MUDON TOWNSHIP, Mon State—Emerging from a temple near the world’s largest reclining Buddha statue, a 94-year-old abbot in southern Burma saw a busy start to 2013.
The abbot, Kesara, watches over a monastery in Mon State near the Win Sein Taw Ya statue, which is 180 meters tall and includes 200 images of monks collecting alms.
The 94-year-old is known for his ability to give blessings and predict the future, and on Tuesday, the first day of the new year, more than 500 people traveled to meet him.
The pilgrims, who came from cities around Burma and even neighboring Thailand, saw the abbot to request good health, business success and even lucky lottery numbers in the coming year.
Nyo Than, a Burmese woman from Thailand, went to the monastery in hopes that a blessing would help her conceive after 20 years of marriage. The abbot gave her a blessing, as well as a gift: a leaf from a tree which he said would help her become pregnant in the future.
“I would have come earlier if I had known about the abbot before,” said Nyo Than. “I’ll be happy if it’s true, if he can really help me have a child.”
At least 100 people also stayed to volunteer at the monastery, digging up rocks that would be used to build more statues and pagodas.
Win Sein Taw Ya is about 20 kilometers south of the state capital, Mawlamyine, on the main road to Mudon. It sits across from a huge rock formation called Kyauktalon Taung, which means “big stone” and has a Buddhist shrine on top.
The Buddhist site is so renowned that during the former military regime, Khin Nyunt, who served as a spy chief and prime minister, offered a donation to help build the giant statue in return for his name engraved in the stone, but the abbot refused his request.
Hundreds of visitors come daily, although Kesara does not always come down from his jungle temple, sometimes staying in to meditate the entire day.
On New Year’s Day, pilgrims came from cities around the country, including Burma’s biggest city, Rangoon.
“Please stay with the discipline of Buddhism,” the abbot said to each person he blessed. “Pray, don’t steal from others, don’t be greedy, and keep to the Middle Way. This will help you find peace.”
Some visitors planning to move to Malaysia or Thailand for work asked the abbot to ensure safe trips abroad, while farmers requested better yields on their crops and the sick asked for better health.
One woman who sells precious stones asked for help with her business and received good news: the abbot said a railway and roads would open soon at the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai border, and Thai customers would offer strong demand.
And while the abbot would not explicitly recommend lottery numbers, some visitors said they would use his advice to help them guess a combination.
Tun Naing, who visited the abbot this week, said some people have won the lottery in the past and returned to donate their prize to statue-building at the temple.
More than 100 smaller Buddhist statues surround the entrance of the Win Sein Taw Ya monastery. About 100 workers and 50 volunteers continue to build more pagodas every day.
“If you do good, then you will get good,” said a 74-year-old monk working to build a small pagoda. “This is my belief. This is why I’ve stayed here for three months already.”
Another volunteer, Win Naing from Mudon Township, said: “I do not have money to donate for building pagodas. So, I donate my labor to be in here.”