May 25th, 2012
12:11 PM ET

As Myanmar opens up, spiritual tourists journey in

By Paula Hancocks, CNN

Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) - How’s this for a vacation schedule? Get up at 3 a.m., put off sleep till 11 p.m., and spend almost the whole day alone, in silence.

It’s a typical day for a foreign tourist at the Mahasi meditation center here.

Founded by the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, the center opens its doors not only to Burmese residents but also to foreign visitors wishing to learn Buddhist meditation techniques.

One recent visitor is a 23-year-old American Christian named Kym Cole. She said that doing up to 10 hours of meditation every day was difficult but it yielded unique rewards: “It feels like a different world but in a good way.”

Cole is among the thousands who are taking the opportunity to experience what was once one of the most isolated countries in the world as the nation institutes reforms and opens up to outsiders.

Myanmar does not keep statistics on spiritual tourists, but tourism to the country generally has doubled in the past four years. And more meditation centers here are catering to foreigners, capitalizing on their swelling numbers.

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Myanmar, also known as Burma, is overwhelmingly Buddhist and much of society revolves around its hundreds of thousands of monks. Temples and pagodas define the landscape.

It is believed that well over 10,000 temples have been built in the ancient city of Bagan alone. More 2,000 survive today. Some Burmese boys learn to read and write at their local monastery, and many go for Buddhist education at some point in their childhood.

Cole recently finished a three-month internship with the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia and said she wanted to clear her mind. And she wanted to experience spiritual tourism in Myanmar before the country changes too much as it opens up to the outside world.

“Tourism can alter a country greatly and one of the attractions to me was this notion of a country lost in time and that was removed from westernization and globalization,” she said.

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Cole avoided the country during the brutal, decades-long rule of the military junta because she thought “my presence would have been supporting that government.”

High-profile opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who assumed her new seat in Myanmar’s parliament earlier this month, had long cautioned that tourism would provide support to the regime that kept her under house arrest for much of the past two decades.

But a new civilian government was sworn in last year. Although it is still heavily influenced by the military, Suu Kyi is free has stopped discouraging tourism.

One of the head monks at the Mahasi center, Asain Veluriya, said the center’s meditation techniques are popular in the United States and Europe - his tradition has 50 branches worldwide - but these days he sees more foreigners coming to Myanmar for a first-hand experience.

And he said there doesn’t have to necessarily be anything spiritual about it.

“Personal meditation is not only for Buddhists but also for everyone,” he said. “By practicing meditation we can become a happy person, we can create a happy life, a meaningful life.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Buddhism • Myanmar

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. 4321Trenquility

    It seems that these ladies and gentelmen have the mony and the time to voice openions based on no one knowswhat sources.Let us spend some interrest in resseurch. From history we know that what has come dwn to in Christianity and Islam ias Fairy tales. Take a hint from Ben Franklen, He said " Don't waist time for this is the very stuff life is made of". I like to do the reseurch on what is Just and what is true; can tyou help?

    May 25, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  2. Mr Chihuahua

    Ten hours of masturbation sounds better to me lol!

    May 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Max Brooks from Florida

    Ten hours of meditation?!

    Sounds insanely intense and I'm pretty sure I'd have to pee before I even got close to that but I'd still like to give it a try sometime. (Not ten hours but maybe two hours would be a good goal.)

    May 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Max Brooks from Florida

      Or even just an hour

      May 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • SC

      Who told you people that meditate can't pee? Meditation is about focusing your mind. Can you do that going to and coming back from a restroom?

      May 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  4. carlyjanew6


    May 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  5. David Johnson

    Really, CNN? There are major social injustice issues going on with major abuse of the Kachin in Burma and you run this story? I am a humanitarian photographer who just returned from Burma and viewed horrible atrocities. You can view my images and story here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6pcZSNjW1A&feature=plcp
    There are much more important issues to cover in Myanmar than tourism. Please give us some real news, CNN.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  6. C

    The amount of grammatical and sentence-level errors in this article is appalling.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • dohhh...

      language is a medium of communication and nothing more, as far as the people understand what the others are trying to say the semantics has no meaning outside of a language course in the school.
      Find something intelligent to say.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Lol

      haha you f'ing idiot, you tried to sound smart but "number" would be the proper word in your sentence, not "amount".....hahaha you're stupid hahaha

      May 25, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • R

      You're casting pearls before swine, C. I agree with you.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Moishe

      So dohhh, It's ok for the public to see a professional writer make numerous mistakes but as long as you understand the point of the article it's ok? I get it now.

      May 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  7. Reality


    "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

    "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

    Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

    "Indeed, there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the vir-gin birth plausible by comparison. No one is served by a mode of discourse that treats such pre-literate notions as integral to our evolving dis-course about the nature of the human mind. Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries."

