Ariya Baumann: from Europe to Myanmar on the way to Vipassana

- through Sophie Solere

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While teaching dance and music, Ariya Baumann left her country, Switzerland, to travel. A journey that led her to be a nun in Burma for twenty-one years with master Sayadaw U Janaka. Since her return to Switzerland, she has taught Vipassana all over the world and has resumed a very active life, guided by the meditation she has been practicing since she was sixteen.

“I received a Protestant education. As a teenager, I no longer just wanted to believe what was written in the Bible. I thought there was a more absolute dimension of God and love that I could experience for myself. I then read books on Buddhism, including Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Zen in the art of archery by Eugen Herrigel, which made a big impression on me. It was the beginning of my practice. I was sixteen," says Ariya , at the yardstick of his sixty years. This “spark” would ignite forever with the discovery of meditation and Buddhism.

“I wanted to share the Dhamma”

In her elegant fitted tunic in pink silk which underlines her slender silhouette and her beautiful bearing of the head, Ariya lived until her thirties between her piano and the dance studios, teaching these two disciplines. "I couldn't imagine a life of fullness and happiness without it. But, over time, a deeper desire surfaces: to "be in the world for the welfare of others and to share the Dhamma." It came from my heart, ”she admits in a calm voice.

In the 90s, an adventurer at heart, she put on her backpack and left for Australia and then Burma with the idea of ​​going there to meditate for a few weeks. His meeting with the master of Vipassana, Sayadaw U Janaka, is changing the course of his life. She stayed twenty-one years with him and discovered the strength of concentration. “He taught us to be attentive to each of our daily movements and actions by slowing them down as much as possible. I then realized that attention to every perception of body, heart and mind is the main character of Vipassana meditation. ". And deepens three key values ​​that will guide his practice and his teachings: “metta”, benevolence; "sati", attention, mindfulness, and "sila", virtue. “I was so curious to continue this practice that I followed the master to his monastery in Yangon with the will to be ordained a nun to support my will with every step I took. The master she defines as being “the one who allows humans to become aware of their ability to control their mind”.

Burma: a nun…

Dressed in her new nuns' robes, ready in seventy-two hours, she immersed herself in the world of meditation for three months: "A much richer inner journey than those I had made while traveling the world", says- she in an amused tone. Then renewed this trimester once, twice, three times… “After three years, I suddenly realized that I was still a nun in Burma. The amazing thing was that I didn't miss singing or dancing, or even playing the piano! On the contrary, I had never been so happy and serene in my life! So I decided to stay. »

“The Burmese have a lot of respect for the monks, but unfortunately very little for the nuns who are not entitled to full ordination. Living only on offerings, it is difficult for them to survive going out only twice a week, whereas the monks can go out daily”.

Even more surprisingly, this choice of a religious life "wasn't really conscious," says Ariya. “It was through provisional ordination that I found my way”. She learns Burmese and engages in the daily life of the center, becomes "manager" of activities for Westerners, takes care of meditators, schedules, reception, translates interviews and teachings... "For me, it was not really a monastic life. I was active and I liked it a lot. Living in a community of nuns would have been very different,” she sighs, looking sad. The status of nuns in Burma and their harsh monastic life shocked her greatly.

… rebellious

“It was depressing to see their daily struggle for survival,” she recalls. “The Burmese have a lot of respect for the monks, but unfortunately very little for the nuns who are not entitled to full ordination. Living only on offerings, it is difficult for them to survive going out only twice a week, whereas the monks can go out daily”. Revolted by this inequality, powerless in the face of the centuries-old roots of Burmese culture, she does everything to change the situation. She then begins to teach in the center of Sayadaw U Janaka. “I was one of the very few women to do it! For the interviews that I organized with the master, I went against the tide of customs which want it to be first the monks, the men, the nuns then the women. I did the exact opposite! “, she laughs, letting a frank laugh spring up spontaneously.

In 2000, with the agreement of his master, Ariya left to teach meditation in Australia, the United States and Europe. And spends less and less time in Burma. A friend even calls her “the flying nun”. In October 2013, after twenty-one years, she decided to take off her robe as a Buddhist nun, convinced that returning to civilian life was “the right choice”. To his surprise, “this second metamorphosis happens just as naturally and as smoothly as the first”.

From the prosthesis to the Himalayas!

Following bone metastases in 2012, her leg was amputated. Taking care of her sick and elderly parents, she decided to stay in Switzerland. “I was given a year or two to live. My priorities were: to meditate and help my parents,” recalls Ariya, now an “orphan”. Her voice is joyful, her gaze serene, her eyes sparkling when she tells herself: “From the foot to the knee, I have an artificial leg, but I can do anything! I ride a bike, climb mountains, even the Himalayas! I have been athletic all my life and the prosthesis is not a problem. Physical health is important for mental health: a healthy mind in a healthy body”.

Today, she returns to listen to Bach concerts and plays the piano again. “Playing is a form of meditation. You have to be very present to feel your fingers touch the keyboard and listen to the sound. One day I realized that my piano teacher had been my first meditation teacher. She also teaches Vipassana around the world. “In everything I do, meditation is there! Her next trip will take her to Burma and Ladakh to follow the projects of her association Metta in Action. The practice of compassion has no boundaries.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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