Schwedagon Pagoda

Driving into Yangon, the Schwedagon Pagoda cannot be missed. The top of the pagoda juts out of Yangon’s skyline, claiming its status. It is such a beautifully foreign sight that for a moment I am reminded of just how far away from home I am.

I received the tip from my taxi driver Myo Min that the pagoda is most beautiful at either sunrise or sunset. Following his advice, I headed there a few days later. A new friend and I raced there at the end of the day; chasing the last rays of light.

Shoes off, shoulders covered; in we go. We rise up an immense staircase flanked with vendors selling charms, candles, incense, and images of the Buddha. Once at the top, we emerge on the main platform. This is where you will have heard my sharp intake of breath, followed by an exhale. An almost breathless: “wooow.”

The stupa rises straight above you, a glistening golden structure. In the light of the setting sun, the gold shines almost burnt orange. I numbly acknowledge that it matches the robes of the monks that walk by, of the monks that kneel in prayer.

There are plenty of other visitors, and we are quickly trailed by someone wanting to provide us with a tour. We politely decline, choosing instead to discover the different nooks on our own.

There are countless shrines and it’s almost overwhelming to process how beautiful each one is. How intricate. I pause at each one, quietly watching the people that are bent over in concentrated prayer. I don’t have a personal understanding of this level of devotion, and yet what I feel is again something that can only be explained as “feeling as though I am a part of something.”

The stupa is actually covered up at the moment. I had been told it was under construction, so I am not surprised. Wooden beams criss cross all over it, and I wonder how long it took to assemble them. I wonder how painstaking the work must be. I can only assume they are restoring the gold plating, and I wonder how many people devote themselves to the job. I wonder what the diamond on top looks like, marvel at how it remains protected after all this time. I hope it always will. I hope it will always be cared for which such dedication.

I had met another traveler a few days before who told me they hadn’t enjoyed the temple. “A big part of it is under construction and there were too many people. It’s not really worth it,” they had said.

“Ah that’s a shame, but I want to go anyway,” I said.

Standing in front of this structure, looking at the criss crossed beams, thinking of how much time it takes to take care of something like this, I suddenly remember the comment.

I find myself thinking that even the most beautiful sights can sometimes benefit from a softer gaze.

We see our world, at times, through such strict lenses. We visit a temple and expect it will be perfect, we expect it will be just like the most beautiful photos that we have seen. But that’s not real life, is it?

Even the most beautiful temple can be less than perfect at times. It’s up to us to look through the imperfection in order to find the beauty.

I would have loved to see the Schwedagon Pagoda in all its glory. I would. I would have loved to see her glimmer in the light, to see that diamond sparkle. Perhaps I would have loved to be the only person there.

But for now, as I stand here, feeling small, feeling like one of the many, feeling a part of something, I think of how lucky I am to be in awe even of imperfection.

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