Talking photo
by Khin Saw Tint
Translated by Hla Min

Two photos stand side by side in my living room. The black and white photo taken over four decades ago -- 1956 to be exact -- shows the four of us at Hteedan College (Rangoon University). We were freshers -- youthful, lively, with kyit-san-hmees (long hairs neatly combed and braided). The photo was taken by our friend (who later became my husband). He has passed away, but the photo he took that day has not faded. It reminds us of an important milestone in (the journey of) our lives.

The other photo (in color) was taken (a few years back) at the 60th birthday party of my friend, who appeared in the black and white picture described earlier. (The two gatherings seem similar yet different.) In the first gathering, our faces were full of smiles. In the second gathering, we seem to be feeling the effects of old age with pronounced wrinkles and a good share of diseases: diabetes, high blood pressure, knee pain, backache, arthritis, cataracts (requiring surgery). You name it. We have it.

(Though they are inanimate) the photos appear to be saying a lot to us about rupa, nama, dhamma, sankara, and the path we have traveled from jati, jara to marana. We have seen first hand old age and disease. We are (perhaps) waiting for the day when we will meet and follow the Lord of marana (death). Considering the average life expectancy, we are approaching the sunset of our lives. Looking at the photos (and comparing them), we recall the sayings of Tipitaka Mingun Sayadaw:

That we call rupa (an aggregate)
That we call nama (an aggregate)
They do not last a long time
In every moment, they arise [they are born]
In every moment, they disappear [they pass away]
Arising and disappearing
being constantly oppressed by them
is indeed suffering
Just contemplating [on Sayadaw's sayings] is not sufficient. We should do meritorious deeds that can be taken away into our next existence. We try to remind and urge each other, "Dana and sila are (good but) not enough. You need bhavana. Join a retreat. be always mindful. Practice vipassana meditation."

Since my friends are professionals (well versed in modern technology and teaching), they can easily comprehend anissa, dukha and anatta. They joined retreats and practiced vipassana meditation. They attended courses on Abhidhamma and Pathana. Every week they practice loving kindness meditation with [and as] members of Metta Byuha Society. Moreover, they are never reluctant to practice dana.

For two thirds of our lives, we were immersed in our academic, professional (need to work for a living) and social activities. Though we read from an early age, most of us read novels and books on general knowledge. Only when we neared 50, we shifted our interests to religious literature. (It's better late than never.) We realize that (no matter how hard we try) we'll never ever run out of things to read, comprehend and practice. Some of the favorite books I have read and re-read include:

As Tipitaka Yaw Sayadaw instructed, I'll try to be one of the four people who are not afraid to die. Who are they?
  1. One who is not attached to sensual pleasures and worldly posessions
  2. One who is not attached to one self (one's body)
  3. One who is full of meritorious deeds (conducted with true cetana and with vigor)
  4. One who has no skeptical doubts on Dhamma
I'll try to be one of the above. I believe that the four qualities reinforce each other. A person who has one quality is likely to possess the other three as well.

Will there be another gathering and a photo to celebrate a friend's 70th birthday? If we are all alive and well, it will be possible. But that photo will surely make us ponder by saying:

"Like a kin (centipede) moving endlessly on a kayut (a circular pot holder generally woven from rataan), you have faced rounds of rebirth in the samsara. (Though you might not be aware) you have suffered a lot (in this life and previous lives). It's time to realize that (the apparently) happy life is fleeting (and coming to an end). (Before time runs out) try to find a way to alleviate your suffering. From rupa, nama aggregates, find (for youself) the truth -- the Noble Truth. Try to eradicate your kilesa (mental defilements). Try to realize nibbana."