    But to be fair:

    • There was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.


    May 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Observer

      If Buddha or mohammad did not even exist then what is your raison d'etre?

      Have you stopped to think about it? Your life revolves around those characters.Before it is too late you may want to start believing in the one true God.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Wrath of Crom

      Or realize there is no god at all and all religion is built on lies.

      May 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • inREALITY

      Buddhism encourages skeptisicm. You are not bound to believe or support any of their teachings if they don't make direct sense to you; and people of all faiths are welcome to participate.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Reality


      Reread my comments. We are talking about the major religions and their basic historical and theological failures.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • 4321Trenquility

      Reality has a good point to start from in the study of what is a human being, and what is a cow. They both have consciousness. It is known from reseurch done in California that white blood cells taken from a human react to the feeling of the donner, more work is neede along the role of consciousness in light as well as in material structures. Humanity should have the knowledge that a day old chick was influencing a robot chicken to come to it.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • fonseka3

      As Buddha said listen those who have years. Obviously Buddha or Jesus knew there will always be people like you. But they tried to save as many people as they can from the misery of this world.

      May 26, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  8. rad666

    US troops will soon be there.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  9. BJJSchecter

    Now you can too can mediate next to a r ape and t orture center! May the screams of the victims challenge you to a new level of meditation.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  10. luciforms

    whack job.....

    May 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  11. S.C.L.

    A meditation retreat such as this is not a vacation, not a time to relax. It's a time to develop mental and spiritual skills in the Vipassana meditation tradition of Theravada Buddhism. It's not prayer. And these skills are meant to be carried over into daily life to purify one's thoughts, words and deeds and relationships with others. They are not solely in- retreat exercises only.

    May 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  12. john

    "One recent visitor is a 23-year-old American Christian named Kym Cole" and then later on down in the article it says "Cole avoided the country during the brutal, decades-long rule of the military junta because she thought “my presence would have been supporting that government.”", So how old is Kym Cole really ?

    May 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • R

      Well, the junta was in power up until a couple of years ago, so I'm going to say she's 23.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Moishe

      She's probably 23 but needs something else in her life. I'd venture a guess that her parents footed the bill for the trip and told her, "Stay as long as you want."

      May 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  13. jrod

    This wouldn't work for me. I'd like to relax and meditate too but once I ran up my credit cards getting there, I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about my debt situation

    May 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Dave

      Try it on the beach on Maui. It's cheaper too. Might I reccomend Charlie Young or Cam 3. Sigh*

      May 25, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  14. palintwit

    I would trust someone with yellow skin before I trusted a bagger, a birther or a Palin. They are indeed the lowest form of filth. And you can take that to the bank !!

    May 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Gravytrain

      Anyone yellow? Despite your on mark Palin remark I'm afraid you're still an idiot..

      May 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  15. marketconverge

    Hey BlitzWolfer, don't worry about people from Burma being yellow. By the time all the drakes in the US are done with your women, you won't be able to recognize your race in 2-3 generations. Peace.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  16. marketconverge

    1st off, Buddhism is not a religion in the traditional sense of the word. It's a belief system or a philosophy that focuses on improving human lives by examining the root of suffering in the world. If you've got a problem with this, then you're not an atheist you're just a raving a-s-s who is screaming for attention.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • DPA

      Atheist don't believe in any religion but they do believe in other kind of spiritual forms. what a bunch of morons.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Wrath of Crom

      Christians believe in a religion where god sent his son to earth only to sacrifice him for human guilt. But his son was actually him...? He sacrificed himself to save the men he created. What a bunch of morons.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  17. BlitzWolfer

    The people in Burma are so poor and so yellow.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  18. Barbara

    This country has human rights issues in addition to peace loving Buddhists with excellent retreats.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  19. Wrath of Zeus

    Yes, pray to me, Zeus. The one true god. All other gods are powerless dong blazers. Your gods are all talk while I bang their women and steal their worshippers.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • DPA

      You shouldn't listen to so much Rap and Hip Hop, it's really starting to affect your brain.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Wrath of Crom

      DPA = Dic.k Pleasing As.shole

      May 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    May 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Gravytrain

      I totally agree. We pray everyday a car hits you..

      May 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • DPA

      Gravytrain, crack is not good for you.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Wrath of Crom

      Drinking cu.m is not good for you.

      May 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • DPA

      How old are you? Go back and listen to your Hip Hop God with a bling bling around is neck.

      May 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Wrath of Crom

      How old are you? Go back and listen to your easy listening god with a dead je.w nailed to cross around his neck.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Jesus

      ~Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!~

      May 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.