Spend enough time in Southeast Asia and you begin to run the risk of what many people call “temple burnout”. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I live, there are over 300 temples. Many, no most of them are quite beautiful and worthy of a visit, but there are so many of them that the memory of one tends to fade into another. I was starting to suffer from this malady just before I began my month visiting Myanmar (Burma). But, all the books and everyone I talked to said that I had to see Shwedagon Pagoda; the largest temple in Myanmar and one of the oldest in the world.
It was with this bad attitude that I got into the cab, a short ride from the hotel, to go see the temple. My bad attitude didn’t last long. The Shwedagon Pagoda dominates Yangon. It is massive! The main stupa, the one that houses the relics of Gautama Buddha, is a gold plated structure over 99 meters tall. The crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. Even from a distance I couldn’t help but be impressed.
The huge stupa sits on an octagonal platform with different Buddha shrines representing the days of the week (Wednesday gets two) at each corner. To make merit pilgrims burn incense, offer flowers and pour water over the Buddha images. Each shrines also has a planet and an animal sign associated with it in accordance with astrology. If that isn’t enough there are 64 other interesting stupas to see surrounding the central core.
Because it is one of the most sacred places in Myanmar the temple is quite crowded with devotees circumambulating and making offering to Lord Buddha but watching the believers perform their rituals is actually quite soothing. Shwedagon Pagoda helped me move beyond temple burnout and in fact enhanced my enthusiasm for seeing more. That is fortunate because Burma is filled with many more beautiful and sacred places to see.