with the family at the monastery. These are the ripples across the Lake, ever-widening patterns of mettā as the Children are sheltered, fed, educated, and then go into the world.

Duncan Baird